Things to do in and around Oban
Living in Oban as I do, I feel I know the town really well; I have explored most of the nooks and crannies. I have wandered up side streets and down muddy paths, I have climbed most of the local hills and swum in the sea, I have visited every island you can get to direct from Oban. I have travelled to and from here by train, bus, car, bike and on foot. I live and work here as a local but I also appreciate that it is a wonderful destination for a holiday. During lockdown when we had to stay within a 5 mile radius of our homes I became even more enamoured with the place and how a small town on the west coast of Scotland could be such a perfect place to be, even more so when the weather is kind and the midges have not yet hatched!
I am often asked what people should not miss when they visit here. There are a fair few blogs and articles about Oban, and they may give more detail, but this is just an overview of the sorts of things I do here and why I keep living here!
This had to be first. I love walking and there are so many good walks round Oban, which I do on a regular basis. The two I do most often are:
- Up Pulpit Hill to the mast then along the top towards Kerrera ferry and back round to Oban
- Following the road along the Esplanade and then hugging the coast towards Ganavan.
Pulpit Hill Mast
Looking over Oban to Beinn a' Bheithir (the Ballachulish Horseshoe) from the mast
You can see the mast from most of Oban - it's on the hill on the left as you look out towards the sea from the bay. There is a very good path all the way to the top and the views are obviously stunning - you can see all the way to the summits of Glencoe from up there! If you have time you can carry on along the hill - there are paths, and eventually you reach a track that takes you down to the road at Gallanach which you can follow back to Oban. Alternatively you can drop down half way along the ridge and join a track which to the left takes you to Kerrera Ferry and to the right back to Oban.
I did this walk and saved it as a .gpx file. This file can then be loaded into your Ordnance Survey app. Please note, this route is only a suggestion - there are lots of different options you can take!
Coast Road to Ganavan
View over Dunollie Castle and Maiden Island from just past the War Memorial
Follow the road signposted to Ganavan along the Esplanade. There is a pavement as far as the War Memorial and from here you get your first views of Dunollie Castle. There is a sweet lighthouse here too and benches to sit on to watch the ferries and fishing boats passing close by. The island of Kerrera is also just across the water and to your right you can see Maiden Island which is the subject of very many of my photos (and which I visited a couple of years ago). Behind Kerrera the hills of Mull rise out of the sea and this is the perfect vantage point for watching a sunset.
Flora with The Dog Stone and Dunollie Castle
However I normally walk further on - you can cross the road by the wee white house (where I lived when I first moved to Oban) and continue up the Old Coach way which is a tarmaced path in the woods with good views of The Dog Stone and Dunollie Castle.
View from Dunollie Woods
You can go up into the Dunollie Woods from here following a newly built path or continue up the track till you come to the corner.
View from Battleship Hill
Right through the gate takes you up Battleship Hill which is great viewpoint looking back over Oban, down the Sound of Kerrera or out over Mull, Lismore and the Morvern Hills.
If you keep to the left, past the entrance to Dunollie Castle, you are soon back on the main road. There is no pavement here and a very sharp corner where you are relying on vehicles not to be going too fast! Just round the corner there is another pavement which goes most of the way to Ganavan. The only place where there is no pavement is another quite dangerous corner and I tend to stop walking and press myself into the side when any cars come past! It never stops me doing the walk though and I think most drivers are very aware.
Ganavan Sands at Sunset
Soon you are at the beaches which I write about more later.
Me on Stob Diamh at sunrise on the longest day with Ben Cruachan in the background
I will be writing more extensively about this in future but briefly to say that Oban is surrounded by high hills - Munros (hills above 3000 feet), Corbetts (hills above 2500 feet and with a prominence (drop on all sides) of 500 feet) and Marilyns (hills of any size but with a prominence of 500 feet) - which make incredible days (and nights) out. Our closest Munro is Ben Cruachan which is a 30 minute drive away, (you can see it from any elevated area around Oban), and once there the list the hills spread out almost endlessly - Stob Daimh, Beinn a'Chochuill, Beinn Eunaich, then slightly further out Ben Lui, Beinn a'Cleibh, Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhchraig. Loch Etive, which runs north from Connel, is surrounded by high hills and soon you are in Glencoe which is world famous for its mountains.
View of Dun da Ghaoithe, a Corbett on Mull seen from the mast above Pulpit Hill
Across the water there are hills on Mull and also on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. I have explored many of these hills (and have taken many photos from them), but I still have many more to explore.
There is an excellent app called Hill Lists which shows a map of all the hills and when you climb them you can tick them off the list. I find this intensely satisfying, it creates a huge dopamine rush for me!
Walk Highlands is the definitive website for hillwalking (and any kind of walking) in Scotland. It is invaluable with its maps, descriptions of walks including photographs, and also walk reports from users. I look at the site most days!
I also love the Ordnance Survey app which I constantly refer to. It costs about £20 a year I think and is very much worth the money. You can see your location in the map in real time! I do always carry paper maps and a compass with me of course though.
Calmac Ferry returning to Oban
When I moved to Oban I was very excited to be living in a town which called itself 'The Gateway to the Isles'. There are few things in life I enjoy more than travelling to an island. There are direct ferries to the islands of Kerrera, Lismore, Mull, Coll, Tiree, Barra, Colonsay and Islay (via Colonsay).
