Our guide to Speyside holiday cottages

Our guide to Speyside

Jemima Kirkwood 07 June 2024

Speyside is a picturesque landscape around the River Spey and is world-famous for being the most densely populated malt whisky region in the world. It is home to over half of the malt whisky distilleries, including some of the biggest like Glenlivet, Macallan and Glenfiddich. The abundance of water and its quality is what makes the area so desirable to whisky distillers. Did you know it takes 50 litres of water to create one litre of whisky?

People travel from all over the world to come and sample the malts and tour the distilleries in the area, this is known as the Spey Whisky Trail. But as well as whisky, Speyside has so many attractive factors which draw visitors in. Wildlife, scenery, great food and adventure are all things you can expect to enjoy here as well as water sports, skiing and hill walking. You can also experience local life here by visiting some of the many beautiful and traditional highland towns. 

As a holiday spot, Speyside is pretty, welcoming and full of character. From Scots pine forests and picturesque lochs to the Cairngorms mountains and rare wildlife species, there is something to suit every interest here. Read on to find out all about Speyside, what makes it special and what there is to see and do there, other than drink whisky. Extend your visit by booking one of our stunning cottages in Speyside.  

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About Speyside 

An aerial view of the Speyside town of Dufftown

Speyside sits within the Highlands, lying southeast of Inverness and encompassing the northern shoreline of the Moray Firth coast, the River Spey and all the towns and villages in between Spey Bay and Grantown-on-Spey. It has a fascinating history which mainly evolves around the birth of its impressive whisky culture.

People have been distilling whisky (legally) in Speyside since the 1800s with the oldest site being Strathisla Distillery. The reason the region became so successful for whisky distilling is down to its delightful isolation and its geographical qualities: mountainous, rugged and hard-wearing. Speyside has clean water in abundance, the landscape is brilliant for growing plenty of barley, and there is a glut of peat all over the moors – all important ingredients for making a world-renowned dram!

The unofficial whisky capital of Speyside is a little town called Dufftown. As well as being the central point on the whisky trail, it is also the biggest exporter of whisky in Britain. It’s a traditional highland village with lots of character and is a nice place to visit away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. There are many other towns and villages to explore which we mention a little further on.  

Things to do in Speyside

Speyside spans a large area, encompassing sections of the Cairngorms National Park and a lot of Moray too. So, there is an abundance of things to do, places to see and activities to undertake in Speyside. Here are a few suggestions …

Experience a whisky tour

Glasses of whisky lined up on a table

Dive into the world of whisky. Why not go 100% in and learn everything you can about whisky during your stay? You have over 50 distilleries to choose from covering the length and breadth of Speyside. Here are some you could visit, so arrange a tour and enjoy a dram whilst you are there. 

What is included in a whisky tour? 

Every distillery will have its own way of distilling whisky. On your tour, there is usually a guide who takes you around the premises and explains the process along the way. You’ll likely be taken around the milling area, malting room, tasting room and bottling room as well as learning about the history of the distillery. 

At the end of the tour, there is usually a tasting session where you will get to sample the different whiskies distilled there. Quite often, a brand will have a few different blends under the same name. Look out for special editions and investment bottles!

Good to know

Take a ride on the Strathspey Railway

Steam train on the Speyside Steam Railway

The Speyside Steam Railway runs from Aviemore to Broomhill Bridge, which lies just outside Nethy Bridge. This lovely old traditional steam train runs along the original Highland railway line, taking you on a round trip through the beautiful countryside and scenery of the Cairngorms National Park. 

The journey lasts around one hour and 40 minutes, departing and ending in Aviemore, and takes in the village of Boat of Garten on the way. The ‘Coronation Observation Carriage’  is set up for optimum viewing with comfortable seats and plenty of space to use the binoculars.  

Enjoy a light lunch or afternoon tea comprising of a mixture of sandwiches and cakes, tea and coffee and watch the world go by from the comfort of your booth. 

Good to know

  • Tickets: Adults/seniors: £28, children: £13.50, under 5s go free
  • Train timetable: Plan your journey from Aviemore or Broomhill using the website above

Walk the Speyside Way

Signpost on the Speyside Way

The Speyside Way is one of Scotland’s four long-distance walking routes. The others are the West Highland Way, the Great Glen Way and the Southern Upland Way. The route runs from Spey Bay, where the River Spey meets the North Sea, to Ballindalloch via Tomintoul, following the Valley of the River Spey. It is roughly 65 miles and takes in the edge of the Cairngorms and the best scenery in the area comprising lochs, woodlands, rivers and waterfalls. 

