Ardrossan is a port in Ayrshire on the Clyde coast of Scotland. It's part of the "Three Towns" conurbation of Greater Ardrossan, which also includes Saltcoats and Stevenston. The town has few sights and amenities, and the main reason to visit is to catch the ferry to the Isle of Arran.
While nearby towns such as Largs and Troon developed as beach resorts in the Victorian era, the Three Towns have always been industrial. Trades included salt extraction, shipping, quarrying and mining, and in the early 20th century Stevenston produced military and commercial explosives. Little of these now remain and various regeneration projects have faltered, so the towns have fallen back on being slightly grubby beach resorts, and commuterland for Irvine. The population in 2020 was 10,500 for Ardrossan, 12,250 for Saltcoats, and 9050 for Stevenston.
From Glasgow, follow M8 west. Just past Glasgow Airport, exit at Jcn 29 onto A737, following signs for Irvine. With a light vehicle (and with a caravan or RV is okay), at Dalry take the signposted shortcut onto B780. (With fields and hills all around, it'll feel like you're many miles from the coast. But then you glimpse a line of wind turbines, as if an enormous aircraft was taxiing on the far side of the ridge; finally the sea and harbour come into view.) Otherwise stay on A737 to join A78 further south.
From England, take M6 then A75 to Dumfries, then A76 to Kilmarnock, then A71 west to join A78.
All approaches eventually follow A78, which bypasses Ardrossan, so ferry traffic loops round to the north of town then approaches the harbour along Eglinton road. (Don't follow what looks like a shortcut along A738 unless Stevenston or Saltcoats is your destination, you don't want to be part of the congestion on this road.) The final turn onto Glasgow St towards the harbour comes up with little warning, so when you reach the sign to the ferry, turn promptly.
There's long stay parking next to the ferry terminal, plus an Asda supermarket - stock up on fuel and supplies before crossing to Arran.
Stagecoach Bus X36 runs from Glasgow Buchanan station every couple of hours daily, taking 90 min, with a bus at midnight, 03:00 then 07:00. (But don't get on the X36 operated by First Scotland East, or you'll end up in Cumbernauld!) You can also reach Ardrossan just as quickly by taking the X34 (for Beith and Irvine), and changing at Kilwinning for Bus 11, which is the frequent Kilmarnock-Ardrossan service. A third option is to take the X77 (for Ayr) and change at Prestwick for Bus 585.
The latter bus, Stagecoach Bus 585 or "Clyde Coaster", runs between Ayr and Prestwick Airport in the south, through Saltcoats and Ardrossan, and on to Largs (for Great Cumbrae), Weymss Bay (for Isle of Bute) and Greenock. It runs every 30 min M-Sa and every two hours on Sunday.
Trains run from Glasgow Central every 30 min M-Sa, hourly on Sunday, taking 40 min via Paisley Gilmour Street (for Glasgow Airport), Dalry, Kilwinning (for Irvine, Prestwick Airport, Ayr and Stranraer), Stevenston and Saltcoats to the main railway station 1 Ardrossan South Beach. Alternate trains then either continue north to West Kilbride and Largs (ferry port for Great Cumbrae) or take the short branch line to Ardrossan Town and Ardrossan Harbour, which is next to the ferry terminal. These Harbour trains connect with the ferries to Arran.
Ardrossan South Beach and the Harbour are a mile apart, so if you're coming here to catch the ferry and have only light luggage, it may be quicker to take the "wrong" train and walk the last stretch, than wait another 30 min for the "right" train. The last train to and from Glasgow is after 23:00, long after the ferries have stopped sailing. If your train is delayed and you risk missing your ferry, make your plight known to the conductor, and the ferry may be held. Combined rail + ferry tickets are available.
Ardrossan South Beach and Saltcoats have staffed ticket offices and machines. The others don't, so if you start your journey from Harbour, Town or Stevenston, buy on board from the conductor. All have step-free access to platforms but no toilets.
2 Ardrossan Harbour has Calmac ferries to Brodick on the Isle of Arran, taking 55 min. In summer they sail M-Sa 07:00-19:00 every 90 min, Su every 2-3 hours. There are fewer in the "shoulder" months of April and October, and Nov-March there are only 4 or 5 per day. For fares see Isle of Arran#Get in.
If you travel with a camper van or caravan, in summer be prepared at check-in to show a pitch reservation on Arran, else you may be turned away. All the Scottish islands have a problem in summer with visitor vehicles camping illegally on the verges and passing places.
Calmac ferries sail three days a week May-Sept to Campbeltown in Kintyre, taking 2 hr 30 min. From there a foot-passenger ferry runs in summer to Ballycastle in Northern Ireland; there are no car ferries between Kintyre and Ireland.
Ardrossan harbour is expected to close for upgrading for two years from Nov 2023, and the ferries will probably instead sail from Troon. The details have yet to be confirmed.
