Helensburgh and Lomond might just be the hidden gem on the west coast that will steal your heart! This guide includes some of the best things to do in Helensburgh and Lomond. Whether you are planning a trip to Helensburgh, an escape to the mountains of Arrochar & Tarbet, or a tranquil weekend in Luss on Loch Lomond, this guide will help you get the most out of your time there.
This guide was commissioned by Destination Helensburgh, but as always, all opinions are my own.
This post contains affiliate links from which I may make a commission. Find out more here. All opinions are my own.
Just northwest of Glasgow lies an adventurer’s paradise. Deep-blue sea lochs framed by towering mountains and shrouded in Viking legends. Rivers, gorges, glens and waterfalls. Bustling towns and villages dotted throughout, filled with charming stone cottages, marvellous mansions and adorable shops. There’s great food and even a spa or two.
This, my dear reader, is Helensburgh and Lomond. A region so close to the city, it is often overlooked in favour of far-away places.
But the eager explorer will soon find out that sometimes the best of the best lies just around the corner.
Helensburgh and its surrounding areas north towards Arrochar on Loch Long and Luss on Loch Lomond are less than an hour from the bustling city of Glasgow.
Read on for a guide to the Helensburgh and Lomond region, including
- Things to do in Helensburgh, Arrochar & Tarbet and Luss,
- Accommodation suggestions
- Where to eat & drink
- Travel info & more.
Table of Contents
Why visit Helensburgh & Lomond
Helensburgh and Lomond has a lot of things going for it…
First of all, it’s close to the city of Glasgow and easy to access by car or public transport. This makes it a great region to visit no matter how much time you have and whether you’re planning a day trip, an overnight micro-adventure, a long weekend escape or a full-on vacation.
Once you’ve escaped the city, there is a wide range of things to do in Helensburgh and Lomond.
- A vast array of outdoor activities from hiking and cycling to watersports and sailing.
- A sprinkling of adventure for the adrenaline junkies – think gorge walking, Munro bagging, 4×4 off-roading and more.
- Wellness activities for slow adventures, from the soothing setting of a spa to tranquil activities like paddle boarding or forest bathing.
- Beautiful scenery from the coast to the mountains and ancient oak woodlands.
- And of course, locals who LOVE their area and pass on that passion in the services they provide. Comfortable accommodation, welcoming hospitality and delicious food, including plenty of options for vegans.
Don’t ask yourself why you should visit Helensburgh and Lomond – ask yourself, why you haven’t already booked the trip!
Arrochar and the Loch Lomond area are a stop on my Mountains & Lochs itinerary around Scotland’s national parks. If you like what you read here, why not follow it on your next trip to Scotland?
Helensburgh & Lomond Map
Getting round Helensburgh & Lomond
Of course, you could drive, but Helensburgh and Lomond is actually a great region to explore by public transport – it’s a more sustainable way to travel and lower your impact on the environment.
Helensburgh, Arrochar, Luss and other villages in the area are well-connected by train and bus, so leave your car at home and travel more sustainably.
- Getting to Helensburgh: Take the train from Glasgow Queen Street station. Trains leaving from the low-level platform arrive at Helensburgh Central, the final stop on that line. Trains leaving for Fort William and Oban (aka. the West Highland Line) stop at Helensburgh Upper before continuing north.
- Getting to Arrochar & Tarbet: Take the West Highland Line train from Glasgow. From Helensburgh, it’s two stops (approx 30 minutes) on the train. Alternatively, you can also take the bus: the Glasgow-Campbeltown bus (Citylink 926) stops in Tarbet and Arrochar.
- Getting to Luss: Luss is well connected by bus. All Citylink buses going from Glasgow to Campbeltown, Oban and Skye will stop at the Luss bypass from where it’s just a short walk to the village. If you’re coming from Arrochar or Tarbet, you can take any bus heading to Glasgow.
Of course, you can also cycle around Helensburgh and Lomond. There is a cycle path along Loch Lomond and many quiet country roads.
The Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park has developed a great app to help you plan your journey and figure out how to get to the park sustainably. Try the free Journey Planner app now!
Things to do in Helensburgh Travel Guide
Helensburgh looks out onto the Firth of Clyde and sits at the entrance of Gare Loch, which is Gaelic for “short loch”. The town stretches out along the seafront and is very noticeably built on a grid.
The town was developed from 1776 by Sir James Colquhoun (“Co-hoon”) who had big plans for the land he had bought. He wanted to attract bonnet makers, stocking, linen and woolen weavers to settle here to create a bustling industrial textile centre.
