The west coast of Scotland encompasses over 500 miles of meandering shoreline from Durness in the north to Stranraer in the south. To drive directly from one of these communities to the other would take considerably less mileage, but the loch-pocketed coastline along the west of the country offers a kind of magic well worth taking the time to admire.
If you like legendary lochs, towering castles, imposing mountains, oodles of culture and villages specialising in seafood, then you’ve chosen a great part of the UK to visit. Add to this the sweeping land- and seascapes, the big skies and the hidden gems such as the mesmerising sea caves carved into the rock, and you’ve got yourself an itinerary to turn even the most accomplished traveller green with envy.
Scroll on to find out which ten spots made our list of the best places to stay on the west coast of Scotland or click the button below to search for your own West Scotland cottage.
Oban – the best place to stay for seafood
Known as the unofficial capital of the West Highlands of Scotland and the Gateway to the Hebridean Isles, Oban is probably better recognised as ‘The Seafood Capital of Scotland’. When visiting here, you’ll find some of the best seafood in the world, not just in Scotland. The not-so-secret secret is the cold, clean water found in Oban Bay which offers up a treasure trove of marine delicacies such as oysters, scallops, lobster, crab, mussels, langoustines, prawns, mackerel, haddock and herring.
If you’re not a lover of seafood but you are still a foodie, you’re also in luck with the purveyors of chocolate, ice cream and west coast whisky acknowledged as some of the best in the land. If you get a chance to put down your fork, you won’t regret wandering around Scotland’s most popular west coast town. Throughout the centuries, poets, artists and composers of literature and music have been spellbound by the panoramic views of the majestic mountains, lochs and numerous islands. Now, you will be too.
Gairloch – the best place to stay to see the Highlands
Some say that if you’ve seen Gairloch, you’ve seen the Highlands. Whilst this may be over-simplifying it a touch, this village can offer those who visit a little of everything you might come to the Highlands for. Exploring Wester Ross and the surrounding area is always going to provide you with breathtaking scenery, when you take into account the vast sandy beaches (like Big Sand), the awe-inspiring views towards Skye and the Western Isles and the hypnotic sunset across the Minch.
Keep looking out and you maybe even spot some whales as you explore the rocky and sandy coastline. You’ll also be able to take in views of some of Scotland’s best mountains as well as the volcanic peaks of Assynt to the north. Sports enthusiasts are well catered for too with Gairloch Golf Club offering a links course that is open to visitors. And if you like your exercise a little more adrenaline-fuelled, the loch at Gairloch is excellently suited to canoeing, kayaking and sailing.
Lochinver – the best place to stay for a slower pace of life
Sitting at one of the most inland points of a vast sea loch (unsurprisingly named Loch Inver), Lochinver was once one of the busiest fishing ports on the west coast. This huge tidal inlet punctures the land like a long arm of the sea, finally becoming the River Inver, where you can take a gentle riverside stroll before arriving at the beautiful Glen Canisp Nature Trail. This walk will offer up magnificent mountain views, and if you’re feeling up to it, a hike up the iconic mountain peak, Suilven, is not to be missed.
Lochinver is a great destination for slowing down and immersing yourself in this part of the Northwest Highlands Geopark, which incorporates 13 UNESCO sites into one trail. And if you’re more of a beach bum, Achmelvich Beach with its pristine, turquoise waters is just 4.5 miles north. Before striking out on any number of fabulous walks, you must buy a legendary pie from Lochinver Larder to eat on the way.
Applecross – the best place to stay for a picturesque drive
If you like your Scottish holidays remote, you could do far worse than Applecross. When you’re there, it’s like being on the precipice of some unknown frontier, mainly due to the fact that it is largely inaccessible. Indeed, there are only two ways to reach Applecross on land, one of which is Bealach na Ba, which was originally built as a pass for cattle.
This road will live long in the memory: remote, challenging, perhaps a little scary at times, but breathtaking nonetheless with its Alpine hairpin turns, mountainous scenery and views out across the water towards Raasay and Skye. Savour this heart-stirring route, one of the highest in Britain, at over 625m above sea level. When you finally pull your head out of the clouds, you’ll reach the 1,300-year-old village, Applecross, which the locals simply refer to as ‘The Street’.
Dunoon – the best place to stay for access to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
Just north of the Firth of Clyde and south of Loch Long, you’ll find the town of Dunoon, the main resort on the stunning Cowal Peninsula. Surrounded by inlets, the peninsula offers various watery routes into Loch Lomond and the Trossachs but none so important as Dunoon. Known as the maritime gateway to the national park, Holy Loch sits just north of the town, where numerous boats sit in the port and water sports enthusiasts enjoy kayaking and canoeing on the tidal waters.
Dunoon is built around a historic castle mound and has a large Victorian pier; it’s well worth hanging around before heading out into the unspoiled wilderness of one of only two national parks in Scotland. When you do decide to enter the park, home of the lake with the largest surface area in the UK, you’re perfectly placed to visit Argyll Forest Park which includes the dark and mysterious Puck’s Glen, and exquisite mountainside Benmore Botanic Garden.
