- For other places with the same name, see Helensburgh (disambiguation).
Helensburgh is a town in Argyll and Bute, on the north bank of the River Clyde 30 miles west of Glasgow, at the opening of the Gare Loch. After the arrival of the railway, many attractive villas were built in Helensburgh as the homes of wealthy business people from Glasgow. As a result of this Helensburgh has three heritage conservation areas. The character of the town is enhanced by its many tree-lined streets, and the cherry blossom in the Spring is a particular feature; a consequence is that the town has been referred to as "the Garden City of the Clyde".
Helensburgh was small until the 19th century because its harbour was shallow and exposed to westerly winds. Then Henry Bell developed a steam paddle boat of shallow draught that could sail against the wind, and Helensburgh developed as a seaside resort: Glasgow folk came “doon the watter” to enjoy the sea air and throng the pubs. This was further boosted by the arrival of the railway. In the 20th century people found better places to take their holidays, but Helensburgh became a commuter town. Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed a stylish mansion here which is nowadays the main reason to visit. John Logie Baird (1888-1946) one of the main inventors of television was born and grew up here. In 2020, it was home to 13,000 people, many of whom commute to Glasgow for work.
The town continues west along the coast into Rhu. Five miles up the loch is the navy base of Faslane ("HMNB Clyde"): the UK's nuclear submarines are based here, and from 2020 it will be the base for the entire submarine fleet. Faslane is a major part of the local economy but doesn't do much for the scenery, and has blighted the resort of Garelochhead a little further north.
Trains run every 30 mins from Glasgow Queen Street (Low Level) via Dumbarton to 1 Helensburgh Central taking 45 mins. These trains come from Edinburgh, via a slow and far from scenic route across industrial central Scotland - use the fast trains from Edinburgh and change at Queen Street.
Trains along the West Highland Railway call 3-4 times M-Sat at Helensburgh Upper station, one mile north along A818. They're on the line between Glasgow Queen Street, Oban and Mallaig, for ferries to the Hebrides. One late night / early morning train Su-F is the Caledonian Highland Sleeper between London Euston and Fort William, but you're probably better taking the Lowland Sleeper from Euston towards midnight to Glasgow Central, then taking a daytime train.
First Bus 1B runs from Glasgow Osborne Street to Helensburgh every 30 min, taking 1 hr 45 min via Scotstoun, Clydebank and Dumbarton.
Garelochhead Bus 302 runs three times M-Sa to Lochgoilhead via Luss, Tarbet and Arrochar. Bus 306 runs five times M-Sa to Alexandria.
Bus 316 runs every 2 hours up the coast via Rhu and Faslane to Garelochhead, then south along the other shore to Rosneath, Kilcreggan, Cove and Coulport navy base.
Follow A82 onto A814.
Ferries along the Clyde no longer come here, and the pier has fallen into disrepair.
A one mile walk will bring you most places, including from Central Station to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh house. Upper Station is closer but those trains are sporadic.
The Battle of Garelochhead
In the 19th century steamers brought day-trippers to resorts such as Helensburgh and Garelochhead. The owner of the pier at Garelochhead, Sir James Colquhoun, objected to such trips on the Sabbath, and in 1853 even got up a mob to prevent the steamer landing. Throughout that summer, there were rowdy scenes as the pier was picketed or barricaded against landings, and townsmen and trippers hurled bottles and potatoes at each other and came to blows. Sir James also raised a legal action, which wound its way through the courts for six years before being resolved in his favour. He raised no objection to the brawling on the Sabbath, nor to the town pubs being open, the main draw for the visitors.
- 1 Hill House, Upper Colquhoun Street, G84 9AJ (A mile uphill from the seafront). June-Dec daily 10:00-17:00. A house designed by renowned architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, managed by the National Trust for Scotland. The house was built in 1902-04, and includes furniture designed by Mackintosh and his wife. The building fabric has not taken kindly to the wet west coast weather and in 2019 the NTS erected a "box" over the house to protect it from rain, which also provides a rooftop walkway. The attic rooms are available to rent as a holiday flat, and there is a tearoom and shop. The gardens have been restored to the original design and are free to visit all year. Adult £12.50.
