HOME to the most famous ice-cream in Scotland, Largs has been a favourite "doon the watter" destination for generations.

Fewer folk take their big summer holiday in the Ayrshire town these day, but it remains an attractive day or weekend trip, a gateway to the isles with a vibrant history and culture and, as our readers’ recommendations highlight, plenty of great places to eat, drink and shop.

Historic Highlights

Sheltered behind the tip of Great Cumbrae, bound by high ground to the east, Largs – Learg in Gaelic means “hillside” – evolved in the nineteenth century as a genteel seaside resort.

Centuries before that it was the site of a battle, in 1263, that all but ended Norway’s claim over the Hebrides.

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In the seventeenth century, the Montgomeries of Skelmorlie became lairds of the estates around the town, which grew up around the parish kirk.

A pier was constructed in 1834, serving steamers, and leading to the construction of big hotels and villas, including Netherhall, built for scientist Lord Kelvin. The railway followed in 1895.

During the Second World War, the Hollywood Hotel became the base for HMS Warren. It was during a conference there in 1943, chaired by Lord Mountbatten, that that the 1944 Normandy landings that would eventually liberate Europe were first agreed upon. Norway’s King Haakon VII, an exile in the UK during the war, was made an honorary citizen of Largs during a visit in 1944.

What to do

Regular Largs visitor Ann Wallace recommends a good walk on arrival. “We like going from the Pencil monument, situated at the south end of the Prom, back to the town,” she says. “Fresh air and sea views all the way.”

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Skelmorlie Aisle, a hidden gem just off the main street, is also well worth a visit. “This mausoleum was added to Largs Parish Church in 1636 on the orders of Sir Robert Montgomerie and his wife, Margaret Douglas, and it is now their resting place,” says Ann. “When the church was demolished in the early 1800s, the aisle, with its amazing painted ceiling, was spared. I find it a beautiful and almost eerie place, weirdly tucked just behind the busy shopping street.”

Largs local Kirsty Morrison knows of another hidden gem with a great story, the Prophet’s Grave. She says: “Back in 1644, at the height of the Plague, Reverend William Smith was dying of the disease. He said it would return to Largs if the holly trees planted at each end of his grave ever touched. Local people and the Council have cut them back every year since…just in case!” You can find the grave off Brisbane Glen Road.

Kirsty says Douglas Park, with its Neolithic tombs, sundial and great views over the town, makes for a lovely summer evening walk. Fellow resident Charlotte Mills enjoys dolphin-spotting from the trail alongside Largs marina towards the private beach.

For more on the history of town and its people, head to Largs Museum, just off Main Street. Run by volunteers and open in the afternoons, Sunday to Thursday, the old photographs, domestic appliances and seaside memorabilia are of particular interest.

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Vikingar!, the child-friendly multi-media Viking exhibition at the leisure centre on Greenock road, is also good fun. Links between Largs and Norway are further explored and celebrated at the week-long Largs Viking festival which takes place annually in the first week in September. As well as a living history Viking village, there is music, food, arts, crafts, fireworks and boat-burning to look forward to.

It’s not the only festival in town this summer, though. Over the last weekend in June, Largs Live brings a diverse programme live music to the town’s streets, pubs and restaurants.

Where to eat and drink

According to Sheila Ramsay The Three Reasons bar, in Gallowgate Square, has “a great menu, friendly staff and good prices”. She also recommends the nearby Ye Old Anchor Inn – known as the Anchor – for its entertainment and atmosphere. “The pub quiz on a Tuesday evening is great fun,” she says. “Niven, the owner, even provides sandwiches at half time.”

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Glenn Greenfield, from nearby Skelmorlie, recommends brunch at Guzzi, in Gallowgate. “Don't miss the avocado toast with poached egg,” he says. “A quirky and tasty experience all round.”

When it comes to ice-cream, the name Nardini remains iconic and is synonymous with this town. The big, refurbished art deco café on Greenock Road offers 32 flavours of the cold stuff, not to mention a dizzying array of sundaes and desserts. There’s a smaller café – called Nardini at the Moorings – on Main Street, too.

For casual dining out, Kirsty Morrison recommends Room. “It’s family-friendly and you can sit outside when the weather ia fine. The place has recently been refurbished, and it was great to see some of the vintage woodwork benches from the old Largs Academy coming back into use.”

For something more upmarket, Scotts, at the Marina, serves excellent steaks and seafood. The perfect place to sip a cocktail and watch the yachts sail by.

If it’s a fish supper you’re after, Fish Works, on the Promenade, is the place to be. Native Charlotte Mills says: “The most amazing fish and chips I’ve ever tasted. The fish comes straight from Peterhead and everything is cooked to order. You can sit inside or take away and walk the calories off. And it’s dog friendly.”

Where to shop

Largs is traditional, old-fashioned sweet heaven, according to Ann Wallace. “My boys absolutely love The Candybox and The Continental, side-by-side on Main Street, owned by the same family for years," she says. "Both are proper sweetshops where you can get homemade tablet, fudge and macaroon, plus boiled sweets and marzipan fruits.”

Kirsty Morrison is a big fan of butcher AD Paton, on Aitken Street. “The pies are fantastic and they stock some quite exotic meats," she adds. "This is where you buy your Christmas dinner ingredients if you’re from Largs!”

Meanwhile Largo, in Gallowgate, has a charming and reasonably-priced selection of gifts and jewellery.

Where to stay

Seaview: Right on the front, The Brisbane House Hotel offers comfortable, contemporary bedrooms and stunning views to Millport. Rooms start from £50.

Traditional: Set in beautiful gardens, the Old Rectory is a short five-minute stroll along the promenade from the main attractions. From £60 a night.

Live like a local: The Anchor Room self-catering apartment is a quirky, sea-themed home from home with a barbecue and garden. Sleeps three. Go to Airbnb.co.uk for details.

What to do nearby

Kelburn Castle and Estate is just a couple of miles from Largs town centre, but feels like another world. From forest trails to waterfalls, adventure playgrounds to horse-riding and glamping, there’s something for everyone at this lovely country park. The castle itself, with its unique graffiti wall, is quirky and historic in equal measure. Check the website for special events throughout the year.

Cycle round Millport

Just a short hop on the ferry, Great Cumbrae begs to be cycled around. Its main town, Millport, has a host of attractions, not least a lovely beach, the beautiful Cathedral of the Isles and the iconic Ritz café. Book ahead and get there early in summer - when the sun shines, everyone wants to go.

In the coming weeks I'll be visiting Port Charlotte and Drymen. Send your things to do, places to eat, drink, stay and shop to: marianne.taylor@heraldandtimes.co.uk