Clyde Marina east side of the ferry harbour has facilities for private boats, with mooring, dry berthing, cleaning, marine diesel and marine fuel. On approach, beware of Horse Isle one mile out - it has a day-mark but no light, and there have been several wreckings.
Glasgow Airport (GLA IATA) is 8 miles west of central Glasgow on the M8. Dozens of airlines fly to destinations in the British Isles, Europe, North America and the Middle East. From the airport you can travel into central Glasgow then change, but it's quicker to take the bus the two miles to Paisley Gilmour Street, see Glasgow#Get in.
Prestwick Airport (PIK IATA) is much closer to Ardrossan but has very few flights. Ryanair is the only passenger airline, flying to Med holiday destinations. From the airport either take the train, changing at Kilwinning for Ardrossan (reckon 45 min), or Bus 585, see Prestwick#Gt in.
Walking will get you around town. The train and Bus 585 (above) connect Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston.
Taxi operators in Ardrossan are Mainland (+44 1294 463556) and P&H (+44 1294 480089), and in Saltcoats are Steve's (+44 7900 291178), Central (+44 1294 464646) and West Coast (+44 1294 605605).
- 1 Ardrossan Castle. Closed. The castle was once ransacked by William Wallace and his followers and remained an important outpost until Oliver Cromwell took control of it, had it dismantled and sent the stone to build a new castle in Ayr. So it's just a stone stump, but prominently located on the hill above town centre. The ruins have become unsafe and are fenced off; either duck through a hole in the fence or just admire the exterior and views across the Firth to Arran.
- Sculpture Garden is rather a grand name for the cobbles set down on a checkerboard on the breakwater pier north of the marina. It's the work of Hideo Furuta (1949-2007), born in Hiroshima and settling in Creetown Kirkcudbright, who made much use of the granite from a disused nearby quarry.
- Barony St Johns (now a training centre) and St Peter in Chains (RC) are good examples of old and new styles of church architecture. They're close together at the north end of South Beach.
- 2 Horse Isle is seen half a mile out from the harbour - or not seen, as it's low-lying and close to the navigation channel, causing several wreckings. The 52-ft tower was built in 1811 to act as a day-mark but has never had a light. The island is now an RSPB nature reserve.
- 3 Montfode Castle is just a stump of masonry, all that remains of a 16th century tower. Cromwell's not to blame for this ruin however, as it was stripped of its stone in the 19th century to build a dam for a mill at Montfode Farm. You see it first from the bypass A78 just before this reaches the coast. For a closer look, turn onto the coast road then immediately right into the lane.
- 4 St Cuthbert's Church, Campbell Ave, Saltcoats KA21 5AF (Corner of Caledonia Road). Fine church built in 1908. Note the stain-glass windows and the small carvings around the entrances and within. It's Church of Scotland, with regular services.
- North Ayrshire Heritage Centre, 13 Kirkgate, Saltcoats KA21 9QJ (200 yards west of Saltcoats station), ☏ +44 1294 464174. M-W 09:30-13:00, 14:00-16:30. Local history exhibits in a former church. Free.
- Beaches along this coastline are:
- - Ardrossan South Beach, just south of the main railway station, is the principal traditional seaside strip. Amenities, pubs, ice cream vans, Glasgow accents, beach football, gulls stealing chips, squalling kids, yappy West Highland Terriers, what's not to like about it?
- - Ardrossan North Beach, north of the harbour, is quieter. Best views are at sunset as the light drops over the mountains of Arran. Listen out for the story of how the Earl of Eglington was horribly slain here. No spoilers, but if you seize a cartload of contraband rum on a fine smugglers' beach like this, then beware reprisals, even if you let them keep the cart.
- - Saltcoats South Beach is another traditional seaside strip, close to Saltcoats railway station where hordes alight from Glasgow.
- - Stevenston Beach further south is much quieter, but the tide comes right in and with the wind behind the sea it can become hazardous.
- 1 Holm Plantation, a short way inland from Ardrossan South Beach, is a relaxing grassland for recreation and walking.
- Auchenharvie Leisure Centre, Saltcoats Road, Stevenston KA20 3JR (Any bus along B780 Canal St, eg 11 or 585), ☏ +44 1294 605126. M-F 07:00-21:00, Sa Su 08:00-17:00. Activities include ice skating and the Olympic sized swimming pool.
- Golf: Auchengarvie GC is nine holes. It's by the loch half a mile east of Saltcoats. See Kilwinning for Ardeer GC.
- Ardrossan Bowling Club, Kilmeny Terrace, Ardrossan KA22 8DX (just off South Beach), ☏ +44 1294 463805. Disclaimer - this is not a wise choice for the under 60s.
- Premier Leisure Cinema, The Esplanade, Saltcoats KA21 5DE, ☏ +44 1294 471777. Multiplex overlooking Saltcoats harbour.
