Scotland Travel Guide
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The Isle of Arran: One Little Island With Everything Scotland Has to Offer

The Isle of Arran is a one-stop-shop for everything on your Scotland bucket list and ticks every box for your dream holiday.

Has anyone ever told you that you cannot see all of Scotland in a weekend? That you need at least two weeks to see and experience it all? Well, they are wrong. There is a place in Scotland that allows you to tick off all the items on your bucket list in as little as 48 hours. They call it Scotland in miniature—welcome to the Isle of Arran.

The Isle of Arran is like a sample sale of everything that Scotland has to offer: dramatic mountain scenery and pastoral landscapes dotted with sheep, delightful villages and quirky harbors, white sandy beaches and tall standing stones, castles and historic sites, whiskey distilleries and delicious local produce.

Arran is the perfect destination for the traveler who is pressed for time but still wants to enjoy Scotland to the fullest. Here are 10 experiences that will fulfill all your Highland desires.

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PHOTO: Kathi Kamleitner
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Try Scotch Whisky: Isle of Arran Distilleries

WHERE: Lochranza

Scotch whiskey is also known as aqua vitae—the water of life. Long ago, in the 1800s there were many stills on the Isle of Arran, many of them producing whiskey illegally, but always thriving. Today, there are only two whiskey distilleries on the island. Arran Distillery in Lochranza opened in 1995 and produces a wide variety of single malt whiskeys including a peated whiskey. The distillery offers a range of tours and tasting sessions to familiarize yourself with the local drams (“drink in Scottish). Lagg Distillery the south of Arran only opened in 2019 and will have to wait at least 3 years until it can sell its spirit as Scotch whiskey. Tours are launching soon.

INSIDER TIPDesignated driver? Ask for a driver’s kit, fill your dram into a small jar and enjoy it back at your hotel that day!

 

 

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PHOTO: Sir Gawain (CC BY-SA 3.0)/ Wikimedia Commons
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Live Like Scottish Royalty: Brodick Castle

WHERE: Brodick

Time to channel your inner Scottish king or queen. Visiting a Scottish castle is something that must not miss from any Scotland itinerary. There are well over 2,000 castles and castle ruins in Scotland, so it would be hard not to include at least one! Brodick Castle is located on the grounds of a grand estate at the outskirts of Brodick. Even though the current castle dates “only” to 1844, its location strategically overlooking the Forth of Clyde has been fortified for centuries. The castle which can be toured from April to October is surrounded by a lush country park with formal gardens and woodland trails that are dotted with waterfalls and swimming ponds.

INSIDER TIPAdmission is free for National Trust of Scotland members. If you visit several of their sites, an annual membership might save you some money!

 

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PHOTO: Kathi Kamleitner
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Hiking in the Scottish Highlands: Climb Goatfell

WHERE: Brodick

Of course, you can see many of the peaks of the Scottish Highlands from the comfort of your car, but if you are up for a challenge, there is nothing like standing on a mountaintop and taking in the views. Goatfell is the highest mountain on the Isle of Arran, but compared to many hills on the mainland it is a fairly straightforward and beginner-friendly climb. The trail is well marked at the bottom and easy to follow once you emerge from the woodlands. After a short challenging climb towards the end you get to soak up views of the surrounding sea and on good days can see as far as Ben Lomond on the northeast, the Paps of Jura in the northwest and even Northern Ireland in the southwest.

INSIDER TIPLeaving from Brodick Castle, the hike takes about six hours (round-trip). Pack plenty of snacks and water, and make sure you wear proper footwear!

 

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PHOTO: Kathi Kamleitner
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Get Your Outlander Fix: The Machrie Moor Standing Stones

WHERE: Near Blackwaterfoot

Did you know that Outlander‘s famous standing stones at Craigh na Dun are actually not real? While the magical grove in which Claire travels back in time exists somewhere in the region of Perthshire, the standing stones themselves were added to the scenery by a skilled special effects team. The Isle of Arran has the real deal though! The Machrie Moor Standing Stones near Blackwaterfoot feature several chambered cairns and stone circles with stones up to five meters tall. They date between 3,500 and 1,500 BC and served as significant places of ritual and worship. The last stone circle in this area was discovered in 1978 under a thick layer of peat.

INSIDER TIPAllow around one and a half to two hours for the walk from the car park to the standing stones and back. Watch the ground, as the moorland can be wet and boggy. Proper footwear is advised.

