This Coastal Town Is Scotland’s Best-kept Secret — With Award-winning Whisky, Breathtaking Landscapes, and Outdoor Adventures

The underrated town of Oban deserves a spot on your travel wish list.

Tucked away on the western shores of Scotland sits the charming and vastly underrated town of Oban. The name itself is a Gaelic word that translates to “little bay” — fitting for a seaside town with a population of just 8,500 residents. While Oban is referred to as the “Gateway to the Isles,” it’s far more than a simple starting point for your next island escape. 

During my three-hour journey from Edinburgh to Oban, the locals I met along the way shared similar sentiments upon learning of my final destination. “Oban is magical — you’ll love it,” was the general consensus. Ironically, this was a stark contrast to the confused stares and furrowed brows I got when sharing my travel plans with American friends. 

Old lighthouse in Scotland, with snowcapped highland peaks in the background

Getty Images

When you stumble across a destination that tourists have never heard of and locals can’t say enough good things about, you know you’ve struck gold in the world of off-the-beaten-path travel. Traipsing through the Oban Harbour on that first day, I was met with the sounds of bagpipes, the mesmerizing aroma of fish and chips, and breathtaking bay views backed by mountainous islands in the distance. I had no doubt about it: Oban was special. 

Visit the distillery that predates the town.

The exterior signage for The Oban Distillery

Courtesy of Visit Scotland

Founded in 1794 by Hugh and John Stevenson, the aptly named Oban Distillery is widely known as one of Scotland’s oldest and smallest distilleries. What the distillery lacks in size, however, it makes up for in the quality of its whisky. Soon after production began, what was once an unassuming fishing village rapidly expanded into a thriving town. Over the years, the Oban Distillery has won countless awards in international spirit competitions. Many believe the distillery’s massive success can be attributed to its famous whisky-making process, one it has remained anchored to for more than 200 years. 

During a visit to Oban, a stop at its prized distillery is a must. You can enjoy a guided tour to see the magic in action or sample the award-winning Scotch at the distillery bar. And while the town’s origin story may revolve around whisky, it’s the proud townspeople that have transformed Oban into the vibrant destination it has become today. So, whether you’re a whisky connoisseur, foodie, or lover of the outdoors, Oban has something for everyone. Here’s how to make the most out of a trip to Scotland’s best-kept secret. 

Enjoy Scotland’s freshest seafood.

Fish and mussels at Waterfront Fishouse Restaurant

Malcolm Menzies/Courtesy of Waterfront Fishouse Restaurant

A town of many names, Oban is commonly referred to as the "seafood capital of Scotland," and for good reason. If you’re looking for a laid-back and budget-friendly lunch, stroll down the ferry terminal to the famous Oban Seafood Hut. Pro tip: Keep your eyes peeled for a tiny green shack or an undoubtedly long line. (Don’t worry, it moves fast.) For a sit-down meal, book a reservation at the Waterfront Fishouse Restaurant, which serves up mouthwatering seafood and stellar ocean views, or opt for the brand-new No17 to indulge in fine dining and exquisite art. There are several spots where you can get your fish and chips fix, but the Oban Fish & Chip Shop is a local favorite. 

Spend the day island hopping.

Aerial view of Oban, Scotland. A seaside village near the Isles of Scotland's Highlands

Courtesy of Visit Scotland

You can’t travel to Oban without dedicating at least a day to visiting one of the nearby islands. The most popular choices include the isles of Lismore, Kerrera, Mull, and Iona — all of which are accessible from Oban through CalMac, Scotland’s largest ferry operator. These Inner and Southern Hebrides islands are sparsely populated and largely untouched, making them the perfect playgrounds for nature lovers. Between the fascinating historic sites, remarkable wildlife, and glorious landscapes, there’s plenty to keep you busy during a full-day excursion. 

Embrace the outdoors.

McCaig's Tower is a striking tower on Battery Hill overlooking the city of Oban in Argyll, Scotland.

Babett Paul/Getty Images

Oban’s location on the coast of the Western Highlands offers a unique combination of the best of land and sea. You can spend your morning on the water cruising past centuries-old lighthouses and watching large herds of seals bask in the sunshine, then drive a few minutes down the road to explore the lush Scottish Highlands on horseback. For the ultimate photo op, hike up to McCaig’s Tower on Battery Hill. This prominent landmark has been standing since 1897 and overlooks the entire town and bay for a showstopping bird’s-eye view. 

Scenic view of Oban with Isle of Mull in the distance on the west coast of Scotland

Getty Images

Kick back with the locals.

After a long day of discovering all that Oban has to offer, what better way to relax than with a tall glass of Scottish beer and some new friends? The Oban Inn was established in 1790 as a hotel and is one of the only remaining buildings from the original town plans. Today, it serves as a rustic pub for locals and tourists to come together over a lager (or several). On a sunny day, you can venture down to the Oban Harbour and secure a spot in the beer garden at The Corryvreckan, a waterfront pub with an impressive selection of local brews. For a lively night on the town, check out The View for games, live music, and seaside views. Come to Oban ready to embrace its coastal charm, slow pace, and dynamic Scottish culture — you won’t be disappointed.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles