Argyll Coastal Route in Winter

A brief but beautiful coastal road trip, perfect for the winter months

The stunning Argyll coastal route has something for everyone. Whilst the initial portion of the drive from Glasgow takes you over the Highlands, the coastal route itself is (funnily enough) at sea level, making it less vulnerable to challenging winter driving conditions than many other routes in Scotland.

Whether you'd like to incorporate this self-drive tour into a longer winter tour of Scotland, or whether you just have a long weekend for your Scottish winter road trip, this itinerary works well on its own or as part of a bigger adventure.

If you're visiting in winter, our handy guide to winter in Scotland will help you make the best of your trip.

This tour goes past some of the best seafood restaurants in Scotland - highlights are Samphire in Inverary, the Green Shack in Oban and The Pierhouse in Appin. There's also plenty of history - from the old towns of Inverary and Oban to the world-class Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in Kilmartin Glen.

Image: Unsplash / Catherine Graber

4 Days / 3 Nights

Self-Drive Holiday

Castles  Whisky  Food  Winter 

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Day 1 - Glasgow to Inverary

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  • Overnight in: Inverary
  • Distance: 55 miles
  • Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes

You'll spot the (likely snow-capped) mountains as soon as you head out of Glasgow, which are just a teaser compared with the incredible scenery that follows!

Take your time on this drive, as it's well worth savouring. You'll follow the shores of Loch Lomond before you reach the village of Tarbet (Tarbert means a narrow strip of land or isthmus in Scots Gaelic - there are at least 14 places called Tarbe(r)t in Scotland!). There are plenty of places to stop and admire the views. You can call in to visit the village of Luss, with its charming slate and limestone cottages, or investigate any number of the pretty lay-bys and turn-offs that take your fancy.

If you have the time, turn right at Tarbet and take a detour to the dramatic Falls of Falloch (approximately 20 minutes' drive each way). This is especially worthwhile if there has been a lot of rain, as the river turns into a roaring cascade.

After Tarbet, you drive around the end of the aptly-named Loch Long before climbing up into the mountains and reaching the famous Rest and Be Thankful pass. At 803ft above sea level, there is plenty to see from this vantage point - it may be noticeably chillier than the valley below, so wrap up warm if you decide to get out and stretch your legs! The route is well-maintained and treated in winter, but note the possibility of icy conditions at this altitude. See our handy guide to driving in Scotland in winter for some tips.

You'll be able to see the Old Military Road, which was built in 1753 by General Wade to give English troops a quick route into Argyll to prevent any further uprisings after the Jacobite rebellion.

Continuing over the pass, you'll quickly descend into the next valley and find yourself next to the glorious Loch Fyne. Famed for its seafood, this is somewhere to linger if you can. The Loch Fyne Oyster Bar makes for a fabulous lunch spot before you continue on your way. From here onwards the route follows the coast, so you should find the road conditions to be no issue, even in the deepest, darkest winter months.

You'll arrive in the picturesque town of Inverary on the shores of Loch Fyne, where you'll spend the night. For seafood-lovers, we highly recommend our friends at Samphire restaurant for your evening meal.

Image: Unsplash / Robert Keane

Day 2 - Inverary to Oban

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  • Overnight in: Oban
  • Distance: 62 miles
  • Travel time: 1 hour 40 minutes

There is plenty to see and do in Inverary if you feel like spending a little longer in this beautiful town. A visit to Inverary Jail provides a fun, informative and immersive experience for the whole family!

Once you set off from Inverary, you'll follow the shore of Loch Fyne until you reach Lochgilphead. Along the way, you can stop off in the village of Furnace, from which there are a number of excellent walks, and you can visit the old iron furnace and gunpowder works.

Arriving in Lochgilphead, the gateway to Kintyre, where Loch Fyne meets the open ocean, you'll be blown away yet again by the incredible views stretching out along the Kintyre peninsula, into the Firth of Clyde and out to the mountains on the Isle of Arran.

There are a range of side trip options and detours you can choose to take from Lochgilphead to suit all interests and fitness levels. Why not pay Knapdale forest a visit for the chance to spot beavers? After being hunted to extinction over 400 years ago, beavers were reintroduced to Argyll in 2009, where they're now thriving. You can follow the three-mile Scottish Beaver Trail to look out for signs of the beavers, and if you're very patient - and lucky - you might catch sight of them too! Best viewing times tend to be at dawn and dusk.

After Lochgilphead, you'll head north through Kintyre and around the base of Loch Awe. Kilmartin Glen has the most important collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological remains in mainland Scotland, and you could easily spend half a day or more exploring the standing stones, burials, cairns and the dramatic castle. If the winter weather limits the time you want to spend outside, you can warm up while about the history of the area in the museum and refuel with a warm drink at the cafe.

Another excellent detour involves turning left off the main road at Kilinver, driving over Clachan Bridge - known as "the Bridge Over The Atlantic" as it spans the narrow channel separating the island from the mainland - and onto the stunning Isle of Seil. About 20 minutes each way, the drive takes you down a winding single-track road over this most northerly of the Slate Islands to the village of Ellenabeich. Here, you can visit the magical An Cala gardens, enjoy the views and the wind in your hair on a coastal walk (particularly moody and impressive during the winter months) or even take the small ferry hop over to visit the tiny Easdale Island and the Puffer Bar. As Easdale is inhabited year-round, ferries continue to run frequently throughout the winter.