- Basebowl, 58-60 Hamilton Street, Saltcoats KA21 5DS, ☏ +44 1294 603801. Su-Th 10:00-21:00, F Sa 10:00-23:00. Ten pin bowling.
- Sail the ferry to Arran even if you're not staying on the island. You can take a day-trip to Brodick and visit the castle, or just cruise there and back without stepping ashore. Have a scenic lunch on the way, or look for marine life in the Firth of Clyde.
- Ardrossan Highland Games are held on the second Sunday in June on Memorial Playing Fields. The next are probably on Sunday 11 June 2023, tbc.
- ASDA is the big store by Ardrossan Harbour, open daily 08:00-22:00. Stock up on essentials here before sailing to Arran, especially fuel (24 hours) - it's a big island and you may do more mileage than you expect.
- Tesco on A738 through Saltcoats and Lidl on B780 east through Stevenston are the other main stores.
- Cafe Palazzo, 230 Glasgow Street KA22 8JX (Junction with A738), ☏ +44 1294 464355. Daily 07:00-23:00. Traditional Italian fish and chips shop, cafe and ice cream parlour. They also offer a sit down service, an extensive selection of desserts, and newspapers.
- Alberts, 35 Glasgow Street KA22 8EP, ☏ +44 1294 462842. Daily 11:00-21:00. Reliable fish & chips takeaway.
- 1 Jaipur, 51 Glasgow Street KA22 8EP, ☏ +44 1294 601191. Daily 16:00-23:00. Small friendly restaurant with usual Indian menu. Does takeaway.
- Lauriston Hotel does bar meals and restaurant food, see "Sleep". It's best value before 6 pm.
- Cecchini's, 5 Dock Rd KA22 8DA (The Marina), ☏ +44 1294 471700. Su-F 09:30-00:00, Sa 09:30-01:00. Good Italian, a tad pricey but worth it. Let them know if you prefer a well-fired pizza, they usually cook soft. They have another branch in Ayr.
Saltcoats has a huge number of places to eat.
- Cafe Melbourne, 72 Hamilton Street, Saltcoats KA21 5DS, ☏ +44 1294 607079. Daily 09:15-16:00. Coffee and snacks.
- Cavani West End Cafe, 68 Hamilton Street, Saltcoats KA21 5DS (next to Cafe Melbourne), ☏ +44 1294 464638. W-Su 09:00-16:00. Coffee and meals, can serve gluten-free.
- The Kandy Bar, 2 Hamilton Street, Saltcoats KA21 5DS, ☏ +44 1294 463804. M-Sa 08:00-17:00. Bakery with breads, rolls, sandwiches, cakes. They serve sit-in meals with all-day breakfast.
- Indian restaurants in Saltcoats are Motherland Spice and Abid's Tandoori, both just south of the railway station.
- Charlie's Bar, 18 Glasgow St KA22 8EL, ☏ +44 1294 465910. M-Sa 09:00-23:00, Su 11:00-00:00. Friendly wee place.
- Castlehill Vaults (Alfies), 2-4 Princes Pl KA22 8HB, ☏ +44 1294 604189. Su-W 10:00-00:00, Th-Sa 10:00-01:00. Pub with games. Free wifi, beer garden, dog friendly, TV sport.
- The Salt Cot, 7 Hamilton Street, Saltcoats KA21 5DS, ☏ +44 1294 465924. Su-Th 08:00-00:00, F Sa 08:00-01:00. JD Wetherspoon pub with food.
- Nonsuch Sports Bar, 35-37 Windmill Street, Saltcoats KA21 5EW, ☏ +44 1294 466731. Su-W 10:00-22:30, Th-Sa 10:00-00:00. Pub with food by amusement arcade.
- 1 Lauriston Hotel, 15 South Crescent Road KA22 8EA, ☏ +44 1294 463771. 3-star hotel with 5 rooms next to Ardrossan South Beach railway station. With bar meals and restaurant. B&B double £80.
- 2 Edenmore, 47 Parkhouse Road KA22 8AN, ☏ +44 1294 462306. Comfy dog-friendly guesthouse on the main road through town. B&B double £65.
- See Kilwinning for Red Squirrel at the junction of A78 and A738.
As of Sept 2022, Ardrossan has 4G from all UK carriers, but the signal from O2 is patchy. 5G has not reached this area.
There is no land-based mobile signal on the ferries. Switch off, or check what they plan to charge you to use the ferry's connection.
There's free internet access at Ardrossan Library.
- The top attraction is the Isle of Arran, which can be done on a day-trip but deserves a longer stay.
- A short train-ride brings you to Largs, with a ferry to Great Cumbrae - and a day-trip will be enough there.
- Nearby Kilwinning has a ruined abbey, castle and country park.
- Visit Ayr, and especially Alloway, for the Burns Heritage Park.