Best of Kintyre: 18 unforgettable travel experiences

Lighthouse of Davaar island

Visit Kintyre to experience the pure, natural beauty of this region where you can find coastal gems from all over Scotland. With the best of Scotland’s rural landscape – tranquillity, seafood and a wealth of outdoor adventures, Kintyre Peninsula – Scotland’s best-kept secret will awe on land and water. Experience it for yourself

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Kintyre isn’t about bucket list attractions; the simple things make for good exploring here, such as venturing along snaky lanes to the isolated Mull of Kintyre. Walk along the miles of sand at Machrihanish with views over to Islay, Jura and Ireland. 

This place is more about disconnecting from the world and connecting with nature. Take the time to awaken your senses slowly and meaningfully. Visit Kintyre with all the pleasures of slow travel.

ROAD TRIP KINTYRE 66
Road trip Kintyre 66. Picture @Explore Kintyre

Make your way to Tarbert, the bustling fishing village on the shore of Loch Fyne. Try seafood galore and sample delicious freshly caught oysters. From there, follow the coast south along The Kintyre 66, a circular loop around the west and east coasts of the Kintyre Peninsula.

Taste the peat whisky or botanical gin and indulge with my favourite – Mull of Kintyre smoked cheese. Discover the sandy beaches with shallow waters surrounded by glorious views of the Atlantic coast.

Or discover the secret caves which lie along the coast. Walk in the forest of Carradale or explore the ruins of ancient castles. Reconnect with nature, take in the local scenery and encounter wildlife with a sea kayak tour.

Here are 18 memorable travel experiences on Scotland’s best-kept secret: Kintyre

1. Saddell Castle

16th-century castle built from the stones of the nearby ruined abbey. The castle was burnt by the troops of Mary I (of England) in 1538, but later reconstructed and enlarged. The castle first belonged to the Bishop of Argyll but passed to the MacDonalds and finally the Campbells.

Saddell remained in Campbell possession from 1607 until relatively recently, and for a long time was occupied by members of that same family. Since 1975 the old castle has been carefully restored by the Landmark Trust who now rent it to holidaymakers.

The castle stands near the gorgeous beach with its Anthony Gormley sculpture and this is where the Mull of Kintyre music video was filmed by Paul McCartney.

2. Visit Gigha Island while you visit Kintyre

Separated from the west coast of Kintyre by the waters of the Sound of Gigha, the island is known as a ‘Gods Island’. Owned by the local community, since 2002 they have worked hard to expand and promote it as a tourist destination.

Gigha is a paradise for cyclists and walkers due to its 8km of quiet roads stretching from one end of the island to the other. Easily accessible by ferry with only a 20-minute crossing, Gigha is the perfect place for a day trip while you explore or visit Kintyre.

The beautiful view from the top of Achamore Gardens on the Isle of Gigha Picture @Explore Kintyre
The beautiful view from the top of Achamore Gardens on the Isle of Gigha. Picture @Explore Kintyre
  • See the glorious Gardens at Achamore House which are maintained by The Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust.  Gardens flourish in Gigha’s warm microclimate and they grow many unusual plants and trees including a famous collection of Rhododendron and Camellia.
  • The Twin Beaches, with their silver sands and the turquoise green waters of Gigha, are a real gem. Magnificent in spring when bluebells form a carpet of colour on the land by the beaches.
  • Climb Creag Bhan, the island’s highest hill (101m) from where you can see the whole of Gigha, Jura, Islay and Mull, and on a clear day even Northern Ireland. Moderate walking ability is required.
  • The Boathouse restaurant is set in a 300 year-old boathouse overlooking the water. Recommended in the Michelin Guide for the last five years and all ingredients are locally sourced! They often have off- menu offers of fish that have been caught only hours before.

3. Davaar Island and stay at Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage

Davaar Island is linked by a natural tidal causeway (exposed twice a day) to the Kintyre Peninsula, 3 miles directly south of Campbeltown. In 1854, a lighthouse was built on the north of the island by the well-known Scottish lighthouse engineers David and Thomas Stevenson.

