Nestled on the west coast of Scotland in Argyll & Bute, the charming town of Oban has long been a popular destination for visitors thanks to its picturesque harbour and stunning natural surroundings which make it a must-see stop on any trip to Scotland.
Whether savouring fresh seafood on the pier, enjoying a wee dram of whisky at the distillery or exploring the rugged coastline, Oban offers something for everyone.
In this article, we’ll delve into the many activities and attractions that draw tourists to the ‘gateway to the isles’ year after year.
Whether planning a trip to Scotland or simply seeking inspiration for your next adventure, read on to discover why this West Coast gem is such an exceptional place to visit.
|Oban is accessible 24/7, 365 days a year.
|There is no fee to visit Oban.
|There are multiple places to park in Oban. Two paid car parks that are close to the town centre are North Pier (postcode PA34 5PX) and Market Street (postcode PA34 4HR). There are roadside parking spaces throughout the town, but be aware that restrictions apply in some locations.
|Ferry terminal, car parks, public toilets, shops, pubs, restaurants, tourist attractions, cinema.
For the majority of people visiting the Hebridean islands, the historic town of Oban will be their first port of call.
Oban lies on the west coast of Scotland in the county of Argyll and Bute, immediately east of the Isle of Mull and just one mile from the Isle of Kerrera which dominates the skyline from Oban’s harbour.
Historically it has always been a fishing town, but with the arrival of ferry services to the west coast islands it’s now best known as a tourist hub for sightseers heading to the Hebrides.
Despite its small size, Oban still manages to be home to over 8,000 people – a number that soars to over 25,000 once the tourist season begins.
Oban’s popularity is down to more than its use as a stopover for early-morning ferries though.
First off, as the largest town between Helensburgh and Fort William it makes a great base to explore Argyll and Bute, especially for visitors who are planning to include day trips to Mull and Lismore in their sightseeing itineraries.
Second, there are loads of tourist attractions in the immediate area including a distillery (taking an Oban distillery tour is an absolute must), Dunstaffnage Castle, McCaig’s Tower and Dunollie Castle, and there are even a couple of beaches at nearby Ganavan.
Third, Oban itself is a charming wee town that’s well worth seeing, particularly for those who have a passion for seafood.
Hailed the ‘Seafood Capital of Scotland’, Oban doesn’t disappoint when it comes to delicious fresh-off-the-boat shellfish.
While you could spend a hefty amount in one of the town’s top-tier restaurants, there’s definitely something to be said for snacking on a box of fresh lobster from McGillivray’s seafood shack near the ferry terminal.
A box of langoustines and chips costs around a tenner which is remarkable value as they serve huge portions.
But of course, not everyone likes seafood so it’s just as well there are lots of restaurants in the town centre. As much as I love EE-USK on North Pier, the Wetherspoons near the ferry terminal is much cheaper and has a much larger selection of local ales.
There’s also an outside table area where you can sup a pint after your meal while watching the boats sail in and out of the harbour. Lovely stuff.
1: The main highlight of Oban is the harbour which allows visitors to take a ferry to explore the Hebrides. While most visitors set off on adventures to Coll, Barra, South Uist and Mull, it’s also possible to take private boat tours from Oban harbour to go wildlife watching.
The Firth of Lorn is a European Special Area of Conservation and is regularly visited by whales, dolphins, basking sharks, otters and golden and white-tailed sea eagles. See Oban Sea Tours and Seafari Adventures for details.
2: Oban is a great base to explore the local area, especially for anyone with an interest in history. Must-see sites include McCaig’s Tower, Dunstaffnage Castle, Oban Distillery (one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland), and Dunollie Castle.
3: The island of Kerrera is a wonderful day trip for anyone visiting Oban. Kerrera is the island that lies immediately off the harbour which can be accessed by a wee ferry on Gallanach Road (postcode PA34 4PE).
There’s a superb walking trail that starts and finishes at the ferry port which presents jaw-dropping views towards Mull, Colonsay and the Garvellachs, and if you carry on to the southern end of the island you’ll be able to have a look around the ruined Gylen Castle.
1: As a fishing town, sampling seafood is an absolute must-do for anyone visiting Oban. There are several restaurants in the town that serve mouthwatering dishes (I highly recommend EE-USK on North Pier) but you’ll struggle to find fresher seafood than the shack on the ferry terminal near The Waterfront pub.
2: There are lots of places to soak up the views in Oban but a personal favourite is the Victorian McCaig’s Tower which sits on top of a hill in the middle of the town where it overlooks the busy harbour.
If you have children they’ll have a great time running around inside the tower (it’s actually more like an amphitheatre) while mums and dads soak up the stunning views.
3: Visitors spending more than a day in Oban can save money by stocking up on food supplies from the local supermarkets rather than the overpriced shops on George Street (the main road that runs along the edge of the harbour).
Head towards the train station and take the turning off the roundabout onto the A816, then follow the road 1/4 mile and you’ll arrive at a Lidl superstore which has a Tesco behind it.
Getting to Oban is easy as the transport network has been built to accommodate the thousands of tourists that flock there throughout the year.