Ullapool – the best place to stay for unspoilt scenery
On the shores of another lengthy sea loch (Loch Broom), Ullapool is the gateway to the Northern Highlands and a great base for exploring Wester Ross. Easily finding its way onto our list of the top ten west coast spots, this pretty fishing town could undoubtedly rival anywhere in the UK when it comes to picturesque outdoor destinations and is even in our top ten places to stay in all of Scotland. Pronounced by many as having a ‘Scandinavian twinkle in winter and Canadian-style adrenaline in summer’, Ullapool is situated in a wonderfully unspoilt part of the UK.
Lovers of wildlife will be in luck with the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve just west of the town. Here, you can spot wildcats and pine martens in the trees and golden eagles and buzzards in the skies. Look out towards the Minch and you might even spot seals, whales and dolphins too. If just looking at the water isn’t enough and you want to get out on the Hebridean Sea, there are ferry rides available to take you to Stornaway and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
Isle of Arran – the best place to stay for a little bit of everything
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing break away from it all or you want to blow off the cobwebs and go for all-out action, the Isle of Arran is a Scottish island with a little bit of everything. Strike out on a lung-busting walk up Goatfell, the largest mountain on Arran and a certified Corbett. Or stay a bit closer to sea level and break out your binoculars, keeping your eyes peeled for seals and basking sharks in the water, red squirrels and deer on the land, and otters doing a bit of both!
Abseil, climb and kayak to get the adrenalin pumping before bringing the tempo back down again to move around the island at your own pace, tasting the wealth of local produce that can be found inland. The Island Cheese Factory, for instance, offers the chance to see cheese being made before you buy it for yourself in their shop. Taste of Arran brings together 11 artisan food and drink producers from across the island, and at the Arran Distillery, you can sample a single malt or the creamy liqueur, Arran Gold.
Glencoe – the best place to stay for skiing and snowboarding
When you visit Glencoe, you’ll be vacationing in the humbling Lochaber Geopark in the Highlands, a landscape of yawning valleys and soaring mountains that were moulded by volcanic theatrics and icy glaciers centuries ago. Lochaber is known as the Outdoor Capital of the UK, so get out and about discovering some of the beautifully scenic locations deemed pretty enough to feature in James Bond’s Skyfall and numerous Harry Potter movies.
You can bag a Munro or two or go sea kayaking in Loch Leven but the real draw of Glencoe is the skiing and snowboarding opportunities. Located in the AONB of Rannoch Moor, Glencoe Mountain Resort, Scotland’s oldest ski centre, offers sublime views of Buachaille Etive Mor. The chairlifts, of which there are eight, run all year round servicing 20 runs, one of which is the UK’s steepest black run. A great place for beginners and more experienced snow bunnies, the resort even provides summer fun, with mountain biking and snow-tubing on offer.
Port Appin – the best place to stay for water sports
Just east of the Inner Hebridean Isle of Lismore lies Port Appin. Its position on the coast of Appin, in between Lochs Linnhe and Creran means it’s ideal for getting out on the water. Loch Linnhe is a mecca for water sports enthusiasts with people coming from miles around to launch their kayaks into the sea. It can provide you with a great chance to spot seals, porpoises, sea eagles, otters and oyster catchers up close.
Just north of Port Appin, in Lettershuna, the Linnhe Marine Watersports Centre delivers a plethora of prospects with water-skiing, sailing and windsurfing on offer, as well as the chance to take sailing and windsurfing lessons. You can even hire motorboats and go in search of seals and porpoises yourself. Perhaps you could take your boat or kayak and head to the tiny rock island occupied by Castle Stalker, a crumbling castle, yet romantic in its way, that is the subject of many a photograph.
Portpatrick – the best place to stay for a selection of eateries
Undoubtedly, if you have visited a few of our top ten west coast destinations, you’ll have discovered Scotland’s beauty, but you’ll also have built up an appetite. That’s why we’ve saved Portpatrick until the end, because this settlement in Dumfries and Galloway has more places to eat than any other village in Southwest Scotland. Sitting on the coast by the Irish Sea, it was once the destination of many a young couple who eloped from Northern Island to get married, so presumably they needed somewhere to grab a bite after the vows!
There are plenty of pubs to choose from, should you want a drink while watching the boats in the harbour. And at the weekends, you’ll have a choice of live music to shake your tail feathers to. If you’re staying for a week, you’ll have the option of taste-testing a different pub or restaurant each night, many of them specialising in seafood.
Self-catering stays on the west coast of Scotland
We have over 200 cottages along the west coast to choose from. Whether you’re after a dog-friendly lodge on a remote isle, a hot tub retreat in the Highlands or a family-friendly cottage next to some incredible beaches, we’ve got a Scottish holiday home for you.