A Guide to Oban, Scotland
by David Wheater of Tours of Edinburgh
Oban is one of my favourite seaside towns in Scotland and I usually spend a week here in the summer every year. So, here’s a brief guide to the history of Oban and some of its most notable places, followed by some of the town’s most popular restaurants, pubs, coffee places, hotels, B&Bs and visitor attractions. I’ve also included some useful links for Oban at the bottom of this page.
Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, is a very popular Victorian holiday resort and ferry port around a 2.5 hour drive from Glasgow and 3.5 hours from Edinburgh, depending on route & traffic. It is easily accessible by car, bus and train from Glasgow.
Oban makes a great base from which to tour the Western Highlands of Scotland and is a convenient starting point for picturesque drives in and around Argyll & Bute, an area notable for its magnificent seascapes and island scenery. Oban has a very special place in Scottish affections. Even today there is a relaxed atmosphere and a different rhythm of life about the town which draws people back year after year.
The town is very much the gateway to the Western Isles, both inner and outer, with regular CalMac ferries from the town centre to the islands of Barra, Coll, Colonsay, Mull, Lismore, South Uist, Islay, Tiree and wonderful Iona (via Mull). There’s also a service to Kennacraig on the Kintyre Peninsula. An excellent small airport, around 5 miles north of Oban in North Connel, operates flights to the Islands of Coll, Colonsay, Islay and Tiree (visit their website at http://obanandtheislesairports.com/). Being so busy, especially in the summer, Oban’s often referred to as the ‘Charing Cross’ of the Scottish Highlands.
Oban is thought to derive its name from a Gaelic word meaning ‘bay’ or ‘creek’. It stands on the ancient coast of Lorne, opposite the northern end of the Island of Kerrera, which guards and shelters the bay making it an ideal harbour. The harbour’s still very popular with yachters and hosts one of Scotland’s largest annual yachting events at the end of July – West Highland Yachting Week. Although there are traces of ancient settlement within the district, the town itself is not that old, little more than 200 years. The town itself was erected by the government fishery board as a fishing station in 1786. It wasn’t particularly successful as a fishing station, but its prosperity grew through other industries, as did its population, and by 1881 its population was nearly 4000. Now, with a population of around 8,000, it has become the largest centre for commerce and tourism in the Western Highlands.
Oban is often regarded as the seafood capital of Scotland, which is a well-deserved title. Whether staying a few days or catching a ferry, make time to visit one of the towns excellent seafood stalls – the Seafood Hut opposite the CalMac ferry terminal and the Seafood Temple along Gallanach Road are particular favourites.
Oban is a great seaside town to totally relax and chill out in. Although many people rush through the town to catch a ferry, we really do recommend setting aside a day in Oban to enjoy all it has to offer. You’ll also be better rested and ready to enjoy your journey to the islands beyond. For more information when you arrive in Oban, visit the local tourist information office at North Pier in the town centre (PA34 5QD). They can help with booking ferries, accommodation, tours and excursions and are open all year round.
Places & Events of Note in Oban
Oban Bay & Yachting
Sheltered Oban bay is a great place for yachters. It’s been a very popular place for yachting thanks to the sheltered harbour and the protection afforded by the nearby Island of Kerrera. The town is the headquarters of the Royal Highland Yacht Club founded in 1881 (http://rhyc.org.uk/). Its members fly the blue ensign of the Navy and a blue badge bearing a crown on a St Andrew’s cross. There’s also the Oban Sailing Club founded in 1935, who run regular sailing and racing events throughout the year (http://www.obansailingclub.org/#).
One of the highlights of the Scottish yachting calendar is the annual West Highland Yachting Week held in the first week of August. This is a highly popular regatta, so please book accommodation early! Visit http://www.whyw.co.uk/index.html for more information.
Corran Esplanade & George Street
Facing the bay to the north of the pier is the Corran Esplanade which has fine views across the harbour and lots of excellent shops and hotels. For first time visitors, a walk along George Street and Corran Esplanade is the best way to get a feel for the town and drink in the lovely views.
