Largs is a seaside resort on the Clyde coast of Ayrshire, with a population of 11,030 in 2020. It’s where Viking power in Scotland was broken, at the Battle of Largs in 1263, and the Vikingar Exhibition is the town’s main attraction. Largs is the ferry port for the short crossing to the Isle of Great Cumbrae, and a base for exploring Ayrshire.
The Battle of Largs was a small and indecisive affair, but it spelt the failure of a Norwegian sea expedition to re-assert their control in this region. They were beaten by storms more than Scots, in an era when climate change was sapping sea-borne power across the far north, and the Vikings disappeared from history to be replaced by Nordic nation states. Subsequently the Norwegians ceded Strathclyde, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to Scotland, while retaining Orkney and Shetland. The Scots named the place An Leargaidh, “the slopes”.
Not much else happened in Largs for another 600 years, and then its fortunes rose as the city of Glasgow expanded, becoming a fashionable place for city merchants to have a country retreat. Lord Brisbane, governor of New South Wales, was born here in 1773, and the physicist Lord Kelvin lived here. In the 19th century Largs became part of the “Costa Clyde” or “Glasgow Riviera” – the string of small resorts such as Troon, Ayr, Girvan and Arran. It remains popular in summer with day-trippers from the city.
In 1944 King Haakon VII of Norway was in exile in Britain and was made the first honorary citizen of Largs, just to let bygones be bygones.
By train: Trains run hourly from Glasgow Central, taking one hour via Paisley, Kilbirnie, Kilwinning and Ardrossan. The last train leaves around 23:00; in 2022 an off-peak adult single is £9.30. Change at Kilwinning for trains from Ayr, via Prestwick, Troon and Irvine.
1 Largs railway station is central. There's a staffed ticket office and machines, toilets and a waiting room. There is step-free access to both platforms.
By bus: Direct buses run to Largs every half hour or so from Greenock (45 min), Ardrossan (30 min), Irvine (50 min) and Ayr (75 min). From central Glasgow (Buchanan station), the quickest route is usually to change at Greenock. There isn't a bus station in Largs, the buses make several stops in town including the railway station and ferry pier.
By boat: see Great Cumbrae for the short ferry crossing to the island, but you have to return the same way.
2 Largs ferry pier is 200 yards northwest of the railway station.
Largs is relatively small and easily explored on foot. Taxi operators are Largs Central (+44 1475 687119), Bond Cars (+44 1475 670 007, but there any similarity ends), Brisbane / Waterside Motors (+44 1475 689990) and Barrys (+44 7709 034761).
- The promenade has grand views over the Firth of Clyde towards Arran, Cumbrae, Bute and Argyll.
- 1 Vikingar!, Greenock Rd, Largs KA30 8QL (north end of promenade). Apr-Jun & Sept-Oct daily 10:30-14:30; July-Aug M-F 10:30-15:30, Sa Su 11:30-15:30; Feb & Nov Sa Su 11:30-14:30, Mar daily 11:30-13:30. Exhibition tells the story of the Viking period of Scottish history. It's within a large leisure centre, open 09:00-21:00, with swimming pool, sauna and gym. £2.50.
- 2 Largs Museum remains closed in 2022.
- Largs Old Kirk behind the museum was demolished in 1802 when the new parish church opened, but its grounds (open May-Sept daily 14:00-17:00, free) contain two notable 17th century tombs. The Skelmorlie Aisle is the ornate tomb of Sir Robert Montgomerie and his wife Dame Margaret Douglas (killed young in a riding accident). The Montgomeries lived at Skelmorlie Castle, some miles north of town, nowadays a private mansion which can’t be visited. The Brisbane Aisle is the 17th century free-standing burial vault of the Shaws of Kelsoland.
- 3 The Pencil is a monument in the style of an Irish medieval round tower, built in 1912 to commemorate the Battle of Largs.
- 4 Kelburn Castle: how come Disney never thought of doing up his castle like this? Or Ludwig II at Neuschwanstein? It's a large house 2 miles south of Largs dating to 14th century but prettified into a chateau in 1700. The facade needed replacing in 2007 and its owner Lord Glasgow hired Brazilian graffiti artists who gave it a bold, jazzy makeover. Lips were pursed by heritage officialdom, but M'Lud won them over and the graffiti stays. The castle and grounds are open April-Oct, with tours daily mid-July to early Sept. The nearby Kel Burn is scenic, rushing down from the hills.
- Glengarnock Castle: see Kilbirnie for this battered medieval stump over the hills to the east.
- What's on? Read Largs and Millport Weekly News.