The Davaar Lighthouse still belongs and is operated by The Northern Lighthouse Board. The rest of the lighthouse complex is privately owned which includes The Principal Lighthouse Keeper’s House which has been converted into a holiday let. There is also the old wartime Signal Station also converted into a holiday cottage – The lookout

Today, you can stay at the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage as a part of an extraordinary experience. Keepers Cottage, Lookout and two wood cabins (Minke & Barnacle) are part of luxury self-catering accommodation. If you’re looking for a quiet, peaceful place to relax in the most beautiful scenery, this is the perfect location.

There are a few sea caves in the high cliffs on the south side of the island worth exploring, but the most special is the one with the painting of Jesus on the cross (Crucifixion). It was painted secretly by local art teacher Archibald Mackinnon (1887) after he had a vision in a dream inspiring him to do so.

The painting was vandalised in July 2006, having a red and black image of Che Guevara painted over the original masterpiece. It has since been restored regularly several times by the locals.

The shingle causeway is exposed only for 3 hours a day, so plan ahead and most importantly, check the tide times HERE before you attempt to reach the island. Allow at least 45 minutes one way.

The stunning views back to the Kintyre coastline and out to sea make the trip rewarding. But remember, this is quite a challenging walk, so allow sufficient time to explore the island. Suitable boots should be worn. This is definitely not a sandal-friendly path. It can be wet and rocky underfoot and is not suitable for very young children. There have been two dog fatalities in the last few years as a result of chasing goats and sheep over the cliffs- so please keep dogs strictly on a lead.

4. Campbeltown Wee Picture House

If you want a cinema experience in a Grade- A listed historic picture house, this is the place. One of the first purpose-built cinemas in Scotland, this building is unique, because of the Glasgow School art nouveau exterior and an equally impressive and unusual ‘atmospheric style’ interior. In December 2017 the building was restored, and a modern cinema created, but the original features were kept to complement the historic cinema

5. Visit Kintyre and its Ballochroy Standing Stones

They are the most spectacular set of megalithic monuments which cluster around South Argyll. Worth to see it when you visit Kintyre. The three stones in this row stand 6, 11 and 12 feet tall. Best time of year to visit: Summer solstice around the 21st of June.

On the A83, 18km south of Tarbert

6. Machrihanish Beach and Machrihanish Seabird and Wildlife Observatory

Wild, and with a great feeling of remoteness, this award-winning beach is by the quiet village of Machrihanish. Located just a few miles from the town of Campbeltown, the beach can be accessed by the pathway across the world-famous golf course that runs along its edge.

The sea is a hot spot for local surfers of varying talents, and there is also a pleasant 6 mile-long stroll for those less active. Lots of seal pups like to lie on the rocks further down from the beach when the sun is shining.

Westport sandy beach
Westport beach. Visit Kintyre

A lovely wee spot right on the coast, with a snug bird observatory at what really does feel like the very edge of Europe, looking out over Islay, Jura and the mighty Atlantic. The observatory is small, but full of interest, and is situated on the beautiful south-west coast of Kintyre in the flight paths of a great variety of birds. 

Otters are seen regularly, and Grey and Common Seals are a well-known major attraction. Basking Sharks and Bottlenose Dolphin are occasionally seen.  

Contact the warden regarding opening times

Lossit Park, Machrihanish, Argyll, PA28 6PZ

E-mail the Observatory – msbowarden@gmail.com

Telephone the Observatory – 07895 952640 – Eddie Maguire (Warden)

7. The Mull of Kintyre

Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
my desire is always to be here
oh, Mull of Kintyre” (lyrics by Paul McCartney/Denny Laine)

The end of the headland is the site of Scotland’s second lighthouse, built in 1788. Immortalised in a song by Paul McCartney, the lighthouse or perhaps better to say the trek to the lighthouse is a quite experience.

Some people love it when they visit Kintyre, and others say it’s not worth it. One TripAdvisor reviewer asked, “If Paul McCartney hadn’t composed the song, would we have gone?”.  I would, but not just because of the views which might often be difficult to capture (due to mist), but most importantly because of the atmosphere of this remote place and its uniqueness.