But the weavers never came. Eventually, Colquhoun split his land and sold individual plots for new-built houses. Many of Helensburgh’s new residents were wealthy Glaswegians who wanted to escape the increasingly crowded city. My guide John told me that some of them may have made their fortunes in relation to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, building ships or trading exports. But the town was also home to outstanding pioneers, like Henry Bell, who built Europe’s first successful passenger steamship, or the prominent abolitionist Zachary Macaulay.
Colquhoun named the town after his wife Helen and the new residents started building marvellous homes all over the south-facing hillside. The result is a chequered mosaic of mind-blowing villas and mansions, with Tudoresque gables, fairy-tale turrets and Victorian charm.
Walk along the seaside promenade and up the quiet tree-lined streets like Colquhoun Street to see the impressive architecture all over Helensburgh.
Visit Hill House
One of the most unique examples of Helensburgh architectural wealth is the Hill House at the top of Colquhoun Street. It lies all the way at the top of the hill and has the best views – hence the name.
Built for the Glasgow book publisher Walter Blackie and his family, the Hill House is one of the best examples of modern architecture in Scotland. It was designed – inside and out – by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald, an artist power couple who had trained at the Glasgow School of Art and heralded the Glasgow Style, the Scottish counterpart of the French Art Nouveau and German-Austrian Jugendstil style.
Visitors can tour the Hill House and see Mackintosh and Macdonald’s interior design which includes furniture, artwork, soft furnishings and fittings like lampshades. It’s impressive to see their holistic vision for a family home.
Unfortunately though, Mackintosh chose aesthetic over functionality – the roughcast covering the building was not breathable and trapped moisture inside which cracked the sandstone underneath. In an effort to save the building, the National Trust for Scotland has built a mesh box around the entire building to allow it to dry out, and possibly be restored.
The box also features walkways which allows visitors to walk around the building and over the roof, seeing Hill House from more angles than ever before. This makes it an incredibly unique experience and many think the box should remain forever.
You might also like: A Mackintosh tour of Glasgow
See the Spring bloom
Helensburgh is big on flowering trees! In late April, you can see the cherry blossom bring an extra spec of colour to the town – some streets are lined in pink trees, others in white varieties.
They were planted from the late 19th century and today, are the only urban tree collection in the National Tree Collections of Scotland.
Download a map of the trees and explore. I love the pink cherry trees on Colquhoun Street all the way from the main square to Hill House.
Walk the Three Lochs Way
The Three Lochs Way is a 34-mile long distance hike that starts in Balloch on Loch Lomond and finishes at Inveruglas, also on Loch Lomond. Along the way, it passes Helensburgh and Glen Fruin, runs high above Gare Loch, continues to Arrochar, loops around Tarbet and eventually leads through Glen Loin to Loch Lomond.
You can pick up the Three Lochs Way beside the Hill House and follow it to Glen Fruin for a day hike from Helensburgh.
Alternatively, follow the Highlandman’s Road trail to Rhu for a visit to Rhu Church and the marina. From there, take a boat trip to follow the Clyde Sea Lochs Trail by water.
Hiking the entire Three Lochs Way takes about 3-4 days. The path links up with the John Muir Way which you can start or finish here, the West Highland Way and the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way, making it a great starting point for a longer walking holiday.
Explore the Clyde Sea Lochs with You & Sea
From Rhu Marina, catch a boat trip with You & Sea. They offer 1-hour journeys to the Helensburgh waterfront and the Sugar Boat, or up to the Faslane naval base, or longer journeys up the Clyde sea lochs or over towards Dunoon and Holy Loch.
I joined the boat trip to Helensburgh and the Sugar Boat. We sailed along the beautiful waterfront and spotted the Hill House in the distance. Next, we explored the wreck of the Sugar Boat and learnt a bit about its history. On our way home, we saw seals basking in the sunshine at low tide and gannets diving at high-speed into the Clyde.
It’s amazing to have these wildlife experiences so close to Glasgow in the Clyde!
You might also like: 11 Educational & Science-Based Tourism Experiences in Scotland
Where to eat in Helensburgh
Here are some ideas for restaurants and cafes in Helensburgh – many of which have vegan options available:
- Padrone Pizza for traditional wood-fired pizza and other Italian classics. Their pizza dough is an art form – so good!
- The Park Pavillion at Hermitage Park for breakfast or lunch including sandwiches, tacos, smoothies and more. On weekends, they offer Saturday brunch and Sunday roast.
- Riverhill Courtyard is a cafe, restaurant and bar, tucked away in a quiet lane near the train station. They are open from breakfast through to dinner.
- Sugar Boat for elevated Scottish cuisine and drinks – the bar & bistro is named after the MV Captayannis, a transport ship that capsized and sank just off the shore on the River Clyde.
- The Gingerbread Man for locally roasted coffee, breakfast, cakes and small plates for lunch.
Accommodation in Helensburgh
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Helensburgh, look no further than Balmillig B&B on Colquhoun Street.
