You know a Scottish-American when you meet them. It’s in their family name and you see it in their blue eyes, settled underneath a mop of wavy hair. They’ve heard stories of their ancestral clan and probably have a crest somewhere at home, mounted over the fireplace. Long they’ve dreamt of visiting their ancestral homeland after hearing tales of the romantic rolling highlands and the cities that bleed history.
Planning an ancestral trip can be intimidating. Where do you even begin? You want to see it all and strengthen your connection, but there’s only so much time (and money).
To help you plan your ancestral travels, we’ve consulted with our Scottish trivago friends and put together a comprehensive list of hotels to anchor your travels around two themes that scream Scotland — history and whisky.
Scottish Castle Hotels in the Highlands
The Highlands’ castle hotels are unique pieces of history that now offer some of the country’s most luxurious accommodation. Embodying the beauty, romanticism, and melancholy of Scotland’s northernmost region, these hotels offer guests a glimpse into the life of a Highland Chieftain.
So why not wake up in a four-poster bed, explore the rooms of a former Laird and spend the day hiking rugged glens, before retiring to your castle to warm yourself by a fire, ready to do it all over again the next day?
To find your own slice of Highland life, check out our top Highland castle hotels.
District Clan: Sinclair and Oliphant
If you’re looking for five-star luxury in the Scottish Highlands, then you can’t go wrong with Ackergill Tower. A beautiful stone tower dating from the 15th Century, Ackergill boasts an unforgettable location, perched right on the Northern tip of Scotland, making it a popular venue for weddings.
The range of rooms available includes those in the tower itself, as well as other deluxe rooms and properties on the estate and even a large self-catering treehouse cottage. But despite its historic nature, Ackergill Tower offers its guests the finest in 21st Century luxury; each room is individually decorated in a range of both traditional and more contemporary styles, all boasting high-quality linens, comfortable furnishings, and beautiful views.
Occupying 3,000 acres of grounds, Ackergill Tower also offers a variety of activities, including fishing on a private loch, Highland games, shooting, and falconry. Guests who arrive at the right time of year may also be lucky enough to witness the Northern Lights.
District Clan: Frasers of Lovat
Set in 30 acres of lush grounds, Achnagairn Estate is made up of an impressive historic castle, which serves as a hotel for six months of the year and as a stunning wedding venue for the remainder, as well as several lodges which are open year-round. Both are run with the mantra of ‘escape the ordinary,’ and thanks to the unique rooms, quirky interiors, and elegant luxury, its guests can do just that.
Each room is designed with a different theme in mind, ranging from the romantic to the extravagant, while other décor shows that the traditional castle still has plenty of character. In fact, the bathrooms are one of the most talked about features of this Highland castle retreat, with one featuring ‘his and hers’ twin bathtubs overlooking the grounds.
For something really exceptional, be sure to check out the ballroom, which was built in 1912 when the owner’s daughter didn’t have a suitable venue to celebrate her 21st birthday. The beautiful vaulted ballroom was built from scratch and remains completely unique to the Highlands to this day.
Inverlochy Castle Hotel
District Clan: Cameron
Named after the castle ruins found just two miles away, the imposing Inverlochy Castle Hotel was originally built as a 19th-Century manor house and is now a five-star luxury hotel. Set amongst the glens, lochs, and mountains of the West Highlands, the hotel boasts one of the most enviable locations in Scotland. In fact, when Queen Victoria visited in 1873, she remarked, “I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot.”
Offering excellent views of the impressive surroundings, each of the hotel’s 17 rooms are decorated in a classic style that highlights their individual character.
The five-star hotel is also home to one of the finest dining experiences in the Highlands; Albert and Michel Roux Jr at Inverlochy Castle is a gourmet experience offering the finest modern British cuisine with a French twist, thanks to the legendary father and son duo.
District Clan: Spaldings
Standing proudly amidst the beautiful mountain scenery of the Perthshire Highlands, Dalmunzie Castle is a perfect slice of traditional Scottish hospitality and boasts history dating back to 1510. Despite this idyllic location, the hotel is just a two-hour drive from Edinburgh Airport.