So, if you do not mind wind, rain, mist and gasping for breath, then go there.

The first time we tried to explore this very remote place was quite unsuccessful. The 7-mile road was much more challenging than expected and when we were about halfway up, we were covered in thick mist. It is a steep, narrow, single-lane road with rare passing places and sharp bends, difficult to navigate with a bigger car. There is no turning point for the first 4 miles. That time we decided we would not risk it.

On our second attempt, we were smarter and decided to leave the car and do the trek. It’s a challenging walk but the view is spectacular (you may have to wait until the fog disappears). Ireland is just 12 miles away and in clear weather, you can make out the mountains and glens of Antrim, Fair Head, Malin Head and Rathlin Island.

There is not much else to do other than admire the views, and do not expect any sort of facilities (the lighthouse is not open to visitors). The walk down was much easier than the climb back up. The weather can change in the blink of an eye and this is what makes this place and the drive to it very special; you really got the feeling that you’re at the end of the world. No wondering where Paul McCartney got the inspiration for his ‘mists rolling in from the sea’ lyric though!

8. Visit Kintyre and its ‘’The Whisky Capital of The World’’

Campbeltown is a hidden gem of Argyll and is a must-visit for whisky enthusiasts as one of the four major production areas. The Kintyre peninsula is rich with the ‘ingredients’ needed for distilling: a fresh water supply, local barley, fuel and peat. The first distillery in the town was the Campbeltown Distillery, established in 1817.

But a long time before (1601), Campbeltown became a centre for whisky smuggling and the illegal production of whisky. In the 19th century, whisky production in the town boomed, with 34 distilleries operating. The close proximity to Glasgow allowed producers to ship the whisky in just 9 hours.

Unfortunately, after the First World War, mainly due to the Depression and Prohibition, there was a steady decline in whisky production in Campbeltown and only two distilleries remained. Since 2000, whisky production has been slowly brought back to the town, re-establishing Campbelltown’s status as a whisky-producing region. Although there are just three distilleries in Campbeltown, they produce some of the finest whisky in the world.

Glen Scotia Distillery is a producer of single malt Scotch whisky, founded in 1832. Owned by Loch Lomond Distilleries, it has a brand-new visitor centre and regular guided tours are available.

Springbank is the oldest independent family-owned distillery in Scotland. They are unique in Scotland as the only distillery to undertake the whole whisky production process on a single site, from the malting of the barley to the final stage of bottling. There are a range of guided tours available, each of them with a wee dram (or more) to taste and enjoy.

The Mitchell family also own Glengyle Distillery, home to Kilkerran single malt. The original Glengyle Distillery produced whisky between 1872-1925, but in 2004, after 79 non-producing years, the distillery was reinstated by Mitchell’s Glengyle Ltd. Tours and tastings are also available.

Malt whisky festival The Campbeltown Malts festival takes place in May each year and is a celebration of all that is unique and special surrounding Campbeltown and its whisky-making heritage. (2021 festival only digitally available). 

9. Skipness Castle and Skipness Seafood Cabin

Skipness Castle dates back to the 1200s and is the largest surviving castle in Kintyre. The castle has no fee for entry and is very well maintained for Historic Scotland by the adjacent farmer. The setting is fantastic, right on the water, with stunning views to Arran and Lochranza.

The castle is a partial ruin, with excellent signage and history. The view from the top tower is amazing. There is a gorgeous ancient chapel and wonderful circular beach and woodland walk. The walk starts out at the castle, continues to the chapel and then follows the pebbly beach along to Skipness Point. Follow the woodland walk along Campbell’s Glen and back to the castle car park.

The bonus of this place is the most delicious sustainably sourced seafood you can have for lunch at the little Seafood Cabin across the meadow. A wonderful experience while visiting Kintyre.

