Hands up, if you thought that for a remote Highland adventure in the wilderness, you have to spend a long time in the car getting to your destination first. Think again! Argyll & the Isles, a region north-west of Glasgow that spans mountains, lochs and gorgeous coastlines, has everything you need for an adventurous getaway – and it is just a hop, skip and a jump away! Or a flight, ferry or train journey… Read on for inspiration for your next outdoor adventures in Argyll!
This post is part of the paid campaign The Heart and Soul of Scotland with Wild About Argyll and People Make Glasgow. Argyll and Glasgow have joined forces to show how easily you can combine a visit to both areas in one trip! I’m stoked to be a part of the campaign since Argyll is my favourite place to escape for micro-adventures from Glasgow. Find out about my Play Hard itinerary for Glasgow here or browse my other stories from Glasgow here.
This post contains affiliate links, which I may make a commission from.
Disclaimer: Always check local travel guidelines and restrictions, especially when it comes to visiting Scottish isles and other remote areas post-Coronavirus.
Even though I find it impossible to choose a favourite place in Scotland, there are definitely areas and regions that deserve a special place in my heart. Argyll is one of them. It lies north-west of Glasgow and covers places like Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, the Arrochar Alps and Lochawe, Oban, the peninsulas of Cowal and Kintyre and endless islands, such as Bute, Islay, Jura, Mull and Tiree.
It is one of the largest regions in Scotland and naturally incredibly diverse. Even though it is so close to the city, it features some of the most remote areas and communities in the country. To me, Argyll is like a box of chocolates and each sweetie comes with a different Scottish flavour and experience. There is so much to do in Argyll and even after several trips to the region I keep discovering new favourites and hidden gems.
Now tell me again, why so few people ask me specifically about Argyll when they approach me about itinerary planning?
As much as I love keeping a good secret to myself, Argyll is simply too gorgeous not to share with you. Being self-employed I don’t always have a lot of time to go on extended trips – I love places that are easy to get to, where the adventure starts as soon as you step out the front door. I’m sure many of my American readers can relate. When you only have two weeks of annual leave to spare, you don’t want to spend the majority of your Scotland holiday in the car driving to your destination. You want to start exploring as soon as possible!
Argyll is the perfect getaway for micro-adventures: you won’t need an awful lot of time (although you could spend weeks discovering the region) and there is literally an outdoor activity for everyone here! In this post, I will tell you about seven amazing outdoor adventures in Argyll which are all easy to do with just a few days to spare – or you can combine them into a (two-)weeklong itinerary for your next overseas journey!
Read on to find out about:
- Cycling on the Isle of Tiree,
- Stargazing & boat trips on the Isle of Coll,
- Hiking in the Arrochar Alps,
- Sea Kayaking along the National Kayaking Trail,
- Fat biking on the Isle of Islay,
- Water sports on Loch Lomond,
- Wildlife watching on Argyll’s Secret Coast,
- Long-distance hiking in Argyll, and
- Surfing on the Kintyre Peninsula.
A Cycle Holiday on the Isle of Tiree
The Isle of Tiree is famous for three things:
- the strong and constant winds,
- being mostly flat and
- having the most hours of sunshine in the British Isles – they even call it “Sunshine Isle”!
This peculiar combination has the consequence that the island is particularly popular for sports like surfing, wind- and kite-surfing, but also among cyclists. You can bring your own bike across on the ferry or rent one from Tiree Fitness – highly recommended, especially if you arrive by plane. Prices start at £10 per day. Even though the island is very flat, which makes for perfect cycling territory, the strong winds add quite a bit of a challenge to the journey. So, why don’t you make your life a little easier, and hire an e-bike? Some call it cheating, I call it a smart move!
Will from Tiree Fitness met me at the airport and explained how to most efficiently use my e-bike. And off I went!
There is a circular road leading around Tiree and it is possible to cycle around the entire island in a day. However, there are also many detours worth the effort, such as the dead-end roads to Hynish or Caolas – nothing but paradise beaches and gorgeous views wait at the other end!