A classic country house, Dalmunzie prides itself on making guests feel at home, where relaxing lounges, rustic fireplaces, and a peaceful atmosphere are the staples. Likewise, guestrooms are elegantly decorated with luxurious and comfortable furnishings. In fact, several boast a beautiful four-poster bed and others precious antique furniture – the perfect place to feel like a Scottish Laird.
Of course, if you want to make the most of your stay and explore the great Scottish outdoors, Dalmunzie is adjacent to a nine-hole golf course and is located only 10 minutes from the renowned Glenshee ski slopes. An itinerary of different walks in Perthshire is also available from the hotel.
Fonab Castle Hotel & Spa
District Clan: Stewart (near Robertson)
The five-star Fonab Castle Hotel & Spa is a thoroughly modern hotel with a historic heart. Guests can find contemporary style throughout the hotel; forget stately oak paneling and think vibrant splashes and bright statement wallpaper. Period touches can still be seen, however, combined effortlessly with the hotel’s modern features.
For true relaxation, guests should try the on-site spa, which features a swimming pool, sauna, steam room, and thermal suite. The spa’s many treatments, including the signature MatiSPA facials, will ensure guests leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Fonab Castle is located in the Tummel Valley, surrounded by the scenic Ben Vrackie and offers plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors, including going on a Highland safari, getting behind the wheel of a Land Rover Experience or going to the Nae Limits activity center for rafting, canyoning, quad biking or even paintball. Both the picturesque village of Pitlochry and the Cairngorms National Park are close by.
District Clan: Mackenzie
Located less than an hour’s drive from Inverness, Kincraig Castle is steeped in Highland history. Formerly the ancestral seat of the Clan MacKenzie, the castle dates back to 1610 and its exterior remains largely unchanged since 1880. And while its interior has been renovated and modernized, traces of this history can be found in almost every room.
Kincraig Castle has a variety of en-suite guestrooms, ranging from Classic to Deluxe Castle rooms. The latter offers sweeping views across the grounds of Kincraig, which can be enjoyed from your hand-carved four-poster or Colonial Mahogany Queen bed.
All rooms come equipped with a 42” free-view flat screen TV, complimentary Arran Aromatic toiletries and Glenlivet mineral water sourced from the Cairngorms.
Best Hotels for Drinking Scotch Whisky
With its crystal-clear mountain waters and sweeping fields of barley, Scotland is the undisputed home of whisky and is the perfect place for any connoisseur to distill the ‘water of life.’ Plus, what better beverage to toast to your Scottish ancestral travels?
From North to South and across the islands, Scotland is split up into five different whisky-making regions, all of which distill their own unique version of the illustrious single malt, and offer some of the best whisky-tasting experiences available.
From distilleries found off the beaten track to those just a short drive from the city, we’ve listed our favorite hotels on the trail of Scotland’s whisky heritage.
Often described as ‘whisky heaven’, Speyside has much to offer, from historical architecture and a thriving outdoors culture to quaint country cottages and tasty home-made cuisine. Speyside is also home to The Malt Whisky Trail, the only one of its kind in the world. The trail takes in seven world-famous distilleries making up over half of Scotland’s whisky industry. There’s no greater starting point for your whisky adventure.
District Clan: Grant
Situated at the heart of The Malt Whisky Trail, the Cardhu Country House has six individually-designed luxury rooms named after local Speyside distilleries. The house is found a mile from the River Spey – which is famous for its salmon fishing – and is ideal for hiking or cycling through the Cairngorms and along to the Moray coast.
Depending on the holiday you’re after, you can choose a room to suit your needs and mood, whether it’s the warm and cozy chestnut colors of the Tamdhu Room or the powder pink Aberlour Room.
The Glenlivet Distillery
A rich single malt, The Glenlivet can only be made in one particular spot, a single glen, in the heart of Scotland’s malt whisky-making country. The distillery runs a series of tours, including the free 45-minute Glenlivet Tour, which includes a guided tour of the distillery, a visit to one of the bonded warehouses, and a dram of The Glenlivet. Other tours include nosing and tasting sessions or walks along the Speyside smugglers’ trail.
