Oban is one of the biggest towns on the west coast of Scotland. It's a major transport hub but still has a charming and small-town feel that makes it one of the top holiday destinations in Scotland.
In Scot's Gaelic, Oban is called An t-Òban, which means The Little Bay. The sheltered harbour is always filled with fishing boats, yachts and ferries.
Known asThe Gateway to the Isles because of its excellent ferry links to the many islands of the Inner Hebrides, Oban is the start of many island-hopping itineraries. It's by far the best-connected town on the west coast with a railway station, multiple ferry routes and major roads heading north, east and south.
As well as being a stepping off point for longer trips to the Hebrides, Oban is a great base for day trips out to the islands.
Although some people pass through Oban quickly on their way out to the islands, it's worth staying and exploring for a day or two. There's plenty to do all year round and lots of beautiful scenery nearby.
The Tartan Road's headquarters are just outside of town, so we know the local area really well. If you have any questions about Oban or the surrounding area, please feel free to ask us on Twitter or Facebook. If you would like to incorporate Oban into your tour of the west coast of Scotland, just send us an enquiry.
Image: Unsplash / Nancy Hann
Relive the past at Dunollie Castle
Dunollie Castle (Caisteal Dhùn Ollaigh in Scots Gaelic) was built in the early Middle Ages, when Oban was the centre of the ancient Kingdom of Dál Riata. Some of the earliest written histories about this area record that Dunollie was attacked and burned down three times - in 686, 698, and in 701. It was then rebuilt in 714 by Selbach mac Ferchair, the same King of Dál Riata who burnt it down 13 years earlier!
Later on, the area was part of the Kingdom of the Isles, ruled over by the Viking-Scots King Somerled. His son Dougall founded the Clan MacDougall and ruled over most of what is now Argyll and many of the islands in the mid 12th century.
The castle has been rebuilt many times over the years - the existing ruins are from the 15th century. In 1746, after the Jacobite rebellion, the MacDougalls left the castle and built Dunollie House just down the hill.
These days, the castle is open to visitors and there is an excellent cafe. We recommend the excellent Kingdom of Dalriada tour, where visitors learn about the Vikings and the Jacobites, and even get to try their hand at butter churning before enjoying afternoon tea at the cafe thrown in.
Sample a dram at Oban Whisky Distillery
These days, a small range of single malt whiskies is produced here in a "West Highland" style - with a flavour that's halfway between the smoky style from the Islands and the lighter malts of the Highlands. Our personal favourite is their Little Bay bottling - with a liquorice nose, lots of honey, ginger and salt flavours and a complex dry finish.
The distillery offers an excellent guided whisky tour, where you can see the whole distilling process and try two of their whiskies at the end (take-away samples are available as well, especially useful if you're driving!). We can also organise bespoke distillery tours if you want to go deeper and learn more.
Finally, the distillery has a whisky tasting bar with malts from all around Scotland.
If you want to buy a bottle of whisky, the best whisky shop in Oban is actually just across the road from the distillery at Oban Whisky and Fine Wines - they also sell online and can deliver to your home anywhere in the world.
Climb up to McCaig's Tower
This circular structure dominates the skyline in Oban, but its origins are a bit of a mystery. It was built by John Stewart McCaig but was left unfinished when he died in 1902.
The short walk up to the tower goes past Victorian villas, now mostly converted into hotels and B&Bs, and ends with an amazing view of the town, the harbour and the Isle of Kerrera.
The tower is a focal point for the town and is often lit up in different colours at night to commemorate important causes and events.
Another lovely viewpoint in Oban is from Pulpit Hill on the far side of the harbour.
See the wild Falls of Lora
About 10 minutes' drive north from Oban is the great Falls of Lora. Unlike most waterfalls, this is tidal - it forms twice a day when the water flows out of Loch Etive on the falling tide.
On spring tides it forms a dramatic maelstrom which is a popular destination for kayakers and photographers - and at slack water, it's a popular scuba diving site.
Local Sea Kayak guide Tony Hammock has produced an excellent guide to the Falls of Lora - including detailed tide tables (the tide through the Falls is always different to the tide out to sea). Check the links above before you go to make sure you see the Falls at their best.
Shop for accessories at Crùbag
About halfway to Connel and the Falls of Lora, you'll pass the small village of Dunstaffnage. If you take the turnoff here and continue through the village, you come to the European Marine Science Centre run by the Scottish Association for Marine Science (aka SAMS). This small university has about 150 students and its campus is also host to a range of local entrepreneurs.
One of our favourite local designers, Crùbag, is based here: Crùbag is an artist-led design studio promoting beautiful ocean-inspired designs and producing sustainable luxury textiles, homeware and accessories inspired by marine science. The quirky brand name brings together the Gaelic word for crab with its founder's South American roots, in a nod to the story of its beginnings.
Just a short walk away is Dunstaffnage Castle, which played a small but interesting part in the Jacobite Rebellion and has wonderful views out over the sea and towards Connel Bridge.
