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 Gare Loch. It developed from the 19th century once ferries and the railway connected it to Glasgow: wealthy business people built their villas here, and made sure to keep heavy industry away from their bosky avenues. The star attraction is Hill House built in 1902. In 2021 the population of Helensburgh and associated small towns was 13,320.

Rhu is further west along the coast of Gare Loch. Faslane five miles up the loch is dominated by HMNB Clyde, base for the UK's submarine fleet, so it's a major part of the local economy but doesn't do much for the scenery. Garelochead a little further north was a resort but has become blighted by industry.

Lamp in The Hill House

Understand

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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 1858. In the 20th century people found better places to take their holidays, but Helensburgh became a commuter town. Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed the stylish Hill House 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, and prime minister Andrew Bonar Law (1858-1923) spent his teens here.

Get in

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By train

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1 Helensburgh Central has trains every 30 min from Glasgow Queen Street (Low Level), taking 45 min via Dumbarton. These trains come from Edinburgh, along a slow and far-from-scenic route across industrial central Scotland; from Edinburgh use the fast trains and change at Queen Street. Central Station has a staffed ticket office and machines, toilets and a waiting room. There is step-free access to the terminus platform.

2 Helensburgh Upper is on the West Highland Line from Glasgow Queen Street to Crianlarich, where trains divide for Oban, Fort William and Mallaig, for ferries to the Hebrides. Trains run every couple of hours M-Sa but only three times on Sunday. Another 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 to Glasgow Central, then a daytime train. Upper Station is just a platform halt with no facilities. There is a steep ramp to the single platform.

By bus

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First Bus 1B runs from Glasgow Osborne Street to Helensburgh every 30 min, taking 1 hr 45 min via Scotstoun, Clydebank and Dumbarton. There isn't a bus station, the 1B stops by the railway station then along King St as far as Glasgow St. Don't take the 1A, which branches north to Balloch.

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.

By road

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From Glasgow follow M8 west past the airport then cross Erskine Bridge (M/A898) to avoid stop-starting through the western suburbs. Then follow A82 onto A814 through Dumbarton.

Get around

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A one-mile walk will bring you most places, including from Central Station to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh house.

Taxi firms are Royal Cabs (+44 1436 708090), Tartan Wolf (+44 1436 406080), Mike's (+44 7831 591173) and Neptune (+44 1436 676666).

 
The Hill House before it was put in a box
  • 1 The Hill House, Upper Colquhoun Street G84 9AJ (A mile uphill from the seafront), +44 1436 673900. Daily 10AM-5PM. 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 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 £14, conc £11, child £6.50, NTS / NT free.    
  • 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-Sa 9AM-5PM, services are Sunday at 11AM.
  • No 40 Sinclair Street was in 2016 confirmed as having been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The ground floor has a shop, part of the upstairs is the Mackintosh Club which is open for occasional events.
  • 2 St Michael & All Angels Church, 18 William St G84 8BD, +44 1436 670297. M-Sa 10AM-4PM. Church completed in 1868 to a French Gothic style design by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson of Edinburgh. The church is built from Dumfriesshire red sandstone and internal limestone from Caen in Normandy. It's Episcopal (Anglican), with services Sunday and Tuesday.
 
MV Captayannis, the sugar boat
  • 3 Submarine Centre, West King Street G84 8TR, +44 1436 675329. Daily Th-Su 10AM-4PM. Museum on the history of naval submarines, including a X51 Class midget submarine from 1955. It's in the hall of the former St Columba's Church, the church building also houses Tower Arts Centre cinema. Adult £8, conc £5, child £4.    
  • 4 Ardencaple Castle   survives only as a solitary tower. Ardencaple dates back to the 12th century but was much modified in the late 18th century and the tower is probably from that era; it's used as a navy navigation beacon and isn't open to view. The rest was demolished for housing in 1957.
  • 5 Glenarn Garden, Glenarn Road, Rhu G84 8LL, +44 1436 820493. Apr-Sep: daily dawn-dusk. A woodland garden laid out from the 1850s with rampant rhododendrons and various exotics. Adult £5.
  • 6 Rhu Point is the breezy tip of a sandspit that would block off the upper loch if it had its way, but groynes to focus the tidal current conspire to thwart it.
  • 7 Sugar Boat   is the local name for the long object seen out in the Clyde, the upturned wreck of MV Captayannis. 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.
 
The Highlands rear up behind Rhu
  • Walk along the 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.
  • Cinema: Tower Digital Arts Centre is within the former church at 81 Sinclair St, same building as the Submarine Centre.
  • 1 Helensburgh Golf Club, 25 East Abercromby Street G84 9HZ, +44 1436 674173. A moorland course founded in 1893, white tees 5942 yards, par 69. Visitor round £40-50.
  • 2 Old Skating Pond at the top of Sinclair Street, north edge of town, long ago became overgrown so it's now a wetland home for a few ducks. There are some picnic tables, and paths around the pond and adjacent reservoirs.
  • 3 Blairvadach Outdoor Centre, Shandon, Rhu G84 8NN, +44 1436 820491. 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.
  • Rhu Marina is up the loch shore northwest. Helensburgh pier is in poor condition and boats no longer use it.
  • John Muir Way is a 130-mile (215-km) walking trail from Helensburgh to Dunbar on the east coast. It's named for John Muir (1838-1914) the naturalist and conservationist who founded the US Sierra Club thence the National Park system. He was born in Dunbar and the family migrated when he was 11. A coastal trail between Dunbar and Edinburgh was later named for him and in 2014 this was extended cross-country to Helensburgh. Start at the pier and stride straight up Colquhoun Street past the upper station, onto A818 to Bannachra. Cyclists here stay on A818 to join A82 into Balloch, hikers scramble over the steep soggy hill. Day Two continues east from Balloch to Strathblane. Don't download the route map for "John Muir Trail" or you'll be very surprised at where you end up.
  • Helensburgh and Lomond Highland Games are held on the first Saturday in June, with the next on Sa 1 June 2024. They're on the rugby ground on Rhu Road Higher, and a free bus shuttles between Maitland St (south side of Central Station) and the Games.
 
