Most visitors come to Scotland with only a few days to spare, but a big list of typical Scottish things to do & see. Castles, whisky, island-hopping – luckily there is a place near Glasgow that has all this and more. They don’t call it ‘Scotland in Miniature’ for nothing – come with me on an Isle of Arran tour!
This post contains affiliate links which I may make a commission from. Find out more here. Rabbie’s hosted me and my mum on this tour free of charge. All opinions are my own.
When my mum announced that she would like to visit Scotland (and me) at the end of the summer, I put on my thinking cap. Where could we go that is good in off season, is easily done in a few days, but also shows her a side of Scotland that she has not really seen before? The Isle of Arran seemed like the perfect choice with its beautiful Highland mountains, lonely beaches and island lifestyle.
Only this time, I didn’t want the task of driving to rest on my shoulders (as much as I loved our road trip around the North East) – especially since we would have to get the car on and off a little ferry – and so we took up the opportunity and joined Rabbie’s 3-day Arran tour with stops on and off the mainland.
The Isle of Arran lies just off the coast of Ayrshire, which is the name of the region south of Glasgow. It is only 20 miles long and 10 miles wide, making it the 7th largest island in Scotland. It is divided into Highland and Lowland terrain by the Highland Fault Line, which splits the entire into two halfs – geologically speaking. And because Arran shows the characteristics of both, High- and Lowlands, they call it Scotland in miniature.
Scotland in Off Season
Traveling Scotland in the shoulder and off seasons has the benefit of having places all to yourself, while still getting decent weather and incredible experiences. Autumn might just be my favourite time of the year for a Scottish road trip, when the heather blooms purple, the bracken shines in all shades of orange and the trees are turning yellow and red. The sea gets rougher and the mountains are coated by mysterious clouds of fog or rain. Considering the highly unpredictable Scottish weather year-round there really is no reason why you shouldn’t travel here in off season!
Here is what to expect from the 3-day Arran tour with Rabbie’s – in words and many, many pictures.
Day 1: Hello Ayrshire & Setting Sail to Arran
Our day started comfortably late (or early, depending on what you’re used to) by meeting our group and driver-guide Dave at George Square at 10am. A few passengers had come with Dave from Edinburgh, so would have left about an hour earlier – first benefit of starting the tour in Glasgow!
Day 1 should be dedicated to exploring some of the main sites in Ayrshire, before making our way to Ardrossan to catch the ferry to Arran.
Our first stop took us to Whitelee Wind Farm, a rather untypical landmark and to be honest, not a sight I had ever considered visiting before. However, I’m so glad we stopped here, because it gave us the opportunity to learn more about Scotland’s renewable energy programme and get up close with a wind turbine – I had no idea just how big they were!
A short drive later we arrived in Culzean Castle, which is one of these Scottish castles that are pronounced completely different than they are spelled – so don’t even try… I’m joking, please try; just drop the ‘z’! Unfortunately, it was raining pretty badly, so we did not see as much of the castle gardens as we wanted to, but the inside of the castle is definitely worth a visit and the views over the sea are gorgeous – even in the mist! As this was our planned lunch stop, we ate our packed lunches in the castle cafe – unfortunately, they don’t serve any vegan food, so I was happy we had brought some avocados, bread and veg ourselves!
If you wanted to visit Culzean Castle on a day trip from Glasgow, this post on Cava for Lunch has got you covered!
On our way up the coast, Dave decided to do a quick stop at Dunure Castle, just to show us how different it looked compared to Culzean, even though they were built around the same time. The rain was taking a wee break, but Arran, which was supposedly just across the water, was still hiding in the fog.
Our final stop in Ayrshire was Alloway, the birthplace of Scottish poet Robert Burns. We had the chance to visit the cottage where Robert Burns was born as well as the Robert Burns museum, which declares that it’s “better than a Burns Supper”! However, my mum and I decided to venture out into the garden behind the museum and visit the Burns memorial (despite the rain), followed by a cup of coffee.