Whether you plan to walk or cycle this route, you can choose to either do it in one go, break it up, or simply do a few sections. Wildlife to be seen along the way include red deer, roe deer, red squirrels, wildcat and capercaillie. There are many viaducts and bridges to admire, as well as Caledonian Pine Forests, open moorland and the beautiful river valley. There is an osprey centre at RSPB Loch Garten in Abernethy, the Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay and plenty of distilleries along the way to visit. 

Stay nearby

Relax in the Speyside Centre

Hands pick up a plant from a garden centre shelf

The Speyside Centre lies between Grantown-on-Spey and Aviemore, on the Sky of Curr road. Here, you will find a restaurant and cafe, a gift shop, a garden centre and a whisky emporium. Set amongst the magical Cairngorms landscape, this is a lovely place to come and spend some quiet time enjoying good food and quality time with your loved ones. 

Good to know

  • Address: Sky of Curr Road, Grantown on Spey, PH26 3PA
  • Opening times: Saturday to Sunday 9am–5pm, Sunday 10am–5pm
  • Facilities: Restaurant and cafe, gift shop, whisky shop, garden centre

Get educational at Speyside Cooperage

A cooper works on a new cask in the traditional way

A cooperage is a place where wooden casks are made and a ‘cooper' is the name given to a person trained to make them. Whisky is stored in wooden casks to mature, so they are essential to the process. Running since 1947, Speyside Cooperage is the home of this ancient art and you can come and learn all about it in the five-star, award-winning exhibition which boasts interactive displays and impressive cinematic film. You can even watch the master craftsmen at work from the viewing gallery.

Good to know

  • Address: Dufftown, Craigellachie, AB38 9RS 
  • Opening hours: Monday to Thursday 9am–4pm, Friday 9am–3pm
  • Tours: Available on the hour and must be booked in advance

Speyside Cinema 

People enjoying a film in a cinema, the focus is on a man and woman sharing popcorn and a drink

It is always good to have a rainy day option for the children or a fun thing to do in the evening, especially if you are a film buff. Spey Valley Cinema is located in the Macdonald Aviemore Resort and puts on all the new releases so you and the family can enjoy a night at the movies! Why not grab a bite to eat beforehand in La Taverna? It's a family-friendly Italian restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Good to know

  • Address: Macdonald Aviemore Resort, Aviemore PH22 1PN
  • Listings: The times of film screenings can be found on their website
  • Tickets: Adults £8, children £6, concessions £6 

Speyside Falconry 

A bird of prey rests on a man's gloved hand. The man's back is to the camera

Falconry is an ancient field sport and was once described as the sport of the kings. It involves training a falcon, or hawk, to hunt. Although this method of hunting is not as commonly used today, it is still employed across the world. Speyside Falconry teaches its visitors about birds of prey and their importance in conservation. You can visit by appointment and meet the owls and Harris hawks. You can even fly the birds, wearing the glove yourself. 

Good to know

  • Address: Speyside Falconry, Hawkshead, Mulben, AB55 6XN
  • Book ahead: Appointments must be booked in advance to ensure there is space for you

Speyside wildlife

A cute red squirrel, sat on the ground, looks directly at the camera

There is an abundance of wildlife in and around Speyside which can all be found and seen if you look hard enough. Speyside is great farming country so you are never short of cows, sheep and pigs and in the springtime, the area is peppered with baby calves and lambs for miles. You will also see ducks, geese and swans exploring the rivers and lochs.

As well as the easy-to-find wildlife, there are the species where it is more a case of hide and seek to find them. Red squirrels can be found playing amongst the miles and miles of Scots pine, whilst capercaillie tiptoe amongst the trees. Foxes and badgers are more commonly spotted in the evening and if you are really lucky, you might catch sight of a wildcat or pine marten hunting. 

Wildlife seen around Speyside include: red squirrels, roe deers, capercaillies, woodcocks, lapwings, curlews, badgers, red deers, pine martens, and foxes.

The towns and villages of Speyside

There are many towns and villages to visit throughout Speyside and with the short distances between them, you could easily spend a few days driving between them getting a real taste for local life. Many of them offer an abundance of activity in and around their streets whether you are looking for some relaxing retail therapy, laid-back woodland walks, hunting out fresh local produce or you simply want to see new places. Here are some groups of towns and villages you could visit in a day.

Grantown-on-Spey – Nethy Bridge – Boat of Garten

Aerial view of Grantown-on-Spey

These three towns offer up an array of activities from shopping and woodland walks to golfing and eating out. Grantown has a busy and bustling high street with plenty of shops to browse, cafes and food shops. It also has a leisure centre with a gym and pool. 