However you decide to spend your day, it will end in the west coast hub of Oban, known as the "Gateway to the Isles". If you're heading out to any of the islands on your tour of Scotland, you will more than likely depart from Oban, making this Argyll Coastal Route self-drive tour an easy addition to a longer road trip.

Oban has plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes for you to enjoy your evening meal, and make sure you don't miss the spectacular sunset over the Oban bay and the Isles of Mull and Kerrera. We absolutely love Oban in the winter, as the attractions remain open but the absence of the summer crowds means you can enjoy them at a more leisurely pace and you might even get them to yourself!

Image: Unsplash / Gunnar Ridderstrom

Day 3 - Oban to Fort William

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  • Overnight in: Fort William
  • Distance: 45 miles
  • Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Waking up in Oban is always a pleasure, and you'll find a great deal to see and do before you depart.

Why not climb up to the iconic McCaig's Tower and enjoy its far-reaching views across the Isle of Mull and Kerrera. If you need to warm up and you're partial to whisky, Distillery tours at Oban run throughout the day and give you a comprehensive overview of the distilling process before allowing you to sample some of their single malts.

Once you manage to tear yourself away from Oban, you'll drive north up the Firth of Lorn, over the striking Connel Bridge and the tidal Falls of Lora - at some times deceptively calm, and at others a frothing torrent of white water racing through the narrows.

A great little side trip is to drive on towards shores of Loch Awe. There are lots of things to do here - it's worth visiting the spectacular ruins of Kilchurn Castle and taking the tour into hydroelectric power station built inside the "hollow mountain", Ben Cruachan.

North of Connel, you head along the shores of Loch Creran. Look out for seals as you follow the winding road into increasingly mountainous surroundings. If you enjoy gin and have time to call in at Pixel Spirits in Ballachulish, we highly recommend it (they even run private gin-making classes)! A detour to the private Isle of Eriska offers the opportunity for some lovely walks.

From the village of Appin, you can see Castle Stalker, which famously featured in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This is particularly impressive with a snowy mountain backdrop in winter! It's best viewed from the Jubilee Bridge, a short and accessible boardwalk across the tidal sands, a quick and rewarding 5-minute detour from your main route. For lunch, why not try the Pierhouse restaurant in Appin.

After Appin, you'll find yourself alongside the enormous Loch Linhe. As the mountains stretch higher on all sides, you'll really start to feel like you're within touching distance of the UK's highest peak, Ben Nevis. Due to its height, "the Ben" usually has small amounts of snow remaining on its peak all year round, but by wintertime it and the surrounding giants will be cloaked in white, making the drive north all the more incredible and atmospheric.

Once you arrive in Fort William, your options for the evening meal are plentiful and include the Ben Nevis Inn and Crannog Seafood.

Image: Unsplash / Rowan Manning

Day 4 - Fort William to Glasgow

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  • Distance: 110 miles
  • Travel time: 2 hrs 40 minutes

Today you head back to Glasgow, but your trip certainly isn't over yet!

The beauty of a self-drive holiday is that you can stop off anywhere you want to and at your own pace, so make the most of this opportunity to explore from one of the best outdoor activity hubs in the world. Note that conditions can be changeable at all times of year, but mountain walking in winter in particular requires skills, experience and the right equipment - see WalkHighlands guide to Winter Skills for more information.

When you're ready to head back, you'll drive south through the famous valley of Glen Coe and yet more incredible mountainous scenery. This valley is one of the most spectacular in Scotland at all times of year, but personally we find it especially breathtaking in the winter months. Bridge of Orchy, Tyndrum or Crianlarich are good options for lunch - we particularly love the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum (we think they make the best fish & chips in the country!).

Eventually, you find yourself back alongside Loch Lomond, where a different route along its shores ensures you get to see it with fresh eyes. If you didn't manage to see the Falls of Falloch on your way down, why not pay it a visit now?

Finally, follow the Clyde back into Glasgow and enjoy the rest of your adventure! If this is where you get off, then we'll see you next time.

Image: Unsplash / Scottish Stoater

Variations

All of our tours are bespoke and tailored to exactly what you want to do. This itinerary is just an example - get in touch and let us customise it for your perfect holiday.

A day trip to the Isle of Mull and Iona

The ferry to Mull runs throughout the day from Oban. There's a huge amount of history, scenery and wildlife to see here, so it's well worth it. While you can take your car on the ferry, we suggest you go on foot and join a private tour on the island. Your driver will meet you at the ferry terminal on Mull and take you to the best spots on the Island. A huge range of tours is available on Mull, from photography and wildlife, through to geology and history.

For more details, see our blog post about island day trips.

The Isle of Arran

A day trip to the Isle of Arran is easily arranged - the simplest option would be to add a day in between Inverary and Oban. You would take the ferry from Claonaig on the Kintyre Peninsular over to Lochranza on Arran.

Another option would be to take the ferry from Ardrossan, near Glasgow, on the first day, stay a night or two on Arran and then travel on via the Lochranza-Claonaig ferry. This would give you even more time on the island, but at the expense of time in Inverary and along Loch Fyne.

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