Skipness, by Tarbert, Argyll, PA29 6XU

Ruins of Skipness castle _visit kintyre
Ruins of Skipness castle

10. Heathery Heights - Guided Outdoor Walks

Perhaps you visit Kintyre on holiday and wish to experience a summit, walk through time, find hidden gems or learn a few things about seaweed? Heather,  the guide can plan a range of itineraries depending on your preferences and interests. All abilities and backgrounds are welcomed, and the adventure itinerary is based on your aspirations, interests, experience and ability.

11. Wilder Ways farm escapes and horse riding

When you visit Kintyre, you’ll get out of the city life and into the countryside.

Visit Kintyre Peninsula and you can create memories through time and have the opportunity to mindfully experience a place, its traditions and people. Riding a horse, experiencing traditional storytelling, tasting delicious local food. From farm escape, horse-back journey or day trek through natural and cultural landscapes, Wilder Ways adventures are a perfect way to disconnect and appreciate nature.

12. St Columba's Chapel, St Columba's Well and St Columba's Footprints

St Columba is said to have landed in Kintyre in 563AD, and it was one of the first stopping places for his Irish Christian missionaries. He set the mission to convert Pagan Scotland and the north of England into Christianity. But word spread even to Europe and soon the pilgrimage flooded the little isle of Iona where he eventually settled.

So, who was St Columba?

“Born of royal blood in 521 AD in Ireland, or Scotia as it was then called, he was the grandson of the Irish King Niall. He left Ireland for Scotland not as a missionary, but as an act of self-imposed penance for a bloody mess he had caused at home. He had upset the king of Ireland by refusing to hand over a copy of the Gospels he had illegally copied; this led to a pitched battle in which Columba’s warrior family prevailed. Full of remorse for his actions and the deaths he had ultimately caused, he fled, finally setting on Iona as the first place he found from where he couldn’t see his native Ireland” according to Historic UK.  So, this is why he actually left Mull of Kintyre because from there he could see Ireland.

To follow St Columba, drive through the village of Southend, past the graveyard and you will come to a gate leading to St Columba’s Footprints and Well.

St Columba’s Church. Although the site has traditional associations with St Columba, there is no reliable evidence relating to its early history and the church comes on record only at the beginning of the 14th century, when it was granted to the priory of Whithorn. A little further on, tucked away beneath some bushes, is a holy well.

Nearby are Keil Caves, where on the rocks you can sometimes see a plethora of seals basking in the sunshine.

13. GRIP - Antony Gormley Sculpture

GRIP, is an abstract human form that looks out over the Kilbrannan Sound to Arran from the rocks below Saddell Castle in Kintyre. Gormley, who is most famous for the Angel of the North, made the sculpture in 2015 to celebrate 50 years of the Landmark Trust.

His other sculpture project ‘6 Times’ is also featured in Edinburgh. The iron figures are permanently installed along a trail leading from the National Gallery of Modern Art, down the Water of Leith to the sea.

Gormley said: “The sculpture is like a standing stone, a marker in space and time, linking with a specific place and its history but also looking out towards the horizon, having a conversation with a future that hasn’t yet happened.”

14. Linda McCartney Memorial Garden

Paul McCartney bought High Farm while he visited Kintyre on Mull of Kintyre in 1966 as a retreat from the stresses of his musical lifestyle. In 1969 he married Linda, a famous NY photographer, who was also involved in the production of the video to Mull of Kintyre, one of his best-loved songs.

After the break-up of the Beatles, the farm in the Mull of Kintyre became a sanctuary for Paul and Linda. With time they also brought their children and were regular visitors and supporters to the local area.

When Linda died in 1998, the local community decided to create a garden in her memory. With Paul’s donation and community support, the Linda McCartney Kintyre Memorial Trust placed the  Memorial Garden in the grounds of the Library and Museum, in Hall Street, Campbeltown.