Dunollie Castle & Museum
Ruined Dunollie Castle lies around 2 miles north of Oban erected upon a bold promontory overlooking the Firth of Lorne. It’s worth visiting just for the fantastic sea views to Kerrera and beyond. The castle dates back to the 12th/ 13th century and was a MacDougall stronghold. The MacDougalls were an ancient and powerful family who once owned as much as a third of Scotland. In the ownership of the MacDougall of Dunollie Preservation Trust is the Brooch of Lorn which is reputed to have been worn by Robert the Bruce. The Brooch is now an iconic jewel for the Clan MacDougall and can be seen in The National Museum of Scotland. The gardens and museum exhibitions are well worth a visit and there’s even a cafe. For more info visit http://www.dunollie.org.
Fingal’s Dog Stone
In a field, around a quarter of a mile from Dunollie Castle on Dunollie Avenue, is a large upright mass of conglomerate called the ‘Dog Stone’ or ‘Clach a’ Choin’ from a tradition that the legendary Celtic warrior, Fingal (Fionn MacCumhail), used it as a stake to which he bound his massive dog Bran. The undercuts in the base of the stone are said to have been caused by the large tethering chain eroding the stone. In reality, it’s simply an undercut sea stack. However, it does have a certain mysterious presence that’s well worth a visit.
Dunstaffnage Castle & Chapel
Dunstaffnage Castle was a stronghold of the mighty MacDougalls and is thought to have been built around 1220. It lies around 4 miles north east of Oban on a promontory jutting into Loch Etive. Although a partial ruin, there are plenty of restored parts and lots of nooks and crannies to keep you entertained. Dating back to the 13th century, it was the seat of government of the Dalriadic Scots from around 500 until the middle of the ninth century when Scone became the capital.
Isolated on its own island-like promontory, Dunstaffnage Castle is located in a superb strategic position at the mouth of Loch Etive. The views over the Firth of Lorn are spectacular. The castle was the first resting place on Scottish soil of the Stone of Destiny when it first arrived from Ireland. In the ninth century the stone was removed to Scone, where kings of Scotland were crowned on it for many years. Robert the Bruce won the castle after his victory over the MacDougall clan at the Pass of Brander in 1308 and it was then given to the Campbells. In the 15th century Alexander II had the castle enlarged in preparation for his attack on the Norseman occupying the Hebrides. Flora MacDonald was held captive here in 1746, but the castle has not been lived in since 1810, when it was destroyed in a fire.
The ruins of the chapel are just a short walk away and worth a visit, if not just to see the headstones. This is a great castle to visit and the grounds are ideal for a summer picnic. There’s a good little gift shop and visitor centre. For more info visit Historic Scotland at http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_111.
Castle of Gylen, Kerrera
The ruins of the castle of Gylen on the Island of Kerrera were an ancient stronghold of the MacDougalls. Built in 1582, it was only occupied for a short time until it was destroyed by the Covenanters in 1647. The castle was partially restored in 2006 thanks to a grant from Historic Scotland and money raised through the Clan MacDougall. The castle is dramatically perched overlooking the Firth of Lorn and is a fine example of a late medieval tower house. Apart from its dramatic location, its most notable features are its vaulted cellar and oriel window. If you have time while on Kerrera, it’s well worth a visit.
Located high on Battery Hill, overlooking the town, is the vast and imposing Victorian structure known as McCaig’s Tower – Oban’s very own folly. It was intended to be a replica of the Colosseum in Rome and to house a Museum and Art Gallery.
It was built by John Stuart McCaig, a local banker and philanthropist who started the project in 1897. As a philanthropist his idea was to provide work for unemployed stonemasons during the winter. He intended the grand tower to be a museum with a lookout tower, with statues of his family to be placed in each of the windows to commemorate his family. Sadly, before he could realise his vision, MacCaig died and it has remained incomplete ever since. The inside courtyard is now beautifully landscaped and the folly shines brightly in the floodlights that bathe the summit of battery Hill at night. The tower can be reached after a steep climb up “Jacob’s Ladder” from Argyll Street and is free to visit. The views over Oban to Kerrera, Lismore and Mull and beyond are absolutely worth the climb.
