Glasgow was named the UK's top cultural and creative city by the European Commission in 2019 and it's easy to see why! The striking architecture is particularly special, and the range of museums and galleries is truly impressive. There are hundreds of things to keep visitors busy during the day, both indoors and outdoors, and it's all topped off with an incredible music scene and buzzing nightlife.
Located on the river Clyde, Glasgow is Scotland's second city, largest sea port and the fifth most visited city in the whole of the UK. The city welcomes almost a million visitors annually, drawn to its architecture, museums, galleries and music venues, and by the wonderfully friendly collection of people who make Glasgow their home.
Glasgow's rich history tells the story of a religious, cultural, industrial and trading hub for centuries, and its present is no less exciting. It's the starting point for many a journey across Scotland, and it's well worth taking the time to explore the city properly. Here are some of our favourite things to do in Glasgow.
Culture & History
Glasgow's architecture is certainly a draw, and there's a lot to be gained from wandering around and taking in the variety of design influences - a wonderful mix of old and new, which together gives Glasgow's cityscape its unique charm. Famous architect and artist Charles Rennie MackIntosh lived for most of his life in the city, designing the Glasgow School of Art, sadly badly damaged following a fire in 2018, and the iconic Lighthouse, among others. Glasgow Cathedral - the oldest in mainland Scotland - is a medieval masterpiece, impressive both inside and out, and it's free to visit. Adjcent, the Glasgow Necropolis is a Victorian graveyard full of wonderful examples of architecture and sculpture among its 3,500+ tombs (guided walking tours are available).
Many of the other attractions mentioned below are also architecturally stunning, so make sure you leave yourself time to appreciate them from the outside as well as exploring inside!
The city is also known for its art, with the famous Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum as the jewel in a particularly sparkly crown. Other must-sees for art enthusiasts include House for an Art Lover , a gallery and exhibition space in Bellahouston Park and the Hunterian Art Gallery and Museum, home to one of the finest university collections in the world, including the MackIntosh House exhibition. If you want to continue your quest for art outside, check out the eyecatching creations on the City Centre Mural Trail.
Glasgow is certainly not short of museums either - we love the Glasgow Science Centre (be sure to climb the tower for amazing views of the city!), and the Riverside Musem of Transport & Travel in particular.
For something a bit different, Sharamanka Kinetic Theatre is an absolute must-visit! Sharmanka was founded in Russia in 1989 and has been based in Glasgow since 1996. Carved clockwork figures are mechanically choreographed along with a music and light show, telling stories and transporting guests to another world.
Places to Eat & Drink
Whilst Glasgow does not have any Michelin-starred restaurants, it's still a foodie's dream with many incredible places to eat and drink!
There really is something for everyone when it comes to Glasgow's eateries! Here are just a few of our favourites.
If you're not quite sure what you fancy for dinner, head to Ashton Lane, a pretty cobbled street with lots of great options - simply wander, enjoy the atmosphere and see what you can find. The cornerstone of this area is Ubiquitous Chip, which offers particularly excellent Scottish fayre.
Those with special dietary requirements should check out Dakhin (completely gluten free and with many vegan friendly options) or Red Onion (separate gluten free, dairy free and vegan menus) in particular.
Bread Meats Bread offers fresh local produce with a special focus on excellent quality burgers. The small family-run Black Sheep Bistro offers Scottish favourites in an unassuming setting - their lemon meringue pie is the talk of the town! Exceptional Vietnamese canteen food can be found at Hanoi Bike Shop, where the quirky and fun setting adds greatly to the atmosphere, and Nippon Kitchen transports guests to Japan with wonderful, colourful dishes created from the finest ingredients. Ox and Finch has a well-earned reputation among Glasgow's finest restaurants, with an imaginative menu combining favourites with slightly more edgy choices.
For drinks, the Merchant City area is great for cocktail bars and clubs (including the well-known Sub Club), and Clydesdale Distillery offers tours and tastings of the local gin. Craft beer fans will be well-served at Drysdale Brewery, which also has a brasserie if you want to make a night of it.
Nature & Green Spaces
Glasgow isn't short of places to relax and enjoy nature - even right in the centre of this buzzing city you can escape to find tranquility in some beautiful green spaces.
Glasgow's Botanic Gardens are located in the West End, making them the perfect place to unwind after a hard day's shopping (see below). Founded in 1817 by botanist Thomas Hopkirk, the gardens opened on their current site in 1842. Home to the impressive Kibble Palace, the striking and elegant glasshouse, and housing over 12,000 species of plant across indoor and outdoor displays, the gardens are a jewel in Glasgow's crown and not to be missed.
Glasgow Green, the oldest of the city's parks, is home to the People's Palace & Winter Gardens, providing a series of exhibits showing what life was like in Glasgow through the ages. This is a great wet weather option which combines a museum with social history and nature.
Next to the iconic Kelvingrove Museum & Gallery is Kelvingrove Park, a beautiful green space along the banks of the river Kelvin. Created by Sir Joseph Paxton, this urban oasis is buzzing with birdlife and it's a joy to walk around.
