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The Isle of Arran in Scotland is frequently called Scotland in Miniature, and for good reason. This tiny island boasts everything the mainland has, from ancient standing stones and beautiful castles to whisky distilleries, beaches, and highlands.
As my first Scottish island, visiting the Isle of Arran has officially set the bar very high for all others to come!
I’ve been an American expat in Scotland for years and I love exploring my adoptive home!
Our Visit to the Isle of Arran
We kind of didn’t mean to visit Arran at all! Except, I’m the type of person who likes to jump on random opportunities.
So when the ferry company, Caledonian MacBryne (CalMac), offered a raffle for free foot passenger tickets, I obviously leapt at the chance!
I got two free tickets on the date of my choice to visit the Isle of Arran. I opted for late June, thinking that could be our best chance of (somewhat) decent weather without the crazy summer crowds.
Y’all. I could not have guessed better!!! We timed our visit to perfection. It was sunny the entire time (in Scotland…whaaaaat?!) and it was also WARM.
This is unprecedented, so I’m just going to reiterate:
We visited a Scottish island when it was 75* and sunny and it was so perfect I just wanted to cry!
Why You Should Visit Arran
So, that’s how we ended up visiting Arran. But the why is so much more important.
The Isle of Arran offers everything that mainland Scotland offers, but within just a few hours’ total drive.
While I have a fully remote and flexible schedule, my other half does not. And so, to maximize our time away together, Arran seemed absolutely ideal!
In theory, Arran was perfect. In reality, Arran is perfect.
If you’re visiting Scotland and want to maximize your time, Arran provides you with the opportunity to see so much! I highly recommend a trip there, especially if you have a short timeframe here.
(Yes, I’m looking at all you Americans trying to see the entire country while jet-lagged on a 5-day trip!!)
Anyway, when I won those passenger tickets to Arran, we considered taking the train and using buses on the island. But we opted to take our car because we just wanted to be able to do it all on our own time.
While not completely necessary, I will say that having our own transport made our trip that much more fun!
Want to rent a car to explore more on your own? I like Europcar for great deals and service!
We lucked out with Scotland’s ephemeral summer popping up for our visit. Is there anything better than having the windows down, sunglasses on, and cruising along a coastal road trying to spot seals?!
No. The answer is no.
We drove the entire island, which isn’t hard to do given it has essentially one road that follows the whole coast plus one road that cuts across the middle, called the string road.
Day 1 on the Isle of Arran
Driving off the ferry, we headed straight for our hotel, just 10 minutes down the road at Lamlash Bay.
Since the Irish-Colombian had been up since 5am to be at the gym, he dove into the bed and didn’t resurface for a few hours.
My own blissful hours (not because he wasn’t there!) were spent across the street with my toes in the sand. I read for a long while – a real, hardcover book!
I watched a girl frolicking around with her dog in the water. That same dog surprised me later with a sandy, salty shower as she shook off just inches from my side.
The beach stretched along the bay, boats filled the small marina area, and everyone seemed to be out and about.
They walked their dogs and babies, stopped to chat with neighbors, and everyone was in high spirits in the sunshine.
That sunshine carried on for our whole visit, and I truly cannot express how life-giving that was for me!
We stayed at Lamlash Bay Hotel and had a truly wonderful stay due to the super friendly staff, lovely location, and fantastic breakfasts.
We had a view of Holy Isle just across the bay, which is home to Buddhist monks and nuns.
You can visit the island by taking the ferry from the dock just down the street from Lamlash Bay Hotel.
We enjoyed a fabulous dinner at our hotel, followed by a stroll along the shore where we encountered quite a few characters making their way back to their boat in the marina.
A drink back at our hotel bar to cap off the night was the perfect end to a perfect first day in Arran.
Day 2 on the Isle of Arran
Our second day on Arran was filled with this island’s incredible scenery. We literally drove around the entire island!
Here’s a quick breakdown:
Standing Stones: Time Portals?
We drove the String Road that cuts across the island to the Machrie Moor Standing Stones.
If you’re not watching Outlander, you’re missing a ton of gorgeous Scotland footage! But, also, you’ll miss this reference, so feel free to skip along…
Important Note: Never touch the standing stones! I did not touch a single one in any of these photos. There’s no need, all you’re doing is causing damage as a tourist.
Outlander fans, these are some of the easiest standing stones you can reach in Scotland! So, obviously, the Irish-Colombian tried to get creative and allow me to time travel.
What year is this?!
Did it work this time?
No. Although, this might be an actual time warp hahaha
Want to explore the Outlander film locations in Scotland? Nicola from Funky Ellas has you covered!
Shop Locally in Arran
We headed back towards Brodick for things that smell great and stinky things that taste great!
Arran Aromatics is fabulous for candles, sprays, lotions, and soaps. Next door, we picked up some delicious local cheese from the Arran Cheese Shop. A picnic was to be had!
Heading north toward Lochranza, we stopped for a picnic lunch by the sea.
Just as we drove away, my other half spotted a cell phone on the road!
So we stopped to rescue it, found the owner, and returned it to her by the shore in Lochranza itself.
Driving the entire west coast, we stopped several times to look for seals, to say hello to peafowl, and to just marvel at the views.
We also considered just buying a home here, because why not?!