Hosted by Anne and John Urquhart, you’ll be a stone’s throw from the seafront one way and Hill House in the other direction. The B&B is homely without losing any of the comforts you’d expect from a boutique accommodation.
There are three spacious rooms with en-suite bathrooms and a sun-filled guest lounge with views of the beautiful garden and a cosy fireplace for colder days. On the garden deck, there is even a hot tub for guest use.
While Anne will spoil you with a delicious breakfast to set you up for the day, you can hire John as your hiking guide to explore the area.
Things to do in Arrochar & Tarbet
Arrochar is a village well-known among hikers who gather here on the shore of Loch Long to explore the towering peaks of the Arrochar Alps. The village lies on one side of a narrow stretch of land (called a “tarbet”) between two lochs. The Vikings used to drag their ships across this boat portage from the sea Loch Long to reach the freshwater Loch Lomond.
Together with its neighbouring villages Succoth and Tarbet on Loch Lomond, the area is also sometimes referred to as the Three Villages. I’ll call it Arrochar & Tarbet.
Hike in the Arrochar Alps
Most people who visit Arrochar do so for a hike in the Arrochar Alps. This mountain range forms part of the southern Highlands and lies on the west side of Loch Lomond.
- Several popular hiking trails in the Arrochar Alps start in Arrochar and Succoth, such as the ever-popular Ben Arthur (The Cobbler) and Beinn Narnain and Beinn Ime, two Munros that are often hiked together.
- You can also climb a few other Munros on the other side of the range from Inveruglas – Ben Vane and Ben Vorlich. These are often less busy than the hikes from Arrochar.
- If Munro-bagging isn’t your priority, check out the equally challenging, but often quieter routes up Ben Donich, Beinn an Lochain and Stob Coire Creagach.
If you’d like to hire a hiking guide for any of these routes, contact John Urquhart of Loch Lomond Guides. He knows the area like the back of his hand and has decades of experience as a hiking guide.
Explore low-level hiking routes
The Arrochar Alps also have many trails that are perfect for rest days, winter conditions or less-experienced hikers who want to stick to lower-level routes.
- The Glen Loin circuit is a long, but mostly flat trail that runs through the glens and corries north of Arrochar. The loop trail offers great views of the Arrochar Alps.
- The Hidden Heritage Trail runs for 3.5 miles and explores the history and archaeology between Arrochar and Tarbet. It follows part of the Three Lochs Way. You can download a leaflet, use the heritage trail app and learn more from the interpretation panels along the trail.
- Walk parts of the Three Lochs Way. Follow the path south towards Garelochhead for stunning views of Arrochar and the mountains across Loch Long, or pick up the trail on the other side of the train tracks to walk through an ancient oak woodland.
Hire a boat from Loch Goil Cruisers
Make your way to Lochgoilhead and hire a self-drive motorboat from Loch Goil Cruisers to explore the Clyde Sea Lochs Trail by water. Keep an eye out for seals, otters and porpoises, see the 14-century ruins of Carrick Castle on the shore of Loch Goil and enjoy the stunning scenery of the Arrochar Alps.
Alternatively, if you’d rather lean back – join a cruise on Loch Lomond from Tarbet with Cruise Loch Lomond. They leave from Tarbet pier as well as a few other locations and sail all over the loch.
Scenic Glen Croe & Rest and Be Thankful
If you’re driving, make your way up to the scenic Glen Croe road to the Rest and Be Thankful viewpoint west of Arrochar. Stop at the aptly named view point to see the entire glen at your feet.
Where to eat in Arrochar & Tarbet
Arrochar is less about fine dining and more about satisfying pub meals that fill up your reserves after a long day in the hills.
- Ben Arthur’s Bothy for traditional pub food in a welcoming atmosphere. The lounge is filled with banter and you can strike up a conversation with another table with ease. In summer, enjoy the views on the sunny deck facing Loch Long.
- The Olive Branch (by the petrol station) for breakfast fare and takeaway. Perfect to get a hot roll before starting a long hike in the Arrochar Alps.
- The Village Inn for traditional pub food in a cosy restaurant with exposed stone walls and wood beams on the ceiling.
- The Slanj in Tarbet for Scottish food near the banks of Loch Lomond. The restaurant is located in an old church, has a sunny outdoor area and Tarbet’s only village shop.
Accommodation in Arrochar
There are quite a few options for places to stay in Arrochar.
On this trip, I stayed at Arrochar Alps Retreat, a comfortable self-catering apartment for up to three guests near the top of Loch Long. The apartment is well-equipped with anything you may need during your stay. The lounge offers stunning views of the mountains and it’s just across the road to the waterfront.
My favourite thing: you can see the mountains from bed!