The first option is driving which doesn’t really need much of an explanation in these days of sat navs.
The A85 heads into the town from the north while the A816 heads to it from the south, but the majority of people will prefer to take the A85 as the southern road takes quite a big detour around Loch Fyne.
I’ve driven both and would have to say the A83/A816 is best for a sightseeing tour as not only will you have a lovely drive along the edge of Loch Fyne but you’ll also be able to stop at Inveraray Castle which is one of the prettiest castles in Scotland.
Driving from Edinburgh takes around 3 hours and driving from Glasgow takes around 2 1/2 hours, but if you’re travelling from further afield you might like to consider taking the train instead.
Oban train station is situated close to the edge of the harbour so it’s a great option for visitors travelling to the islands without a car as they can walk off the platform pretty much straight into the ferry terminal.
A big bonus of taking the train is that you’ll be able to soak up the views on the West Highland Line which is widely regarded as Britain’s most scenic train journey.
I’ve created a complete guide to travelling around Scotland by train which may be of interest if you’re thinking of using this mode of transport.
Finally, with regard to hotels in Oban, make sure you check the reviews before making a booking – and this is from years of personal experience.
Several of Oban’s hotels are rather dilapidated and I’ve been in a couple that were downright filthy – which is annoying because they all charge premium prices.
However, two that I recommend are Glenbervie Guest House and MacKays Hotel which are over £100 per night but they’re very clean, are in great locations, and serve delicious breakfasts.
That being said, my current preferred option for overnight stays in Oban is the new Premier Inn on Shore Street behind the train station.
It’s not exactly up to Edinburgh Balmoral Hotel standards but the rooms are competitively priced, clean, and the on-site Thyme Bar and Grill is as good a place as any for food and drinks.
Things to Do
Aside from the food, other major attractions are the Oban War and Peace Museum, McCaig’s Tower, and a number of sea safari tours.
The museum is free to enter and is well worth visiting if you have an hour to kill as it contains an enormous collection of artefacts and objects that depict the town’s rich history.
At the museum, you’ll learn about Oban’s maritime heritage as well as the story of the iconic McCaig’s Tower, and if you’re anything like me you’ll soon find yourself lost in the old black-and-white photos of the town’s earlier residents.
McCaig’s Tower, meanwhile, is the enormous amphitheatre that looms over the town from its viewpoint on the hill immediately behind the harbour.
Originally built as the centrepiece for a monument to the wealthy McCaig family, it was left unfinished after its founder John McCaig died in 1902, leaving behind a curious Victorian Folly that’s now best known for the fantastic photo opportunities it presents from each of its arches.
For those visitors who would rather get out on the open water, Oban is by far the best tour boat departure point in the region.
There are a couple of operators in the harbour (Google is your best bet to find them), but I’ve personally taken a tour with Oban Sea Tours and really enjoyed it.
The tour starts in Oban and sails out of the bay into the Firth of Lorn which has amazing views of the islands of Mull, Kerrera and Lismore as well as the opportunity to see seals, dolphins and birds of prey.
Tours are around 2 hours long so if you’re visiting for a day and are looking to see Oban and the surrounding landscape from a different angle I recommend making a booking.
McCaig’s Tower: This iconic landmark offers stunning views of Oban and the surrounding islands. It’s a short uphill walk from the town centre, but the panoramic views are worth the effort. The structure itself, inspired by the Roman Colosseum, is a sight to behold, plus it’s free to visit.
Oban Distillery: A must for whisky enthusiasts! This historic distillery in the heart of Oban offers informative tours that explain the process of whisky making followed by a tasting session of their distinctive West Highland single malt.
Oban Sea Tours: Embark on a wildlife cruise to witness Scotland’s incredible marine life including seals, otters, and dolphins. The expert guides provide interesting commentary on the animals that live in the waters surrounding Oban on a cruise that takes visitors to the most scenic parts of the Firth of Lorn.
Oban War & Peace Museum: This small museum holds a wealth of information on Oban’s role during the World Wars. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the town’s past that’s filled with personal stories, photographs, and artefacts.
Dunollie Museum, Castle and Grounds: Explore the ruins of the ancient Dunollie Castle, stroll through the beautiful grounds, and visit the museum to learn about Clan MacDougall. The site often hosts traditional music and craft events.
Getting Around Oban
As well as being a popular tourist destination in its own right, Oban is the main ferry terminal for routes to the Inner Hebrides.
The town can be reached easily enough by road, although the journey will undoubtedly take a little longer than expected due to frequent stops to appreciate the beautiful scenery, helped no end by the fact that both Glasgow and Edinburgh are only 2.5 hours away by car.
If you’re driving from the direction of Glasgow then there are two primary route options; either the A82 via the west side of Loch Lomond, or the A83 via Inveraray. Edinburgh, meanwhile, is an easy drive via the A85, or alternatively, you can reach Oban by coach from Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness.
While you’re in the town, the best option for getting around is on foot as it’s not exactly the biggest place in Scotland, but if you want to explore further you really need to use a private car or the local bus service – West Coast Motors – which operate bus routes around Oban and the surrounding villages.