There are no cycling paths on Tiree, but on-street cycling is very safe. There is not too much traffic, but on single track roads, try to be aware of cars coming up behind you, so you can let them pass.
Tiree is easy to navigate, but I recommend grabbing a paper map at the airport for your cycle trip. If you prefer using Google maps, make sure you download the area before your trip as phone coverage is patchy on the island.
Travel Info: How to get from Glasgow to Tiree
The easiest and quickest way to get to Tiree is by plane. Loganair flies from Glasgow to Tiree 6-7 times a week (winter and summer schedules). The planes are pretty small, which is an experience in itself. The safety briefing was done by the co-pilot and the cockpit did not even have a door. The flight only takes 45 minutes and upon landing, you get an amazing view over Tiree’s many beaches and bays. You could take the morning flight to Tiree, cycle around the island and hop on the afternoon flight back to the city!
Alternatively, you can connect easily incorporate Tiree into your greater Scotland itinerary and arrive by ferry. Calmac operates a daily ferry service between Oban, the Isle of Coll and Scarinish on Tiree (less frequent in the winter; 2 sailings on Saturdays in the summer). The journey takes just under 4 hours and the boat is big enough to bring cars across too. If you travel during the summer months, I recommend booking your tickets in advance!
Travel Info: Where to Stay & Eat on Tiree
Accommodation on Tiree is much sought after, especially during the summer months. There are numerous B&Bs, hotels and hostels on the island, but also a large variety of self-catering accommodations. There is also a campsite with facilities and you can wild-camp as long as you adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and respect crofting land (= farmland).
During my stay, I wild camped on a small beach not far from Gott Bay – the longest beach on the island. I use a small light-weight dome tent by Vaude and carry a large backpack which comes with a detachable lid that turns into a handy day bag. Check out my long-distance hiking packing list for all my other wild camping essentials.
My beach was was not far from Tiree Lodge Hotel, which is a great option if you are looking for a traditional Scottish hotel with restaurant and bar. The views from the dining room over the beach are fantastic!
At the hotel, I met a couple from Glasgow, who had made Tiree their home and are running a Bed and Breakfast – and I loved their story so much! They visited Tiree several years ago for a cycling holiday – much like myself – and fell in love with the island. 6 months later, they got the keys to their new home, did it all up and started welcoming guests into their home, Mannal House. Their house overlooks a picturesque beach with views towards Mull and Iona. Just be warned, that you might never want to leave! You can book a room at Mannal House via AirBnB.
Stargazing at the Dark Sky Park on the Isle of Coll
The Isle of Coll is Tiree’s remote neighbour. The islands are equal in size, however, they could not be more different in any other way. While Tiree is a fertile island with lots of farm and crofting land, Coll is a rocky enclave with fewer than 150 year-round inhabitants. There is only one significant village on the island and several smaller settlements. A single road runs diagonally across Coll and many parts of the island are only accessible by foot or by boat.
But its remote and pristine landscapes are not the only thing I love about Coll – the island is also dedicated to keeping it that way! In 2009, Coll was recognised as a Dark Sky Park – a place with outstanding stargazing potential and close to zero light pollution. There are no street lamps on the island ensuring that on a clear night you can see more stars in the sky than anywhere else!
Twice a year, Coll Bunkhouse hosts an event called Coll & The Cosmos which includes a 2-day workshop of stargazing with expert astronomers. However, even without guidance, you will be blown away just by the sheer number of stars you can spot in the sky!
PS: Don’t forget that summer days are super long in Scotland, so it will be harder to spot stars from May to August. It simply doesn’t get dark enough or you have to wait up until late to get darkness.
To photograph the dark sky on Coll, set up your camera on a tripod and set it to manual. You want to use a long exposure (like 30 seconds), wide aperture (f 3.5 or lower), wide focal length (set to ∞ if possible) and high ISO (mine were taken with ISO 2500).
