The gateway to the Isles of North-West Scotland
Given its surroundings' splendour, it's little wonder that Oban attracts such affection from locals and visitors alike. Situated within Northern Argyll, an area famed for its breath-taking mountain scenery and rich clan and religious history, Oban sits in a beautiful bay in the Firth of Lorne. It is known as the 'Gateway to the Isles.'
The harbour enjoys the natural protection offered by the island of Kerrera. It has long been a busy port and is Caledonian MacBraynes most active ferry terminal serving the many islands of the inner and outer Hebrides.
Oban was a vital port for merchant and Royal Navy ships taking part in the 'Battle of the Atlantic' during WWII. The town itself has featured as the setting for several films, including Ring of Bright Water featuring Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, and Movern Cellar. Oban and surrounding region act as a base for touring the spectacular coastal lochs and island.
Gateway to the islands
A brief history of Oban
Archaeological evidence suggests humans occupied caves near Oban almost ten thousand years ago. Other evidence of human habitation in the region is the wonderful Neolithic standing stones, much like Stonehenge.
Before the 19th century, Oban was sparsely populated with a small fishing industry. The town of Oban expanded around the distillery, founded in 1794. The Oban distillery predates the settlement. Founded in 1794 by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson, they ran it for over 70 years. Since that time, it has had several owners and is today part of the Diageo operation. Royal charters tend to be a sign of growing prosperity and approval from the Government. Oban received a Royal charter in 1811.
Sir Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott toured the area in 1814; he published his poem "The Lord of the Isles" the same year. The popularity of the poem sparked interest in the town and tourism began. Eventually, railways reached Oban in 1880, after many years of engineering mishaps. Access to Oban brought more business.
The town features an intriguing unfinished building dating back to 1890. Called McCraigs Folly, built by a local banker, John Stuart McCraig, resembles the Colosseum in Rome and intended to be a family mausoleum. With only the external walls completed, McCraig died, and so the project was abandoned. He had undoubtedly chosen a prime position, and the 10-minute climb is well worth it for the beautiful views over the town centre and the bay beyond.
Battle of the Atlantic
Oban was a vital port for merchant and Royal Navy ships taking part in the 'Battle of the Atlantic' during WWII (1939-1945). Engineers deployed various devices in the waters around Oban tp detect enemy ship and U-boats. The marine environment was deadly; huge underwater minefields protected the Royal Navy as much as could. There was also a Royal Airforce flying-boat base operating from the nearby islands of Kerrera and coastal Ganavan.
To continue with the theme of conflict, Oban became vital in the cold war too. The most important Transatlantic Telephone Cable came ashore south of the town.
Since the 1950s, Oban is a crucial link between mainland Britain and Islands.
What to see and do
Oban is an excellent base from which to explore. Within the town is the distillery, a glassworks, museum, and pottery.
A short walk along the bay takes you to the romantic ruins of Dunollie Castle. Since the middle ages, there has been a fortification on this high promontory, with this castle built sometime around the 15th century.
Wildlife Boat Trip or Sea Safari
Staying nearby will allow you to explore the stunning islands and enjoy the local wildlife. We highly recommend our Wildlife Boat Trip experience. There is a good chance of seeing Britain's largest bird of prey, the White-Tailed sea-eagle, dolphins and Minke Whales.
A cruise on Loch Awe to see Kilchurn Castle, perhaps the most photographed castle in Scotland, is recommended. Built-in the mid-1400's by Sir Colin Campbell, 1st Lord of Glenorchy. The castle passed through generations of the family until the 6th Lord decided to move his centre of operations to Taymouth in Perthshire. Consequently, the importance of Kilchurn diminished. It became abandoned after being struck by lightning in the 18th century.
A ferry to Mull provides an opportunity to see two magnificent castles. Torosay Castle was built in 1858 and had 12 acres of fabulous gardens, while inside are fascinating examples of 19th-century furniture and paintings.
Duart Castle is a fortress, one of several stretching from Dunollie to Mingary, all guarding the Sound of Mull. Building started in the 12th century with alterations and extensions along the way, the most recent being in 1673. It remains the home of the Chief of the Clan Maclean. Visitors can see the State Rooms and Banqueting Hall and view the dungeons that held prisoners from a Spanish Gallon sunk by Donald Maclean in 1588.
For an unusual experience, a trip to one of the Slate Islands is interesting. These were a small group of islands that, at their peak in the 19th century, were quarrying some nine million slates annually. Today they are virtually deserted with only a couple of basic holiday cottages evidence of habitation.
At one point, it had some 452 inhabitants. Still, one night in November 1881, a storm caused massive waves to surge over the island filling the deep quarries and ending a way of life for all those living there. The small museum is fascinating, and a small open ferry that operates on request is the only way to reach the island.
An annual fixture for the town is the Ayrshire Gathering, a version of the Highland Games.
Touring and accommodation
We have created various itineraries available to book off-the-shelf, or our Tour-Designers can customise a tour based on your interests and accommodation needs. Please use our Touring Guide for inspiration. For your information, our Family Tour of Scotland is ideal for families with young or older children; we can adjust the activities accordingly. Our Whisky, Golf and Culture itinerary is great for a group of adults or older multi-generational families. Please browse our Private Tours of Scotland.
We recommend touring the Trossachs National Park before arriving on the west coast. Visiting Inveraray Castle, the elaborate home of the Duke of Argyll, is always a pleasure. The grounds and interior spaces decorated with displays of armour are quite impressive.
When touring the wild north-west, the accommodation style becomes architecturally local, which makes the stay interesting. Expect restored hunting lodges and Victorian holiday homes transformed into luxury hotels. The Isle of Eriska Hotel is a lovely place to stay; the isle is a truly tranquil place. Airds Hotel and Restaurant occupies a fabulous location overlooking the water. It has cosy rooms and a world-class restaurant.
Gateway to the Isle's
Explore the Western Highlands from Oban
- Sea-Safaris Available
- Ferries to most Western Isles
- Tour Kilchurn Castle
- Hike the Western Highlands
- Mountain Biking Available
White Tail Sea Eagle in Action
Sea-Safari; Sea-Eagles, Dolphins, and Seals
Help us make your trip exceptional
Our UK, EU and US office-based staff will listen to what you want to see and experience.
Whether you are a honeymoon couple, a family or a corporate incentive group, our team’s collective resources will be brought together to build the experience that’s right for you.
We will require your arrival and departure dates, details of your personal preferences and places that you would like to visit as well as the events you would like to experience.
We will then prepare a draft itinerary and send it to you by email for your approval. Once agreed, we will send you a Booking Confirmation with Personalised Itinerary and Information Pack via email.