Oban Distillery and McCaig's Tower.

Gateway to the Isles: Amazing Things to do in Oban

When city life gets too much, I can’t help myself but escape the city to explore the lush green mountains of the Highlands or the sandy beaches of the islands. Oban is one of my favourite getaways on the Scottish west coast because it gives me access to both. Whether you are into outdoor adventures, lots of sightseeing and cultural experiences, fresh seafood or just relaxing by the seaside, you will love Oban just like me. Let me convince you with the top things to do in Oban as well as some ideas for trips and day tours to the surrounding areas!

Even though it is not exactly off the beaten track, Oban is a little out of the way for many Scotland visitors. However, the pretty seaside town is well worth the slight detour from the main tourist route between Glasgow and the Central Highlands!

I have visited Oban many times – sometimes to spend time in town specifically, other times using it as a starting off point for my island hopping adventures. This travel guide contains some of my favourite things to do in Oban, ideas for activities that introduce you to the surrounding areas and lots of practical travel information.

Read on if you’d like to know:

  • Which attractions and places to visit in Oban,

  • where to stay in Oban and some restaurant recommendations, and

  • great activities leaving from Oban.

There is even a video for inspiration – I made it after a recent trip to go sea kayaking in Oban:

 

Amazing things to do in & around Oban

Oban is a small town, but even though there are not as many sights as in big cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow, there is still loads to see.

1) Climb up to McCaig’s Tower

McCaig’s Tower is the hard-to-miss monument overlooking the town of Oban. It took five years to build, from 1897 to 1902, and was commissioned by John Stuart McCaig – hence the name. It’s really beautiful and definitely worth the trek up the hill. Coming from town simply follow the signs that will lead you straight to the tower. If you don’t want to take the steps you can also find and follow Craigard Road or take your car up to the car park behind it.

The tower is free to enter and the views of the Sound of Kerrera as well as the islands near Oban are magnificent. I doubt that there is a better place to see the sunset than here!

View of Oban from McCaig's Tower.

2) Visit Oban Distillery

Oban is one of my favourite whiskies and Oban Distillery is right in the bustling town centre – very handy! Tours are available year-round for £12 (one-hour tour), but if you want to learn more you can also opt for a 2-hour tasting tour or a custom tasting with the Distillery Manager. You can find more information here. 

Craobh Haven Cottages: Seaview Self-Catering Accommodation near Oban | Watch Me See | Stay at Craobh Haben Cottages, a gorgeous self-catering accommodation near Oban with views across the sea and the Craobh Haven marina. Your cottage is just a stone's throw away from Oban, making it the perfect place to be based when exploring wonderfull Argyll!

3) Explore Oban Harbour

The harbour of Oban is one of my favourite places in town. I love the bustle of boats and ferries coming in and out. Lots of people stroll up and down the waterfront, eating their fish & chips on one of the many benches, always fending off greedy seagulls. As the tide rolls out it reveals a small pebble beach beneath the harbour wall. For dessert pick up an ice cream come from The Pokey Hat or bring a vegan cake from a nearby cafe. Even though I’m vegan, I particularly love watching the seafood stalls near the ferry terminal – I think if you already decide to eat fish and seafood, you might as well get it as fresh as possible, right off the boat.

 

Oban Harbour

4) Walk along the Esplanade

But the waterfront does not stop at the small harbour. When you walk past Columbia Hotel, you will get to the even longer Esplanade of Oban. The bustle dies down a little here, but there are still many boats – some offering tours to local islands and wildlife colonies – and lots to see on the way.

Highlights include the Oban Peace & War Museum, the shop of the Oban Chocolate Company, St Columba Cathedral and the Oban War Memorial.

Oban Esplanade

5) Visit Dunollie Castle

When you get to the end of the Esplanade it is just a little further to Dunollie Castle, the ancestral home of Clan MacDougall. The castle lies in ruins, but the exhibition at the 1745 House Museum tells the history of the MacDougall family and their castle. There is a little shop and a cafe on the grounds as well, and if you’re up for more walking, explore the woodland trails nearby.