Travel Info: How to get from Glasgow to Coll
Coll is a bit harder to get to because there are no direct flights from Glasgow. From Glasgow, you can drive or take the scenic West Highland Line train to Oban. The journey takes just over 2 hours by car and 3 hours by train.
From Oban, you have two options:
- Take a scheduled flight to Coll with Hebridean Air Services or
- board a Calmac ferry for a 2.5-hour ferry journey to the island.
Coming from Tiree, you can either take the Calmac ferry or charter a private boat with John from Isle GO – that way you do not only get transport between the islands, but also the opportunity to explore Coll’s coast from the sea with an insightful local guide. John knows so much about Coll, it’s a pleasure listening to his stories of a lifetime spent on the island!
Travel Info: Where to Stay & Eat on Coll
There is only one hotel on the island as well as a handful of B&Bs, self-catering cottages and a bunkhouse. All of these can get very busy during the summer, so I recommend booking in advance or visiting in offseason. The hotel is also the only restaurant and pub on the island. Booking during the summer is essential!
I stayed at the Coll Hotel, an award-winning family-run hotel in the main village on Coll. The hotel has been passed on for three generations since the 1960s. In Spring 2019 they opened a brand-new extension with a new restaurant, lounge and bar with panoramic views of the harbour, the sea and the garden. The old bar and restaurant area will soon enough be turned into new rooms, but even then the hotel will keep its charming indy vibe. My room (like most others) had stunning views of the harbour and I could see the sea from my bed.
The hotel restaurant is well-known for its fantastic seafood and local meat dishes, but they also boast a generous vegan menu that puts some vegan-friendly restaurants in Glasgow to shame. I stuffed my face with sweet potato gnocchi, flavoursome salads, vegan halloumi fries and tofu-“fish” and chips!
Hiking and Wild Camping in the Arrochar Alps
When people think about hiking and (wild) camping in the Highlands, they often believe that you have to go far north to find wilderness. In fact, it takes less than 1.5 hours to find yourself completely surrounded by mountains – and you can take the train!
The Arrochar Alps are a popular mountain getaway around Loch Lomond, Loch Long and Loch Fyne. Munro-baggers will be happy to hear that there are several Munros in the area (Beinn Ìme, Beinn Bhuidhe, Ben Vorlich, Beinn Narnain and Ben Vane) and several of them can be reached without a car. Other iconic mountains in the area include Ben Arthur and Beinn an Lochain, which was classified as a Munro by Sir Hugh Munro but was later shown to be significantly shorter.
From Arrochar & Tarbet train station it takes about 40 minutes to walk to Succoth car park from where trails lead up Ben Arthur, Ìme and Narnain. You could also hitchhike! The trail up Ben Arthur, also called the Cobbler, is very popular and fairly easy to follow – but it’s also steep at times. Making it to the top is worth the effort though – even on a rainy and misty day!
Travel Info: How to get from Glasgow to Arrochar
The easiest way to get to the Arrochar Alps from Glasgow is by train. The West Highland Railway Line operated by Scotrail takes just over an hour and the journey gets a gold star for scenery along the Clyde, Gare Loch and Loch Long.
You could also drive, but be aware that the car park charges at Succoth car park have gone up in 2019 (£9 for a full day).
Travel Info: Where to Stay & Eat in Arrochar
Many hikes in the Arrochar Alps can be done as a day trip from Glasgow, but it’s also easy to turn this into a weekend getaway! You could camp at the shores of Loch Lomond or Loch Long, but with the camping byelaws in effect from March to September, it is easier to either wild camp further up (near the Narnairn Boulders) or stay in a B&B for extra comfort.
I stayed at Ashfield House B&B and immediately fell in love – with the mountain views from my room, with the vegan pancaked my host Cristina made for me, with the location near trailheads, transport links and dining options.
For dinner, I walked to The Village Inn, which is a lovely historic inn and pub, with wooden interiors, atmospheric light and a few vegan options on the menu, including dessert which is always a nice surprise! It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the B&B to the inn – a lovely evening stroll!
