Oban is a town in Argyll and Bute located around a pretty bay on the west coast of Scotland. It’s a popular place to visit and also has a ferry port from which it’s possible to travel to some of the western islands and as such is often considered the gateway to the Hebridean islands. But there are plenty of things to do in Oban itself and the surrounding area.
- A Towering Folly
- Visit Oban Distillery
- Things to Do Around Oban – Day Trips
- Easdale Slate Island
- Kilmarten Glen and the Standing Stones
- Seafood and Eat It!
- Other Attractions in the Area
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A Towering Folly
McCaig’s Tower is the town’s most prominent landmark, set on a hill looking over the bay. It was funded by John Stuart McCaig in 1897, a local banker who wanted to ensure employment for local builders and stonemasons as well as to leave a monument dedicated to his family. But he died before his plans fully came to fruition and, although he left a legacy for its completion, his family contested this and work stopped.
McCaig had apparently wanted a grand design based on the Colosseum in Rome, which would have been impressive, but it was not to be. It is a folly, but is nice to climb the hill and walk around the tower to have a look at the design and also to get a panoramic view of Oban below.
Visit Oban Distillery
Oban has one of the smaller whisky distilleries in Scotland. In fact the town developed around the distillery which was established in 1794. Hence it’s very conveniently located right in the centre of Oban. Because of its location the distillery didn’t really have the opportunity to expand so it remains small but perfectly formed. Also, because it’s town-based, there are no issues with someone having to drive to the distillery if you want to indulge in a tasting and are staying locally.
Of course they offer tasting tours. It’s definitely worth making a booking. At the time we visited it wasn’t possible to tour the distillery itself (although you can make a booking through their website) due to Covid but a tutored tasting was possible. On arrival you are shown to a table and presented with some samples in little glasses and a tasting card.
It was really useful to have some guidance as to how to taste whisky. The advice was to sip and don’t sniff the whisky on the first taste. Definitely don’t quaff the shot or you will just get a burn at the back of the throat. Sipping again, your mouth is now used to the whisky, so let the whisky lie on your tongue for 15-20 secs to let the saliva glands release saliva and savour the flavour. You don’t expect to get a peaty whisky in Oban, the water is sourced from a local loch, about three miles away.
When whisky is first distilled it is a clear liquid. Its colour and flavour derives from the barrels it is stored in and the length of time the whisky is aged. There are some interesting techniques – the whisky can be aged in bourbon or sherry barrels but the casks can only be used a certain number of times (around five). Some barrels are charred inside, then the burned timber is scraped away to expose new timber and this offers a new flavour. Some whiskies are tripled matured in three casks. We tried the 14 year old whisky, which had a light, citrusy flavour; the 14 year old (charred barrel); the Distiller’s Edition which had been aged in a bourbon and then a sherry cask, which had a sweeter, more caramel roundness; and the triple matured Little Bay, which had a great complexity of flavour.
Of course, there are lots of bottles of whisky available to buy. We were quite taken with their Game of Thrones special edition.
Things to Do Around Oban – Day Trips
We recommend using a car to get around Scotland if you can – the driving is generally easy, the routes are guaranteed to look beautiful and it gave us flexibility to explore the wider area. However, there are public transport options if that is preferable.
Easdale Slate Island
Easdale is a tiny island located around 25 km from Oban. It’s easy to reach but first you have to cross the Bridge Over The Atlantic – possibly the cutest bridge in Scotland. Clachan Bridge joins Seil Island to the Scottish mainland so it really does cross the Atlantic – sort of! It’s a darling humpbacked bridge, built in 1792. It’s on a single track road, so take care when crossing.
From there head to Ellenabeich, which has a large car park and the ferry port for the three minute journey across the sea to the island. It costs just a few pounds to make the crossing.
On arrival at Easdale you discover that there are no cars but it is the most delightful place to go walking. There is a café/reastaurant and a folk museum.
Easdale was once the focal point of the Scottish slate industry. As such it has a number of slate quarries, many of which are now flooded. Despite the industry, the island is really beautiful. Skimming Quarry holds a national stone skipping competition every September.
It’s very easy to walk all the way around the island and sometimes you get lucky with perfect weather.
Kilmarten Glen and the Standing Stones
Driving further south towards Kilmarten it’s possible to explore some of Scotland’s prehistoric monuments, including cairns and standing stones.
Stopping in Kilmarten itself there is a museum which gives a history of the area, and the church next door, which has a collection of early grave slabs.
Further down the road there is a car park and, after crossing the road into the field, it’s possible to see Nether Largie Stones. The stones, believed to have been erected 3200 years ago, align with the midwinter sunrise and the autumn and winter equinoxes.
Temple Wood is a stone circle which has a cairn in its centre. It was originally a wood circle, dating from about 5000 years ago but the wood was later replaced with stones. Cremated remains, dating from around 3300 years ago, were found inside the centre of the circle.