District Clan: Earl of Moray
The Knockomie Hotel is a luxury inn situated on the outskirts of Forres and is a celebration of warm Scottish hospitality. The hotel is undertaking an on-going project to renovate each of the luxury bedrooms with its own traditional and individual theme. Many of the design ideas come from visiting guests, with French, Chinese and Swiss-themed rooms proposed. So if you’re staying there in the near future, be sure to pitch an idea and you never know, it may come to life!
One of the oldest and most beautiful distilleries in Scotland, the Strathisla Distillery is nestled along the banks of the River Isla and is surrounded by a cobbled courtyard and picturesque buildings.
The standard tour runs every 30 minutes for a charge of £7.50 (about $9). If you’re looking to do a more in-depth tour, then the Saturday afternoon Ultimate Starthisla Experience is a three-hour whisky-filled affair, including a tutored tasting in the oak-paneled boardroom.
Considered ‘The Queen of the Hebrides,’ Islay is located just off the West Coast of Scotland. The island’s rich, peaty soil and mild climate make it perfect for whisky distilling. As of 2017, Islay lays claim to no fewer than eight distilleries.
District Clan: Macdonald
Lochside is a privately-owned boutique hotel and Scottish institution that houses one of the greatest whisky bars in the world. The bar is the perfect base from which to tour Islay’s distilleries and to broaden your knowledge of the single malts. The bespoke bar in the Whisky Lounge is home to an extensive collection of fine and rare Islay whiskys for you to try – practice makes perfect!
The hotel also boasts 12 newly-refurbished en-suite bedrooms, which offer luxury amenities and stunning views over Loch Indaal.
Bowmore, Isle of Islay
Founded in 1779, Bowmore Distillery is the first recorded distillery on Islay, as well as being one of the oldest in Scotland. Its whisky is known for its distinctive smoky flavor, which is achieved by smoking the malt in a peat-fired kiln.
The distillery offers two tours, the first being a Craftsman’s Tour, which allows you to visit the legendary No.1 vaults, where you can taste some very special Bowman indeed. The second is the Distillery Tour, an essential outing if you are visiting the island and want to get a sense of how the single malt is produced.
In the Victorian age, Campbeltown was known as the whisky capital of the world. Only three distilleries have maintained production from those early days but Campbeltown still retains its excellent whisky-making reputation.
District Clan: Macdonald
A warm welcome awaits you at the Mull of Kintyre, where Craigard House stands pride of place overlooking Campbeltown Loch. A recently converted Victorian mansion, the hotel boasts 13 comfortable and well-appointed rooms, many with glorious sea views. The Lochside Restaurant specializes in freshly prepared seafood and shellfish from the Kintyre waters – the perfect accompaniment to an evening of whisky drinking.
Glen Scotia Whisky
Glen Scotia is one of the smallest whisky distilleries in Scotland, producing both peated and unpeated whisky. The site still contains many of its original design features, including the fermenters, the stillroom, and the dunnage warehouse, all of which date back to the 1830s. The distillery offers a Standard Tour for just £5 per person (about $7) or a Heritage Tour which includes a small tasting of their core product at the end. If you are looking forward to a dedicated tasting session, then there are a variety of options also available.
The Scottish Highlands are renowned for their beautiful and rugged landscapes, teaming with wildlife, from rare eagles to hordes of free-roaming deer. The region is home to many mountain ranges, including the highest mountain of the British Isles, Ben Nevis.
A world-famous, luxury Scottish hotel complete with award-winning spa and golf resort – what more could you ask for? Set within 850 acres of Perthshire countryside, Gleneagles is the perfect retreat and is just an hour from both Edinburgh and Glasgow Airports. The 200 elegant bedrooms offer a choice of either modern or traditional interiors and the hotel also houses many designer boutiques, restaurants, and a well-equipped health club.
The Famous Grouse Experience
Steeped in 250 years of history, the Glenturret Distillery is home to The Famous Grouse Experience, a unique interactive whisky experience and spiritual home of the brand. The story of the brand is as rich and absorbing as the whisky itself, with a range of tours available, allowing visitors a unique glimpse into its iconic history. The newly-refurbished Visitors Centre comes complete with a shop, café and the chance to create your own personalized label on your favorite bottle of whisky.
District Clan: near Murray
You’ll feel right at home at Murraypark Hotel where modern styling blend with a homey atmosphere. There are 21 guestrooms at the property complete with all the amenities we’ve come to expect — coffee, tea, en-suite bathrooms, and free WiFi.
