After travelling to every corner of Scotland for two years while looking for the best scuba diving sites and the most scenic routes, here it is a one-week road trip itinerary showing in such a short time the best glimpse of the Highlands. At the same time, it is a shore diving road trip; which means you only need a car and 2 tanks per person! By scuba diving in the Highlands, you can discover places that are off-the-beaten path and only known by locals. My itinerary starts in Glasgow because, it is such an underrated city, forgotten from most touristic trails, it is the closest city to the route, and there is a great dive shop for supply so do not look any further!
A 7-day route in the West Highlands from Glasgow to the best shore diving sites of Scotland
Here is the summary of the itinerary with the average time spent in each place. Depending on how early you start every morning or how relaxing you want your pace to be, you can spend more or less time in each location. I give you some options in this article. By starting with 2 full tanks in Glasgow and refilling them in Oban, you can do the itinerary on your own. The last day is a no diving day to let those flying back home doing it safely after a diving trip.
- Glasgow – 1 day
- Arrochar & Loch Long – 1 day
- Saint Catherine & Loch Fyne – 1 day
- Oban, Gallanach & Loch Creran – 2 days
- Glencoe & Loch Leven – 1 day
- Luss & Loch Lomond – 1 day
1 – Glasgow
One of the most underrated places I got the chance to visit in Scotland. Most visitors usually prefer visiting Edinburgh. My point is not to say that one is better than the other, Edinburgh and Glasgow are so much different; The first one is historically elegant and posh, the latter vibrant and cosmopolitan. Since I love off-the-beaten-track itineraries, and this is where I found the best dive shop for scuba diving supplies, I thought I would give you a few of the Glaswegian highlights before hitting the road:
- The Cathedral & the Necropolis: This is where the medieval Glasgow started. The Cathedral was built in the 12th Century and extended, modified over the centuries. Just next to it, on a hill, stands the Necropolis: an impressive Victorian cemetery with a 360° view on Glasgow that reminded me a lot of Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
- The Merchants City: Symbol of the prosperous 18th Century when the merchants became wealthy with the trade of tea, sugar, and tobacco and decided to establish their warehouse and residence there. The streets are perfectly aligned between white and pink Victorian buildings. Stunning street art murals can be found all over the area, open your eyes and look up!
- Kelvingrove Museum: The Kelvingrove Museum is as I like to call it the Museum of Everything, from Egyptian antiquities to Marine Biology. My favourite part is the collection of Mackintosh Art Nouveau furniture and the Impressionist paintings of the Glasgow Boys. Entrance is donation-based so it can be free if you want.
- The West End: All around Kelvingrove Museum is the trendy district of the West End to go for food and drinks. Expect true Scottish tradition mixed up with exotic flavours. My favourite places are: Brewdog (1397-1403 Argyle St.) for a tasty Scottish craft beer, The Little Curry House (41 Byres Rd.) for traditional Indian food or fusion haggis pakoras, The Ox and Finch (920 Sauchiehall St.) for refined cocktails and Scottish “tapas”, The Hanoi Bike Shop (8 Ruthven Ln) for mouth-watering Vietnamese Phö and home-made tofu, and finally The Crabshakk (1114 Argyle St), maybe the best fish and chips in Scotland.
- The SSE Hydro Arena & the Clyde Arc Bridge: These fantastic modern constructions embody Glasgow’s new face and future. The light system transforms them into pieces of art at night, perfect for a last walk after dinner.
With all these exciting things to do in Glasgow, do not forget to pick up your scuba diving gear at Aquatron Dive Shop (open Mon-Fri 10 am-6 pm, Sat 9 am-5 pm, 30 Stanley St., Glasgow, +44 141 429 7575). They have everything you need dry suits, tanks, weights, etc. I recommend to contact them before, to book what you need.
If you do not know where to stay in Glasgow, you will find here a selection of hostels and hotel.
2 – Arrochar & Loch Long
The first scuba diving spot on Loch Long, the A-Frame, is only 45 minutes away from Glasgow. I’d like to recommend it if you are renting most of your gear, especially a dry suit. If anything goes wrong you are close enough to go back to Glasgow, fix what needs to be and refill your tanks. Otherwise, within the many dive sites on the shores of Loch Long, I’d like to recommend Conger Alley and Twin Piers. If you took 2 tanks, you need to choose one of them to dive Loch Fyne on the way to Oban, where you can refill your tanks. Parking space is limited for each site, so an early start in the morning is recommended.
