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Whether it’s the charming seaside haunt of Oban or the highlights of the Hebrides like Jura, Islay and Mull, there truly is something here for everyone who visits
Bordering Loch Lomond and the Trossachs to the East and stretches of islands out across the west coast, Argyll and Bute is one of Scotland’s most naturally diverse locations. Whether it’s the charming seaside haunt of Oban or the highlights of the Hebrides like Jura, Islay and Mull, there truly is something here for everyone who visits. Here, the beauty of nature is the foundation on which everything is built, from sandy beaches to dense forests to stretches of coastal wilderness that evokes plenty of drama. Thanks to its natural beauty, the region has also appeared on film many times over the decades, providing sweeping, dramatic landscapes for everything from indie features to massive blockbusters. Eagle-eyed visitors will recognise the rolling hills from James Bond’s ‘To Russia, With Love’ and the blockbuster ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’, as well as getting name-checked in the Wings’ track ‘Mull of Kintyre’. Beyond its reputation as a great filming location, there’s plenty to see and do here. Soak in its expansive history at one of its many castles, see where 48 ancient Scottish kings were buried at Iona Abbey, or test your walking ability on the West Highland Way, which passes directly through Argyll & Bute.
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One of the region’s most significant legacies is its whisky-producing roots. Home to the islands of Islay and Jura, the region is home to twenty different distilleries producing not just whisky, but gins, vodkas and other spirits too. Its commitment to creating great food and drink is visible across the coastline and islands – and it’s not just in the drinks it produces. The neighbouring Atlantic Ocean and the variety of sea lochs – including the famous Loch Fyne – mean there’s plenty of fish to be served for visitors. Look out for salmon, oysters, several varieties of trout, mussels, langoustines and of course, one of the national dishes – fish and chips. Whether you’re enjoying in one of Oban or Inveraray’s modern bars and restaurants or a hearty pub on the Isle of Bute, it’s all best washed down with a whisky from one of the region’s historic distilleries.
As a district county, Argyll and Bute has only really existed since the mid-nineties, though its history stretches back much further than that. In fact, they existed as two separate regions until very recently. With plenty of evidence to suggest it was one of the most inhabited pre-historic locations in Scotland, Argyll and Bute was actually two separate regions for many centuries. Though both would have fallen into the jurisdiction of the Dál Riata – a Gaelic kingdom that encompassed much of western Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland, and later the invading Vikings – the region was viewed by many as a very spiritual place. Indeed, it was the home to Iona Abbey, where almost 50 ancient Scottish kings and queens were buried.
The region began rapidly developing following the appointment of a Duke of Argyll in the 18th century. New industry and trades were brought to the area, with extensive development transforming waterfront locations into seaside resorts. Tourism boomed over the 19th and 20th centuries as people flocked to the beach for holidays, particularly during tough economic times. In 1996, Scotland’s counties were re-drawn and Argyll and the Isle of Bute were finally brought together.
Because of the region’s rural nature, the roads aren’t always the easiest – but there are multiple scenic roads great for drivers. Ferry services by CalMac operate across the coastline. West Coast Motors also operate bus services on the mainland and some of the islands, and the West Highland Line covers mainland rail travel.
Train services connect Glasgow and Edinburgh to Oban, as well as connect to smaller district lines. The nearest major airports are Glasgow and Edinburgh, which do some connecting flights to the smaller airport at Oban. Bus services are also available from the two cities, as well as motorways to the west coast.
When to go
Winter is a hugely popular time to visit – the Aurora Borealis is visible from this region and there are plenty of opportunities for stargazing. If you prefer not to be too cold, summer is another popular tourist time to visit, usually for the regional Highland Games.
Where to stay
Coastal options are most popular in the region, including the seaside resort of Oban, which connects to many of the islands. Islay, Rothesay and Jura are popular for those seeking a taste of island living. On the mainland, other popular choices include Inveraray, the Kintyre Peninsula and Glencoe.
Eating & drinking
Being on the coast, fresh seafood is king here – and a must-try for visitors. This region of Scotland is also part of its whisky capital, so trips to Islay and Jura will allow you to sample some of the country’s finest drams. There are plenty of independent producers to visit here, so look out for locally made cheese, ice cream, beer and gin too.
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