Another short walk just down the lane takes you to the Nether Largie South cairn, a Neolithic chamber tomb. It is thought that it was constructed around 5600-5500 years ago. It’s believed that it was used for burials in the early Bronze Age as well.
Seafood and Eat It!
On our return to Oban we discovered plentiful restaurants, many of which offer seafood. Blessed with a long and beautiful coastline, Scotland’s seafood is fantastic! If you want the very best, which is also incredibly good value for money, there is only one place to go: Oban Seafood Shack, also known as The Green Shack, located by the harbour on the railway pier.
It’s so good, there will almost certainly be a long queue, but it’s emphatically worth the wait as you can order a huge variety of fresh seafood. It is literally a shack – a tiny hut – where you place your order. There’s not much seating, just a small covered area next to the shack and some tables for standing. It’s not the place for an intimate dinner but who cares when the food is this good? We ordered the seafood platter which was just divine: lobster, crab claw, langoustine, mussels, prawns, scallop in butter sauce, hot smoked salmon, pickled herring, crab sticks, squid rings. It was served with simple bread and butter, Marie Rose and sweet chilli sauce.
There was so much we needed a platter for the debris. We ate standing up, using our fingers (they have a wash station), although forks were provided to pick crab and lobster meat.
The seafood shack offered food as it should be – fresh ingredients, perfectly cooked, friendly service, no pretension whatsoever. Perfect. (It’s worth noting that at the time of our visit they only accepted cash as payment.)
The following day we skipped breakfast at the hotel in favour popping down to the shack to pick up some prawn and crab sandwiches. Absolutely delish! It set us up for the day to continue our journey through Scotland and onto the Isle of Skye.
Other Attractions in the Area
If you like castles, there are a couple close by: Dunollie Castle is located about 1.5km north of Oban. You can visit the castle, a museum and the grounds. There’s also Dunstaffnage Castle & Chapel, one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland which stands on an enormous rock overlooking the Firth of Lorn.
Oban is also gateway to some of Scotland’s marvellous Hebridean islands via the ferry port. It is possible to enjoy trips to Mull, Lismore, Coll, Kerrera and Barra, some either as day trips or to continue your journey through Scotland. Check the Calmac website for information and timetables.
I didn’t realise that the whisky barrels can be re-used by charring the inside and then scrapping down to new wood – very ecological. I adore whisky and the different malts and flavours – I wish I lived closer to Scotland.
I’ve been to Oban and the area when I did a 2 week tour of Scotland by car with a friend but never saw the Nether Largie Stones – I missed them and would have loved to see them, especially with 3200 years of history behind them!
I would defo be the same as you and head for the Oban Seafood Shack. Seafood is my favourite food and can eat it anytime, even for breakfast as you did. Those dishes look scrummy!
Hee! Yes, seafood for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and a few snacks in between – is defintitely something we could do anytime! The Seafood Shack was just brilliant and such good value. We, too, were fascinated by the whisky making process, particularly the reuse of the barrels and how much the storage had an impact on flavour. We adored Scotland but it is a long way to travel for us too. Definitely worth it though!
I love lesser-known ruins like McCaig Tower. I had to look them up because I was curious why the family contested the will. I couldn’t find a great answer; I guess they just saw it as a waste of money? Who knows. REgardless, I’d like to make a quick stopover at Oban just to see this tower. The seafood looks pretty good too. I’m curious, how much did it cost? Looks expensive but something tells me it was reasonable.
McCaig’s tower was fascinating. Actually, we learned more about it via a Twitter friend who mentioned that it’s an important case in Scottish Law when he saw the tweet about this post. Apparently it was his sister who successfully contested the will but… she (possibly feeling guilty?) left a legacy in her own will for work to continue on the tower . This, in turn, was successfully challenged on exactly the same principle that the sister had used! So the tower was never completed. It’s still an interesting place to visit and the views from the top are lovely. The seafood platter was astonishingly good. It cost us £35 (in late 2020) which we felt was incredibly good value. It was filling and delicious. Some restaurants in the area were charging 3 times as much for similar platters (although we have to recognise that they have different overheads and offered a different experience).
Yet another area of Scotland to add to my list! So incredibly beautiful. The history, the sights, the seafood – great post!
[…] Things To Do In Oban, Scotland […]
Surprised to see that Oban is a proper, sizeable town, would have expected it to be more like a village. I don’t normally drink hard liquor, but when in Scotland, Ellie & I always try to squeeze in a whisky tasting or at least we share a glass or two.
I’ve always been partial to cute bridges over oceans, so Clachan Bridge sounds great.
We were surprised that Oban was larger than expected. It’s located in a lovely area and there are loads of things to do both in and around the town. We do enjoy a tipple and figured it would be rude to visit Scotland and not do a whisky tasting! Yes, we love cute bridges as well and that Bridge of the Atlantic is just wonderful!
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