Cold and bitter, Oban is no place for sun-seekers – truth be told – but what it does offer is something that you can’t find in the sun-baked landscapes of the Med or on a Greek island. Argyll & The Isles has long been a quietly exquisite tourist destination; but let this guide shine the light on this remarkably underrated region’s beauty and magic.
For Oban, the “gateway to the Isles” and the surrounding areas can be an awe-inspiring place to leave your tourist footprint, as long you don’t mind wrapping up warm and spending your time outdoors in getting lost in the views of the Scottish Highlands.
For those in the know, Oban is already a world-class destination in Great Britain. But for others who are yet to uncover the captivating historical and natural beauty of Scotland’s Oban, this is the ultimate guide to planning your visit.
Best Time of Year
There’s no real answer to this for many tourists, a countryside break could very much be weather dependent; for others, it’s more about seeing the sights and exploring the food and wine. But as seasons go, they all bring something unique to the Scottish tourist hotspots.
For activities such as hiking, cycling, golfing or watersports, spring is a great season to visit beautiful Scotland. The weather is mild or chilly, and perfectly timed before the summer months, you’ll be able to find piece away from summer holidaymakers.
In summer, the country is truly delightful, with a much better chance of catching the sun. Main cities such as Edinburgh are bustling with visitors and the little villages near Oban will see their tea rooms filled with daytrippers.
Golden hues and deep oranges and reds will dominate the Scottish countryside in autumn. Tumbling leaves will set the scenery of Oban ablaze with sheer autumnal beauty.
For the perfect snowscape, there really is no better place in the UK than the Scottish countryside. Brimming with tourist photo opportunities, winter really brings out the icy charm of Argyll & The Isles. For whiskey lovers, this is the perfect nuptial of bitter weather and warm tipple to soothe the soul. Known as the “whiskey coast”, you’ll be able to taste the local whiskies at the 14 distilleries in the area.
Your journey to Oban is a wondrous experience in itself. Enjoy a 3 hour scenic drive from either Edinburgh or Scotland, or opt for an inexpensive coach ride if you fancy a leisurely trip. You can also reach Oban from Stirling in just 2 hours. Wherever you’re coming from, your drive will be blessed with some remarkable coastal views and a glimpse of the amazing Scottish countryside.
Whether you go in the height of summer and watch the countryside bloom with Scottish pride, or you prefer to hear the crunch of autumn leaves underneath each step as you explore the Scottish Highlands, there are so many different things to see and do in and around Oban.
A Taste of Scottish History…
For romantic ruins close to Oban, visit Dunstaffnage Castle. This castle dates back to the 13th Century and is one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles. The mighty stronghold of the Kings of the Isles, Dunstaffnage sits on a vast rock overlooking the sparkling waters of the long and narrow Firth of Lorne.
Overlooking the pretty coast, this enchanted castle is submerged in foliage and moss; for visitors, this truly is a woodland fairytale. History lovers will find excitement in this very location as the 7th and 8th centuries saw four kings rule Dalriada and Dunollie from within these castle grounds – and many have proclaimed Dunollie to be the original capital of the Scots. Just North of Oban, you’ll find it to be a convenient and short drive from the centre.
Killmartin House Museum
If you venture out to beautiful Killmartin Glen in Mid Argyll, be sure to go into Killmartin House Museum, where a huge collection of Bronze Age artefacts can be studied. With 800 ancient monuments dotted around the Killmartin village, you won’t be short of historical distractions in this area of the Isles. Discover the Killmartin’s stone circles and end your day at one of the quaint tearooms in the village centre.
This prominent tower has been compared to Rome’s Colosseum; boasting the same spherical precision, but all the charms of a Scottish landscape. Just a short ten minute stroll from Oban’s town centre, this is must-visit historical site for anyone in the area.
The breathtaking beauty of Loch Etive is one that reminds us all why the Scottish Highlands is such a precious gem of Britain. Named ‘Etive’ which is believed to mean ‘little ugly one’, it’s rather paradoxical. With the backdrop of dramatic fells and miraculously reflective waters, this stunning lake is well worth a visit.
Inverawe Country Park
The perfect family day out, Inverawe Country Park is a great place to explore the trails and tracks of the Scottish countryside. Try your hand at fishing or learn how salmon is smoked in the Smokery, followed by some delicious grub in the adjoining café. There is also a fantastic play area for children, so there really is something for the whole family.
Argyll & The Isles is steeped in rich, interesting history and its natural beauty is simply unsurpassed. But as well as the endless tourist sights and natural wonders of the Isles, there are also so many things to do for those who are prone to getting itchy feet on holiday. Here are a few of the many activities available in Oban and the surrounding areas.
With the unmatched nature of the Scottish Highlands, Oban and the rest of Isles is a rambler’s playground. But there is also everything from cycling and boat trips to scenic car tours. Here are some things to keep you active during your stay.
Walking / Hiking
There’s really no better way to take in the sights, sounds and crisp, fresh air of the Isles than on foot. If you’re a keen walker, some of the best walks include Ben Lora which is an uphill ascent taking you between 2 to 3 hours, with a mindblowing view of the islands at the summit; Port Appin (10 mile drive from Oban) which is a delightful 45 minute walk taking you along the coastal headland; and Glen Nant where you will come across a number of hills and some beautiful woodland.
For more walks, take a look at our Walking In Oban guide.
For those who are travelling with the elderly or young children, walking tours may not be the most practical way to explore Oban’s surrounding beauty. If you love getting behind the wheel for a thrilling countryside drive, here are some fantastic car tour routes to take.