The castle is open to visitors from April to October. £6

There are actually quite a few castles near Oban, but most of them require you to drive there or take boats and have at least a half-day to spare. Apart from Dunollie Castle, you can visit:

  • Dunstaffnage Castle near Dunbeg (3 miles north of Oban),
  • Castle Stalker near Appin (18 miles north of Oban),
  • Gylen Castle on the Isle of Kerrera (short ferry to Kerrera + 4-hour hike)
  • Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull (1-hour ferry to Craignure + 5-minute drive)
  • Kilchurn Castle near Lochawe (23 miles east of Oban), and
  • Inveraray Castle (38 miles south-east of Oban)
Kilchurn Castle
Kilchurn Castle

6) Walk up Pulpit Hill

As if the views from McCaig’s Tower were not enough, there is another great viewpoint high above Oban – but from Pulpit Hill the tower is part of the skyline! The walking route leads from the centre of Oban into the countryside just south of the town. You could spend hours sitting on a bench at the top, watching the boat traffic of Oban harbour or the sun setting over Kerrera and Mull. You can find the detailed trail description here.

walking in oban

7) Browse Local Artist Studios

Once you have seen a sunset in Oban, you will not be surprised to hear that the town is a thriving artist scene – how could you not want to photograph and paint this scenery?! The Jetty Gallery is a great place to browse the work of emerging and well established local artists. Another artsy place to visit is the open studio of artist Alice Strange, whose mosaic garden is a site in itself. 

Activities leaving from Oban

Oban is not called the Gateway to the Isles for nothing. Whether you climb McCaigs Tower or Pulpit Hill, the bird’s eye views will reveal that Oban is surrounded by water, islands and beautiful scenery that are just waiting to be discovered.

I tell you more about day trips from Oban in another post and if you browse my Argyll archives, you will find many itinerary suggestions to spend a few days exploring the islands and peninsulas in the region, but here is just a little taster of great outdoor activities that leave from Oban.

8) A Boat Trip to Staffa, Iona or Mull

You might have seen photos the bizarre basalt rock formation of the Isle of Staffa and heard the story of its connection to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Now you can check it out yourself! Staffa Tours day trips for Staffa, Iona and Mull leave Oban around early in the morning (depending on the itinerary you chose) and come back in time for a late dinner. Highlights can include a visit to said cave on Staffa, the Abbey on Iona and nearby puffin colonies.

 

An Isle of Staffa tour had been on my bucket list for ages, and my recent weekend trip to Mull was the perfect occasion to finally visit!

9) Visiting a local seal colony by boat

Many local boats also offer shorter trips to local seal colonies that allow you to leave the town for a relaxed afternoon or morning at sea. Walk up and down the harbour and the Esplanade to compare offers and find the right boat for you.

10) Hiking on the Isle of Kerrera

If you continue on the path past Pulpit Hill, the trail will eventually bring you to the Kerrera ferry. Of course you can also drive here (about 5 minutes south of Oban), but you cannot bring your car across to the island. You could spend an entire day on Kerrera, walking to the Tea Rooms (note, they are cash only) and explore the stunning ruins of Gylen Castle, or you could just spend a few hours taking in the views from the island.

There are two circular walks on Kerrera. One takes in the southern half of the island and Gylen Castle, while the other route leads north and to the Hutcheson’s Monument.

Sturdy hiking boots, like these Zamberlan boots, are a must on your packing list for Scotland.

11) Sea Kayaking with National Kayak School

The islands, sea lochs and sounds around Oban are perfect sea kayaking territory – even for complete beginners. Sea Kayak Oban (formerly National Kayak School) offers courses, day trips, multi-day expeditions and outfitting for experiences kayakers. In the past I did a 2-day introduction course with them as well as a full-day kayaking trip to a nearby sea loch. The business recently changed management (and its name), but I hear the courses and trips are still fantastic!