Sea kayaking in Oban
Argyll’s coastline is 3,723 km long and there are hundreds of islands, big and small, off its coast. It is not surprising that the region is extremely popular for sea kayaking!
The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail runs for 500 km along the west coast and takes in some of the best coasts of Argyll. It begins near the Isle of Gigha and the Kintyre peninsula passes the Isles of Seil and Kerrera, heads to Oban and then through the Sound of Mull on its way north. The entire trail leads to Ullapool in the far north, but the southern section in Argyll is arguably one of the best kayaking experiences in Scotland.
For those with less experience or stamina – those headwinds are real – there are many companies all over Argyll who offer sea kayak day tours, overnight trips and training courses.
Sea Kayak Oban has never failed me and I’ve loved both the 2-day intro course I did a few years ago and a full-day trip of paddling at Loch Creran.
Travel Info: How to get from Glasgow to Oban
There are several direct trains between Glasgow and Oban per day – again it’s Scotrail’s scenic West Highland Railway Line. The journey takes just over 3 hours, but time flies as you zoom past Loch Lomond, Loch Awe and Loch Etive. Just before reaching Lochawe train station, keep your eyes peeled for Kilchurn Castle!
Travel Info: Where to Stay & Eat in Oban
There is no shortage of hotels, B&Bs and hostels in Oban. Here are a few options:
Oban Youth Hostel: not your average party hostel, but a laid-back option for budget-aware travellers who want a stay with sea view. Book it here.
Glenbervie Guest House: A lovely B&B in one of Oban’s many Victorian villas with stunning flower gardens. Book it here.
The Perle Hotel: a stylish boutique hotel in a historic building on the seafront. Just 5-minutes from the train station. Book in here.
Oban is the seafood capital of Scotland and there are many fish restaurants to prove that. In my pre-vegan days, I loved the fish & chips from George Street Restaurant and always wanted to try Eeusk at the pier. In the summer there is a seafood stall next to the ferry terminal, selling freshly caught and prepared shellfish and mussels.
But vegans will not go hungry either. The chippy at George Street also sells vegan-friendly veggie haggis suppers, The Little Potting Shed Cafe is a small vegan hidden gem and Food from Argyll at the Pier has some amazing vegan options in the deli!
Fat Biking on the Isle of Islay
Have you ever heard of fat biking?
I first encountered this activity on the Isle of Islay. Fat bikes are like mountain bikes on steroids – they are bigger, heavier and have wider wheels – hence the name. They were initially designed for use on snow, but also work great on sand.
Their fat wheels give you great grip, which makes cycling along the beaches of Islay so much fun.
Dave from Kayak Wild Islay offers fat biking in the south of Islay. Tours explore the 5-mile long Big Strand beach, visit whisky distilleries along the Three Distilleries pathway (Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin) or discover nearby hills and forest tracks.
Travel Info: How to get from Glasgow to Islay
The ferry to Islay leaves from Kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula, approx. 2.5 hours from Glasgow by car. The bus 926 also stops here on the way to Campbeltown. The ferry crossing takes around 2 hours. There are two ferry ports on Islay (tickets can be used to either), which are a 40-minute drive apart (Port Askaig and Port Ellen).
Alternatively, you can also fly to Islay from Glasgow with Loganair.
Travel Info: Where to Stay & Eat in Islay
There is absolutely no shortage of accommodation on Islay, but I highly recommend booking far in advance to avoid disappointment. For anyone who is looking for self-catering accommodation with stunning views of Lagavulin Bay, I highly recommend Storm Pods. For the indulgent couple, Islay House Hotel near Port Askaig is the right choice!
For food, I highly recommend the restaurant at The Machrie Hotel, because the chef prepares some of the most creative and mouthwatering meals I’ve ever tried. There are also vegan options available at Lagavulin and Ardbeg Distillery on the south coast, as well as Peatzeria in Bowmore.