 

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PHOTO: Big Jock/Shutterstock
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Make a Splash: Wild Swimming at Glen Rosa

WHERE: Brodick

Love wild swimming? Glen Rosa on Arran is where it’s at! The breathtaking valley at the foot of Goatfell has been shaped by glaciers over millions of years. Today, a river cuts through it—the Glenrosa Water—and forms a series of pools and waterfalls reminiscent of the famous Fairy Pools on Skye. Only, no one knows about it and apart from a few brave locals, you get to enjoy a refreshing bath in the pools all by yourself! If you want to take the adventure further, bring your tent and pitch it near the river. Wild camping is perfectly legal all over Scotland as long as you respect the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

INSIDER TIPThe valley is best accessed from Brodick or descending an alternative trail from Goatfell. Walk Highlands is the best resource to find hiking guides and trail descriptions for Scotland.

 

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PHOTO: Arran Ice Cream
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Tasty Local Produce: Picnic With Local Cheeses, Meats, and Brews

WHERE: Isle of Arran

Scotland makes for a great foodie destination and has a rich local larder. It is possibly best known for its Highland-grown beef, lamb and game, locally sourced seafood and the absurdity that is haggis. The Isle of Arran is no exception, although it is best known for a different kind of produce: dairy. Whether you want to try local cheddar, soft cheeses or ice-cream, Arran Dairies, Bellevue Creamery and Arran Cheese Company have got your back. Add locally-made oatcakes, cold cuts from the butcher and a few bottles of ale from Arran Brewery and you have got yourself a perfect picnic basket!

INSIDER TIPThe Isle of Arran is also vegan-friendly! Many restaurants and cafes have vegan options on their menu and there are even two vegan B&Bs on the island, Ferghan Mor B&B in Sannox and Stonewater House in Lamlash!

 

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PHOTO: PHT/PhotoGnick
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Dancing With Scotsmen: Live Music in Arran's Pubs

WHERE: Isle of Arran

When the fiddlers start fiddling and the pipers start piping, no one’s feet can keep still. The Isle of Arran has a thriving music scene and there are various pubs around the island where you can enjoy traditional live music on any given weekend throughout the year. Crofters’ Bar & Bistro in Brodick hosts local and international musicians every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening as well as Sunday afternoon. The venue is small, so make sure you book a table ahead—especially if you also want to try the amazing food! The Pierhead Tavern in Lamlash is another popular venue for live music every Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

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PHOTO: Allan Napier/shutterstock
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Spot a Dolphin: Get Aboard a Ferry and Look out for Local Wildlife

WHERE: Brodick and Lochranza, Isle of Arran

Scotland is blessed with pristine coastlines and warm waters from the Gulf Stream, and that comes with a plethora of marine wildlife. The number of whale sightings has increased in recent years and seals are easy to spot when they sunbathe on the rocky shores of many beaches along the west coast. However, you do not have to invest time or money into a wildlife boat cruise—you can also spot dolphins and porpoises from the CalMac-operated ferries that take you to and from Arran. There are two ferry routes from Ardrossan to Brodick and from Lochranza to Claonaig, and dolphins often play or hunt in the waves created by these big boats.

INSIDER TIPBring a pair of binoculars, wrap up to withstand the wind-chill and keep your eyes peeled!

 

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PHOTO: Kathi Kamleitner
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Explore the Scottish Caribbean: Kildonan Beach

WHERE: Kildonan Beach

There is no shortage of white sandy beaches on the Scottish west coast. In fact, if it was not for the occasionally chilly winds and usually Baltic Sea-esque temperatures, you could think you are in a tropical paradise much closer to the equator. Kildonan Beach in the south of Arran is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Here you can dig your toes into the soft sand, build sandcastles, play in the shallow waves and enjoy views across the sea to the iconically dome-shaped bird island Ailsa Craig. Wildlife is abundant on this beach and you might bump into the large resident colony of common seals, crabs hunting in the tidal rock pools, waders looking for a quick snack or even basking sharks near the shore feeding on summer plankton.

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PHOTO: Kathi Kamleitner
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Hit the Road: Driving on Scotland's Scenic Roads

WHERE: Isle of Arran

Road trips in Scotland are epic and legendary. Think winding coastal drives and narrow mountain roads—these landscapes form the backdrop of your road trip around the country. The Isle of Arran is super easy to navigate because there are only two main roads on the island. One leads circular around the entire isle, while the one cuts right through the middle from Brodick to Blackwaterfoot. This road is called The String because on the map it looks like someone tied a rope around the waist of Arran.

INSIDER TIPThis cannot be stressed enough—if you visit Scotland from a country where people drive on the right-hand side of the road, always remember to drive left on Arran! Every year many accidents happen because visitors forget this life-saving rule. Please help prevent this by paying attention! If you are unsure about traffic rules and speed limits, read up on Visit Scotland’s driving tips.