Day trips and multi-day expeditions cost around £90 per day which includes rental of all gear and guidance of an experienced kayaker. Half-day trips are £50. Many of their trips launch from Oban’s harbour, just a few steps from their kayak shop. However, some trips start in more remote locations or may include ferry rides.

 

Sea kayaking in Oban

12) Hire a Bicycle

The area around Oban is great for cyclists, whether you want challenging hills, off-track MTB routes or gentle coastal paths. You could cycle along the sea to Connel and visit the dramatic ruins of Dunstaffnage Castle or take the bike across to the Isle of Mull for a day exploring this island.

Hire bikes are available from Oban Cycles from £25 per day; e-bikes from £35. 

Food & Restaurants in Oban

There is no shortage of great places to eat in Oban. It is the seafood capital of Scotland and even though I’m vegan, I think it is worth pointing this out. There are quite a few seafood restaurants in Oban and several fish & chip shops (chippy) in the centre of town, all competing for the title of ‘Best Fish & Chips in Oban’. In the end, they’re all tasty though because the fish comes straight off the boat, and you can choose which shop to buy from depending on the length of the queue. George Street Fish & Chip Shop always stands out for me because they also serve veggie haggis supper, which is conveniently vegan!

I have heard that Eeusk at the front of the pier is an excellent seafood restaurant but never had the chance to try it myself. The prices looked alright though and seeing that it’s right by the edge of the sea the views from the restaurant are also amazing.

If sitting in is not your thing, keep your eyes open for the fresh seafood stalls near the ferry terminal. They get the catch of the day straight off the boats and prepare it in a small tent by the waterfront.

Also at the ferry terminal is a cafe called Food from Argyll at the Pier – and as the name suggests, they sell mainly local produce from Argyll. They have a wide range of cold and cooked meals and to sit-in as well as takeaway. They even have a great variety of vegan options!

Luckily, Oban also has a great little vegan cafe, called the Little Potting Shed, which serves delicious sandwiches, wraps and soups for lunch, and plenty of cakes and sweeties for dessert.

Food from Argyll at the Pier in Oban

Nightlife & Pubs in Oban

There are plenty of pubs and bars in Oban to choose from – here is a selection of some of my favourites:

Aulay’s Bar is a traditional pub near the train station which has the most beautiful flower display outside during the summer. Great for a pint among locals.

Cuan Mor is a lovely modern bar (and restaurant) at the harbour of Oban. They have a great selection of local beers. Great for a drink by the busy waterfront overlooking the harbour.

The Corryvreckan is a Whetherspoon’s (a British pub & restaurant chain), but the location is spot-on. The pub is right next to the ferry terminal, making it a great place for a pint by the waterfront – especially on a sunny day as they have a spacious outdoor seating area.

Markie Dan’s is the bar in the basement of the Corran House Hotel – a traditional pub with a total winner of a beer garden outside!

Finally, if you want to experience a Scottish Ceilidh dance, head over to The View. Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays (during the summer) are Ceilidh nights there and tickets ar £9 per person.

Accommodation in Oban

Coincidentally my last overnight trip fell on the same weekend as Oban Live, a 2-day open air festival just outside of town. Oban was buzzing and it was tricky finding accommodation. Even though there are many B&Bs , hotels and guest houses to choose from, we ended up camping. There are also some hostels and AirBnB is growing in popularity too. The town is always busy, bot just during festival, so it’s a good idea to book well in advance to get the best deal!

Camping | Happy campers can pitch their tents or park their RVs at Gallanachmore Farm. The site is a 10-minute drive from Oban and sits right by the sea. Pitching a two-person tent for a night costs £20 and includes the use of the shared bathroom facilities. Electricity hookups are available, but only on the camp areas up the hill, not down by the water.