Water Sports on Loch Lomond
Everybody who visits Scotland has heard about Loch Lomond – after all, it is the largest freshwater loch in the country! Most people also drive past it on their way from Glasgow or Edinburgh into the Highlands. But not everybody stops for much longer than a few photos – and that is a big mistake!
Only an hour from Glasgow – by train, bus or car – Loch Lomond is perfect for a micro-adventure. You can hike the West Highland Way, bike along the shore from Balloch to Luss, rent kayaks or small boats and explore the islands on Loch Lomond, do a (speed) boat cruise, book an activity with local adventure companies or simply relax at one of the loch’s beaches. Your options are endless!
The small village of Luss is a great location to base yourself in, especially if you are into watersports. Loch Lomond Leisure offers a variety of watersports from kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard hire to speed boat tours, wakeboarding and banana rides. Every level of adrenaline junkie can be catered for. I went on a 30-minute speed boat cruise, which not only introduced me to the joy of racing across the loch but also took me to nooks and corners of the loch I had never seen before. My captain-guide was incredibly knowledgable and told me many stories of the area.
If you are even more adventurous, check out In Your Element, a Scottish outdoor activities company that has a base at Loch Lomond. They also offer kayak and canoeing trips but also gorge walking, abseiling and an aerial adventure course in Balloch. I got to try their latest addition which is a popular sport imported from New Zealand and Canada: river sledging. As the name suggests you lie on a plastic sledge which looks a bit like half of a sit-on-top kayak and glide down the river with small flippers at your feet. The water of the Luss river was icy, but the activity was so much fun (and my wet suit so warm) that I barely noticed!
PS: And after all that action, you deserve to relax at Carrick Spa at Cameron House!
Travel Info: How to get from Glasgow to Loch Lomond
There are three ways to get to Loch Lomond: you can either drive by car; you can also take the train from Glasgow and base yourself in Balloch, the biggest town on the shores of Loch Lomond; or you can take the bus and find a home base along the western shore of the Loch, such as Luss or Tarbet.
Having your own car in the area gives you the greatest flexibility, but Balloch, Luss and Tarbet all offer a variety of places to eat and things to do on/near the loch for which you don’t require your own car.
Travel Info: Where to Stay & Eat at Loch Lomond
I spent a relaxing night at the Inn on Loch Lomond. From my room, I could see the loch and I had a bathtub to soak my sore muscles after a day of hiking in the Arrochar Alps.
The hotel is quite big and right next to the road, but even though those characteristics don’t sound too alluring I highly recommend staying here. Once you step inside you forget the number of rooms and proximity of the road altogether. The staff is lovely and super helpful, and the atmosphere in the restaurant and bar area very relaxed and casual. You won’t feel under-dressed in your hiking gear!
If you are looking for something fancier, check out the Lodge on Loch Lomond in Luss – the two are actually sister hotels! The Lodge sits by the waterfront of the loch and offers stunning views over the water. They offer everything from classic doubles to luxurious suites and serve amazing food at the waterfront restaurant.
Both Lodge and Inn have fantastic vegan options are very accommodating in altering meals to suit your requirements!
Wildlife Watching on Argyll’s Secret Coast
With 3,723 kilometres of coastline, there is ample opportunity to spot coastal wildlife all around Argyll and Bute – that’s the longest coastline in Scotland by the way!
Among the most beloved inhabitants of Argyll’s Secret Coast are basking sharks, dolphins, common seals, innumerable species of sea birds and golden eagles. Even orcas are sighted here fairly regularly.
One of my favourite wildlife experiences in Argyll is the Three Isles Wildlife Tour with Staffa Tours, which leaves from Oban or Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull. It includes a visit to a local puffin colony on the Isle Lunga as well as a trip to Staffa for more puffins (if you’re lucky) and a walk to the famous Fingal’s Cave.
However, I have also spent hours watching woodland animals at Ardkinglas Woodland Gardens, seals basking in the sun on the Isle of Bute and I even spotted an otter on the Isle of Tiree!