The rate also includes a complimentary breakfast cooked-to-order or the option to partake in the continental breakfast. Fancy a sweat? Guests have access to Murraypark’s sister four-star resort property, a six-minute walk away, where you can use the gym, indoor pool, steam room, sauna, and spa.
Royal Lochnagar Distillery
Founded in 1845, the distillery takes its name from the neighboring mountain and boasts a royal title since Queen Victoria’s visit in 1848. After the first ever distillery tour, Queen Victoria enjoyed a dram of Lochnagar single malt Scotch whisky. Reputedly she drank her whisky with claret!
Today, the distillery retains much of its original character and is home to one of the six remaining traditional open-top mash tuns in Scotland. Open year-round, the tours and times – which are sometimes subject to change – can be found on the Royal Lochnagar website.
District Clan: Sutherland
Dornoch Castle is a luxury castle hotel in Dornoch, Sutherland. Each room blends historical features seamlessly with modern amenities, to leave you feeling like royalty. The Old Courtroom offers oak-paneling, an Elizabethan style hand-carved four-poster bed, original stone walls and a large modern bathroom featuring a whirlpool bath.
Its old-world aesthetic is made all the more charming by the award-winning whisky bar downstairs, which has earned the hotel the accolade of No. 1 Rated Whisky Hotel by whiskybase.com.
The Dornoch Distillery is an exciting new prospect on the whisky landscape. The adjacent Dornoch Castle Hotel, which is owned and run by two brothers, Phil and Simon Thompson, has long since maintained the success of the castle’s well-respected whisky bar by selling discontinued bottles at a fair price.
Having dreamed of starting up their own distillery, the brothers took the plunge and put their house on the market in order to pursue this exciting new venture.
District Clan: MacLean
First opening its doors in 1849, the Glenisle is a country hotel that has been at the heart of the charming village of Lamlash ever since. Following a refurbishment in 2008, the hotel has come to be known as a warm and ambient retreat, with stunning views over the sea to the majestic Holy Isle. The hotel’s library is the perfect places to relax with a drink in hand and warm up by the open fire.
Lochranza, Isle of Arran
A warm welcome awaits you on the Isle of Arran, which in the early 19th Century hosted more than 50 illicit distilleries – all carefully hidden from the eyes of the taxman.
Arran Distillery was opened in 1995 and is home to some of the purest water in all of Scotland – making it an ideal whisky-making location. The fresh water is cleansed as it passes over the granite rocks and is then softened by peat as it slowly meanders from the mountaintops into nearby Loch na Davie. The distillery’s award-winning visitor’s center is where tourists can start their Arran whisky journey and even enjoy some tutored tastings.
Not an official geographic location, the lowlands of Scotland refers to some areas of the south of Scotland, although it’s important to note that not all of them are physically ‘low’, just as some areas that are indisputably in the Highlands, such as Islay, are low-lying.
Having played host to both English and Scottish royalty, including Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria, a night’s stay in Melville Castle feels like stepping back in time.
The hotel is a family-run business and is situated just six miles from Edinburgh city center, making it a perfectly accessible weekend or holiday retreat. The castle’s interior pays homage to its varied and rich history and is decorated in an elegant 18th Century style. Many of the hotel’s paintings and sculptures adorning the walls and hallways depict images of the rugged Scottish landscape and its wildlife.
Glenkinchie Distillery & Visitor Centre
Pencaitland, East Lothian
The picturesque Glenkinchie Distillery is located near Edinburgh, where the rolling barley fields reflect the whisky’s light and dry tones. A visit to the distillery offers whisky fans a glimpse into malting history and demonstrates how the ‘water of life’ is produced through its various stages of distilling. At the end of the tour, visitors are led into the bar for a tasting of Glenkinchie Single Malt Whisky.
Back from your Scottish heritage adventure? Tell us your story in the comments!
Cover image courtesy of Sorin Tudorut, Unsplash. This article was adapted from Castle hotels in the Highlands: historic luxury in Scotland and Whisked away: hotels on the trail of Scotland’s whisky heritage which both first appeared on Room5 UK.