Camping in Oban

Of course, camping is not for everyone and if you plan in advance, there is endless accommodation in Oban to choose from. Here are a few suggestions:

On a budget | The Oban Youth Hostel by Hostelling Scotland is about a 10-minute walk from town on the seafront along Oban’s promenade. As a hostel, it offers dorm accommodation, but also private rooms, and is up to the high standard of all Hostelling Scotland locations.

A cosy B&B-style hotel | The Oban Bay Hotel is a good compromise if you like cosy, traditional-style accommodation with bed and breakfast – more comfort than a hostel, but still very budget-friendly.

A high-end hotel | Several of my clients have stayed at The Perle Oban, a stylish luxury hotel at the waterfront of Oban. It is within walking distance of the local train station and ferry port, but also the town centre!

Stay at a castle | If you travel with a group and want to splurge, why not stay at Gallanach Castle? The Garden Wing of the castle sleeps up to eight adults in four bedrooms and is fully equipped with a lovely kitchen.



Booking.com

 

How to get to Oban

By Car: Road Trip from Glasgow to Oban

Oban is about 2.5 hours drive from Glasgow. The quickest route leads north on the A82 along Loch Lomond and eventually west along the A85 from Tyndrum to Lochawe, Connel and on to Oban. Potential stops along this route include Balloch and Luss on Loch Lomond, The Drovers Inn, the Falls of Falloch, Kilchurn Castle, Lochawe and Connel Bridge.

Personally, I prefer a different route though. I also take the A82 north along Loch Lomond, but about half-way up the loch in Tarbet, I turn west for Arrochar and Inveraray. I initially follow the A83 to Inveraray and from there I take the small A819 through the backcountry until I hit the A83 by Lochawe and continue from there to Oban. This route takes slightly longer, but not by much. Potential stops include Balloch and Luss on Loch Lomond, the Rest and Be Thankful viewpoint, Ardkinglas Woodlands Garden, Inveraray Castle, Kilchurn Castle, Lochawe and Connel Bridge.

Argyll, Scotland is top road trip territory - lots to explore & many adventures are just waiting for you. This is my guide to the perfect Argyll road trip!

By Train: The West Highland Line

If you don’t drive you can easily get to Oban by public transport. There are multiple direct trains from Glasgow Queen Street to Oban per day. This route of the West Highland Line is incredibly scenic and the train station in Oban is conveniently located in the town centre. When you get on the train in Glasgow, watch that you are in a carriage that is labelled for Oban. The West Highland Line train splits up in Crianlarich with one end heading to Oban, the other to Fort William.

If you plan to explore the town of Oban, do day trips by boat or go hiking, cycling or kayaking from Oban, then you really don’t have to bring a car! I always book my train tickets in advance on Trainline.com – they are cheapest about 3 months in advance.

Journey to Oban

Oban is a great little getaway on the Scottish west coast. You could spend an entire week using it as a home base, just visit for a long weekend or incorporate the town into a longer Scotland itinerary taking in Argyll and the Isles. My feet are already itching to return!

Have you ever been to Oban? What was your favourite thing to do?

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Disclaimer: I was invited to the kayaking day trip courtesy of National Kayak School.

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9 comments on “Gateway to the Isles: Amazing Things to do in Oban

  1. Time to come visit Oban again – lots of new shops, restaurants and improvements since your last stay. Apart from free town Wi-fi, ceilidhs at The View, Oban Walking Tours, a brand new Hotel and several under new ownership (and newly renovated), cycle trails and new activities. And of course Argyll’s biggest music festival Oban Live is getting better and better and there’s still time to get your tickets!

    • It is indeed time to visit again – always 🙂 Last time was in April, but just for a few hours between ferry and train! Too short to see everything that’s new!!

  2. I am going to Oban tomorrow and successfully added most of your tips to my Oban “to-do” list. Thank you, thank you!

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