- 1 Barrfields Pavilion, ☏ . is a 500-seat theatre just behind Vikingar
- 2 Inverclyde National Sports Training Centre, Burnside Rd KA30 8RW. Su-F 09:00-22:00, Sa 09:00-20:00. This has gym, fitness suites and indoor sports hall; it doesn't have a pool. Clubs based here include archery, badminton, football, judo and tennis.
- Amusement Arcades (as if, hypothetically, it would ever be wet and miserable on Largs prom) can be found at The Arcade and at Cullis's Amusements, both by the ferry pier. The amusement area 200 yards north is outdoors.
- Golf: Largs GC is south end of town. White tees 6150 yards, par 70, visitor round £50.
- Routenburn GC is north, white tees 5604 yards, par 68.
- Greeto Bridge is reached by a 2-mile hike along the north slope of the Gogo Burn. Pick up the trail by following Gateside St then Flatt Rd east from town.
- Prophet's Grave is a bosky stroll starting two miles northeast off the lane up Noddsdale. William Smith was Largs church minister when plague struck in 1647, and many townsfolk fled to camp out in Noddsdale. He preached but never prophesied, so his own death from plague and posthumous reputation as a prophet were things he didn't see coming.
- Paddle Steamer Waverley calls at Largs in summer for sailings round the Firth of Clyde.
- Largs Live is a music festival held on the last weekend in June. The next is probably 23-25 June 2023 but to be confirmed.
- Viking Festival is first week in September. A Viking village pops-up on the promenade, plus a fairground. The next is probably 26 Aug - 3 Sept 2023, tbc.
- Scottish International Airshow is held in September at nearby Prestwick Airport.
- The main store is Morrisons next to the railway station, open M-Sa 07:00-22:00, Su 08:00-19:00.
- It's a beach resort, so there's lots of ice cream, fish & chips and other cheap eats, which the gulls will try to snatch off you.
- Nardini's, 2 Greenock Rd KA30 8NF, ☏ , email@example.com. Daily 09:00-20:00. A must-try when in Largs, a renowned Art Deco cafe & ice cream parlour plus "Tony Macaroni" Italian restaurant and shop. But not the cheapest, the famous name and setting adds to the price tag.
- Nardini at the Moorings is their branch cafe at the ferry pier, open daily 08:30-17:00.
- Room, 50 Gallowgate St KA30 8LX, ☏ . Daily 12:00-00:00. Family-friendly restaurant with bar.
- The Catch at Fins is a seafood restaurant in Fairlie five miles south, see West Kilbride listing.
- Drouthy Neebors (formerly McCabes) is a Belhaven pub next to the railway station, open M-Th 11:00-00:00 and F-Su 11:00-01:00.
- Ye Olde Anchor Inn is a friendly traditional pub with an open fire, just north of the ferry pier, open daily 11:00-01:00.
- The Paddle Steamer is a JD Wetherspoon next to the pier, open Su-W 08:00-00:00, Th-Sat 08:00-01:00.
Largs is a popular tourist destination and has many hotels and B&Bs throughout the town. The bigger and more expensive hotels can be found on the beach front. In the summer Largs can be rather busy and pre-booking hotels is recommended however there are many Bed and Breakfasts which offer rooms at an affordable price on a non-booking basis.
- 1 Brisbane House Hotel, 14 Greenock Rd, Largs KA30 8NE, ☏ . Decent hotel with grand views across the water. Beware that if you use their car-park, however briefly and even with a disabled sticker, you must promptly register the car at reception or you'll get a £100 fine. It would be sort of nice if they did a better job of warning their clients. B&B double £130.
- Woodhouse Hotel, 2 Barr Cres, Largs KA30 2PX, ☏ . Clean welcoming place, dog-friendly. B&B double £110.
Town centre is generally safe and well policed, but late evening there's a few aggressive drunks, and neds (hooligans) who only come into town to pick fights.
Largs has 4G from all UK carriers, but coverage is variable on its approach roads. As of July 2022, 5G has not reached this area.
- Take the ferry to Great Cumbrae. The island is easily cyclable, and buses meet the ferry and run to Millport.
- Little Cumbrae is a private yoga retreat, with a boat service from Largs for those booked on courses.
- The Isle of Bute is reached by ferry from Wemyss Bay. It can be day-tripped, but it’s worth a longer stay. Bute is also a stepping stone to Cowal and the Kintyre peninsula.
- Ayr is the best base for the Burns Heritage Museum at Alloway, and further south is Culzean Castle.
- The Isle of Arran deserves a few days to explore. Frequent ferries sail from Ardrossan.