When you travel from Glasgow to Islay by car and ferry (Kennacraig) there are several possible routes to choose from. The most obvious and fastest one is, under normal circumstances, from Glasgow via Loch Lomond, Rest and be Thankful and Inveraray to Kennacraig over the A83.
You can also take the ferry over the Clyde, at Gourock, to Dunoon, drive up to Cairndow at the Rest and be Thankful and follow the A83 to Kennacraig.
Alternative to the above is to drive on to Portavadie over the Cowal Peninsula and take another ferry to Tarbert, then follow the A83 to Kennacraig.
Or you can travel via the Isle of Arran when you take the ferry from Ardrossan on the mainland to Brodick (Arran), then the ferry from Lochranza (Arran) to Claonaig on the Kintyre Peninsula.
Every route has its own pros and cons and sometimes you’re forced to take an alternative route when Rest and be Thankful is closed for instance. Below I’ll dive deeper into the travel times, costs and provide other interesting bits of info and tips along your Glasgow to Islay by Car Journey.
Glasgow to Islay by Car via Loch Lomond – Inveraray – Kennacraig
Total travel time is 2.5 to 4 hours, distance by car approx. 105 miles.
This is the most obvious route and a very lovely drive through Argyll’s beautiful countryside. Coming from Glasgow you take the M8 and cross the Clyde over the Erskine Bridge. From there take the A82 through Dumbarton and follow the road along Loch Lomond until you reach Tarbet.
Here you take the A83 to Inveraray/Campbeltown enjoying the nice views and the possibility for a break at Rest and be Thankful. Follow the A83 south and soon you drive along Loch Fyne, on your left, and reach the picturesque town of Inveraray, which can be quite busy at times. Don’t forget the mandatory stop at Loch Fyne Oysters for…. Right! Fresh Oysters 😀 When you have time try to visit Inveraray Castle and discover that there is a lot of interesting information about Islay as well. Other visitor attractions are Inveraray Jail or Loch Fyne whiskies, they have a very good selection of malts.
Continue the journey south on the a83 to Lochgilphead. Five miles outside Inveraray is a little outdoor museum called Auchindrain Museum of Country Life, which is another interesting visitor attraction, providing you have the time. Now it’s another 24 miles to Lochgilphead and another 14 to reach Tarbert, which is a very nice little town and has a picturesque port. From Tarbert follow the A83 for three miles until you reach the Kennacraig ferry terminal on your right.
Via Gourock to Cairndow – Inverary and Tarbert
Total travel time 4 to 6 hours. Total distance by car approx. 116 miles and 15 minutes on one ferry.
This is the longest route and takes more time but it does happen from time to time that the Rest and be Thankful pass is closed due to landslides. This has happened very frequently over the last years, mostly in the winter. Western Ferries run an excellent service over the Clyde. It’s a 20 minute crossing and sailings are every 15 minutes at peak periods. Booking online can get you a cheaper ticket but you can also show up without a booking. A perfect alternative to bypass Rest and be Thankful. Single journey ticket for car and driver is £20.
Via Gourock to Dunoon – Portavadie – Tarbert
Total travel time 4 to 7 hours. Total distance by car approx. 70 miles and 50 minutes on two ferries.
This route is a lot shorter considering the distance but requires two ferry crossings, one from Gourock to Dunoon on the Cowal peninsula. You’re either lucky and arrive just in time for the ferry or in the worst case you have to wait for the ferry to return which could take about 20 – 60 minutes. In Glasgow take the M8/A8 to Greenock and then the A770 to Gourock. Here you take the ferry, a 20 minute crossing, to Dunoon. From Dunoon take the A885/B836/A886 and A8003 to Portavadie. Here you can take a ferry, a 20 minute crossing, to Tarbert. From Tarbert follow the A83 for three miles untill you reach the Kennacraig ferry terminal on your right.
Glasgow to Islay by Car via Arran
Total travel time 5 to 8 hours. Total distance by car approx. 75 miles and 1.5 hour on two ferries.
Another alternative and a very beautiful route as well. You might want to spend a day on Arran instead of using it only as a stepping stone! However, if you don’t have the time to spend an extra day, here is how you drive: Take the M8 in Glasgow and follow the A737 south at Paisley and next take the A78 to Ardrossan.
Here you can take the ferry to Brodick which takes about an hour. From Brodick you can take the A841 to Lochranza which is 14 miles. At Lochranza take the ferry to Claonaig, a 30 minute trip, and after 5 miles on the B8001 you reach Kennacraig. I would personally recommend to stay for a day on Arran. Arran has a lot to offer and is worth a proper visit. Leaving the next day on an early ferry from Lochranza and you’re in time to get the one o’clock ferry at Kennacraig.
Accommodation near Kennacraig
I personally used to travel to Tarbert first before we moved to Islay and take the ferry to Islay the following day, holiday starts when you leave home and there is so much to discover in Scotland. There are a few good B&B’s in and near Tarbert. For addresses visit www.tarbertlochfyne.co.uk. If camping is your thing you might consider driving to Rhunahaorine Point, there you will find a very clean and good campsite with good facilities. Maybe a bit unsheltered but only meters away from the beach.
To get the latest info on Ferry cancellations or disruptions make sure to read How to check if the ferry to Islay is sailing. Valuable advice which might help you, and save time and money 😀
Have a Safe Journey to Islay