- Oban to Tannuilt (via Glen Lonan)
- The Glencoe Circuit (A85)
- The Loch Awe Circuit (through Kilchrenan)
- Island of Mull Circuit
- Loch Tay Circuit
- Loch Ness
For detailed information on the above car tours, please see our Oban Car Tours guide.
From deep lake scuba diving and canoeing to a simple and relaxed boat trip, there are so many activities available in Oban’s waters. Hire a sailing boat on Taynuilt beach, taking a thrilling canoe ride down the River Awe, or dive off the West coast to discover the vast Sea of the Hebrides.
For something more relaxing, book a Loch Etive cruise or discover the Corryvreckan whirlpool on an organised boat tour.
There are various places to fish near Oban including the magical Loch Etive and the River Awe, big game fishing on the Atlantic shelf off Mull, or trout fishing in Loch Awe. Inverawe Country Park is also a great place for fishing – and here you can watch as the experts smoke salmon in their famous Smokery.
With our plush greens and fairways, our astonishingly picturesque backdrops, golfing in Scotland is a fantastic experience for even golfers who have played at clubs all over the world. If you’re a keen golfer, you must visit Taynuilt Golf Course (9 holes) or Dalmally Golf Course (9 holes) for a short game, or head to the prestigious Oban Golf Club (18 holes) for a hilly challenge with a view.
Cycling is a fantastic way to explore the beauty of Oban. It’s a superb group activity and a lot of fun if you are taking young children on holiday with you. Bike hire is available in Taynuilt, from Fiat Rental in Oban, from the Sunnybrae caravan site, or from Appin Bikes in Port Appin. Here at Bonawe House, we can also help you arrange cycling tours.
With a huge stretch of remarkable countryside, many tourists find it hard to imagine the lively atmosphere of Argyll & The Isles. The Scottish people truly know how to enjoy life and we have great food and drink, a world of toe-tapping music, and some great festivals to bring everyone together.
If you’re looking for the true soul of Scotland, come and visit one of our many festivals and events. Here are a few near in Oban and the surrounding areas.
Oban Winter Festival (November)
Winter in Scotland is spectacular and the Oban Winter Festival celebrates this beautiful season with a Victorian market, a reindeer parade and charming Christmas lights. Watch the lights get turned on and sip on a mulled wine as you walk around the festivals.
Killmartin Christmas Market (November)
Join us at the quaint village of Killmartin and celebrate the run-up to the Christmas with plenty of stalls, lots of arts and crafts and some delicious food and drink to keep spirits high.
Hogmanay in Oban (New Year’s Eve)
Get a taste of the Edinburgh NYE glam here in Oban at the Hogmanay Festival and expect great entertainment for the whole family, with top music and plenty of food and wine in the countdown to midnight.
Highlands Music and Dance Festival (May)
Get into the real spirit of Scottish music and culture with this lively tradition of Highland dancing and various musical performances including the pipes and fiddles, woodwind and brass and singing.
Loch Fyne Food Fair (May)
Taste the flavours of Scotland at this colourful and vibrant festival. Celebrate some of the Highlands’ most wonderful delicacies and get your hands on the tastiest seafood including oysters, salmon and mussels or delicious meats from the surrounding glens.
Loch Fyne Viking Festival (June)
For something completely different, head to the Loch Fyne Viking Festival – a great day of fun and learning for all ages. With an exact replica of a 40ft Viking ship, this event will take you back in time to uncover the history of the Viking invasion and Scandinavian Scotland. Immerse yourself in the Viking lifestyle and enjoy music, food and drink the Viking way.
It’s no secret that the Scots can cook. We may not have all-year round sunshine and a climate for al fresco, but we are a nation of Michelin starred chefs and our restaurants serve up everything from hearty, rustic dishes to refined foods that tell stories of our past.
If you are staying in Oban, here are some fine places to eat.
The Oyster Inn
This is a great place to dine with a view. If you want to brave the al fresco dining area, you can overlook the waters as you devour the fresh langoustines and scallops. There’s also a delicious morning and afternoon sandwich menu for ramblers.
For a delicious and hearty pub meal to warm you up after a long day’s hike or bike ride, Brander Lodge is a lively pub with a friendly atmosphere. Calling itself “a home from home”, this fantastic establishment has won the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence three years running!
The Wide Mouthed Frog
The Wide Mouthed Frog in Dunstaffnage is a family friendly restaurant, serving everything from breakfast and morning coffees to afternoon tea and evening meals. As well as freshly caught seafood, a vegetarian selection is also available.
Michelin Star & AA Restaurants
For some fine dining during your stay, here are some fantastic Michelin starred establishments or AA awarded restaurants for you to try.
Just 12 miles North of Oban, this restaurant is a short drive or taxi ride away. Famed for its popular Farmhouse Cheese Trolley and its sophisticated selection of wines, the restaurant is a haven for both cheese and wine lovers. Enjoy a set afternoon tea menu or try the Mallaig Landed Halibut for evening dinner.
Head further up North to Fort William and you can dine at the incredible Inverlochy Castle. This is a truly smart venue and men are required to wear a jacket and tie whilst women are to dress in smart/formal attire. Start with the delicious Oban scallops and move onto fillet of Scottish beef for mains.
Airds Hotel & Restaurant
Up in Port Appin, Airds is a must-visit restaurant for foodies. A luxury country house restaurant, Airds can rustle up the most spectacular gastronomical creations. The menu has so much creative flair and you can enjoy a modern twist on some tasty Scottish classics.
For more information on where to eat in Oban, please do not hesitate to ask us – or read our Eating Out Guide for restaurant contact details.