Kerrera is by far the nearest although the ferry terminal is slightly out of town towards Gallanach and the parking can be tricky in summer. The ferry crossing itself (passenger only) only takes about 5 minutes and once on the island you can easily walk or cycle to Gylen Castle and the Kerrera Tearoom (the tearoom is only open in summer) or do a loop of the island and visit the highest point which is a Marilyn if you are a Marilyn bagger! (A Marilyn is a hill of any height which has a drop on all sides of 150 metres or nearly 500 feet).
Lismore has a small car ferry from Oban and is perhaps more overlooked by visitors than the other islands. It's usually very quiet but there is a lot to see and I love cycling over there; you can get off the ferry at Achnacroish (from Oban), cycle along to the excellent cafe, then cycle to Port Ramsey to catch the ferry to Port Appin before cycling the 28 miles back to Oban on the cycle path! Or alternatively just cycle back to Achnacroish and catch the return ferry to Oban from there. There are also castles and brochs to visit and beautiful walks.
Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Mull is the best served of the islands with car ferries going almost every hour, and once at Craignure you can turn left towards Iona or right to go to Tobermory. Or if you want just a quick visit you can stroll along to the Craignure Inn for a shandy and a bowl of Mussels and have a look in the excellent second hand shop. Public transport is good on the island too, with regular buses meeting the ferries. It is a big island though, getting to Tobermory takes an hour.
Coll and Tiree
Coll and Tiree and both famed for their sandy beaches. Both are rewarding to visit, and although they are next to each other they are quite different in atmosphere. Coll is more rugged and probably quieter and Tiree is much flatter.
Kiloran Bay, Colonsay
Colonsay is possibly my favourite island because I know it the best and have come to know some of its residents. It is just the right size to cycle round and it is very unspoilt with stunning beaches, a thriving community and an excellent hotel/bar.
Barra is the furthest island you can reach from Oban. It is part of the Outer Hebrides and takes 5 and a half hours to get there. Barra and its neighbouring island Vatersay are great to explore in their own right, but the Outer Hebrides are connected by ferries and causeways so you can travel all the way up them to the most northerly point - the Butt of Lewis. There are official cycling and walking routes - The Hebridean Way
Swimming & Beaches
Me swimming on New Year's Eve near Ganavan
Not only is Oban a really pretty town with lots of amenities, it also has two beautiful sandy beaches a couple of miles from the town centre. Ganavan is the main beach with a large car park, toilets and a snack van in summer. I tend to avoid it in the height of the summer as the car park is usually stacked out with large motorhomes and the sea is filled with jet skis, but it's gorgeous on a blustery winter's day. You can also walk along the beach and through the gate then up onto the headland where there are great views over towards Mull, Morvern, Beinn Lora, Connel and Ben Cruachan.
The other beach is Wee Ganavan which you come to before Big Ganavan. There is parking along the road and it's normally quieter but just as nice for swimming. Both beaches are very safe for swimming with sand underfoot, no strong currents and no sudden drops. They are also very suitable for paddle boarding.
Tralee Bay at sunset (in January)
Further afield, Ardmucknish bay (Tralee beach) is accessible from Benderloch and is a huge sandy beach, pebbly at high tide. Access is best from the car park opposite the Pink Shop. The Ben Lora Cafe, to the side of the car park, is a great place to visit.
Quarries on Easdale Island
Going South from Oban, you can visit Easdale Island where there are deep pools in the old quarries there which are wonderful for swimming in.
Seafood at The Olive Garden
I don't eat out all that often but when I do I tend to go to Oban Fish and Chip Shop which is much more than just a chippy! Lilian has a varied menu and often has daily specials.
If you like a scone then go to Roxy's where they make their scones fresh every day and sell them till they sell out! I think probably the best scones I have ever had.
View from McCaig's Tower
So many because the whole landscape round Oban is stunningly beautiful, but here are some of my favourites:
- Oban Bay
- War Memorial
- Pulpit Hill (viewpoint and mast)
- McCaig's Tower
- Ganavan (Big and Wee)
- Ganavan headland
- Beinn Lora
- Gylen Castle, Kerrera
- Castle Coeffin, Lismore
Other things to do
- We have an excellent leisure centre with a large swimming pool
- There is a cinema showing all the latest releases and some older films too.
- Boat trips
- Oban War and Peace Museum
- Oban Distillery - offers tours
- Sea Kayaking
- Buying fish and chips and eating them on the steps by the Oban Times slip while watching the yachts moored on the pontoons, hearing the Calmac passenger announcements as the ferries arrive into port, shooing off the seagulls who will be watching your every move, and if the weather is good, watching the sun become low in the sky before it disappears behind the hills.
The gulls in Oban are generally very patient. Please don't feed them though!
Coming to Oban using Public Transport
Oban Train Station. Goes all the way to Glasgow, or change at Crianlarich for Fort William and Mallaig!
You can get to Oban by bus, train and ferry and it is very possible to have a great holiday here without a car. Oban itself is very walkable and there are buses dotting about all the time. It's also good for cycling, and there is a cycle path/route most of the way up to Inverness! You can bring your bike on the train although you do need to prebook, and there are now new carriages especially for bikes!