Just as we reached Ardrossan and waited for our ferry to arrive, the rain finally stopped for good and the sun came out. A good sign for our upcoming stay on Arran! We checked into our B&B in Brodick and had the rest of the evening to ourselves. We went for a sunset stroll along the beach followed by dinner in one of the local pubs – more about food further down! Full from dinner and tired from a day of exploring we fell into our beds and fast asleep around 11pm – what a glorious first day!
Day 2: The Isle of Arran in one day
The second day was all about Arran. Dave had been mysterious about our exact schedule for the day – keeping it flexible depending on the weather – but had promised to try and see as much as possible.
We were ready for pick-up at 9am. Seeing that most people on the tour stay in different accommodation across Brodick though, and we were the last to be picked up, we only left around 9.15am.
Our first stop of the day was a beautiful view point over Lamlash Bay and the Holy Island at the end of a winding logging road. This is a great example of the benefits of Rabbie’s 16-seater policy – would they go with bigger buses, Dave could have never driven up here! Coming at the end of August meant the beautiful Highland heather was in full bloom, and I couldn’t keep my camera still!
We drove on to Kildonan Beach, which is a tiny remote beach at the very end of Arran. We had it all to ourselves and got great views of Ailsa Craig – a bizarre-looking bird island south of Arran – in the distance!
After a brief stop in Blackwaterfoot – to use the toilets and drop off some of the less adventurous members of our group – we headed on to our next stop. Here driver-guide Dave showed off all his flexibility, by making it possible that part of our group explored the beach of Blackwaterfoot while the rest of us marched off for a 1.5 hour hike to the standing stones of Machrie Moor.
From the car park it is about 2 miles of easy walking to reach the stone circles and standing stones of Machrie Moor. Channeling my inner Claire Fraser, I tried my best to travel back in time – but alas, the 18th century was not meant for me…
After picking up the rest of the crew, Dave brought us back to Brodick for lunch via the String Road which cuts through the island. Some people say that Arran’s shape looks a bit like a badly wrapped parcel, and the road in the middle resembles the string holding it together – hence the name.
We had lunch in Brodick, with the choice of going to the main village, or exploring the Wineport area of the village. This is where you can find Arran brewery and the Wineport restaurant as well as the Arran cheese shop, some local design and drafts shops and the Arran Soap Company. Again, Dave proved his flexibility, by dropping us off in Brodick fir vegan lunch options and picking us up early enough so we could explore the soap, cheese and craft shops before our afternoon tour.
While the morning was spent exploring the south of Arran, the afternoon brought us north. We drove along the beautiful east coast of Arran, spotted a man-made tidal ‘bath tub’ in the rocks left of the road and finally reached our destination for the afternoon: Lochranza. Here we had the option to go for a walk with Dave, or visit the Arran Distillery – which one do you think we chose?
The distillery tour is great value for money as you get to taste the Arran 14-year-old as well as their very own whisky cream liqueur (not very vegan though…). I love distillery tours and think that with every new distillery I visit, I learn more about how each whisky is closely connected with its local surroundings. Our guide was brilliant and I was extra happy, because we were allowed to take photos inside the distillery!
The evening we had to ourselves again, but rather than heading straight for dinner, my mum and I did a quick sunset walk down Glen Rosa, which is a beautiful valley underneath the highest peaks of the islands. Day 2 did not disappoint!
Day 3: “Island Hopping” & Exploring Argyll
On the third day it was time to leave Arran again and sail back to the mainland – however, not with the ferry we came on, but the one connecting the island to the Kintyre peninsula.
Dave took us along the last stretch of Arran road we hadn’t seen so far, and we reached Lochranza via the road along the west coast. The weather was glorious, but we could see the rain looming ahead of us in the distance – better make the most of it! While Dave secured us a spot in the line for the ferry (no pre-bookings possible) we had about half an hour to explore the ruin of Lochranza Castle and take in some of the sea views.
On the ferry crossing we braved the winds on the top deck, because we had heard that chances were good to spot some dolphins! However, the waves weren’t too fortunate and we mostly saw giant jellyfish – until, suddenly I saw two dolphins surf in the waves moving towards the ferry. It lasted just a few seconds, but it definitely made my day!