Check out Eilidh Cameron’s beautiful photo essay, if you’d like to know more about wildlife spotting in Argyll.
Travel Info: Getting to Wildlife Watching Spots
The best spots for wildlife watching can often be a bit off the beaten path – but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily hard to get to! The easiest way around Argyll’s secret coast is by rental car – it allows you to reach isolated beaches at the end of single-track roads and drive to woodland parks and nature reserve off the main (public transport) routes. I always find the best deals via Auto Europe.
Long-distance hiking in Argyll
Long-distance hiking is the best way to get off the beaten track and take in the sheer beauty of a region at your own pace – literally. There are several long-distance trails in Argyll, including the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way, Kintyre Way, Three Lochs Way and the West Island Way.
The Loch Lomond & Cowal Way (90 km) leads from Portvadie on Loch Fyne across the Cowal peninsula to Inveruglas on Loch Lomond. On average, it takes 4 to 5 days to complete. Towards the end, you come through Arrochar and I highly recommend adding a day or two to hike in the Arrochar Alps and stay at Ashfield House.
The Kintyre Way (161 km) explores the Kintyre peninsula from Tarbert in the north to Machrihanish in the south. Highlights include a potential detour to the Isle of Gigha, the distilleries in Campbelltown and the lighthouse at the Mull of Kintyre. It takes around 7 to 8 days to complete.
As the name gives away, the Three Lochs Way (53 km) takes in three lochs: Loch Lomond, Gareloch and Loch Long and runs from Balloch to Inveruglas. Plan 3 to 4 days to complete this walk. The trail links up well with the Loch Lomond and &Cowal Way and offers plenty of opportunities for hiking in the Trossachs and Arrochar Alps or outdoor activities on Loch Lomond.
The West Island Way (45 km) is a fantastic long-distance hike for beginners and can be walked in 2 to 3 days. It explores the south and north of the Isle of Bute and is very easy to reach by train and ferry from Glasgow. You can base yourself in Rothesay or carry a tent to wild camp at lonely beaches.
Travel Info: Long Distance Hiking in Argyll
All of these trails are part of the Great Scottish Trails network which means they fulfil a high standard of trail maintenance, diversity of landscapes and availability of facilities. Their trail ends are accessible by public transport and on most occasions, baggage transfer can be arranged. In terms of accommodation, you can rough it and carry your own tent, but all four trails are also well-equipped with B&Bs, hostels and hotels along the way.
The Great Scottish Trails website provides an overview of accommodation providers, but I also recommend buying maps and guidebooks for the hikes you want to do for the most detailed information regarding places to stay, restaurants, supermarkets and route descriptions. Get them here:
Surfing on the Kintyre Peninsula
Would you have considered Scotland a surf destination? Me neither, but alas, where there is sea, there is surf. There are many places around Scotland where you can surf. The Isle of Tiree has a thriving surf community, for example, but I went for a lesson at Westport Beach on the Kintyre peninsula.
Pete’s Surf School offers lessons and surf courses that will see you riding waves in no time. Armed with a thick wet suit, you can brave the cold Atlantic water – surfing is a full-body workout so that you quickly forget the water temperatures and work up an inner body heat instead.
Travel Info: Kintyre Peninsula
Cambpeltown is a great place to base yourself, if you want to take some surf lessons on Westport beach. I can highly recommend Ardshiel Hotel, which also has a great restaurant and whisky bar on site. However, if you are looking for self-catering accommodation get in touch with Pete from the surf school, as he rents out cottages near the beach.
Can you imagine now why Argyll is one of my favourite regions in Scotland?
Argyll is so diverse and there is so much to do for outdoor lovers – even if you just want to tip your toe into adventure tourism for the first time. Being so close to Glasgow makes it easy to reach and easy to plan a quick getaway.
I hope I have inspired you to try some of the activities for yourself and explore the Heart and Soul of Scotland like I did!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.