Looking for a small town on the Scottish west coast to use as a home base for day trips around Scotland? Look no further than Oban, the picturesque harbour town in Argyll, known as the Gateway to the Isles. If you want to experience a mix of gorgeous countryside, pristine coastline and island hopping, this blog contains a list of versatile day trips from Oban to pick and choose from!
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Oban is a popular seaside getaway on Scotland’s beautiful west coast. It got its nickname “Gateway to the Isles” thanks to the bustling Calmac ferry pier: every day ferries from Oban leave for islands near and far – Mull and Tiree, Coll and Colonsay, Kerrera and Barra, the islands are just a few hours away.
In fact, many people just pass through Oban on their way to the islands and don’t know what they are missing! The small seaside town is a great home base to explore the west coast as its surrounded by mountain scenery, endless coastlines, sea and freshwater lochs and hundreds of small islands that can be explored on day trips.
Oban is one of my favourite towns in Scotland, not only because there is a lot to do and see (from the famous distillery to fascinating monuments), but also because it is so conveniently located to explore more of Argyll.
You could easily spend an entire week in Oban and never run out of fun things to do in the area.
From Oban, you can reach many interesting places, either by car, which gives you the widest reach, by public transport including ferry or on an organised tour where all the logistics are taken care of.
This post contains lots of practical information and 10 ideas for fun day trips from Oban, including:
- How to get to Oban,
- Self-drive day trips from Oban,
- Day trips with public transport,
- Guided tours leaving from Oban, and
- Where to stay in Oban.
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Getting to Oban
From Glasgow: Follow the M8 towards Greenock and take the exit for the Erskine Bridge. Stay left to merge onto the A82 going north. Follow this road until Tyndrum and take the A85 to Oban. Alternatively, you can also leave he A82 in Tarbert, take the A83 to Inveraray, the smaller A819 to Kilchurn Castle and finally the A85 to Oban. (100 miles, 2-2.5 hours)
From Edinburgh: Follow the M9 to Stirling, then the A84 and A85 to Crianlarich. After a short section on the A82 to Tyndrum, follow the A85 all the way to Oban. (120 miles, 3 hours)
From Glasgow: There is a direct Scotrail train from Glasgow Queen Street to Oban (3 hours).
From Edinburgh: Take the train to Glasgow Queen Street (1 hour) and change there for the train to Oban.
Day Trips from Oban
1) Hiking on the Isle of Kerrera
The Isle of Kerrera is the closest island from the mainland and you can clearly see it from the harbour of Oban. Only locals are allowed to drive their cars to Kerrera, so visitors usually explore the island by foot or bicycle.
There are two loop trails on Kerrera. The Gylen Castle Circuit takes in the southern part of the island and includes a visit at the castle ruins as well as Kerrera Tea Garden. Note, that the cafe accepts cash only and there are no cash machines on the island. (7 miles, trail description here)
The Hutcheson’s Monument Circuit loops around the northern half of Kerrera and offers stunning views across to Oban and its harbour. This trail is slightly shorter than the southern loop. (6 miles, trail description here)
How to get to Kerrera
A small passenger ferry connects Oban with the Isle of Kerrera. It leaves from a pier approx. 2 miles south of Oban and takes around 5 minutes – check the timetable here (£3.20 return).
If you plan to hike on Kerrera drive to the pier and leave your car there. You can also walk (40 minutes one-way) or begin your day with a more challenging walk from Oban to the pier via Pulpit Hill (approx. 2hours, trail description here).
If you plan to cycle on Kerrera, hire mountain bikes in Oban (for example from Oban Cycles) and bring them across on the ferry for no extra cost.
2) A Boat Trip with Staffa Tours
Staffa Tours is a local boat operator who offers a wide range of day trips departing from Oban, Tobermory and Fionnphort on Mull.
Boat trips from Oban include options to visit three islands (Mull, Iona and Staffa) and wildlife tours to the Treshnish Isles to see puffins.
Tours from Oban begin with a ferry ride across to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. On Mull, your group boards a bus (coach) to explore the island and make their way to Fionnphort or Tobermory – depending on which tour you booked. From there, the tour continues in small boats out to the Isle of Iona, Staffa or the Treshnish Isles.