After half an hour we were back on the mainland, even though Kintyre is so off the beaten track, it doesn’t really feel like the mainland at all! In fact, the finger-shaped peninsula was the last stronghold of the Vikings in Scotland, because it was as hard to conquer as an island!
It had started to rain during the ferry crossing, but luckily the weather took another turn just as we reached Tarbert. This little town with a beautiful, colourful harbour waterfront would surely be worth a longer stop, but we made the most of our hour by climbing up to Tarbert Castle ruin. That’s the thing with guided tours – you may not have as much time in each place as you’d like, but you sure come back with a list of places to revisit!
For lunch we stopped in Inveraray, but forewent visiting Inveraray Castle in favour of picking up some takeaway lunch and enjoy a sunny picnic by the waterfront! Brambles has a vegan sandwich option, but you could also sit in if it was raining.
On our way back to Glasgow we stopped at two evergreens: the Rest & Be Thankful view point over the Arrochar Alps and the quaint village of Luss which lines the shore of Loch Lomond. Here it was finally warm and sunny enough to take off my shoes, dip my feet into the refreshing water and walk along the sandy beach with my bare feet. A successful end to a gorgeous day and great tour!
Vegan Restaurants on Arran
Going on an Arran tour as a vegan is easier than you might expect – believe me, I was surprised myself! Take it from the Israeli girl in our tour group who was vegetarian and gluten-intolerant – she couldn’t believe how easy it was to find food! The majority of Scottish eateries are prepared to adjust meals or have options available for a variety of dietary requirements.
Self-catering is easier when you travel independently than it is on a guided tour, because you have more time to shop and cook. However, we were actually lucky enough to stay at a B&B with shared kitchen facilities where we could have prepared our own meals if needed. Our hosts at the Orwin House B&B, Alan and Agnes, were incredibly accommodating and bought vegan sausages, soy milk and soy yogurt in order to offer me a full breakfast option.
There a big and a small supermarket (both Co-op) in Arran where you can stock up on necessities and snacks for the road. On day 1 my mum and I had a picnic at Culzean Castle and on day 3 we bought sandwiches from a cafe in Inveraray and had another picnic by the seafront.
Eating out is easiest in Brodick, as it is Arran’s main hub and offers the most options of restaurants whether you’re vegan or not. Here is what we’ve tried on our Arran tour:
- The Ormidale Hotel has a pub that is probably more popular with locals than with visitors. The only vegan option is a lentil burger, but oh, was that delicious!
- Little Rock Cafe is an excellent choice for lunch, as the cafe has loads of freshly-prepared options for vegans, such as a veggie burger, several salads and sandwiches. The beetroot humus sandwich I had was a delight and I loved how fresh and greens-heavy it was!
- Finally, we had our second dinner at Fiddlers, a local favourite especially as its also a live music venue. The restaurant is tiny, so making a reservation is highly recommended. I had vegan options across the courses, but the service was really slow and the food was on the pricey side (especially for what it was – a chickpea curry for £14 and a ride pudding for £8). The music was nice though and its definitely an experience.
Arran Tour with Rabbies
If you’ve followed this blog for a while now, you will know that I’m a Rabbie’s frequent traveler, but this was the first time I went on an extended tour that lasted for three days.
Multiple day tours with Rabbie’s include transportation in a 16-seater minibus as well as a knowledgable driver-guide to tell you the ins & outs of Scotland. Accommodation is not included and has to be booked seperately (although Rabbie’s can assist with that), as are entry fees to various attractions along the itinerary, which are often available at a special group discount.
As always, I had a fab experience on the tour. Our driver-guide Dave was super flexible and accommodated everybody’s wishes in the itinerary. He was full of chat, both about Scottish history and general life in Scotland – I really learnt a lot!
Book this tour with Rabbie’s here!
I mentioned earlier, that they call Arran Scotland in miniature, and I think the 3-day Arran tour by Rabbie’s really lives up to that reputation. With all the things we did, saw and experienced, the tour is a mini-holiday that still ticks all the boxes on your Scotland bucket list.
Watch the video of my Arran tour:
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