The Isle of Arran is a beautiful island located off the west coast of Scotland. Known as ‘Scotland in Miniature’, it offers a fantastic mix of mountains, rolling hills, sandy beaches, and rugged coastline. The island is home to many historical sites, including the famous Brodick Castle and the Machrie Moor standing stones, as well as abundant wildlife, numerous walking and hiking trails, golf courses, and opportunities for fishing, horseback riding, and water sports.
The Isle of Arran lies to the west of Glasgow in the Firth of Clyde, making it one of the easiest west coast islands to get to, yet it’s large enough that you can journey out to its extremities and feel like you’re completely isolated from the rest of civilization.
Arran is one of the larger Scottish islands at 167 square miles, and it’s often called ‘Scotland in miniature’ thanks to its diverse range of hills, mountains, lochs, woodlands, and beaches.
To get to Arran, visitors can use the ferries operated by CalMac that sail out of Tarbert, Claonaig, Ardrossan, and Campbeltown, with the Claonaig crossing taking just 30 minutes. However, most visitors travelling from the mainland will likely choose the crossing from Ardrossan, which sails into Brodick in around one hour.
While Brodick is a nice coastal village with plenty of bars, restaurants, shops, and beaches to entertain families for a day trip, the best way to experience the island is to get your hiking boots on and head out onto one of the many trails that criss-cross the landscape, with the ever-popular Goatfell mountain being the highlight.
Sport is another popular activity on Arran, and if you’re a fan of mountain biking, golf, or walking, then you’re in for a treat thanks to some excellent golf courses and dramatic cycling and walking trails. Even adrenaline junkies are catered for with outdoor activities including gorge walking, rock climbing, sea kayaking, and canyoneering.
If you like photography, your camera shutter finger will get a good workout thanks to the ever-changing coastline and awe-inspiring mountain ranges that are full of wildlife like red squirrels, deer, golden eagles, seals, and even basking sharks. It’s an island that really does have a little bit of everything.
1: A lovely country park surrounds Brodick Castle, a traditional Victorian castle located three miles from the ferry terminal. The castle has a fascinating history and is filled to the brim with interesting artefacts. The gardens are renowned for their beauty, and the country park has trails that suit all levels of walkers.
2: Arran’s walking and cycling trails are some of the best in Scotland, especially the Arran Coastal Way which circles the island on a (mostly) easy-going 65-mile road.
3: The adventure sports activities are first-class on Arran, but a personal favourite that I recommend is kayaking around the coastline. For a great day out, head to Lamlash Bay where you can paddle to Holy Isle.
1: Accommodation prices ramp up in the summer and school holidays, so consider going out of season. You’ll often find prices double from June to August, making May and September attractive times as the weather is usually mild.
2: I recommend hiring a car if you’re visiting Arran for more than a couple of days, but short weekend visits or day trips are equally enjoyable with a bicycle. There’s a bike rental shop close to the Brodick ferry terminal.
3: Brodick makes a great base to explore Arran as it’s close to ‘The String’ – a road that cuts across the island from east to west.
As a site for outdoor activities, I think you’ll struggle to find a better place in Scotland. Brodick Bay, located on the east coast, is a perfect starting point for your Arran adventure and is an ideal place to explore the coastline with a kayak.
Once you’ve found your sea legs, you can head on over to Lamlash Bay which is sheltered and therefore perfect for swimming. Lamlash can be found between Brodick and Whiting Bay, where it offers a surprising number of activities in addition to sea kayaking. For those visitors that prefer sail power, your best bet is to get in contact with the Arran Outdoor Education Centre, which will be only too happy to provide you with lessons and equipment to take to the seas.
My advice if you intend on kayaking around Lamlash Bay is to paddle your way over to Holy Isle which is ringed by a rocky shore and features woodland, gorse-covered slopes, and a large hill in the centre. Just be aware that it’s privately owned, so you can’t camp overnight.
Walkers are particularly spoilt for choice on Arran, as there’s a wide selection of trails to choose from thanks to the lowland moors and mountain peaks that run across the isle. The largest of the peaks is Goatfell, an 874-metre mountain managed by the National Trust for Scotland which offers superb walks for any nature lover who fancies a challenge.
The most commonly used route (and the one I recommend) to the top of Goatfell starts near Brodick Castle and runs for 3 miles through forest and moorland to a viewpoint that offers absolutely beautiful panoramic views.
Another good walk is the one to the Historic Environment Scotland-managed Machrie Moor, where you’ll find six large and mysterious stone circles that date from the Neolithic era. Some of these circles are built from granite boulders, while others comprise sandstone pillars. While we might never understand the original purpose for the stones, we can at least enjoy walking around them on the one-hour walk across the haunting Machrie Moor.
If you want to explore the island but don’t fancy hiking, then you’ll be glad to hear that the scenic countryside of Arran is perfect for horseback riding. There are a couple of riding centres on the island that will take you out on some very good pony treks, but if you prefer your saddle to be sat on top of two wheels, you can hire a bike instead.
