When summer hits Scotland, I can’t help myself but escape the city to explore some of the lush green Highlands or the vast beaches of the Scottish islands. One of my favourite road trip destinations on the Scottish west coast is Oban – a city you will love whether you are into outdoor adventures, stunning scenery or relaxed sightseeing. Here is my travel guide to Oban including where to stay, what to eat and amazing things to do in and around Oban!
Oban is a small town and a little out of the way for most Scotland-travellers, as it is not located along the popular route between Glasgow, Fort William and Loch Ness. And yet it is one of Scotland’s most famous towns, not only the Seafood Capital of Scotland‘ but also the Gateway to the Isles with ferries leaving for the Inner and Southern Hebrides like Mull, Islay or Jura.
Sadly, we could only stay for one night before duty called again in Glasgow, so we rented a car and left for our adventure early on a Saturday morning. Read on for my quick guide to Oban and a one-minute travel guide vlog with seven things to do in Oban.
First, watch the video:
The first time I had been to Oban was on a day trip organised for international students at the University of Glasgow. It was short but sweet and the weather left a lot to be desired. Less than a year later I set out again, this time I had booked a 2-day sea kayaking introduction course with National Kayak School and stayed for two nights in an independent hostel in town. It should take me another two years to return, this time with my partner in tow and another day trip of kayaking.
Where to Stay in Oban
Coincidentally our 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. Since the weather forecast was fantastic, we quickly decided to save our pennies and pitch our tent at the campsite at Gallanachmore Farm. The site is a 10-minute drive from Oban and right by the sea. From our tent, we could see the water and the Isle of Kerrera – and nothing else. It was magical!
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.
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 on the seafront 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.
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 a great 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.
2) Visit Oban Distillery
I personally have not been to the distillery in Oban, but I can imagine it is as good as any other distillery to get you hooked! I don’t even drink whisky and I love going to distilleries! The Oban Distillery is in the middle of town, it is very hard to miss.
3) Explore Oban Harbour
The seafront promenade and the harbour are my favourite places in Oban – just strolling along George Street, watching the ferries rolling in and out towards the Hebrides and fighting off the seagulls if they try and steal your fish and chips or an ice-cream cone. It’s a magical atmosphere!
4) Walk along the Promenade to Dunollie Castle
If the sun is out and you’ve got some time you can follow the promenade along the sea all the way to Dunollie Castle north of Oban. The walk takes about 20-30 minutes and leads past innumerable B&Bs and hotels, and the majestic St Columba’s Cathedral.
5) A Boat Trip to Staffa, Iona or Mull
This is high up on the list for my next Oban trip. You might have seen the bizarre basalt rock formation of the Isle of Staffa somewhere before, if not check it out here. Day trip boats leave Oban around 7.30 am and come back after 8 pm, so it’s good to do this trip if you have at least two nights in Oban. You will visit some of the caves of the island and maybe stop by the Isle of Iona as well.
6) Hiking on the Isle of Kerrera
On our way walking from the campsite to Oban, we came past a small motorised passenger ferry going back and forth between just outside Oban and the Isle of Kerrera which you can see from the harbour. We saw quite a few people getting on or off, all clad in hiking gear or on their mountain bikes, so I reckon it must be a great spot for a sunny day.
7) Sea Kayaking with National Kayak School
After I had enjoyed my introduction course two years ago so much, the reason for our trip to Oban was once again sea kayaking. The islands, sea lochs and sounds around Oban are just perfect, even for beginners. This time we booked a day trip and the two of us were joined by our instructor Stuart (who runs the kayak school with his partner) and two guys who had done quite a bit more paddling than us. But we were up for the challenge.
We spent all day paddling around Loch Creran, north of Oban, and the island of Eriska. We had our lunch break in a bay next to an abandoned craft and a huge seagull colony. Luck enough the birds were so busy guarding their eggs, that they didn’t take any interest in our lunches. I’ll tell you more about the day in detail soon, here are some photos for now.
Where to Eat in Oban
Oban is the seafood capital of Scotland, but seeing that I am vegetarian I could not indulge in this any longer. There are quite a few seafood restaurants in Oban, and several 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 good 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 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.
We decided to make our own meals at the campsite, but did have a sweet treat in town: freshly made ice cream from The Pokey Hat, which I can only recommend!
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.
My feet are already itchy again and I wish we would have had more time in Oban to explore the islands, visit the distillery and rent a couple of bikes for a day or two. That said, it’s totally worth it to visit the town for just a weekend as well. It is fairly close, depending on traffic it takes 3-3,5 hours to drive here from Glasgow and the drive along Loch Lomond is a beautiful journey in itself.
Have you ever been to Oban? What was your favourite thing to do?
Planning a trip to Scotland?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.
Disclaimer: I was invited to the kayaking day trip courtesy of National Kayak School.