Few places in Scotland are as historically significant as Kilmartin Glen – yet so off the beaten track. This beautiful valley in the Heart of Argyll boasts hundreds of historical sites, ancient standing stones and stunning scenery. Its central location makes it ideal to explore the wider region – so pack your bags and plan a trip with this list of things to do in Kilmartin Glen & beyond!
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This post is part of the West Coast Waters campaign and focuses on Wild About Argyll. Regions all along the west coast of Scotland have joined forces to promote the country’s beautiful west coast from Argyll to Wester Ross. 2020 is the Year of Coast and Waters – the perfect excuse to plan a trip and immerse yourself in the sounds, views, aromas and textures of Scotland’s west coast!
I love visiting Kilmartin Glen and I try to sneak in a visit on almost every trip I do to Argyll. It is one of my favourite places to see standing stones, which are so easily accessible here, but not super busy with Outlander location hunters. Kilmartin Glen is also well located in relation to some of my other faves in Argyll, which makes it so easy to swing by.
In reality, the glen is really worth its own trip though, and so I decided to pull together all my favourite things to do in Kilmartin Glen and places to visit that are a bit further afield. With this list in your hands, you can book yourself a lovely B&B or cottage in the glen, and start exploring your surroundings.
Read on for:
- my favourite things to do in Kilmartin Glen,
- and which castles, nature reserves, gardens and islands to visit in the surrounding areas!
If you are looking for a great place to stay, check out my review of Kings Reach Self Catering, a wonderful self-catering property at the bottom of Kilmartin Glen!
For an immersive journey through Kilmartin Glen, listen to my podcast episode 6,000 times around the sun!
Kilmartin Glen Travel Guide
Where is Kilmartin Glen?
Kilmartin Glen lies in the Heart of Argyll, the central area of this Scottish region that stretches from Loch Lomond to the coast and also covers many islands in the southern Inner Hebrides. It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours to drive from Glasgow to Kilmartin Glen, but you could not feel further away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The closest towns are Lochgilphead, just 15 minutes away, and Oban, approximately one hour north.
The Heart of Argyll is a rural area, characterised by the wild Knapdale Forest, the tranquil Crinan Canal, the rich history of the Glen and endless miles of breathtaking coastline. Despite its relatively small size, the area is incredibly diverse and has a lot to offer. Perfect for a jam-packed weekend getaway to the Scottish Highlands.
Kilmartin Glen is just one of the highlights on my Hidden West Coast itinerary – if you like what you read here, why don’t you follow it on your next Scotland trip?
Reasons to visit Kilmartin Glen
Kilmartin Glen and the surrounding areas will capture the heart of history buffs and nature lovers alike.
Into Scottish history? Kilmartin Glen is home to hundreds of historical sites and monuments, ranging from standing stones and stone circles, to castle ruins, chambered cairns and the remains of an Iron Age fortress. The vast majority of these sites are within a short drive from each other and charge no entrance fees.
Want to immerse yourself in nature? The Heart of Argyll is fairly sparsely populated and boasts many nature walks and hill trails. It is easy to get away from the busy main roads and into remote areas where you can immerse yourself entirely in your natural surroundings.
Things to do in Kilmartin Glen
Visit the Standing Stones at Temple Wood
If standing stones are on top of your Scotland bucket list, there is really no need to take on the long journey to Orkney or the Isle of Lewis. There are tons of standing stones in the southern Highlands too – for example in Kilmartin Glen!
The Nether Largie Standing Stones are a group of five standing stones. They are aligned with the moon and have most likely served as a lunar observatory when they were erected over 3,000 years ago.
The stones are located in a field of sheep, so be aware of the animals while exploring. There is a car park just off the main road and information boards about the site and the area.
Explore the Neolithic linear cemetery
One of the most fascinating historic sites in Kilmartin Glen is a linear cemetery made up of a series of chambered cairns. The date from different time periods, some of them were erected thousands of years apart – and yet, they are perfectly aligned through the glen along a straight line. It’s mind-boggling!
Some of the cairns have been reduced to relatively small piles of rocks over the centuries – the rock was re-used in the stone walls and buildings you see in the area – but some are pretty well preserved and you can still access their inner chambers.
There is a path that leads from the standing stones to the Temple Wood Stone Circle and the Nether Largie South Cairn. The loop trail takes about 30-60 minutes, depending on how much time you want to spend at the three sites.
From the south cairn, you can follow the track towards the other cairns further north, including Glebe Cairn which is closest to the village of Kilmartin.
Climb Dunadd Fort
From your room at Kingsreach B&B, you can see the prominent bump that is Dunadd Hill. On top of the hill, lies the remains of Dunadd Fort, the seat of the Gaelic Kings of Dalriada. It is one of the most significant monuments in Scottish history and offers panoramic views of Kilmartin Glen, the Heart of Argyll and all the way to the coast and the Isle of Jura.
Its strategic location was beneficial for the Kings and offered great natural defences. The fort was the power centre of Dalriada from about AD 500 to AD 800. Keep an eye out for the carved footprints, which were most likely used during inauguration ceremonies of new Kings. You can find out more about Dunadd Fort here.
It takes about 20 minutes to reach the top of the hill, potentially longer if it is a little muddy or you want to spend a lot of time reading the information boards.
There is a car park at the foot of Dunadd Hill and various info boards along the path.
Visit Kilmartin Musem & Gravestones
Please note that Kilmartin Museum is currently being developed and is set to re-open in 2023.
There are endless other historical sites and monuments in Kilmartin Glen – so many that it would be impossible to cram them all into your Scottish weekend getaway.
