The Isle of Arran on Scotland’s southwest coast is home to popular attractions including Goatfell mountain, Brodick Castle, Brodick village, and Machrie Moor.
Discover this stunning island with this comprehensive guide and learn why it truly lives up to its nickname ‘Scotland in miniature’.
The Isle of Arran lies to the west of Glasgow in the Firth of Clyde which makes 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 is often referred to as ‘Scotland in miniature’ thanks to its diverse range of hills, mountains, lochs, woodlands and beaches.
Getting to Arran is easy thanks to the ferries operated by CalMac that sail out of Tarbert, Claonaig, Ardrossan and Campbeltown, with the Claonaig ferry crossing taking a mere 30 minutes to complete the sail.
However, most visitors coming in from the Scottish mainland will likely choose to take the crossing from Ardrossan instead, which sails into Arran’s main town of Brodick in around an hour.
While Brodick is a nice enough coastal town with plenty of bars, restaurants, shops and beaches, your best bet for really experiencing this 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 at the top of most hikers to-do lists.
Sport is another popular reason for taking a journey to Arran and if you’re a fan of mountain biking, golf, or walking then you’re in for a treat due to the excellent golf courses and dramatic cycling and walking trails that the island is famous for.
Even adrenaline junkies are catered for with outdoor activities including gorge walking, rock climbing, sea kayaking and canyoneering, and there are several trained instructors on the island who’ll be only too happy to teach you how to do these activities safely.
If you like photography your camera shutter finger will get a good workout thanks to the ever-changing coastline and awe-inspiring mountain ranges full of wildlife like the impossibly cute red squirrel, deer, golden eagles, seals and even basking sharks. It’s an island that really does have a wee bit of everything.
If you would like to join a tour of Scotland’s west coast islands take a look at this selection from Get Your Guide.
1: The Isle of Arran really is Scotland in miniature – lochs, mountains, forests, castles and beaches – all on one small island.
2: The walking and cycle 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 an easy paddle, head to Lamlash Bay and Holy Isle.
1: Accommodation prices really 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 historically 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 hire 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 is therefore perfect for beginners.
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 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 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 really 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 horse 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.
Click the image to view Arran’s attractions on Google Maps
Walking on the Isle of Arran
There are loads of fantastic trails around Arran which allow you to see the sights up close, but I’d say the coast 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.
Brodick’s Duke’s Beach 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 east coast with an incredible backdrop of mountain ranges behind it.
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.
Attractions on the Isle of Arran
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 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 the Highland Fault Line cuts right across the island the south is quite flat and is therefore thick with forests, unlike the mountainous north.
These forests offer superb mountain biking and walking trails so if you’d like to add them to your itinerary you might like to read my Complete Guide to Forests on Arran.
Further north around the tip of the island is Lochranza with its dramatic castle overlooking the bay where you will often see herds of deer wandering about, and nearby is the Arran whisky distillery which offers an interesting tour that explains the entire distilling process.
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 Ocean Breeze sightseeing tours that cruise along the coast looking for wildlife.
Pay particular attention when you get out of the bay as there are often dolphins, seals and basking sharks to be seen. Fantastic stuff!
Finally, there are lots of events to enjoy on Arran, especially in the summer months.
The Brodick Highland Games held in August is probably the highlight of the Arran calendar but there are also folk festivals, mountain festivals, Christmas festivals and even comedy festivals.
If you’d like to discover more things to do on the west coast of Scotland check out these Hebrides Islands articles.
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.
Neolithic Nostalgia: The Isle of Arran is home to numerous Neolithic sites, including the Machrie Moor Stone Circle which dates back to 3500 BC.
Geological Gem: The island is often referred to as ‘Scotland in Miniature’ because its landscape mirrors the geographical divisions of the mainland. The Highland Boundary Fault divides the island into rugged mountains in the north (representing the Highlands) and lush, rolling landscapes in the south (the Lowlands).
Whisky Wonderland: Arran houses the award-winning Isle of Arran Distillery. Opened in 1995, it’s the first legal distillery on the island in over 150 years.
Castle Charm: Brodick Castle, a former fortress turned stately Victorian home, is a major attraction. Originally built in 1510 but with a history dating back to 400AD, it’s managed by the National Trust for Scotland and features beautiful gardens, woodland trails, and a large collection of historic artefacts.
Granite Greatness: The Isle of Arran was once a significant source of granite, with quarries at Shiskine providing material for monumental structures such as the Hamilton Mausoleum and Liverpool Docks.
Mountain Marvel: The island’s highest peak, Goatfell, is 874 meters (2,867 feet) high. It offers challenging hikes leading to panoramic views of the island and, on clear days, views stretching as far as Ireland.
Frequently asked questions
How do you get to the Isle of Arran?
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.