Port Ellen is the village I got to know when visiting Islay for the first time. It’s one of two Calmac ferry terminals on Islay, the other one is Port Askaig. It was during our honeymoon that we took the ferry to Islay and arrived on a stunning quiet evening in this beautiful picturesque village. Our first wee trip on the island took us to the Carraig Fhada Lighthouse where Harry and Sally had a Bed and Breakfast. After a quick bite to eat in our room we wandered around the lighthouse. I think it was there that our passion for the island started and became a permanent thing in our lives.
Back then, some 20 years ago, Port Ellen was a lot quieter than it is today. Whisky tourism was still in its infancy and everything felt much more peaceful and quiet, also in Bowmore. Nowadays bustling Port Ellen is THE whisky village on Islay. There are the three existing distilleries of Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin. A new one is being built outside the village called Portintruan. Also, the Port Ellen Distillery is coming back to life in the next years. This brings the total number of distilleries near Port Ellen at five and will cause a further influx of visitors.
Tourism on Islay
The rise in (whisky) tourism on Islay has been a great opportunity for the locals to rent out their properties to accommodate the many visitors. Businesses flourished as well and economically Islay has benefitted a lot from the influx in tourism. Nowadays each distillery has a visitor centre, many guided tours and sometimes even a restaurant attracting even more visitors. Many years ago getting a tour in a distillery was simply not done. How the times have changed…. Unfortunately there is often a downside to everything. Property prices have gone up dramatically on the island and there is a housing shortage. Young Ileachs and incomers find it hard to buy or rent a place to live on Islay. However, new housing developments outside Port Ellen and in Bowmore have brought some relief, but more is needed. Much more!
About Port Ellen
Port Ellen is mainly built around Leodamais Bay with the ferry terminal, harbour and marina on the south-west side. The village is sheltered by the Ard and the large promontory of the Oa, towards the south and east. Frederick Crescent is the main street where you’ll find the Co-op supermarket, St John’s Church, Columba Hall, the Blue Letterbox Post Office and SeaSalt Bistro. Opposite Frederick Crescent, the street along the bay, is a very nice grassy area with picknick benches and a sandy beach. Near the harbour is the Islay Hotel, a great place to eat, sleep and have a drink. There’s also live music on some evenings, check their website for more info. Port Ellen is the second largest village on Islay, after Bowmore.
The area west of the harbour is a residential area and home to the playing fields. There is one building standing out and that’s Port Ellen Maltings. They provide the maltings for some of the distilleries on Islay and do so according the the specs of each distillery. Next to the Maltings are the iconic Port Ellen Distillery warehouses. Behind the warehouses is the place where currently construction takes place for the new Distillery. They will start producing whisky somewhere in 2024 and will become the 12th Islay Distillery.
The Oa Peninsula
Port Ellen is the “gateway” to the Oa Peninsula. The Oa Peninsula is nowadays largely deserted and mainly used for agricultural purposes. Parts of the Oa are an RSPB nature reserve and are very much worth visiting. The main attraction on the Oa is the American Monument on the Mull of Oa. It was built to commemorate the (American) victims of two shipwrecks in which many people lost their lives.
Things to do
Port Ellen has a few very nice beaches in and around the village. The nearby Carraig Fhada Lighthouse is worth visiting and so is the stunning Singing Sands beach. A few years ago the construction of the Three Distilleries Path was completed. It’s a walk and cycle way starting at the primary school and ending at Ardbeg Distillery. With in between the distilleries of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and the new Portintruan Distillery, which will open in 2024.
Islay Sea Adventures
A special mention is reserved for Gus Newman and his Islay Sea Adventures Business. If there is one thing on Islay you must do it is a trip with one of his boats. There are shorter and longer trips along Islay’s beautiful coast, you can watch seals, fish and eat Scallops on board. Sometimes he has trips further afield, to Ballycastle in Northern Ireland or to Corryvreckan north of Jura. You’ll have an unforgettable time. Make sure to book in advance! More info on his website www.islay-sea-adventures.co.uk
A Hotel, B&B’s and plenty of high quality Self Catering accommodation is available in the village. Instead of providing a link to AirBnB I’d rather send you over to Islay Info. Getting in touch, and booking directly with Accommodation owners can save you a LOT of money. You can thank me for it afterwards, or purchase a print below ?
Buy Port Ellen Prints