Given that both of us are freelancing, we could probably afford this one-walled remnant that’s surrounded by peacocks and peahens.
We rounded the southern tip of Arran and stopped at Kildonan beach to check out the Pladda Lighthouse and take a stroll along the sandy beach.
The views throughout our drive were just stunning.
Day 3 on the Isle of Arran
Our third day on Arran was our departure day, but we did pop over to COAST in Lamlash Bay first.
COAST (Community of Arran Seabed Trust) has been working in and around Arran waters since 1995 to protect and conserve the delicate natural environment.
You can visit COAST and check out their Octopus Centre, where their incredibly friendly volunteers and staff are happy to chat about local wildlife and conservation efforts.
While there, I also picked up a super handy seafood guide.
I’ve been making a sincere effort to choose my food better, so this has been consulted many times in the past month!
From the grocery store to restaurants, this comes with me everywhere now. You can download a PDF version here.
Planning a Visit to Arran in Scotland
I have the excellent luck and good fortune to be able to tap into the local knowledge of my friends and fellow Scotland bloggers any time I want.
They are an endless wealth of insights and I frequently use them!
If you don’t have so many Scottish friends to ask, I thought I could be your new friend!
I don’t know everything there is to know about Arran because I just visited for the first time recently.
But I have collated the information from many friends and fellow local bloggers into the following insights.
I hope they are helpful to you!
How to Get to Arran:
If you have a car, you can drive straight to the ferry terminal at Ardrossan.
Located about 50 minutes from Glasgow, the terminal is easy to find and very well managed.
You will drive right up, show your tickets, and get in line to board. Easy peasy!
If you do not have a car and you will be a foot passenger only, you can opt to take the train from Glasgow.
There is even a Rail and Sail Ticket available to combine your services! Take the train from Glasgow to Ardrossan.
You’ll exit the train station and board the ferry through the foot passenger entrance.
The ferry is operated by Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) and runs multiple times a day every day.
*Note: The ferry is, of course, weather dependent! It cannot sail in terrible weather, so you should always have travel insurance if you are splashing out on a big trip.
Also note that there are other options for getting to the Isle of Arran via different ferry ports. These are all of the CalMac options:
When to Go to Arran:
The Isle of Arran is busiest during the summer months, just like the rest of Scotland!
As the ferries run based on good weather, that’s the most reliable time to book a journey. However, that’s not to say you cannot visit at other times of the year.
If you go during the summer, definitely book everything in advance.
As this is a small island, there are limited options for accommodations and dining, as well as special tours.
Anything you really have your heart set on should be booked as early as possible.
As is the case everywhere in Scotland, be prepared for any and all kinds of weather. Be prepared for anything and maybe you’ll get lucky like we did!
What to know about visiting Arran:
Visiting the Isle of Arran is ideal for those seeking more of Scotland without hitting all the usual spots on an itinerary.
That being said, Arran is still popular!
Ferries book up, hotels book up, and dining might be restricted if you don’t have reservations in advance.
This island is not tiny, however! In fact, we compared it to our former island homes of Roatan and Malta and it beat both in size! According to good ole Wikipedia, here are the details:
- Roatan: 32 square miles
- Malta: 122 square miles
- Arran: 167 square miles
But then let’s compare the total population and population density, shall we?
- Roatan: Estimated total is 120,000; Density is 3,750/sq mi
- Malta: Estimated total is 475,700; Density is 3,899/sq mi
- Arran: 4,629 (as of 2014); Density is 27/sq mi
How adorable is Arran?! It has so much open, beautiful space that I simply couldn’t believe it.
From farmland to rolling hills covered in trees to deep glens filled with wild grasses and flowers…it was just gorgeous.
Should you visit Arran?
If you’re coming to Scotland from the US and you’re being a typical American planning a thousand things in just a few days, Arran is probably not at the top of your wishlist.
But, hear me out.
It should be.
If you really want to see and do it all while in Scotland, then I truly recommend you visit the Isle of Arran. Here’s what I propose:
If You Have One Week in Scotland
Fly into/out of Edinburgh or Glasgow, whichever is more convenient and cheaper for you.
Spend a few days in both of those cities to get a feel for Scotland. And then spend a few days on the Isle of Arran.
You can explore all the things that make Scotland famous without having to add multiple long bus or train journeys to get there.
From Glasgow, you can be on Arran in under 2 hours! That includes the train and ferry, so you don’t even need to worry about driving on the other side of the road.
In Arran, you can see the standing stones at Machrie, the castle at Brodick, the beaches along the south coast, and so much more.
The bus system is simple and reliable to get around. You also wouldn’t really spend a fortune in taxis, given how close everything is to each other!
Quick Tips for Visiting the Isle of Arran
Where we stayed:
We stayed at Lamlash Bay Hotel and loved it! We highly recommend it or you can find your own perfect spot using booking.com:
What we did:
Popular Things to Do in Arran:
Things we didn’t do but you might want to check out!
- Golf: Arran has 7 courses
- Brodick Castle
- Isle of Arran Distillery
- Lagg Distillery
- Arran Brewery (we drink their beers regularly!)
- Hike up Goatfell
- Visit Holy Isle
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This article was originally published in 2019 and updated in 2022.