Walking on the Isle of Arran
There are loads of fantastic trails around Arran that allow you to see the sights up close, but I’d say the coastal road from Machrie to Lochranza is one of the best, mainly because it’s relatively flat and there’s very little traffic on it. To be honest, though, the entire island offers a great cycling adventure if you’re prepared to put in a little effort on the hilly parts (of which there are many).
It’s not all action on Arran, and there are plenty of remote beaches if you want to spend some time relaxing instead of roaming around the countryside.
Kildonan Beach is recommended, as not only is it fairly quiet, but there’s a good chance you’ll see families of native seals bobbing about in the sea. Duke’s Beach in Brodick is another highlight as it features a long sweep of golden sand, but my personal favourite is Sannox, which is a lovely curved beach on the eastern side of the island with an incredible backdrop of mountain ranges behind it.
Attractions on the Isle of Arran
While there aren’t any towns on Arran, there are plenty of pretty villages to explore, and for most people arriving on the island, Brodick will be the first place they see. Dominated by the towering peak of Goatfell, Brodick is arguably Arran’s busiest village and has several attractions to keep tourists entertained.
Brodick Castle is a lovely island castle that’s cared for by the National Trust for Scotland. The castle features beautiful examples of period furniture as well as a lovely country park, a children’s play area, and formal gardens that are perfect for a sunny afternoon walk. The gardens are enormous, and combined with a visit to the castle, they should keep families occupied for most of the day.
Brodick also has a very nice beach to relax on, an 18-hole golf course, a putting green, a heritage museum, and several acres of woodland. Speaking of which, due to the fact that the Highland Fault Line cuts right across the island, the south is quite flat and is therefore thick with forests, unlike the mountainous north.
Further north, around the tip of the island, is Lochranza with its dramatic castle overlooking the bay, where you’ll often see herds of deer wandering about. Nearby is the Arran Distillery which offers an interesting tour that explains the entire distilling process followed by a dram or two in the visitor centre.
If you want to visit the nearby Holy Isle without splashing your way there in a kayak, your first port of call should be Lamlash, the second-largest village on the island. From Lamlash, you can either take a ferry to Holy Isle or board one of the sightseeing tours that cruise around the coastline. Pay particular attention when you get out of the bay as there are often dolphins, seals, and basking sharks in the Firth of Clyde.
Finally, there are lots of events to enjoy on Arran, especially in the summer months. The Brodick Highland Games held in August are probably the highlight of the Arran calendar, but there are also folk festivals, mountain festivals, Christmas festivals, and even comedy festivals.
Things to Do
Explore Brodick Castle and Garden: Immerse yourself in Scottish history by visiting the stunning Brodick Castle. The castle is home to a wealth of period furnishings and artefacts, while the surrounding parkland offers picturesque woodland walks. Don’t miss the beautiful walled garden or the sculptures hidden away in the grounds.
Walk the Arran Coastal Way: This 65-mile circular route around Arran offers one of the best coastal walks in Scotland. The terrain varies from sandy beaches to rugged cliffs, which ensures a challenging yet rewarding experience, and along the way you’ll see a range of wildlife, from seals and otters to a variety of seabirds.
Visit the Isle of Arran Distillery: For whisky enthusiasts, a tour of the Isle of Arran Distillery at Lochranza is not to be missed. Discover the traditional methods used in whisky production and enjoy a tasting session where you’ll sample the distillery’s award-winning single malts. The distillery also features a visitor centre with a cafe and a gift shop.
See the Machrie Moor Stone Circles: Step back in time as you visit the ancient stone circles at Machrie Moor. These prehistoric monuments provide a fascinating insight into Scotland’s past, and their remote moorland setting is a great spot for birdwatching.
Wildlife Watching at Lochranza: Get up close with Scotland’s native red deer at Lochranza. Lochrnaza is one of the most scenic parts of the island as well as the remotest, and it’s a favourite grazing site for herds of wild deer. With stunning views of Lochranza Castle and the surrounding hills, it’s also an ideal spot for photography enthusiasts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the Isle of Arran have a supermarket?
Yes, the Isle of Arran does have a supermarket. The Co-op is the main supermarket on the island, located in the town of Brodick. This store provides a wide range of products, from fresh produce to household goods, catering to the needs of both residents and visitors.
What is the Isle of Arran known for?
The Isle of Arran is widely known as ‘Scotland in miniature’ due to its diverse landscape, which comprises coastline, mountains, moorland, lochs, and forests.
It is also home to a number of quaint villages and is very popular with cyclists, thanks to the Arran Coastal Way. Popular tourist attractions are Brodick Castle, Lochranza Distillery, Goatfell, Machrie Moor, and Holy Island.
What does the Isle of Arran produce?
Arran is famous for its traditional Scottish oatcakes, whisky, cheese, and scented products made by Arran Sense of Scotland.
Do you need a car on the Isle of Arran?
It’s possible to visit Arran as a foot passenger and limit your time to the ferry port of Brodick, but visitors should be aware that public transport is very limited on Arran, with a limited bus service and few taxis.
To best enjoy the Isle of Arran, it is advisable to either take a car or bicycle to explore the Arran Coastal Way (a circular route that follows the perimeter of the island), as well as popular destinations like Lochranza and Goatfell.