Helensburgh is a Victorian coastal town in Argyll and Bute with views over to Greenock, Port Glasgow and Rosneath. Close to Loch Lomond but not far from Glasgow, Helensburgh makes a perfect day trip or stopover.
The Three Lochs Way goes from Balloch to Inveruglas. In Helensburgh, the route takes you to Highlandman’s Road, an old coffin road – it’s so beautiful and you can see right down to the coast. Before you reach Highlandman’s Road, there’s a footpath sign to Glen Fruin which is where a battle took place in 1603 between Clan Colquhoun and Clan Gregor.
Duchess Woods makes for a lovely forest walk, the car park is near Helensburgh Rugby Club and there are a couple of routes you can follow. From Duchess Woods, you can walk to the Hill House and join up with the Three Lochs Way or John Muir Way. Or you can stay in Duchess Woods and do a circular walk.
If you’d rather stick to flatter ground, head to Helensburgh’s coast where you can walk from the leisure centre all the way to Rhu on a path that’s flat and has views, you’ll also see a lot of boats cruise by and you may even see some submarines! This path will lead you up to the Beachcomber cafe just before Rhu. It has a play park next to it and some benches overlooking Rhu’s marina.
Helensburgh’s food scene
If you’re hungry in Helensburgh you won’t be short of choice. I’d advise visiting on an empty stomach as there are a lot of cafes and restaurants.
Top food spots in Helensburgh
- The Gingerbread Man Cafe and Bakery – my favourite cafe! The cafe and bakery are in two different places so if you want to sit in, make sure you head for the cafe. The food is made to such a high standard and the service is always brilliant – I’ve always felt welcome and never rushed. Their coffee is supplied by a local roaster and you can take home a bag of beans. I’d recommend: their Nasi goreng dish, pandan cake and their coffee.
- Riverhill Courtyard – a restaurant and bar that uses local Scottish suppliers. I’d recommend: their all-day breakfast.
- Beachcomber Cafe – a reasonably priced cafe at Kidston Park with water views, this is nearer to Rhu. There’s a car park at it but this can get busy during the summer. I’d recommend: their toasties.
- For takeaway, you won’t get greasy food here! Bintang Emas is a Chinese takeaway and KoolBa To Go is an Indian takeaway – I’ve had great dinners from both of these.
Walk above a house
I’m not sure there are many places where you can view a house from above without needing to put any safety equipment on.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House was dissolving and to prevent it from getting any worse, the National Trust for Scotland created a chainmail box around it to stop the weather from destroying the house. This box allows you to walk around the outside of the house at your own pace and see it from above – just don’t look down if you’re scared of heights!
The cafe at Hill House is also worth visiting, you can get into the cafe without needing a membership or ticket. A special shoutout goes to the Macintosh-inspired empire biscuits – the best empire biscuits I’ve ever had and I’ve tried many!
Visit a market
Every second Saturday, a market takes place in Colquhoun Square – there are usually lots of food stalls.
See a submarine
Get clued up on submarines at Scotland’s only submarine museum. The centre focuses on an X51 submarine and tells the history using laser projections.
Watch a film at The Tower cinema
Support a local, volunteer-run cinema! Based in a church and next door to the Submarine Centre, the Tower cinema has two screens with theatre-like seats and couches that can be booked and a bar for drinks and snacks.
Take a stroll around Hermitage Park
Hermitage Park is a lovely little oasis in Helensburgh. The park features a restaurant and a children’s play area. It used to be the grounds of a home even though it no longer exists today, you can still see where it once stood.
Get up close to the Sugar Boat
From Rhu Marina, you can book a boat trip to get a closer look at the Sugar Boat which can be seen in the distance from Helensburgh’s pier. In 1974, this boat was headed to the Tate and Lyle refinery but it knocked into a BP tanker – thankfully everyone on the boat was rescued. The wreck has been left ever since.
Places to explore near Helensburgh
A quaint little town, Cardross is home to Geilston Gardens which is owned by the National Trust. Nearby, Ardmore Point makes a great circular walk where you can see a closer view of Port Glasgow. Afterwards, head to Ardardan Estate for their farm shop and cafe.
Right next door to Helensburgh, Rhu’s lighthouse makes for a pleasant and short walk or have dinner at Ardencaple Hotel with views over to Rhu’s marina. This is where you also go for the Sugar Boat tour.
Passing Faslane on the way here, keep an eye out for the Faslane Peace Camp – lots of colourful caravans are what you’re looking for!
In Garelochhead, the Perch Cafe is a must-visit!
Keep travelling through Garelochhead and you’ll see signs for Rosneath. This peninsula is hidden away but it’s absolutely beautiful. Large houses align the main road and the views over to Helensburgh and Dunoon are something to see. Stop at Kilcreggan for cafes and a village shop. There’s also a passenger boat you can get from here over to Greenock.
How to get to Helensburgh
Helensburgh has two train stations, Helensburgh Central and Helensburgh Upper. The upper train is on the West Highland Line which means you could catch a train from Helensburgh and go as far as Mallaig. Every 30 minutes, you can get a train from Glasgow Queen Street to Helensburgh which takes about 50 minutes.
By car, Helensburgh can be reached by the A82 or after Dumbarton, the A814 which takes you through Cardross.