Linda McCartney Memorial
Memorial garden of Linda McCartney late wife of Paul McCartney on the Kintyre Peninsula.Visit Kintyre

15. Go Wild

Visit Kintyre and come on a journey to the best of Scotland’s rural landscapes, through a series of stunningly beautiful and the most dramatic and relaxing beaches

Surrounded by water, Kintyre is a perfect destination for water activities. West Beach and Machrihanish are amazing spots for aspiring surfers. But what if you are less fit or surfing is not your favourite sport to do? If you want an unforgettable experience and to observe local scenery and wildlife, try sea kayak tours or a paddle trip. You do not need to worry if you have a little experience or none at all. This is a low-impact sport suitable for almost all abilities.

16. 7 Things to do on the Torrisdale Castle Estate

Torrisdale Castle is located 2 miles from the attractive fishing village of Carradale.

The grounds of Torrisdale Castle offer plenty to see and do.

  • Walking – the castle grounds are linked with the Kintyre Way or you can choose a 1 mile-long walk around the estate.
  • Private Beach – you are welcome to bring your own water sports equipment to play on the beach. Shallow waters warm-up well on a sunny day.
  • Plant a tree – for each holiday booked within a house or apartment on the estate, one native tree is planted for you.
  • Spend a romantic weekend in the Garden Cottage overlooking the walled garden – eco hot tub included.
  • Learn how Torrisdale Tannery produces naturally coloured sheepskins and deer skins using an ancient tanning method that produces superior skin.
  • Taste the Kintyre Gin which is made at Beinn an Tuirc Distillery, located in an old farm building on the estate. Gin is produced sustainably, and guided tours are available to book here.
  • Attend Gin School to learn more about gin and its production. For a couple of hours on a blending course, you will learn not only the history of the gin but also create your own.

17. Visit the Fishing Village of Tarbert, Loch Fyne

Tarbert is a gateway to the Kintyre Peninsula. A popular destination for yachting clubs, this natural harbour is home to the Viking and Seafood Festivals. Above the town are the ruins of the 14th century Tarbert Castle, with the finest view over the harbour and beyond.

The heritage village of Tarbert is also a good base for island hopping, with access to all the ferry points for travelling to Islay, Arran, Jura and Gigha as well to Cowal Peninsula. Tarbert has a long history of fishing and still to this day there is a daily landing catch.

It’s no surprise that many of the local restaurants and bars offer fresh seafood. There are several walks around the village, including a hike all the way over to Skipness Castle. The shortest stroll of all is to the far end of Pier Road, where there is a lovely shell beach.

18. Experience Island Hopping

Caledonian MacBryne Ferry
Caledonian MacBryne Ferry. Visit Kintyre

Kintyre Peninsula is the perfect launch point for visiting not only some of the remote islands of the West Coast, but even Northern Ireland (seasonal).

With Caledonian MacBrayne ferries, sail away on an islandhopping adventure. With car or without, it’s a wonderful part of the holiday experience during your visit to Kintyre.

Connections:

  • From Tarbert Port to Portavadie (Cowal Peninsula) (no booking required, 25 min crossing) and further to Bute.
  • To Arran: Claonaig in Kintyre to Lochranza, Arran (no booking required, 30 min crossing).
  • Tayinloan to Gigha Island (no booking required, 20 min crossing, do not need a car on island).
  • Get the ferry to Islay from Kennacraig on Kintyre, landing at Port Ellen (2 hours 20 minutes), or Port Askaig (1 hour 55 minutes). Vehicle reservations are recommended. And further to Jura.
  • The summer timetable includes a ferry from Campbeltown to Ardrossan, mainland (vehicle reservations are recommended).

 

Kintyre Express Passenger Ferry is a fast passenger ferry service that opens up Scotland and Northern Ireland. The ferry operates regular services from April to September that link Campbeltown in Kintyre ( 90 minutes) , Ballycastle on the Antrim Coast and Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay (60 minutes)

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Best of Kintyre: 18 unforgettable travel experiences
About me
Scotland Itinerary planning

My name is Kate and I created Scotland Itinerary Planning to give you those life-changing experiences right in the beautiful country I call home.

I’m proud to live in Edinburgh, Scotland, one of the world’s most beautiful capital cities. Living in Edinburgh has provided me a base to explore extensively around this magical little country.

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