Autumn is a great time to visit Scotland – especially for a road trip around the beautiful, yet highly underrated Argyll region. Together with my partner and our friends from Vienna, I set out for three days of adventuring – and this is my guide for re-creating the perfect Argyll road trip.
This post contains affiliate links, which I may make a commission from. Avis gifted me the hire car for this trip. All opinions are my own.
Scotland is top-notch road trip territory, but to be honest, there are two things that can turn a fun day on the road into a drag: lots of traffic and masses of tourists. Both combined are basically what you can expect when you’re on a road trip along Scotland’s most popular routes in the Highlands during the summer. That’s why we waited until autumn for our adventure and chose a road less travelled. Our Argyll road trip was the perfect start into the new season and a great way for my friends from Vienna to explore Scotland’s off-beat countryside for the very first time!
We had decided to travel by car – which is by far my favourite mode of transportation when you explore Scotland individually – and rented a car with Avis. The rental process was super smooth and Tom who processed my reservation at the Glasgow office, gave us lots of tips and information around the car – and a song that would stick with me for the entire weekend (Don’t Let Go by En Vogue). No regrets.
Photo by Patrick Wally
Back to our trip. On a serene September Friday night, we packed our things into the rental car and drove 2.5 hours from Glasgow to a tiny seaside village in Argyll called Craobh Haven. I’m super happy we got the driving bit out of the way, even though it meant arriving in the dark. That way we could maximise our time in Argyll and were in for a stunning surprise waking up to the view over the marina the next morning!
We had booked a lovely cottage by the seaside (Craobh Marina Cottages) which had two bedrooms and a lounge with a wood-burning stove. No AirBnB could have topped that – especially at the amazing end-of-season prize we scored! The night was spent with a late dinner in the cottage and a few pints of ale at the local pub. The perfect kick-off to a great weekend!
If you have more time, why not check out this 8-day journey through Argyll!
Argyll Road Trip
Day 1: Kintyre Peninsula
Inspired by Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre we decided to spend the first day of our Argyll road trip exploring the Kintyre Peninsula. The peninsula is really off the beaten track – more island than mainland -, and there was hardly any traffic on the road.
Our first stop was the small village of Kilmartin where we visited the carved stones in the historical graveyard and walked among the tall standing stones. There are five standing stones erected approximately 3,200 years ago in a specific alignment with the sun. Unfortunately, it was a rather rainy day, so we jumped back into the car and hit the road again.
Photo by Patrick Wally
By the time we reached the shore of Loch Fyne, it was lunch time and we found a little cafe in Ardrishaig (The Rumblin’ Tum) that served up vegan soup, fried seafood and fresh chips.
While there would be many stops on the Kintyre Peninsula, the weather didn’t show any signs of getting any better. So we decided to experience the landscape from the car and make our way all the way down to the Mull of Kintyre in one sitting (~2h after lunch). Had we had more time and sunshine, I would have loved to visit a whisky distillery in Campbelltown, climb up to Tarbert Castle, do a day trip to the Isle of Gigha, or simply take a long walk along the beaches. Next time!
We finally reached the Mull of Kintyre after 7 dreadful miles on a mountainous single track road – the word mull (or Gaelic maol) doesn’t refer to mountain for nothing. Sometimes reaching Scotland’s most beautiful spots takes a bit of a sacrifice! The drive, however, was like a Scottish mini-safari, as along the road we spotted female deer munching in the high grass, a male deer looking out for his mates high up on a hill, a few sheep and of course cattle grazing on the side of the road.
The lighthouse at the bottom of the Mull of Kintyre cannot be reached by car, so we followed the narrow road towards it on foot. The views over to Northern Ireland were magnificent, despite the rain. However, the lighthouse was still quite a trek away though, so, conscious of the time, we turned around and ascended back to the car.
Back on the main road, the rain finally stopped and – see there – the sun came out! The drive back up towards Craobh Haven was magnificent and the views over to the mountains of the Isle of Jura was just stunning! Day one of our Argyll road trip was quite a long day and a lot of time was spent on the road. I was glad we booked a second driver for the car so that I could sit back and relax as we zoomed along the coast into the sunset.