Pulpit Hill is another of Oban’s excellent viewpoints which can be reached on foot, or by car, from the harbour. At the top is a stone viewpoint indicator setting out all the islands, mountains and local landmarks that can be seen on a clear day. Nearby is a square stone called the Ministers Stone from which the hill is thought to derive its name. It’s said that ministers used to stand on the stone to deliver sermons, but it’s not clear whether this is strictly the reason for the hills religious name. On a summers evening looking southwards, the view is stunning with some truly memorable sunsets.
Oban War and Peace Museum
Oban’s excellent War & Peace Museum is located in the old Oban Times Building on the Corran Esplanade. The museum started life in 1995 as an exhibition called “Oban at War” which was so successful that it became a permanent fixture. Today, the museum covers most of Oban’s history as well as its fascinating role during World War II. The museum is a charity and relies on the good will of volunteers and financially from visitors. Please visit and support this wonderful museum. Find out more at http://www.obanmuseum.org.uk.
St Columba’s Cathedral
St Columba’s Cathedral is a small, granite built Cathedral located on the Corran Esplanade overlooking Oban Bay. It is the principal church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. It was built by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in the Neo-Gothic style and completed in 1959. The current Roman Catholic Cathedral replaces an elaborate one made of corrugated iron which was nicknamed the “tin cathedral”.
Along the shores of Loch Creran is baronial style Barcaldine Castle, also known as the Black Castle. It is a very attractive L-shaped tower house of three storeys, with a stair tower and four angle towers at the corners. The castle was built by Sir “Black” Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy in 1609 and has quite magnificent views over Loch Creran to Glencoe. It remained in the family until 1842 when it was sold. It was later bought back, roofless, and restored by the family between 1896 and 1910. It is now a luxury bed & breakfast that comes highly recommended.
Located in the heart of Oban, just off George Street, is one of Scotland’s oldest single malt Scotch whisky distilleries. Guided tours run throughout the year and there’s also an excellent tasting bar and gift shop. If you’re a whisky fan this is a must visit.
Island of Kerrera
The Island of Kerrera faces Oban bay and is separated from the mainland by the sound of Kerrera. The island is a peaceful and beautiful place with an abundance of beaches, cliffs, wildlife and flowers to discover. The perfect place to escape the summer crowds in Oban. There’s the chance to see seals, wild goats, golden eagles and dolphins.
On the south-western shores of the island, in a very dramatic setting, stands the ruined Gylen Castle. At the opposite end is an obelisk commemorating David Hutcheson, who founded the West Highland steamer services. It was on Kerrera itself that Alexander II of Scotland died in 1249, when he developed a fever after fighting the Lords of Lorne. On Horse-shoe bay King Haakon of Norway collected his fleet of Viking ships before sailing south to the Battle of Largs in 1263.
A public ferry to Kerrera operates from a slip around two miles south of Oban. Sailings are regular during the summer and car parking is available. For more ferry info please visit http://www.kerrera-ferry.co.uk/index.html.
Iona & St Columba
One of the most popular daily excursions from Oban is to the beautiful island of Iona, popular for its associations with St Columba and as the burial place of an amazing 48 Scottish kings. The Isle is well known for being the “Cradle of Christianity” and is a very special place to visit. For more info please visit http://www.welcometoiona.com.
Around 2 miles beyond Dunnollie, to the north of Oban, is the popular sandy beach of Ganavan Sands. There is a good car park here, public toilets and sometimes an ice cream & coffee van in the height of summer. This blue flag beach is a great place to take the children for a family picnic, but do arrive early as it can get very busy in the summer.
Loch Feochan & Kilninver
The road leading south from Oban towards Loch Feochan and Kilninver passes the ruins of Kilbride Church and the restored 16th century Lerags Cross often referred to as the ‘Campbell of Lerags Cross‘. If you would rather stay outside Oban, the Kilninver Estate has three good holiday cottages and a converted church. The scenery around the estate is beautiful.