The most accessible dive site is Twin Piers, as the remaining frames of the two piers can still be seen above the surface. Conger Alley is just a few hundred meters further before the curve going into the woods. Both dives are for a 15m maximum depth where you can find rock reefs colonised by soft corals, hermit crabs, queen scallops, shrimps, squat lobsters and of course congers. The bottom of Loch Long is very silty, so you’ll need to use your best frog kick to swim around. The silt is so delicate that touching the bottom with only one finger will ruin any picture opportunity (this is how I missed fantastic shots of a fireworks anemone and a conger). If you are lucky, before or after your dive, you might see the adorable sea otters and a grey seal the local scuba divers named Beryl. Conger Alley was the place I saw for the first time a sea otter, one of my favourite animals. Unfortunately, it was only from a distance as they are super shy animals.
For a relaxing pace, you can stay in Arrochar, and explore the area with some hill walking. Many excellent B&Bs and charming independent hotels are available in Arrochar on the shores of Loch Long. As an alternative, if you manage to start your day early enough, after your dive in Loch Long, you can directly head to Loch Fyne to dive in Saint-Catherine and then spend the night in Inveraray or head straight to Oban.
3 – Saint Catherine & Loch Fyne
“St-Cats” as the local scuba divers call it, was my favourite shore dive in a sea loch. Maybe I was incredibly lucky that day, but with bright sunshine and clear waters, I understood why so many people from Glasgow liked to drive all the way and back on a weekend day. This area of Loch Fyne allows slightly deeper dive, at around 20m. If you swim 40° west from the shore, you will find the wreck of a speedboat covered in sea loch anemones where squat lobsters and butterfish play hide-and-seek with scuba divers. Between the shipwreck and the rocky shore (by going 90° east), it is a muck diving paradise. 2 to 3 spiny squat lobster were hiding under every rock, and I met for the first time a sea mouse and a dragonet with iridescent green and blue colours. While ascending and searching the rock reef, I discovered more marine life with cushion stars, long-legged spiny crabs, and nudibranchs. A must dive spot in Scotland!
4 – Oban & the Sound of Kerrera
Oban is on most visitors list when visiting Scotland, but only the scuba divers know which road is heading a beautiful secret spot: the Sound of Kerrera from the tiny harbour of Gallanach.
Oban is a beautiful seaside resort that Queen Victoria liked to spend time there. Make sure to go up the hill to the McCaig’s Tower. It looks like a mini-Coliseum and offers a stunning view of the Island of Mull. Walking the streets and along the pier of the ferry to Mull with a box of fish and chips is maybe the number one activity in Oban. From the port, you can take a boat for an hour-long tour to the nearby seal colony. Another highlight is the Oban distillery which is one the rare distilleries to be in a town centre. Don’t miss the opportunity to discover how the Scottish golden water of life is made (and the Oban 14 is one of the best Highland single malt scotches). I would like to recommend spending 2 nights in one of the many hostels and hotels of Oban, so you can enjoy the different activities, dive in Gallanach and leave on the third day for Loch Creran.
To find the single track road leading to Gallanach, you need to take the direction of the Ferry terminal. Don’t enter the terminal area on your right, go a bit further where you will find two possible routes to Druim Mor viewpoint and another little road with a road sign saying “dive centre.” I let you guess which one you need to take! The ride is only 10 minutes from Oban centre and offers beautiful views on the shores of Kerrera Island. At the end of the road, you will find an ample parking space with many divers already preparing their gear. This is also where you will find Puffin Divers where you can refill your tanks. The marine life in the Sound of Kerrera is closer to what you can see in open seas compared the sea lochs as the Firth of Lorne is just behind the tip of Kerrera. Take the opportunity to dive as much as you want as the compressor is just right next to you and then fill your tank for your two last dives of the tour in Loch Creran and Loch Leven.
As an optional tour, especially in summer time, you can take a dive boat trip directly from Oban or by going to Lochaline via Mull with the Ferry. The Island of Mull is full of incredible places to visit such as Tobermory, Iona Abbey, and the Fingal’s Cave. Between mid-July and mid-August, you can also get a chance to swim with the basking sharks in the Sound of Mull or near the Isles of Coll and Tiree. Add at least 3 days to do this extra tour.
5 – From Loch Creran to Loch Leven
After leaving Oban in the morning, be ready for a scenic drive in the direction of Fort Williams/Glencoe. The first highlight is the Connel Bridge. It allows you to go across the mouth of the Loch Etive and its Falls of Lora, tidal rapids forming powerful whirlpools. Only 30 minutes away from Oban, you will arrive on the shores of Loch Creran. It is famous among marine biologists for its unique serpulid worm reefs. Once you have checked the worm reef on the right side, you can make a loop on the left side for some excellent muck diving.