Happy, tired and hungry we returned to our cottage and our evening was filled yet again with a homemade meal, a few ales at the pub and finally a cosy night by the fire.
Day 2: Loch Awe & Oban
Even though day two of our Argyll road trip had less time on the road on the schedule, I was really happy we had booked the fully care-free insurance package that Tom had recommended upon pickup. Scotland’s roads are notorious for being narrow and winding, but nothing beats a hilly single track road through the forest along a loch…
After about an hour we reached Ardbrecknish, a small village on the eastern shore of Loch Awe, one of Scotland’s most beautiful lakes, if I may add! A boat trip was on top of my friends’ Scotland bucket list, so we rented a little open boat with an engine at Loch Awe Boats and made our way north. Our goal was to reach Kilchurn Castle, which might just be one of Scotland’s most photographed landmarks. It sticks out over the water in the northern corner of the lake, and while you can reach it on land, arriving over the water gave our only castle visit of the trip a special edge.
Like Vikings, we approached the rocky peninsula the castle rests upon. Instead of aiming for the old wooden jetty, we landed the boat on a sandy beach – or well, got stuck on the sandbank a few meters off the shore… Out of the boat, into the shallow water – thank God for wellies – we pulled the boat as far as we could, set up a make-shift pale to tie it to and continued our attack of the castle.
The castle itself lies in ruins but can be visited for free. There are info boards around the building and a few wooden staircases have been erected to give you an idea of the kind of views you would get defending the castle walls. We spent about an hour around the castle, taking many photos – and struggling to get the boat out of the shallow water again… 3 hours of rental should suffice, considering that it’s about 1 hour by boat from Loch Awe Boats to the castle!
The next stop of our journey was Oban. The route leads along Loch Awe and past Kilchurn Castle again, before it bends up towards Loch Etive and follows its shores. It definitely is one of my favourite drives in Scotland! We arrived in Oban slightly too late for the whisky distillery (it closes at 5 pm on weekends), but at the perfect time for a fish & chips supper by the harbour! While there are many excellent seafood restaurants in Oban, I prefer getting a takeaway and eating by the harbour front if the weather allows it. George Street Fish & Chips serves several veggie options, and their veggie haggis is actually vegan!
From Oban, it was a quick drive home to Craobh Haven, and with a full belly there was nothing left to do, but enjoy the sunset over the marina.
Day 3: Ardkinglas Woodland Garden
Day three of our Argyll road trip was really only a half day because we had to first get the cottage back into its original state and then return the car in Glasgow by 5 pm.
An unfortunate (yet not fatal) lorry accident on the road between Craobh Haven and Lochgilphead caused us some delay and meant that we had to return to Glasgow via Oban. Luckily, the second stop in Oban was highly appreciated – now that the Oban Distillery was open and my friends could finally buy their souvenirs!
Back on the road, we chose the much quieter road towards Inveraray and visited Ardkinglas Woodland Garden, a serene natural retreat I had first visited on a road trip to Dunoon. The garden was a welcome stop before returning to the city bustle of Glasgow. There are a few trails leading up and down the hilly slope of the garden, and several info boards explaining more about the unique flora you can find here. The garden is home to some of Scotland’s highest trees, among which is a fir tree that measures over 64m and another one that has 4-in-1 trunks which makes it wider than any other tree in the garden. Allow about an hour to an hour and a half to explore the garden and rest a little bit.
A particular favourite of mine is the Rest and Be Thankful car park high above the village of Arrochar. Stopping here to take in the views, but also to think back of all the adventures we had during the weekend, is the perfect ending to a great Argyll road trip!
Photo by Patrick Wally
Argyll is full of adventures and surprises, and an Argyll road trip is the ideal way to uncover some of these hidden gems and explore Scotland off the beaten track. Three days are hardly enough to scratch the surface, but the perfect amount for a taster of the highlights.
Have you ever been to Argyll or the Kintyre Peninsula? Would love to hear your experiences and what else I might add to my next Argyll road trip!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.