- 2 Glenarn, Glenarn Road, Rhu, G84 8LL (1 mile west of Helensburgh off the A814 in the conservation village of Rhu.), ☏ +44 1436 820493. Daily 21 March - 21 September from sunrise to sunset.. A special woodland garden with a Himalayan atmosphere where you can walk under superb giant species rhododendrons or look out across the Gareloch. £5.
- Henry Bell Monument next to the pier (junction of West Clyde Street & James Street) commemorates the engineer Henry Bell (1767-1830), first Provost of the town in 1807 and builder of the Comet paddle-steamer in 1812 to link Glasgow, Greenock and Helensburgh. He was an archetypal mad inventor, brimming with half-baked projects, and described as "the hero of a thousand blunders and one success".
- Colquhoun Square is the town centre, 50 m west of the central railway station. The Outdoor Museum is the grand name for a set of plinths around the square, depicting town history, eg the three large maps showing the centre in different eras. Also here is Helensburgh Parish Church (Church of Scotland), built 1853. Its fine stain glass windows commemorate Bonar Law (UK Prime Minister 1922-23) and Logie Baird the inventor of television. The church is open M-Sat 09:00-17:00, services are Sunday at 11:00.
- No 40 Sinclair Street was in 2016 confirmed as being by Mackintosh. The ground floor has the M&Co clothes shop, part of the upstairs is the Mackintosh Club which is open for occasional events.
- 3 St Michael & All Angels Church (Scottish Episcopal Church). services Su 10:30 & 18:30, viewing M-Sa generally 10:00 - 16:00. Church completed in 1868 to a French Gothic style design by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, the Edinburgh architect. The church is built from Dumfriesshire red sandstone and internal limestone from Caen in Normandy.
- 4 Scottish Submarine Centre, West King Street, G84 8TR. Apr-Sep: Tu-Su 10:00-13:00, 14:00-16:00; Oct-Easter: Th-Su 11:00-16:00. Museum on the history of naval submarines, including a X51 Class midget submarine from 1955. The museum is the hall of the former St Columba's Church, the church building has the Tower Arts Centre cinema.
- 5 Sugar Boat. The long object seen out in the Clyde is the upturned wreck of MV Captayannis, better known as the sugar boat. In 1974 she was waiting to unload sugar at Greenock when a storm forced her against the anchor chains of a tanker, which sliced her below the waterline. The captain beached her and the crew got off safely but the ship overturned. No-one could be found responsible for removing the wreck, so there she lies.
- 6 Ardencaple Castle. Only the tower remains of this castle dating back to the 12th century. The tower is used for a navy navigation light and isn't open to view.
- Walk along the seaside promenade, or the shingle beach at low tide, west from the pier to Kidston Park, with good views across the Clyde to Greenock and the Gareloch.
- 1 Helensburgh Golf Club, 25 East Abercromby Street G84 9HZ, ☏ +44 1436 674173. A 6104 yard 18 hole moorland course founded in 1893. It is uphill from the town and has good views. Round of golf £35 single, £100 for four.
- 2 Old Skating Pond (top of Sinclair Street, just as you leave the town, has a small free carpark.). A shallow pond built in the early 20th century for skating and model boats, it has now been allowed to become overgrown and is a wetland which is home to a few ducks. There is a walkway around the pond and some picnic tables. Pathways through to the adjacent reservoirs, which you can also walk around, but the paths are muddy.
- 3 Helensburgh and Lomond Highland Games, Rugby Club, Rhu Road Higher (free shuttle bus from Maitland Street, near the station). First Sat in June, the next is Sat 3 June 2023. Watch traditional Highland Games with races (many for children), heavy hammer and sheaf throwing, caber tossing and sword dancing. Food and trade stalls are scattering around the edge of the field. adult £7.
- 4 Blairvadach Outdoor Centre, Rhu, G84 8NN, ☏ +44 1436 820 491. This centre mainly provides sailing canoeing and other outdoor activities for Glasgow schools, but also runs some short day and residential courses for adults and children.
- The paddle steamer Waverley used to cruise the Firth of Clyde in summer. There have been no sailings from Helensburgh since 2018 because of the poor condition of the pier. Coach connections are offered for some sailings from Kilcreggan.