I did their Treshnish Isles wildlife tour before and it was amazing! It included a stop on the Isle of Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave and a longer landing on Lunga (one of the Treshnish Isles) to visit a local puffin colony!
Note that the best time to see puffins is from May to early August when they nest on land.
The benefit of booking an organised tour with Staffa Tours is that al transport logistics are taken care of. Apart from the coast ride on Mull, these trips are pretty independent and you don’t have to walk with your group on the islands. As long as you make it back to the boat on time, you are free to roam at your own pace.
3) Visit Dunollie Castle and Dunstaffnage Castle
Castle hunters can spend a full day exploring Oban’s historic castles, with a break by the local beach, Ganavan Sands.
Dunollie Castle is a small ruined castle with fantastic views of the Isle of Kerrera, Oban and nearby islands. Records show that there have been fortifications in this spot since the 7th century, but the ruins you can visit today date mostly from the 1400s.
In 1745 the Clan MacDougall who owned the castle moved out of the stone structure and into a state-of-the-art “palace” down the road, Dunollie House. Today, both buildings are managed by The MacDougall of Dunollie Preservation Trust who run the museum, castle and gardens.
Dating from the 13th century, Dunstaffnage Castle is one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland (£6, FREE for Historic Environment Scotland members & Explorer Pass holders). It was built in a strategic location by the MacDougall lords of Lorn and has been held by the Campbells since the 15th century.
Flora MacDonald was held at this castle in 1746 before she was imprisoned at the Tower of London for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape after the lost Battle of Culloden.
Today it is partially ruined, but much of the impressive structure remains intact.
How to get to Dunollie Castle and Dunstaffnage Castle
Dunollie Castle lies at the northern outskirts of Oban. To get here, simply follow the Esplanade north, leading out of town. The walk from town takes around 20 minutes.
Dunstaffnage Castle lies a few miles further north. You can drive here (10 minutes) or cycle on a quiet cycle path (30 minutes). Cycle from Oban to Dunollie Castle and continue towards Ganavan Sands. From there follow the cycle path towards Dunbeg (cycle trail description here).
4) Island hopping to the Isle of Lismore
Lismore is a small island north of Oban. With only 25 km of single-track road, it is the perfect location for a day trip from Oban either on foot or by bike.
There are many trails on Lismore. From Achnacroish, the island’s colourful “capital”, you have a variety of trails to choose from:
- The Achnacroish and Salen circuit loops from the east to the west coast of the island, offers stunning views and conveniently has a cafe allocated about half-way through the route – Liosbeag Cafe at the Gaelic Heritage Centre. (6 miles, trail description here)
- A trail towards the western end of Lismore leads to the scenic ruins of Achadun Castle. (8 miles, trail description here)
- A trail leading north from Achnacroish brings you to two old historic sites on Lismore: Tirefour Broch and Castle Coeffin. This loop trail also comes past the cafe at the Gaelic Heritage Centre (7 miles, trail description here)
How to get to Lismore
There are two ways to get to Lismore: by car ferry from Oban or on a small passenger ferry from Port Appin, approx. 20 miles north of Oban.
There is a limited number of car spaces on the ferry (must be booked in advance), but it is also possible to travel as a foot passenger or bring a bicycle on the ferry (at no extra cost).
Bikes are available in Oban (see above) or on Lismore from Lismore Bike Hire.
The ferry from Port Appin lands on the northern side of Lismore, at a pier called Point. There are a few trails starting here that would be too far from Achnacroish.
5) Sea kayaking with Sea Kayak Oban
Oban sits on the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail and is in a prime location for kayaking day trips in the surrounding areas. Tours can start right at the bustling harbour of Oban and cross over to the Isle of Kerrera. Many other launch points are just a short drive away – like the Isle of Seil, Loch Creran or Port Appin. Kayaks even go free on Calmac ferries, which makes it appealing to paddle around some of the Inner Hebrides.