Isle of Seil & Ellenabeich Village
The lovely Isle of Seil lies around 12 miles south-west of Oban and is separated from the mainland by a long thin channel of sea. The 18c stone bridge joining the Isle to the mainland is famously called the “Bridge over the Atlantic” and is a great place to stop to admire the view. The Isles main village is Ellenabeich – a charming little fishing and slate mining village. The long rows of white harled slate quarrier’s cottages are absolutely delightful and there’s also the option of taking the small ferry over to Easdale Island. The drive from Oban to Ellenabeich is just lovely and should be included in any visit to Oban.
Loch Nell & Serpents Mound
To the east of the Kilninver road lies the attractive Loch Nell, on the south-west shore of which is a strange 18 yard long Boulder Ridge known as the ‘Serpents Mound’. The whole of the artificial mound is in the shape of a serpent and is thought to have belonged to an early Celtic tribe called the ‘Damnonii’ who were sun and serpent worshippers. An altar and burial ground have been found and the whole place has a rather mysterious feel. Although little of the shape is now visible it’s still worth a visit.
Diarmid’s Pillar, Glen Lonan
At the far end of the loch, in Glen Lonan, is a tall granite monolith called ‘Diarmid’s Pillar’ or ‘Clach na Carraig’ which is thought to be the burial place of Irish hero Diarmid, an ancestor of the clan Campbell. The Bronze Age stone stands at an impressive 13+feet and there’s also a nearby cairn composing of 12 large stones and to the north a stone circle of 31 rounded boulders.
Kilmelford & Hill Lochs
Kilmelford is a small village around 16 miles south of Oban. Located at the head of Loch Melfort, it’s a popular place for yachters and hill climbers, with some truly spectacular scenery both inland and along the coast. The road to Loch Avich is particularly lovely, although the start from Kilmelford is steep and narrow – but well worth the bravery! For fishermen there are lots of excellent hill lochs high above the village which will usually reward a day’s exploration and, if you don’t catch, the wonderful scenery will make up for it. Stock up at the local shop.
Glencruitten Golf Club
This is a wonderfully attractive golf course, hidden within the Glencruitten Estate, on the outskirts of Oban . Designed by James Braid, there’s an excellent club house, bar, restaurant and shop with a driving bay and putting green. The club welcomes visitors. For more information visit http://www.obangolf.com.
The Argyllshire Gathering
The Oban Games are held annually on the fourth Thursday in August. Competitors come from all around the world to compete in one of the most popular highland games in the country. If you’re in Oban when it’s on it’s a ‘must see’. From more information visit http://web227.extendcp.co.uk/obangames.com/.
Royal National Mod
Oban is the birthplace of the National Mod, a yearly gathering of Scottish Gaels who compete in verse and song. For more info on the Oban Royal National Mod visit http://www.modanobain2015.com/.
Oban Winter Festival
The Oban Winter Festival is a ten-day community festival normally held annually at the end of November. There’s an enormous amount of activities, events and shows for every age group. From Santa to reindeers, snowmen, ceilidhs, ballet, pipe bands, lantern parades and spectacular firework displays -it’s got it all. If you need a reason to visit Oban in the winter this is it! For more info visit the festival website at http://obanwinterfestival.com/.
Popular Restaurants, Pubs, Coffee Places, Hotels, B&Bs & Visitor Attractions in Oban
Below are our recommendations for Oban – all hand-picked by us as the very best Oban has to offer. Enjoy Oban!