Kilmartin Museum is the perfect place to learn more about the significance of Kilmartin Glen and the high concentration of monuments in the area. The museum has a lovely cafe, perfect for a lunch break.
Next to the museum, make sure to stop by the old church to see the historic cemetery and the artistically carved Kilmartin Gravestones. This is also the best place to park.
Kilmartin Museum, website, closed from Christmas to February, Entrance: £7
See the rock art at Achnabreac
The area around Kilmartin has one of the highest concentration of rock art in Europe. The forest of Achnabreac is a great place to see cupmarks and carved ring symbols that date back to Neolithic times.
No one really knows what these symbols meant – although there are over 100 theories – but it is obvious that a lot of time and craftsmanship went into creating them.
Seeing the rock art at Achnabreac is one of my favourite things to do in Kilmartin Glen.
A guided walk with Heathery Heights
Heathery Heights is run by mountain guide and passionate history buff Heather Thomas Smith. Even though she spent much of her life down south, she originally hails from Argyll and is deeply fascinated with the historic monuments and human history of Kilmartin Glen.
A guided walk through Kilmartin Glen is a great way to not just see the monuments, but also learn about their history through times. Heather is an excellent guide who can provide as much or little details as you like.
She’s also a qualified mountain leader, in case you want a more challenging walk in the area!
Things to do in the Heart of Argyll & Day trips from Kilmartin
Of course, there is a lot more to do in the area and once glance at the map will reveal that Kilmartin Glen is a perfectly central location to discover this region in the south-west Highlands. Here are some suggestions for day trips from Kilmartin Glen, road trips to nearby areas and attractions to visit not far from the B&B.
Walk or cycling along the Crinan Canal
The 9-mile Crinan Canal was built to provide a short cut between the Firth of Clyde and the west coast islands (Islay & Jura). It is well worth a visit to watch boats clear the locks and enjoy the views from the Add Estuary by the coast.
There is a flat path along the canal which is great for walking or cycling.
Bellanoch View above Crinan Canal reveals a stunning vista of Crinan Bay Park at the Heart of Argyll Wildlife Centre – from there it’s a short walk to the viewpoint.
Hiking at Nature Reserves
The Heart of Argyll has a rich natural landscape and there are many different nature reserves at its doorstep.
Moine Mhor near Kilmartin features mossy, peaty moorlands and shallow pools with lots of interesting wildlife and variety of trails.
Taynish is located on a remote peninsula just half an hour from Kilmartin. Its Ancient oak woodlands are home to trees that are over 6,000 years old and there is a lot of wildlife to discover. The climb up Barr Mor for panoramic views is a highlight.
Knapdale Forest is a sprawling woodland where you can get lost among the ancient trees. The forest is also home to the Scottish Beaver Trial site at Loch Barnluasgan. Beavers were reintroduced into this landscape over 400 years after they were hunted to extinction. At Knapdale you can also walk to the ruins of the historic township of Arichonan which was cleared – after dramatic resistance of the local residents – in 1848.
You might also like: 11 Educational & Science-Based Tourism Experiences in Scotland
There are numerous castles near Kilmartin Glen:
- Carnasserie Castle with a great view of the glen.
- Tarbert Castle at the top of Kintyre peninsula: perfectly situated to be followed by a road trip to the Mull of Kintyre.
- Castle Sween which is one of Scotland’s oldest.
- Inveraray Castle up the coast of Loch Fyne: Inveraray is a great little seaside town to visit with lovely cafes, and other sites such as the Castle Gardens and Inveraray Jail.
- and Kilchurn Castle at the top of Loch Awe.
The Gulf Stream brings an atypically mild climate to the Scottish west coast which has a lasting impact on the local flora. At Arduaine Gardens north of Kilmartin and Crarae Garden on the way to Inveraray, you can see what kinds of surprising plants can survive in Scotland year-round – and find tranquillity in the lush green environment.
For fresh-water explorations, head to Loch Awe Boats near Portsonachan and hire an electric boat for a tour around Loch Awe. You can land on one of the many islands in the loch, or storm Kilchurn Castle from the water.
Approximately one hour north of Kilmartin Glen, you can join a boat trip from the Isle of Seil with Seafari Adventures to see the Corryvreckan Whirlpool – the third-largest natural whirlpool in the world.
From Oban, you can join boat trips to the Isles of Staffa, Mull, Iona and Lunga with Staffa Tours.
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Island Hopping Day Trips
When you are back from the Corryvreckan Whirlpool, why not stick around the Isle of Seil (connected to the mainland by a bridge) or set over to the car-free Isle of Easdale?
There is also a passenger ferry from Tayvallich to the Isle of Jura – perfect for a day trip to Jura. You can visit the Jura Distillery, try Deer Island rum, shop for unique photography at The Whisky Gallery, go wild swimming at Corran Sands and explore the bays and beaches near Craighouse.
If you prefer touring the area with your car, you could make your way down the Kintyre peninsula – make sure you read my blog post about things to do in Kintyre to make the most of it.
Going the other way, you could take in Inveraray, Kilchurn Castle and the bustling town of Oban before returning to Kingsreach B&B in the evening.
Got more time? Check out my 3-day Itinerary for the Best of Argyll
As you can see, Kilmartin Glen is a culturally rich destination with lots of activities that quench your thirst for Scottish history. But nature lovers and adventurers must not feel disheartened – there is plenty to do for all of you!
Have I convinced you to start ticking off this list of things to do in Kilmartin Glen on your next trip to Scotland?
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