One of the leading kayaking tour operators and outfitters in Oban is Sea Kayak Oban (previously known as the National Kayak School) and I’ve enjoyed several days out with them on the waters near Oban – including a fantastic 2-day Introduction to Sea Kayaking course!
Sea Kayak Oban offers full-day kayaking trips from £95 (£60 for half-day trips) and makes use of a variety of launch points in the area. I have paddled around the isles of Kerrera, Seil and Easdale before, explored the coast of Loch Creran and landed for lunch with a view on uninhabited islands. Their tours are always a great adventure!
6) Day Trip to Inveraray
Inveraray makes for a great day trip from Oban. The small town on the banks of Loch Fyne – a sea loch famous for its oysters and shellfish harvest – is a dreamy town with mountain views and lots of things to do.
Things to do in Inveraray
The highlight of any trip to Inveraray is a visit to Inveraray Castle and Gardens (April to October; £12.50 Castle + Gardens, £5 Gardens only). It was built in the 18th century and has been the seat of the Dukes of Argyll, chiefs of Clan Campbell, ever since.
Fun fact: The village of Inveraray was actually moved to its current position to give the castle a more secluded position.
The main part of Inveraray is distinctive with its white-washed buildings and black signs, where even regular high street shops adhere to the same storefront aesthetic. That makes the village so picturesque!
Families love the museum at Inveraray Jail (£12.25/adult; £7.50/child) which overlooks the water.
A popular walk in Inveraray is the hike up Dun na Cuaiche, a viewpoint behind the castle. (3 miles, trail description here)
How to get to Inveraray
There is a direct bus from Oban to Inveraray (no. 976, approx. 1h 20m).
If you drive, you can combine a visit to Inveraray with stops from Day Trip 7 (Loch Awe & Kilchurn Castle) and/or 9 (Kilmartin Glen & Heart of Argyll).
7) Loch Awe and Kilchurn Castle
Loch Awe is a beautiful freshwater loch at the heart of Argyll. It is most famous for the dramatic ruins of Kilchurn Castle at its banks, but has a lot more to offer.
Things to do on Loch Awe
The highlight of any trip to Loch Awe is a stop at Kilchurn Castle (even if you just drive by Loch Awe on your way to Oban). The ruined castle guards the northern end of the loch and is free to visit. The car park is very small (just a layby along the A85) actually, so if it’s full, do another activity in the area and try again later. See below for an alternative approach to the castle.
One of my favourite viewpoints of Kilchurn Castle is a layby along the A819, less than a mile before the A85. Park your car, step over the fence and walk down to the waterfront for gorgeous views.
St Conan’s Kirk is a magical and beautiful church along the A85 (towards Oban, near Loch Awe station). It features a quirky mix of different architecture styles, numerous decorative animal statues and an intricate interior design. One of the chapels in the church holds a bone fragment that came supposedly from Robert the Bruce.
A unique way to experience the beauty of Loch Awe is to rent a boat from Loch Awe Boats. The boat rental is located near Ardbrecknish, around 1/3 down the loch on the eastern shore (B840 single-track road). Here you can rent a motorised boat for a few hours and either explore the loch, its many beautiful islands to “storm” Kilchurn Castle from the water. You can tie up your boat by the shore, while visiting the castle ruins.
How to get to Loch Awe and Kilchurn Castle
Although there is a nearby train station (Loch Awe station), I recommend visiting Loch Awe by car. It gives you greater flexibility to reach all the locations mentioned above.
8) Visit the Slate Islands
There is really no shortage of small islands near Oban to discover off the beaten path. The Slate Islands are a group of 7 main islands and many more surrounding islets. They get their name from their geology – Dalriadan slate was quarried on these islands from the 17th to the 20th century.
Things to do on the Slate Islands
The Isle of Seil is a popular destination for a day trip from Oban. Visitors can join boat trips, for example to the nearby Gulf of Corryvreckan, a large natural whirlpool between the Isles of Jura and Scarba. Ellenabeich on Seil is a popular launch point for sea kayaking tours and there are lovely walks along the coast.
The Isle of Easdale is separated from Ellenabeich by a narrow channel – there is a small passenger boat travelling back and forth. Easdale is a great place to visit the old slate quarries and learn about local history at the island’s Folk Museum.
