The drive from Glasgow to Oban is one of the best in Scotland
Road trips are often the name of the game when it comes to the Highlands of Scotland. Very difficult to adequately experience without a car, there’s an obvious temptation to head north and just see where the road takes you. There have been much worse ideas. The Cairngorms, the North Coast 500, Lochaber et al make for a mouthwatering collection of options. Trying to identify the best routes is no easy task but Glasgow to Oban is one of the most straightforward and accessible, even for first time visitors to Scotland. Belt up and prepare for one of the great Highland road trips!
What makes this route so special? Well the fact that it incorporates fabulous Loch Lomond would be a good start. One of the most visually appealing spots in the country, this drive takes you along the well-travelled western shore of the Loch. The fact that this scenic masterpiece is within 30 minutes of our biggest city seems almost unfair as you rapidly leave your urban frustrations behind. At times running directly alongside the deep blue bonnie banks, Britain’s largest lake is yours to enjoy up close. A mistimed twist of the wheel as you frantically try to find your camera at the bottom of that bag on the passenger seat and into the water you shall go I assure you. The drive is winding but spectacular as you take in the many peaks on the Loch including Ben Lomond itself.
Leaving the Loch behind your Glasgow to Oban drive north continues. You can choose whether to head directly west into Argyll and follow the coast via Inveraray and Loch Fyne or head further north first before turning west. Both are magnificent options and, for a return trip, I suggest going out one way and back the other. Assuming the latter for the outbound journey, this is the most direct route. You’ll turn right at pretty Tarbet and keep the loch on your right hand side as you continue north. A busy route in summer, it is also spectacular off-season when the roads are quiet. In autumn expect a rainbow of colour in the glens you pass through. Reds, greens, yellows and browns are there beneath the mist. Winter has its own unique appeal too when the snow-topped peaks come to life.
This is Scotland. This is what I think of when I talk about the Highlands and the great Scottish outdoors. To the extent that taking this route makes up my view of the Best of Scotland in a Day, which is worth a read if you’re in this area.
Next up is Loch Awe. You might think having just driven the length of Loch Lomond another Loch might leave you water-saturated but it really looks and feels completely different. Long and thin, the northern shore is flanked by some magnificent peaks including Ben Cruachan. Stop by the staggeringly intricate St Conan’s Kirk for a quick look at one of Scotland’s most beautifully structured buildings and for immaculate views over the water. En-route Kilchurn Castle is also one of the most stunningly located ruins in Scotland – you’ll find this on Loch Awe’s northern shore. For many the stereotypically Scottish castle, it has everything. Inky-black waters, stunning mountain backdrop and cragged ruins that would have poets, writers and photographers in a state of euphoria. Miss this at your peril.
The next stop is Oban itself, The Gateway to the Isles. Ever-popular with travellers heading to the likes of Mull and Iona or even to the Outer Hebrides, Oban is a constantly bustling place. The only settlement of any significant size in the area, it’s an almost alarming return to civilisation as the buzz of holiday-goers shakes you out of your Highland slumber. Options galore await you at the ferry terminal as the draw of the western islands of Scotland takes grip. If you’re looking for more inspiration of this kind – take a look at my thoughts on top things to do on the Isle of Barra.
By the time you arrive in Oban chances are you will be hungry. As you would expect there are many choices for fresh fish but I recommend Ee-Usk for fairly high-end seafood and, for something more casual, Oban Fish and Chip Shop. As good fortune would have it Oban Distillery is on the same street, how thoughtful! An excellent choice as an introduction to whisky, Oban malts have the saltiness and perfumed appeal of the west coast – without the heavily peated notes synonomous with the likes of Islay in particular.
With a whisky-induced spring in your step, you can explore Oban itself on foot. Dunollie Castle and Gardens are a short walk from the town centre; McCaig’s Tower (the odd-looking Roman-esque structure hovering over the town) is a steep but rewarding walk and a nosey at the pier as the fishermen come and go is likely to bring out the photographer in you. All told, Oban deserves at least a couple of hours of your time.
Where to next?
The journey length for this direct route from Glasgow to Oban is a little over 2 hours. But you would be mad not to stop at several of the points described above for photos. Don’t rush. At no point in the journey is the drive hugely challenging and the roads are generally in pretty good condition.
If you were making a return journey back to Glasgow, you could simply retrace the above Glasgow to Oban route or drive directly south from Oban to Lochgilphead and then Inveraray. Add at least an hour to your journey time for this approach. It takes you on a scenic drive passing the likes of Kilmartin Glen (famous for its standing stones) and further on to run parallel to Loch Fyne. This route will eventually return you to Loch Lomond and the home straight from Tarbet. You can read about my Glasgow to Inveraray drive for more details of this stretch of the Southern Highlands. Expect plenty more castles, lochs and seafood.
Awful, just awful.