Nethy Bridge and Boat of Garten are very much suited to the outdoor enthusiast with the Abernethy Outdoor Centre and the Osprey Centre to keep you busy. All have lovely woodland walks and river banks to explore which will suit the family and dog perfectly. 

Aberlour – Dufftown – Craigellachie 

Looking up the River Spey to Craigellachie

Aberlour is a pretty traditional town in the heart of Speyside and has a lovely high street dotted with shops, boutiques, larders and cafes. The local butcher sells prime cuts and the large play park is the perfect place for kids to burn off some energy. 

Potter over to Dufftown, the capital of Speyside and stroll around its quiet streets. Craigellachie is a small village that is home to two malt whisky distilleries and The Speyside Cooperage. It is also a great spot for walking as it's located at the foot of Ben Aigan. Take your walking boots and enjoy the 5-mile walk up to some amazing views. 

Buckie – Cullen – Fochabers 

A row of colourful houses in Buckie

Buckie lies on the Moray Firth coastline and is a lovely historic harbour village. It is the third largest town in Moray and well known for its beautiful scenery and varied wildlife, as well as its characterful harbour and friendly locals.

Further east along the rugged coastline sits Cullen, another charming fishing town. Its iconic rows of traditional fishermen's cottages line up with a view out over the sea, and it’s here you will find the best ice cream shop in Moray! 

Fochabers lies between Buckie and Elgin and is a key location on The Speyside Way. You will find a lovely vibrant town with plenty of places to grab a bite to eat, a folk museum and Baxters Highland Village, a mini village celebrating the Scottish Baxters food company. 

Places to eat in Speyside

There are lots of restaurants, pubs, cafes and takeaways throughout Speyside which offer up delicious grub for all tastes. Whether you are looking for Indian, Chinese, Thai or hearty Scottish food, Speyside has it all, as well as places serving vegan meals and food trucks where you can grab a burger on the go. Here are some of our favourite places.  

The Spey Inn at The Craigallachie Hotel 

Main raises a glass of whisky with food on the table in front of him

The Spey Inn is a cosy and welcoming hotel bar with a reputation for some of the best food and whisky in Speyside. Gastro pub food based around local and seasonal ingredients combined with a fantastic selection of cocktails and their own whisky, Copper Dog, makes this a great destination for all. A stone’s throw from the River Spey, expect fly fishermen, canoeists and dog walkers to feel totally at home. Booking a table in advance is recommended. There is accessible parking on site. 

Good to know

  • Location: The Craigellachie Hotel, Craigellachie, AB38 9SR 
  • Opening times: Sunday–Thursday 12pm to 11pm, Friday–Saturday 12pm to 12am
  • Why not try: Haggis bon bons

Old Bridge Inn  

Group of three men eating and drinking together happily

Aviemore's Old Bridge Inn is a strong favourite for locals and visitors alike with its warm and welcoming, dog-friendly atmosphere and wonderful menu. With cosy corners, lively music and a busy bar, there is always something to enjoy and someone to meet in this friendly pub. Enjoy hearty pub food made from local produce, an exciting range of local ales and drams and its pretty location on the banks of the River Spey – a perfect spot for al fresco dining. 

Good to know 

  • Location: 23 Dalfaber Road, Aviemore, PH22 1PU
  • Opening times: Sunday to Thursday 12pm–11pm; Fridays and Saturdays 12pm–12am. Lunch: 12pm–2.15pm (apart from Wednesdays and Thursdays). Dinner: 5–8.30pm (apart from Wednesdays)
  • Why not try: Witch sole

Nethy House Cafe  

Two coffees and a slice of cake on a table

Set in Nethy Bridge, in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, this friendly cafe is the soul of the village, welcoming you in to enjoy a delicious range of home baking, breakfast rolls and light snacks and lunches. You can choose to sit in or take away, or relax in the sun on the outdoor terraced area. It is dog friendly. 

Good to know

  • Location: Nethy House, Nethy Bridge, PH25 3EB
  • Opening times: 8am–5pm weekdays
  • Why not try: Start your day with a breakfast roll

Map of Speyside attractions and eateries

Use our map to see each of the places in this guide to Speyside. 

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Stay at a self-catering holiday cottage in Speyside 

We hope you have enjoyed our guide to Speyside and have found it a useful tool for finding out about the area before you visit. If you are looking for accommodation in the area, keep our self-catering cottages in mind as they can provide the perfect base for all types of explorations.  

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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