The Isle of Luing is the largest among the Slate Islands, but incredibly sparsely populated. There are several trails on the island, including a lovely loop trail to visit the local slate quarries.
How to get to the Slate Islands
The Isle of Seil (the first of the Slate Islands coming from Oban) is connected to the mainland by a bridge – the so-called Bridge over the Atlantic.
There is a direct bus from Oban to Ellenabeich on the Isle of Seil. (no. 418) From Ellenabeich, you can catch a passenger boat to the Isle of Easdale. The same bus also makes a detour to Cuan Ferry pier on Seil from where you can get the small car ferry to the Isle of Luing.
You can also drive and explore Seil and Luing by car.
This blog post covers some of these destinations!
9) Explore the Heart of Argyll
The area between Arduaine, southern Loch Awe, Kilmartin, Lochgilphea, Inveraray and Tarbert is also known as the Heart of Argyll.
Things to do in the Heart of Argyll
Kilmartin Glen is one of the richest historical sites in Scotland with over 300 monuments dotted around the wide glen, including many pre-historic sites. There are chambered cairns and standing stones, even an ancient fort (Dunadd Fort) that was once the seat of the Dalriada Kings who ruled these lands.
In the village of Kilmartin, make sure to visit the local museum and the artistically carved, medieval tombstones exhibited at the church cemetery.
For some of the best views in the area, head out west to Crinan Ferry. A particularly nice area for nature walks and wildlife spotting is the nearby Knapdale Forest.
On the way back to Oban, stop at Arduaine Garden, a lush woodland garden with beautiful flower arrangements, tall coniferous trees and an army of colourful Rhododendron bushes (£7.50, FREE for National Trust for Scotland members. Join here!).
Read my travel guide for Kilmartin Glen for even more ideas!
How to get to the Heart of Argyll
There is a direct bus from Oban to Kilmartin which also stops near Arduaine Garden. (no. 423) However, exploring the Heart of Argyll by car will give you greater flexibility and enable you to reach more places off the beaten path.
10) Kintyre Peninsula
The Kintyre Peninsula is a long and narrow stretch of land in the far south of Argyll. It is well-worth more time than one day, but its compact size makes it an enjoyable destination for a day trip from Oban – as long as you’re happy to drive a bit.
Things to do on the Kintyre Peninsula
First drive from Oban to Tarbert (50 miles). The small town sits at the narrowest point of the peninsula and offers stunning views of the bay from the ruins of Tarbert Castle.
Continue down the west coast of the peninsula. In Tayinloan, you have the option to board the ferry for the Isle of Gigha, but you would really need to spend the whole day on Gigha (if not more) to do it justice.
If you prefer to stick to the mainland, drive on to Campbeltown, the bustling hub of the peninsula. Once home to 30 whisky distilleries, there are now only 3 left – but all are open to visitors.
It is worth exploring the southernmost point of the peninsula – the so-called Mull of Kintyre. Drive out to the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse, visit St Columba’s Chapel and Dunaverty Rock in Southend and fill up with cake and other treats at Muneroy Stores & Tea Rooms.
Drive back to Oban, enjoy the stunning views across the sea to the Isles of Islay and Jura, and stop by the standing stones in Kilmartin Glen before returning to Oban. (total distance: 205 miles)
Read my travel guide for the Kintyre Peninsula for even more suggestions!
How to get to the Kintyre Peninsula
Although there are local buses available, it is best to explore the Kintyre peninsula by car if you only have a day.
Where to stay in Oban
There is no shortage of accommodation options in Oban and there are B&Bs, hotels, self-catering cottages and hostels catering to all kinds of people with all sorts of budgets.
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 at the waterfront of Oban. It is within walking distance of the local train station and ferry port, but also the town centre!
Oban is more than a gateway to island hopping adventures on the Scottish isles. Oban is a perfect home base to explore the west coast of Scotland – whether you want to see castles, hike across remote islands, try your hand at sea kayaking or visit picturesque towns and historic sites.
Make your way to the west coast and explore Scotland’s beauty with these ideas for day trips from Oban!
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