Host Cherry McTavish is also a massage therapist and offers massages and spa treatments for her guests on site. What better way to relax after an active day in the Arrochar Alps, than a soothing back massage?!
Another option is Ben Arthur’s Bothy – they offer B&B and self-catering accommodation at Lochside Guest House.
Things to do in Luss on Loch Lomond
Luss is one of the most popular places on Loch Lomond and often described as one of the prettiest villages in Scotland.Many road trippers and sightseeing buses stop in the village on their way further north.
But while most people leave Luss after just an hour or two, it’s really worth staying for a night or a few – especially if you’re looking for outdoor activities, great food and gorgeous scenery.
The Luss Heritage Trail is an easy walk that takes you to all the major sights in the village, including the beach, Luss pier and Luss Parish Church. The church was built in the late 1800s, but the cemetery around it has been used since the 7th century. Also note the 11th century Viking hogback grave.
One of my favourite things to do in Luss is to stroll down Pier Road which is lined with beautiful stone cottages and colourful flower gardens.
Cycle along Loch Lomond
The new ScotRail Highland Explorer trains make it easy to bring your bike on an adventure with you. New carriages with extra space for bikes and even charging points for e-bikes. You could take the train from Glasgow to Arrochar and Tarbet and follow the bike path along Loch Lomond to Balloch, or all the way back to Glasgow.
If you don’t have your own, you can hire bikes from Loch Lomond Leisure at Luss beach. They have regular bikes for adults and children, as well as e-bikes. There is a separate bike path all the way from Balloch to Tarbet, and from Luss you can cycle in either direction.
I cycled from Tarbet to Luss using an e-bike. The path led right along the loch, offering great views of Ben Lomond and the other hills on the east shore. Firkin Point is a great place for a stop and a picnic on the beach.
Boat trips & watersports
Loch Lomond Leisure also offers a variety of boat trips and watersports from Luss pier.
You can hire pedal, rowing and motor boats to cruise around the islands or join a tour on a speedboat for more action.
Available watersports include kayaking and canoeing, paddle boarding, water skiing and wakeboarding.
Speaking of paddle boarding – I love bringing my board to Loch Lomond year-round. Great places to launch – apart from the beach at Luss – are the pier at Tarbet (for a paddle around Tarbet Island) or Firkin Point.
Gorge walking in Glen Luss
Gorge walking is easily one of the most fun outdoor activities I’ve ever tried in Scotland!
In Your Element is a Scottish company with locations all over the Highlands. On Loch Lomond they offer a variety of scheduled and bespoke activities such as canoeing, paddle boarding and gorge walking.
Together with your activity guide, you’ll walk up a gorge in Glen Luss. The water of the river is cold year-round, but the provided wetsuit will keep you surprisingly warm as you climb up waterfalls, jump into pools and slide down natural chutes in the rocks.
All features going down are optional, so even if you are a little scared of heights, you can forget about that fear as you scramble up the waterfalls. What a unique way to experience a Scottish glen.
Treat yourself at Carrick Spa
If the wellness facilities at your accommodation (see below) are not enough, treat yourself to a spa day at the nearby Carrick Spa at Cameron House. Carrick features a full hydro and thermal spa suite with a rooftop infinity pool, experience showers, an ice fountain and relaxation pools. There are also different saunas and a hammam.
For an extra treat, book a spa treatment or a spa day package that also includes food and drink.
Where to eat in Luss
Since Luss is a popular place to visit, there are a lot more eateries than you might expect for such a small village. Here are a few of my favourite places to eat in Luss:
- Colquhoun’s is the restaurant at Lodge of Loch Lomond. It offers panoramic views of the loch and delicious meals highlighting Scottish produce. The restaurant is open to guests and non-residents.
- Coach House Coffee Shop for light lunch plates and lush cakes.
- The Village Rest for relaxed Scottish cuisine. They have a nice outdoor seating area and you can also get most meals for takeaway.
- Loch Lomond Arms is a beautiful hotel nestled halfway between Loch Lomond and the hills. There is a formal dining room for elevated cuisine, and a more relaxed bar for relaxed hospitality.
Accommodation in Luss
Treat yourself to a luxurious getaway at the Lodge on Loch Lomond. The hotel lies on the edge of Luss village and overlooks Loch Lomond – most rooms look out onto the loch, its islands and the hills beyond.
I stayed in a Deluxe Corbett room in the original part of the hotel and don’t know what I enjoyed more – the massive bed, my balcony with uninterrupted loch views or my private 2-person sauna in my en-suite bathroom!
I hope that this guide for things to do in Helensburgh, Arrochar and Luss on Loch Lomond has inspired you to book a trip to Helensburgh & Lomond – or helped you create an itinerary for your next getaway to the Scottish Highlands.
With so much to offer, Helensburgh and Lomond will steal your heart. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
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