This seaside town has been one of Scotland’s most popular resort destinations since Victorian times. Despite its small size, Oban can host to up to 25,000 people during the peak tourist season. It’s a classic port town, with lots of wind, gulls, and wide-open islands.
What makes this charming town a top tourist draw is that there are so many things to see and do in and around Oban. Whether you stay on land the whole time or go on an island-hopping adventure, Oban will not disappoint.
Here are some places and activities you shouldn’t miss:
McCaig's Tower: The tower that wasn’t
Commissioned by wealthy banker John Stuart McCaig, the tower doesn’t really look like a tower; it looks more like the Colosseum in Rome. Work began in 1897, and it eventually became clear to all that the structure was going to be a memorial to the McCaig family. But the banker died in 1902 before the tower was finished, and work came to a halt.
Situated at the top of the hill, McCaig’s Tower is hard to miss, looming high above the town of Oban. You can trek up to the Tower or drive up to the car park behind it. From there you get a stunning view of the harbor, the Sound of Kerrera, and the isles near Oban.
Oban Distillery: The spirit of Oban
Conveniently located at the center of Oban, this distillery was established in 1794 by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson. It was refurbished in 1890, and the building has seen little change since then. It remains one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. It is also one of the smallest, with only two pot stills.
Tours are available year-round. Learn the ancient art of distilling whisky from knowledgeable guides. You can even do a custom tasting with the Distillery Manager. All tours end with visitors enjoying a complimentary drink of Oban’s 14-year-old West Highland malt whisky.
The many castles of Oban
These castles are steeped in history, and stepping into them gives you a glimpse into Scotland’s colorful past. Some are haunting ruins, while some remain stately homes.
- Carnasserie Castle: A ruined 16th-century tower house, Carnasserie is noted for its very unusual floor plan and renaissance detailing. Built in 1565, the castle sustained battle damages in 1685. Not much of the castle was altered when it was still in use, so it represents an accurate picture of 16th-century architecture.
- Dunstaffnage Castle: One of the oldest stone castles in Scotland, Dunstaffnage is famous for being the prison of Flora MacDonald after she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape in 1746. This former stronghold of the MacDougalls had different owners until the Campbells were appointed to oversee the castle. Visitors may see the ghost of a fairy woman in a green dress; it is said her appearance heralds a major event in the lives of the Campbell family.
- Kilchurn Castle: The ruins of this majestic castle sit on a rocky peninsula at the northeastern end of Loch Awe, and its beautiful scenery never fails to leave visitors in awe. No wonder it is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland.
- Castle Stalker: One of the still habitable castles on this list, Stalker is privately owned but it is open to a limited number of tours a year. Built in the 14th century, it was used as a hunting lodge, earning its name from the Gaelic word for “hunter.” Restored in the 1960s, the castle is a familiar sight to fans of the comedy movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
- Gylen Castle: Constructed around 1582, Gylen was built not only to defend but also to impress as it guarded the busy shipping lanes of the Sound of Kerrera during the 16th century. But in 1647, Gylen was sacked and burnt during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It has been an impressive ruin ever since.
See more of the sea
The sea around Oban offers so many activities you can do in, on, and just out of the water. There are boat trips available for you to see the different castles and historical sites mentioned earlier. Or you can have a wildlife-themed adventure in and around Oban.
- Gulf of Corryvreckan: Home of the world's third largest whirlpool, the gulf offers visitors a chance to observe the wildlife of Scotland in their habitats. Get a chance to witness seals, dolphins, porpoises, whales, and basking sharks feeding in the rich waters of the gulf. Look up to the skies for many seabirds, and maybe spot an occasional white-tailed sea eagle and golden eagle.
- Three-island adventure of Mull, Staffa, and Iona: This popular island-hopping adventure offers visitors gorgeous nature sights while they discover the wildlife of Scotland. Experience the rugged peaks and slopes of Mull, then sail on to Staffa to witness a colony of breeding puffins in Fingal’s Cave. Finally, proceed to Iona, the sacred island and the cradle of Christianity in Scotland.
- Various water activities: Hire a small boat and go cruising along the many lochs around Oban. Or explore them via sea kayaking. You can also go diving with PADI-certified dive instructors.
You may want to experience the sea in another way. There’s a reason why Oban is called the seafood capital of Scotland. You’ll have a difficult time choosing where to dine on succulent seafood or to grab a bag of hot and tasty fish and chips. If heaven for you is a table teeming with lobsters, oysters, smoked salmon, crabs, and prawns, then you just died and went to Oban.
Oban is one of the destinations in Wheel & Anchor’s Scotland by Sea: Dublin to Edinburgh tour scheduled in May 2020. This 12-day cruise takes you down the rugged coastline of Scotland and the remote isles of Shetland and Orkney. Take an unforgettable journey as you discover the land of the Celts by sea. Interested? Then join us and get to explore the world with like-minded adventurers.