- 5 John Muir Way. Start this 130 mi (210 km) long distance walking and cycling track at Helensburgh Pier (there is an information board and sculptures) on the grass near the pier and continue to Dunbar on the east coast. The route commemorates John Muir born in 1838 and a founder of the United States National Park Service. The route is inspired by the route that John Muir took to join an emigrant ship in Greenock. The first part of the route is up Colquhoun Street past the Hill House, and this section is best walked when the cherry blossom is in bloom in April.
The town centre, next the railway station has four blocks with a selection of shops. There are Tesco and Coop supermarkets on Sinclair Street, M&Co and Wilkies for clothes, a wide selection of charity second-hand shops and an assortment of mainly independent shops.
- Urie's China, 45 West Clyde Street. China, glass and crystalware in a shop established in 1854. Has a mixture of practical tableware and gifts.
- The Farmers Market is held in Colquhoun Square on the second Saturday of the month 10:00-16:00.
There are lots of places in the centre of town for a daytime snack or cup of tea. Evenings there are Indian and Chinese restaurants, and Fish and Chip shops.
- Cattle and Creel at 74 West Clyde Street is a steakhouse, and La Barca at 33 West Clyde Street is a tapas & wine bar, run by the same family.
- Commodore Inn is at the Travelodge, see "Sleep".
- 1 Ardencaple Hotel, Shore Road Rhu (200 yards from west edge of Helensburgh), ☏ +44 1436 820200. Hotel with 12 bedrooms serving pub grub daily 07:00-22:00. Now run by Greene King / Belhaven, has a large lounge bar (daily 11:00-23:00). Mains £5-10, B&B double £70.
- 2 Beachcomber Café Bar (Kidston Park Café). Small cafe with great views in a park at the west end of the promenade.
- 3 The Henry Bell, 19/29 James Street, G84 8AS. JD Wetherspoon pub. Usually has about four real ales, and a standard chain menu. Mains £5-10, beer from £2.
- 4 Riva Helensburgh, Riva, W Clyde St, G84 8SQ, ☏ +44 1436 677796. Daily noon to midnight. Authentic Italian restaurant, with 12 bedrooms upstairs. Bar with cocktails and a large selection of gins. mains £12-20.
- Sugar Boat, 30 Colquhoun Square G84 8AQ (one block west from Central railway station). Daily 09:00-23:45. Good food in town centre, nice ambiance. mains £15-20.
Helensburgh has lots of pubs.
- Clyde Bar next to the pier is a friendly authentic place, open daily from 11:00 to midnight or later.
- Commodore Inn is attached to the Travelodge. Open daily 07:00-23:00, friendly sea-front pub with log fire and good food.
- 1 Sinclair House, 91/93 Sinclair Street G84 8TR, ☏ +44 1436 676301. Pleasant B&B 3 blocks back from sea front. B&B double from £75.
- 2 Travelodge (formerly Commodore), 112-117 West Clyde St, G84 8ES, ☏ +44 871 559 1823. Reliable budget chain. B&B double £70.
- 3 Balmillig, 64b Colquhoun Street, G84 9JP, ☏ +44 1436 674922. 3 room B&B in a Victorian house with a garden on a quiet cherry blossom lined street, 10 minutes walk uphill from town centre. B&B double from £85.
- 4 County Lodge Hotel, Old Luss Road, G84 7BH, ☏ +44 1436 672034. One mile east of the town centre, near Colgrain Station. Drab exterior and dreary décor, service and meals variable. B&B double £85.
- Rowland's Pharmacy on 48 West Princes Street is open M-Sat 09:00-18:00. It has century-old interior fittings behind a modern exterior.
- Helensburgh Library on West King Street has computers for internet access and a small history exhibition. It's open M Th 13:00-20:00, Tu W Sa 09:30-13:00 & 14:00-17:00, F 13:00-17:00.
Helensburgh has 4G with all UK carriers. As of July 2021, 5G has not reached this area.
- 1 Kilcreggan West around the Gareloch to Kilcreggan from where there are ferries to Gourock.
- 2 Gourock
- 3 Balloch a town at the southern end of Loch Lomond
- 4 Luss A pleasant village on the shores of Loch Lomond.
- 5 Dumbarton A larger town to the east with a castle and maritime museum.
- 6 Balmaha Almost the "end of the road" on the east shore of Loch Lomond.
- 7 Drymen A rural village to the north - maybe visit the nearby distillery.