Go to the beach at Ganavan Sands
This picturesque sandy beach is only 1 mile (1.6km) up the road from the centre of Oban - it's a pleasant and easy walk with great views, or a very short drive. There's lots of parking available, as well as a toilet and changing facilities and a van selling ice cream and other refreshments during the summer months.
Ganavan Sands is the location of Oban's parkrun - a friendly and inclusive weekly gathering for a 5km walk or run out and back from the beach. Organised by volunteers, this event takes place every Saturday morning at 9:30am and attracts between 20 and 100 runners, depending on the time of year and the weather!
There are also some really good walks along the coast between Ganavan and Dunstaffnage.
Take a Boat Trip
As well as the ferries out to the islands, there are quite a few recreational boat trips running from the Oban area. Leaving from the centre of town, Allan's Boat Trips run throughout the day to the local seal colony - these last about an hour, with no booking needed.
Leaving from Dunstaffnage, a few miles north of town, our friends at Basking Shark Scotland run some of the best boat trips on the west coast, including multi-day expeditions to try and spot basking sharks. You do need to book well in advance, though, as the tours are always popular.
From Easdale, about 10 miles south of Oban, Seafari Adventures runs a whole range of trips, including visits to the mighty Corryvreckan whirlpool and whale watching.
For keen deep-sea fishermen and anglers, Argyll Sea Tours runs private trips throughout the year.
See our blog post about Scotland Wildlife Boat Trips. If you'd like to add some boat trips to your tour of Scotland, just let us know.
Gorge yourself on seafood at the Green Shack
The Green Shack (also called the Oban Seafood Hut) is an Oban institution. It was founded in 1990 by local fisherman John Ogden, who wanted to sell high quality, affordable seafood sourced from local fishermen.
This is still the best place to go for gourmet seafood in Oban, and the prices are some of the best on the west coast of Scotland. You can eat right there, or take away to enjoy your meal at home.
No bookings are needed, just turn up to get your seafood fix.
Walk around The Isle of Kerrera
The beautiful Isle of Kerrera is visible from just about everywhere in Oban. This small island sits on the other side of the Bay and is the reason Oban has such an excellent sheltered harbour.
There are two ferries to Kerrera from Oban. One foot passenger ferry from the north pier in town (near Ee-Usk), and a small car ferry just outside of town at Gallanach. Note that you can't bring your own car over - only islanders are allowed to - but that doesn't really matter, because there is only one very short road on the island).
From the Gallanach ferry, the excellent Gylen Castle circuit walk takes about 4 hours. About half way along, you'll find the well-preserved remains of Gylen Castle, and nearby is our favourite local cafe, the Kerrera Tea Garden.
Eat out at Ee-usk
Seafood restaurant Ee-usk sits right on the waterfront on the north pier, with excellent views. This family-run restaurant specialises in high-quality fish and local produce.
In Scots Gaelic, Ee-usk (iasg) means fish. This is definitely the best place in Oban for top quality fish dishes.
If you're travelling on a Tartan Road tour, we can organise restaurant bookings - just send us an enquiry if you'd like to know more.
Dance the night away at The View
For three nights every week, The View runs a traditional Scottish Ceilidh. These nights mix Scottish music, singing, traditional dancing, storytelling and fun and provide one of the best introductions to the rich culture of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
Don't worry if you've never been to a ceilidh before - at The View, friendly guides will teach you all the steps you need to know to join in with the dances and make sure it's a night to remember!
The Tartan Road can make bookings for you if you're on one of our tours - let us know if you want to find out more.
Getting to Oban
By Highland standards, Oban is very well-connected.
There are good roads running north (to Fort William), south (to Kilmartin Glen and the Kintyre peninsula) and east (to Glasgow and Edinburgh). It takes about 2 hours to drive from Glasgow to Oban, and about 3 hours to drive from Edinburgh to Oban.
This branch of west Highland railway line has three or four services a day to and from Glasgow. You can check the train timetables and latest information with ScotRail.
Finally, the ferries from Oban go all over the Inner Hebrides and out to the Outer Hebrides:
- Kerrera - there are actually two ferries to Kerrera from Oban. One foot passenger ferry from the north pier in town (near Ee-Usk), and a small car ferry just outside of town at Gallanach.
- Mull - the ferry from Oban goes to Craignure on Mull
- Colonsay - Colonsay and its neighbour Oronsay are some of the least-visited of the Inner Hebrides - well worth a look if you'd like somewhere off the beaten track.
- Tiree - famous for its beaches, this is a great destination that can be reached by ferry from Oban or by air from Oban (with Hebridean Air) or Glasgow (with Loganair).
- Coll - Coll has only a couple of hundred inhabitants and some of the best beaches in Scotland!
- Barra - the ferry from Oban goes all the way out to Castlebay on Barra. This windswept but fertile island is the start of many itineraries along the Outer Hebrides.
- South Uist - there is also a ferry service from Oban to Lochboisdale on South Uist.