This Scottish gem has a quaint harbor, friendly locals, cobbled sidewalks, and an incredibly beautiful and mystical island just off its shore.
Oban is one of my favorite small towns in Europe. It’s located in Scotland’s Western Highlands, and it’s a great jumping off point for exploring the Inner Hebrides Islands. The town itself is small, only 8,500, but can experience up to a bustling 25,000 tourists in the summer. And even though its streets can get crowded, Oban’s friendly locals, delicious seafood, and quaint harbor-side architecture make it a pleasure to visit. Plus, it’s the launching site for the only ferry to Kerrera Island, one of the most beautiful places in the world.
1. Quaint harbor with cobbled sidewalks.
After arriving by train, we explored Oban by foot. It’s a beautiful brick town centered on a horseshoe bay. Many of the buildings in town date from the 1800s and Victorian era, including the Oban distillery that has a history dating back to the late 1700s. Its a tiny distillery, and is known for its 14 year old single malt that was chosen to represent the Western Highlands in the six Classic Malts of Scotland. There’s also an interesting partially finished Roman-inspired tower that sits at the top of the town. It’s also from the 1800s and was built by a man named McCaig. Now it’s a park and it offers beautiful views of the bay, Kerrera Island, and surrounding waters.
But my favorite part of town is the horseshoe bay encircled by a three foot high stone wall. Green benches face the wall and the water and Hebrides beyond. It’s beautiful and peaceful. During high tide, the water laps against the wall while during low tide a small beach is uncovered. Even in summertime, it’s cloudy, cool, and the perfect place to picnic.
2. Friendly locals and food.
As we explored the town, we found a small fish and chips shop selling fresh, cheap seafood and other standard Scottish fare. A couple of young men worked the shop and were very friendly and helpful. We joked around about shaggy coos (Highland cows) and they gave us tips on picking out a traditional Scottish meal. We chose a local variety of fish plus a side order of haggis. We took it on the go and enjoyed it back at the benches on the harbor. The haggis was… alright. Definitely worth trying once. But the fish and chips were incredible! So good in fact, we decided to return the following day. What made the experience even more enjoyable was that the same two men were working the store and remembered us! They welcomed us back with more jokes and asked us how we like the haggis. I felt like a temporary local.
Our experiences with other locals were just as warm. We lodged at Oban Backpacker’s, where we stayed up late into the night around a roaring fire in the common room. It gets chilly at night even in the summertime that far north. We swapped traveling stories with the locals who worked there and a few other travelers like us. It was at the hostel that someone suggested we explore Kerrera Island. We took their advice, and it ended up being the highlight of our entire trip.
3. Beautiful and mystical island just off its shore.
Kerrera Island is across a narrow channel from Oban. The only way to get there is by a local ferry. The island is car free, and only has a handful of long-term residents who live there with the ever-grazing Highland cows and sheep.
The main thing to do on Kererra is explore! We walked through endless seas of insanely green windswept grasses that make the island look like a giant emerald jewel. We found a tiny castle in Romantic ruins perched on its southern cliffside. We rested and ate at a quiet tea garden in a bright white cottage surrounded by colorful flowers. We spotted the skeleton of a shipwreck rising from the shallow waters by the shore. Simply put, it’s one of the most impressive and beautiful places I’ve ever been.
— Laura Rowley