Rhu Churchyard
  • Town centre has small supermarkets including Tesco Express, Co-op Food and Farmfoods, plus McColls newsagents.
  • Rowland's Pharmacy at 48 West Princes Street is open M-F 9AM-6PM, Sa 9AM-1PM. It has Edwardian interior fittings behind a modern exterior. Boots, Superdrug and Gordons are other pharmacies nearby.
  • Morrisons supermarket is two miles east on A814, open M-Sa 7AM-10PM, Su 8AM-8PM. The fuel here is as cheap as you'll find in Argyll.
  • Urie's China, 45 West Clyde Street G84 8AW, +44 1436 672331. M Tu Th-Sa 09:15AM-5PM. China, glass and crystalware in a shop established in 1854. Has a mixture of practical tableware and gifts.
  • Market in the Square is held in Colquhoun Square on the second and the last Saturday of the month 10:00-16:00.
  • 1 The Henry Bell, 19/29 James Street G84 8AS, +44 1436 863060. Su-Th 8AM-midnight, F Sa 8AM-1AM. JD Wetherspoon pub named for the fellow whose paddle-steamer boosted the town. Usually has four real ales and a standard chain menu.
  • Riva is the Italian / Mediterranean restaurant within Riva Hotel (see Sleep), serving non-residents daily noon-midnight.
  • Sugar Boat, 30 Colquhoun Square G84 8AQ (one block west of Central Station), +44 1436 647522. M-Sa 9AM-11:30PM, Su 10AM-11:30PM. Good food in town centre, nice ambiance, and they have rooms. B&B double £130.
  • La Barca at 33 West Clyde Street is a tapas & wine bar .
  • Indian choices around Colquhoun Square are Annaya's, Masala Twist and Soni Spice takeaway.
  • Chinese dine-in choices are The Ruby and Bintang Emas on the promenade, plus Mandarin a block back.
  • Commodore Inn is at the Travelodge, see "Sleep".
  • 2 Beachcomber Café Bar, Kidston Drive G84 8QB, +44 1436 675168. Daily 10AM-4PM. Small licensed cafe with great views in a park at the west end of the promenade.
  • 3 Ardencaple Hotel, Gareloch Rd, Rhu G84 8LA, +44 1436 820200. Hotel with 12 bedrooms serving pub grub daily 7AM-10PM, service erratic. It's run by Greene King / Belhaven and has a large lounge bar (daily 11AM-11PM). B&B double £80.

Drink

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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.

  • Royal Bar facing the pier is open M-Th 11AM-midnight, F-Su 11AM-1AM.
  • Clyde Bar at 62 West Clyde St by the pier is a friendly authentic place, open M-Th 11AM-midnight, F-Su 11AM-1AM..
  • Argyll Bar at 67 East Clyde St, Station Bar at 24 East Princes St and The Ashton at 74 West Princes St have similar hours.
  • Commodore Inn is attached to the Travelodge. Open daily 7AM-1qPM, friendly sea-front pub with log fire and good food.

Sleep

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  • 1 Riva Boutique Hotel, 12 West Clyde St G84 8SQ, +44 1436 677796. Smart comfy central hotel with good restaurant. B&B double £150.
  • 2 Travelodge, 112-117 West Clyde St G84 8ES (within Commodore pub), +44 871 559 1823. Basic budget chain. B&B double £70.
  • 3 Balmillig, 64b Colquhoun Street G84 9JP, +44 7738 701948. Charming 3 room B&B in a Victorian house with garden on a quiet street. B&B double £100.
  • 4 County Hotel, Old Luss Road, G84 7BH (One mile east of centre near Craigendoran Station), +44 1436 672034. Vegetarian hotel with decent rooms. B&B double £140.

Connect

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View from Helensburgh Pier

Helensburgh and its approach roads have 4G from all UK carriers. As of June 2023, 5G has not reached this area.

Helensburgh Library at 59 West King Street has computers for internet access and a small history exhibition. It's open Tu W 9:30AM-4:30PM, Th 9:30AM-6:30PM, F Sa 9:30AM-1PM.

Go next

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  • Dumbarton to the east has a castle and maritime museum. Continue east to come into Glasgow.
  • Luss is a touristy village on the west shore of Loch Lomond.
  • Balloch is the town at the south end of Loch Lomond. You go through it to reach the more interesting east loch shore around Drymen and Balmaha.
  • Kilcreggan is a village on the little-visited Rosneath Peninsula, across Gare Loch from Helensburgh.


This city travel guide to Helensburgh is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.