Popular Restaurants in Oban
The Olive Garden 2 Railway Pier, Oban
01631 570 347
Oban Seafood Hut
Calmac Pier, Oban
Oban Fish & Chip Shop
116 George Street, Oban
01631 567 000
Waterfront Fishhouse Restaurant
1 Railway Pier, Oban
01631 563 110
Callanach Road, Oban
01631 566 000
The Oyster Inn
Connel, by Oban, Argyll PA37 1PJ
Pubs & Bars in Oban
Cuan Mor Bar & Restaurant
60 George street, Oban
01631 565 078
Markie Dans Bar, Corran House Hotel
1 Victoria Crescent, Oban
01631 566 854
Paparazzi Cafe Bar
Breadalbane Street, Oban
01631 565 421
The Lorne Bar
Stevenson Street, Oban
01631 570 020
Coasters Wine Bar
Corran Esplanade, Oban
01631 566 881
Coffee Places in Oban
Julie’s Coffee House
33 Stafford Street, Oban
01631 565 952
Bossards Coffee Shop
1a Gibralter Street, Oban
01631 564 641
Oban Chocolate Company
34 Corran Esplanade. Oban
01631 566 099
The Kitchen Garden Deli & Coffee Shop
14 George Street, Oban
01631 566 332
Poppies Garden Centre & Tea Room
Saulmore Shore, by Oban
01631 565 718
1 Station Road, Oban
01631 567 183
Hotels in Oban
The Ranald Hotel
41 Stevenson Street, Oban PA34 5NA
01631 562 887
The Manor House Hotel
Gallannach Road, Oban PA34 4LS
01631 562 087
The Brander Lodge Hotel
Bridge of Awe PA35 1HT
01866 822 243
Corran Esplanade, Oban
01631 562 381
Knipoch, by Oban PA34 4QT
01852 316 251
Bed & Breakfast in Oban
13 Dalriach Road, Oban PA34 5EQ
01631 358 653
Benderloch, Oban PA37 1SA
(01631) 720 598
DunheanIsh Guest House
Ardconnel Road, Oban PA34 5DW
01631 566 556
Aspen Lodge Bed & Breakfast
Glencruitten, Oban PA34 4QB
01631 770 230
Briarbank Guest House
Glencruitten Road, Oban PA34 4DN
01631 566 549
Albert Road, Oban PA34 5EJ
01631 562 806
Hostels & Campsites
SYHA Oban Youth Hostel 5*
Esplanade, Oban PA34 5AF
01631 562 025
Breadalbane Street, Oban PA34 5NZ
01631 562 107
Jeremy Inglis Hostel
21 Airds Crescent, Oban PA34 5SJ
01631 565 065
Oban Caravan & Camping Park
Gallanach Road, Oban PA34 4QH
01631 562 425
Popular Oban Visitor Attractions
- Isle of Kerrera Ferry
- Arduaine Garden
- McCaig’s Tower
- Pulpit Hill Viewpoint
- Scottish Sealife Sanctuary
- Ganavan Sands Beach
- Pheonix Cinema
- The Oban Distillery
- Dunnollie Castle
- Dunstaffnage Castle
- Iona and Mull by ferry
- Duart Castle Isle of Mull
- Oban War & Peace Museum
- Atlantis Leisure Centre
- National Kayak School Oban
- Skipinnish Ceilidh House Dancing
- Sealife Adventures Cruise
- Island Parrot Sanctuary
- Oban Rare Breeds Farm Park
- Cruachan Power Station, Dalmally
- Inverawe Smokehouse
Oban Useful Links
- Caledonian MacBrayne Oban Tourshop – http://www.calmac.co.uk/destinations/tourshops/oban.htm
- Oban & Lorn Tourism Association – http://www.oban.org.uk
- Oban Town Diary – http://www.obantowndiary.co.uk
- Oban & Lorn Online Business Directory – http://www.oban.ws
- Oban Airport – http://obanandtheislesairports.com/
- Oban Train Station – https://www.scotrail.co.uk/plan-your-journey/stations-and-facilities/obn
To hire a car visit Flit Self Drive at http://www.flitselfdrive.co.uk or tel. (01631) 566 553.
To hire bikes visit Oban Cycles at http://www.obancyclescotland.com or tel. (01631) 566 033
For Kayaking visit Sea Kayak Oban at http://www.seakayakoban.com or tel. (01631) 565 310
For Diving visit Puffin Dive Centre at http://www.puffin.org.uk or tel (01631) 566 088
Book a Private Photography Tour of Oban & Surrounding Area With Us
If you would like one of our guides to take you on a private photography tour of Oban and the surrounding area, please Email us for a quote.
Book One of Our Edinburgh Tours
We offer several different private tours of Edinburgh, including a Photography Tour, a tour of Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town and a Hidden Gems Tour - all of which can be booked online, or by telephoning us on +44 (0) 7400 705 357.