Oban is the unofficial capital of the West Highlands and the western isles and a common embarkation point for cruises around the region. The town is surrounded by stunning seascapes and offers activities such as hill walking, sailing, diving, riding, kayaking and whale watching. It’s also the seafood capital of Scotland.
Cruise port location
Oban is a tender port, so all the cruise ships anchor off shore and run tenders to the North Pier pontoons in the harbour. This is a very popular starting-point for cruises around Scotland as well as a ferry hub, so the town gets quite busy during the summer months.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
The Esplanade is a pleasant flat walk along the shore or stride uphill to McCaig’s Tower for spectacular views of the islands. On the Esplanade adjacent to North Pier you’ll find the Oban War & Peace Museum with exhibits on fishing and the town’s wartime role as a Flying Boat base.
Oban is an easily walkable town and there are also public bikes available. Public transport on land is very limited but if you want to get to the nearby islands, there are numerous ferries run by Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac).
From Glasgow or Edinburgh, it takes around three hours to get to Oban by car, coach or train. There are several coaches a day run by Citylink from Glasgow airport to Oban and the West Highland line run by Scotrail runs six trains a day. The journey is famously scenic.
Right by the harbour are the Ranald Hotel, brand new and conveniently located, just minutes from the pier and station; the three star Columba Hotel, excellent for families next to the North Pier; and the Perle Oban Hotel, offering contemporary luxury. For a budget option try the Royal Hotel in town.
If you’d prefer a secluded spot, the four star Manor House is a ‘restaurant with rooms’ with magnificent views over Oban Bay. Just outside town, the Knipoch Hotel (dating back to 1592) sits in glorious Scottish countryside and boasts a superb selection of malt whiskies in its bar.
What to see and do
What can I do in four hours or less?
The port of Oban has walking tour guides at the new Harbour Building on the North Pier who can take you around town (though it really is easy to find your own way). If you like shopping, Oban is full of little shops selling Scottish specialities. There are lots of local food and drink treats on offer, too, and the Oban Distillery is one of the oldest and smallest in Scotland, producing West Highland Malt. Excursions from your ship will likely include a visit to Dunollie Castle, home of the Clan MacDougall, Inveraray Castle, home of the Duke of Argyll and the rhododendron gardens of Arduaine.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
Given the lack of reliable transportation, it’s advisable to take an excursion from the ship or hire a car if you want to go further afield. Top spots include lovely Loch Awe, where you’ll find the beautiful St Conan’s Kirk, final resting place of at least part of Robert the Bruce. Nearby Kilchurch Castle was a stronghold of the Campbells. Scattered around the Oban area, there are various prehistoric sites, mostly henges and standing stones.
Further afield, take a trip to Loch Lomond and the magnificent Trossachs National Park. You could have a go at bagging a Munro – there are 21 here, some of them allegedly quite easy. A little less demanding and very family friendly is Sea Life Loch Lomond Aquarium, with a walk-through ocean tunnel of giant turtles and sharks. Or if you want the full adrenaline rush, try the Falls of Lora, tidal rapids generated when the tidal level in the Firth of Lom falls below that in Loch Etive and the seawater pours out of the loch through the narrows below the Connel Bridge. Quite a spot for kayakers and divers.
Alternatively, you can take a trip to some of the nearby islands. Day tours include Tobermory, Staffa (where you’ll find awe-inspiring Fingal’s Cave) and the Treshnish Isles, famous for their colonies of puffins and other sea birds. Other day tours by boat include the beautiful island of Mull and its tiny neighbour, Iona.
What can I do with a bit longer?
If you have a day or two to spare before you board, spend them on Mull or Iona. Mull is famed for its wildlife – deer, otters, seals, eagles, whales and dolphins. The exquisite, almost car-free Isle of Iona is home to the Abbey of Saint Columba.
Eat and drink
So, being in the seafood capital of Scotland, you really should try the local delicacies. These include langoustine, salmon, scallops, mussels, crab, oysters – the list is pretty much endless. If you’re not a fish lover, how about venison? You’ll find it in everything from casseroles to burgers and sausages – tasty and super healthy.
As for drinks, you’ll find plenty of excursions that focus on the making and tasting of Scotland’s finest malt whiskies. It would be churlish not to sample them.
Don’t leave Oban without…
Oban has lots of speciality shops selling local products such as jewellery, knitwear and kilts. Local craft shops abound and foodies will find plenty of smoked salmon and trout. Malt lovers should be in their element.
Need to know
Best time to go
Cruise ships generally visit Oban only in the summer months, from April or May through to late September. Oban has one of Scotland’s biggest highland games in late August – expect crowds.
Places of interest are generally open seven days a week from 10am till 6pm during peak cruise season, although some may close on Sundays.