If you want to explore the surrounding area by train you’re in luck as there’s a station next to the ferry port where you can take the Glasgow line which stops at picturesque villages including Connel, Taynuilt, Loch Awe and Dalmally.
Oban Ferry Terminal
Most people visiting Oban intend to continue their journey out to the west coast islands, so if you want to arrange sea-bound transport it’s best to visit the CalMac website to book your passage beforehand, although you can also book at the ferry terminal.
CalMac provides ferry links to some of Scotland’s most idyllic islands and it’s easy to sail from Oban to discover them, especially nearby islands like Mull which takes less than one hour by ferry.
The CalMac website is the main resource for searching for timetables, fares, and ferry updates, so it should be your first destination before leaving home as sailings are often affected by the weather, leading to delays or even cancellations at the last minute.
Flights to Oban
If you wish to fly you can take the daily flights from Glasgow airport which land 5 miles outside of Oban. Oban Airport serves the islands of Coll, Tiree, Islay and Colonsay if you want to head out to the Inner Hebrides during your trip.
If you would like to hire a car after arriving at the airport there are several local companies which offer car rentals, or you can use one of the local taxi services which can pick you up from the airport.
Note that the operator Hebridean Air Services is worth checking out at Oban Airport as they run sightseeing flights along the coast and to the inner west coast islands.
Things to Do Nearby
Dunstaffange Castle. Castle Grounds, Dunbeg, Oban PA37 1PZ. 10-minute drive.
A 15th-century castle overlooking Ardmucknish Bay. Dunstaffnage Castle was the stronghold of the MacDougall clan. The castle is relatively intact and offers visitors the chance to walk around its semi-restored rooms and vaults on a self-guided tour.
Falls of Lora. Connel Bridge, A828, Oban. 10-minute drive.
The Falls of Lora is a swirling surge of tidal water in the narrow sea inlet south of Oban airport. The falls are created by tidal ebbs that drop the waterline below the level of Loch Etive which in turn creates foaming cascades that are an exciting place for watersports.
Oban Harbour. Oban PA34 5QD. 8-minute walk.
Oban is a historic coastal town that grew around its fishing industry which is still thriving today. The town is the largest in the area and there is a selection of pubs, restaurants and gift shops in the high street bordering the harbour and the ferry terminal.
Dunollie Museum & Castle. Dunollie House, Oban PA34 5TT. 6-minute drive.
A ruined tower house that’s the ancestral home of clan MacDougall. The attraction features a heritage museum, woodland walks, ornamental gardens, a café, and a gift shop. Dunollie Point is a short walk away which has scenic views over Oban Bay.
Ganavan Bay. Oban PA34 5TB. 10-minute drive.
A scenic point north of Oban that has a wide, golden-sand beach and a large car park. The surrounding fields are a popular site for holiday caravans. Rough tracks follow the coastline up to Connel.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Oban famous for?
Oban, located on Scotland’s west coast, is famous for being the gateway to the Hebrides, but it’s also known for its natural beauty, rich history, and mouthwatering seafood.
Here are some of the top reasons why Oban is famous:
Oban Distillery: Whisky lovers flock to Oban to visit the town’s historic distillery which has been producing its distinctive single malt Scotch whisky since 1794.
Seafood: Oban is widely considered to be Scotland’s seafood capital and the town’s bustling harbour is home to a thriving fishing industry. Visitors can indulge in everything from fresh oysters and scallops to langoustines and lobsters.
Gateway to the Isles: Oban is the gateway to some of Scotland’s most beautiful islands including Mull, Coll, and Barra. Visitors can easily take a ferry from the harbour to explore these picturesque destinations.
McCaig’s Tower: One of Oban’s most recognizable landmarks, this imposing tower is perched high above the town and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside and coastline.
Is Oban in Scotland worth visiting?
Oban is definitely worth visiting. Known as the “Gateway to the Isles,” Oban is a picturesque coastal town located on the west coast of Scotland.
One of the main attractions of Oban is its stunning scenery. Bordering a rugged coastline and with views out to the islands of Mull and Kerrera, the town is a wonderful destination for sightseeing tourists.
Visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront to watch the boats come and go, or head up to McCaig’s Tower for panoramic views over the town and the sea.
Oban is also known for its seafood and is home to a number of excellent seafood restaurants that serve locally-caught delicacies including the town’s famous fresh langoustines and scallops.
Why is it called Oban?
The town of Oban, located on the west coast of Scotland in the county of Argyll and Bute, is believed to have derived its name from the Gaelic ‘An t-Òban’ which translates to ‘The Little Bay’.
This name is fitting for the town as Oban sits at the head of a small, horseshoe-shaped bay that is sheltered by the surrounding hills.
Is Oban beautiful?
Yes, Oban is widely considered to be a beautiful town thanks to its stunning scenery and panoramic views of the surrounding hills and islands, including the nearby Inner Hebrides.
The town’s location on a small, horseshoe-shaped bay adds to its charm and visitors can enjoy strolling along the waterfront while watching ferries and fishing boats sail in and out.