Continuing on the road, you will pass Castle Stalker. Don’t miss the opportunity for a short walk to enjoy the landscape of the Scottish west coast with Castle Stalker on a tiny island in the middle. Approaching Glencoe, you can find the last dive site of this road trip in Ballachulish (pronounce “Ballahoolish”). To arrive at the dive site of the Slates, you will need to turn left when you see the sign for the holiday cottages. If you see the village of Ballachulish on your right, you have gone too far! You will quickly understand the name of this dive site as you park your car (space is limited so do your best to park in a civilised way). The shores of this area of Loch Leven are covered in slates. You will quickly understand the name of this dive site as you park your car (space is limited so do your best to park in a civilised way). The shores of this area of Loch Leven are covered in slates. The dive orientation is straightforward: you start on one of the banks of the tiny peninsula and then go around it to end on the opposite side. Check your depth properly as Loch Leven is much deeper than the others places. Many scuba divers come here for deep diving training. The sights from Loch Leven on nearby Ben Nevis and Glencoe mountains are breath-taking. It is the perfect place to end a diving tour in the Highlands. After such a day, spend your night in one of the many hostels and B&Bs of Glencoe, to enjoy more of its wonders on the following day.
6 – From Glencoe to Loch Lomond
From a landscape point of view, I kept the best for the end. Glencoe is my favourite place in Scotland. To me, no place can embody better what the Highlands are. No wonder why it has been used for so many famous movies such as Harry Potter, Skyfall or more obviously Braveheart and Highlander. Many hiking trails start from the Village of Glencoe. There are trails for all level of walkers. One important tip, Mountains of Glencoe can go as high as 1150m of altitude, so if you did a 30m deep dive the day before, make sure to stay within reasonable altitude (below 600m). If you love walking in the woods, then the Signal Rock trail is perfect, nice and easy, and strongly related to the history of Glencoe due to the Massacre of the McDonald Clan, which happened in 1692.
I prefer to warn you, all along the road from Glencoe to Loch Lomond you will feel like stopping many times to take pictures so plan your day with care. Once in Crianlarich, by taking the A82, you will enjoy a scenic drive along Loch Lomond. Once again you can stop at many viewpoints, but if there should be only one, it has to be Luss. The village of Luss has adorable low height cottages, a small beach where kayaking addicts meet swans, and a pontoon which offers incredible views of the islands of the Loch and the summit of Ben Lomond. If you still have time before going back to Glasgow, why not visiting another distillery? Glengoyne Distillery claims to be the prettiest distillery in Scotland. Indeed, I loved their flower garden, waterfalls, and elegant tasting room. From the distillery, you are only 30 minutes away from Glasgow.
When to go diving in the Scottish Highlands?
If you want warmer weather and a chance to combine the trip with a basking shark snorkelling tour, it has to be in the summer, and it is recommended to go first half of August if you want to increase your chances to see them. At that time of the year, you can enjoy the mild weather, but water will not be warmer than 12°C. Whatever the season, a dry suit is always recommended.
If this itinerary made of shore dive sites is good enough for you, then you can dive these locations all year-long. Even if it sounds crazy, my favourite time of the year is in February/March; water is clear, road quieter and snow on the top of the mountains for fabulous pictures. Water will not be colder than 6°C, usually at 8°C. As the air can be chilly, the water might be warmer than the air, only in Scotland! Last February, on a beautiful Saturday morning, the outdoor temperature was -2°C, water at the surface was at 6°C, and at a depth of 12m, water was at 8°C!
How about driving on the left in Scotland?
If you are not from the UK or any of the countries driving on the left, this is something you need to consider but not to be worried about. For information, this itinerary cannot be done in another way than by driving/renting a car. I noticed many of my friends from Continental Europe were terribly worried about driving on the other side. As someone who was taught to drive on the right in France then learnt how to drive on the left in Ireland and Indonesia before driving daily for 2 years in Scotland, there is no big deal about it. Take your time, follow the car in front of you and you will quickly see that everything is just mirrored. For example, the way the lanes arrive at a roundabout makes it impossible to take it the wrong way. British roads are incredibly organised with an overload of road signs; you are “kindly” guided to do everything you need to do on the road. If you think it could help you, don’t hesitate to rent an automatic car, they are popular in the UK. Want to find a good deal on your rental car? Have a look at the website of the biggest independent rental car company in Scotland.
I hope this itinerary will make you eager to explore Scotland and dive some of its most stunning locations. When I moved to Scotland, I wished I could have found such a summary, but I am happy to share the best tips from my two years of exploration trips in this beautiful part of the world that I can call one of my “homes” today.
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