The Scottish resort town of Oban may be known to many as the Gateway to the Isles, but it's a buzzing destination in its own right.
There's many a campervan, car and cyclist journeying through Oban en route to the popular Hebridean isles like Mull, Coll, and Uist. But Oban isn't a place you should just pass through.
Everything from whisky tasting and castle exploring to independent shopping and seafood sampling, is all on offer within walking distance of each other. Or stumbling distance, depending on that whisky.
With so much to do before even hopping on the CalMac ferry, here’s our guide to spending a weekend in Scotland’s understated seafood capital.
READ MORE: The most scenic rail journeys in Scotland
Check in: to the Oban Bay Hotel & Spa. This AA 4-star hotel offers 74 homely rooms and feature suites with retro radios, refreshing rainfall showers and welcome trays that include Tunnock’s Teacakes. At dinner, sample freshly caught local seafood and Josper-grilled Scotch beef in the warmth of its airy sun lounge, or dine alfresco on the deck during a balmy Scottish summer evening.
Go for a stroll: along the promenade. Much of Oban’s leisure snakes along its gorgeous promenade which gazes towards the nearby isles of Kerrera, Lismore and Mull. Oban’s resident otter, Ollie of Dunollie (named after its castle), can sometimes be seen bobbing about in the bay.
Go for drinks: at The View, on the promenade. Recently reopened, this bar is famous for its lively cèilidh nights and has benefited from a sparkling refurbishment. Its balcony is somewhat of a suntrap and perfect for CalMac ferry spotting, while indoors there’s live sports, pool tables and an extensive drinks menu on the cards.
Watch a gig at: The Corran Halls. This concert space, conference centre and events hall welcomes a breadth of acts to its intimate settings. Recent-year performers include The Proclaimers, James, and The Kooks; keep an eye on their listings to see what’s coming up.
Explore: Dunollie Castle and grounds. Around a 20-minute walk north of Oban town centre sits Dunollie Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan MacDougall. Its woodland cloaks the ruinous castle and house, which is said to date back to 1745, and the grounds are freely open between April-October. During the autumn and winter months, entry is by booking a guided tour, or by attending a seasonal event such as festive crafting.
Grab lunch at: the Oban Seafood Hut. No visit to Oban would be complete without swinging by the little green shack on the Railway Pier. This is arguably Scotland’s finest fresh seafood stall: their famous prawn sandwich hits the spot for lunch on-the-move, while the seafood platter of lobster, langoustines, mussels, prawns and more is a deliciously good value treat.
Oban Seafood Hut/Facebook
Go seal spotting: with Argyll Sea Tours. On this one-hour boat trip with knowledgeable local skippers you’ll unearth the history of Oban and its surrounding seas, before spotting the local seal colony around the back of Kerrera. Not to be missed; multiple trips depart daily.
Have a wee dram at: the Oban Distillery. This distillery actually predates the town itself, with all you see today springing up after its success. Hour-long tours offer insight into one of Scotland’s smallest whisky makers, with tasting sessions available too.
Oban can be a wet and windy place at the best of times, which makes a distillery tour ideal; today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky, after all.
Cath Harries/Alamy Stock Photo
Go for dinner at: Cuan Mór. Uninterrupted sea views and fresh seafood pepper this cosy restaurant, whose name in Scottish Gaelic conveniently translates to ‘Big Ocean’. Local slate and timber decorate the interior, while its menu focuses on hearty meals and sea-inspired plates. There’s more than 100 whiskies on offer too. It’s always busy, so book ahead.
Watch the sunset at: McCaig’s Tower. Peering over Oban and resembling the shell of a Roman Colosseum, this would-be stonemasons' workplace was built by local banker John Stuart McCaig in 1897.
James Thomson /Alamy Stock Photo
Due to his untimely death in 1902 construction was never completed; it is now the town’s main landmark and its best vantage point. Climb up the steep Battery Hill on a clear night and be rewarded by the view, as the sun sets behind Mull and Lismore. Keep an eye out for Misha the cat too.
Go for a dip at: Ganavan Sands. While Oban lacks a sandy coastline, there is a serene bay just a couple of miles up the road. The number 9 bus goes from Station Square directly to the beach car park, where pristine sands and utterly freezing Scottish seawater awaits only the brave.
Warm up: at Oban Chocolate Company. After a bracing swim, head back into town for a decadent cup of rich hot chocolate. This place is an Oban institution; for almost 20 years it's been concocting weird and wonderful flavour combinations, and is now recognised as one of Europe’s best small chocolatiers.
Oban Chocolate Company/Facebook
Go shopping: on George Street. Much of Oban is centred around this very street, home to independent shops like vintage parlour and café Retrophenia & Talamh Coffee, the sweet shop Mitchell’s Candies, and organic soap and skincare store The Highland Soap Company.
Everyday high street retailers like Waterstone’s and Mountain Warehouse also reside here, and you can rent bikes from Oban Cycles.
Grab a fish supper at: George Street Fish and Chip Shop. No seaside weekend would be complete without a fish supper on the bay. The permanent queue out the door here is a testament to its quality, so grab a haddock supper and sit beside the sea… just watch out for the seagulls.
George Street Fish Restaurant & Chip Shop/Facebook
Lead image: Philip Birtwistle/Shutterstock
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