If you're willing to travel a little further to get out on the open, two wonderful parks within a short journey of the city centre are Pollok Country Park to the south and Mugdock Country Park to the north. Pollok Country park is home to Pollok House, and formed the backdrop for a good few of the outdoor scenes in the popular historical drama, Outlander. It is also well known for exceptional mountain-biking, with three specially-designed circuits to choose from. Mugdock has plenty of wonderful trails for hiking and biking, a children's playground and a collection of cafes and coffee houses, which make it a great place for a family day out. Both parks are easily accesible by car and public transport.
Shopping in Glasgow is an excellent way to spend a day, particularly if the weather doesn't quite do what you'd hoped. Known for some of the best shopping in the UK outside London, Glasgow's mix of shopping streets (many of them pedestrianised) and large purpose-build shopping centres will keep even the pickiest of shoppers entertained for hours.
Known as the 'Style Mile', the area encompassing Argyle Street, Buchanan Street and Merchant City is home to many of Glasgow's best fashion stores. The St Enoch Centre can be found here too - a state-of-the-art mall with a brilliant collection of high street fashion stores. Also found here is Princes Square - an architectural must-see in its own right - a beautifully restored 19th-century masterpiece filled with high-end fashion stores.
Buchanan Galleries, conveniently located near the main bus station, is a large, bright and modern mall offering more than 90 stores and food and drink options. There's a nice mix of high street and independent shops and there's a great buzz in the atmosphere as well.
A little further out of the city centure, a number of large, purpose-built malls can be found (each well-served by buses and with ample parking), including The Forge in Parkhead, Silverburn, near Pollok Country Park, and Glasgow Fort, near Easterhouse.
Ingram Street is known its for designer stores - a great mix of old and new, this attractive boulevard is packed full of luxury brands and has a decidedly international vibe about it.
If you prefer boutique, independent or quirky stores to the traditional high-street brands, Glasgow's West End is the perfect place for you to shop. Surrounded by beautiful sandstone buildings and full of little gems of stores, this area, often described as 'hipster' or 'bohemian', is a world away from the modern malls and home to an eclectic mix of bespoke, vintage and designer stores and a lovely collection of cafes and eateries.
Here are our picks for where to head if you want a bird's eye view of the city. We always enjoy getting a different perspective, sense of place and perhaps orientate ourselves by looking down on a new city from above.
The very reasonably-priced Glasgow Tower can be found at the science centre and is most cost-effective when tickets are purchased alongside entry to the centre. The tower cabin is accessed in a lift which takes 2.5 minutes, however a reasonable level of fitness is a must, as there are 523 steps back down to ground level, which must be negotiated in the event of an emergency. On a clear day, you will enjoy far-reaching views across Glasgow and the Clyde. Please note: This experience is unfortunately not suitable for guests with limited mobility.
Scotland's centre for design and architecture, The Lighthouse, designed by Charles Rennie MackIntosh for his first public comission, also offers excellent views across the city from its large glass windows, which is a great complement to the myriad information about the architecture which makes up the Glasgow skyline. The famous and striking spiral staircase also offers a view and a half, at least for those with a head for heights who can stomach looking down!
Glasgow University's impressive cloisters have got to be one of the most photographed spots in the city, and it's easy to see why! Beautifully framing the inside and outside, these peaceful structures connect the East and West quadrangles of the university.
For views of a different kind, why not take a tour of Celtic Park, home of Celtic FC, or Ibrox, home of rivals Rangers -depending on whether you're of a blue or green persuasion! The football fans among you might be lucky enough to catch a game during your visit to Glasgow, and either way, a tour will give a different perspective and a series of excellent vantage points from which to look down on the pitch.
Getting to and from Glasgow
Glasgow has two major train stations - Glasgow Central and Glasgow Queen Street, with connections possible to local and long-distance trains the length and breadth of Scotland and the rest of the UK. Glasgow Central is on the West Coast Mainline, served by regular trains to and from London, the Midlands and the North West.
The city and surrounding area are also well-served with local buses, for which timetables can be found on theFirst Group and Stagecoach websites, and long-distance buses from Buchanan Station to most other major locations within Scotland. From the airport, the Glasgow Airport Express service (500 bus) takes you into the city centre in around 30 minutes.
As well as its comprehensive train and bus network, Glasgow has a subway running every 4 minutes at peak times, which is one of the easiest, quickest and cheapest ways to get around the city centre and West End. There's a nice bit of history too - having opened in 1896, it's the third oldest underground metro system in the world (pipped to that particular post by London and Budapest).
If you do want to drive, Glasgow is a convenient location to reach by car as part of your Scottish road trip. The M8 motorway runs very close to the city centre for easy access, and the streets are generally of a decent width and easy to navigate. Parking is available at many accommodation providers, on the street if you're lucky, and at a number of large parking garages located around the city. If you'd rather beat the traffic, you can leave your car on the outskirts and make your way around Glasgow on foot or by public transport, by making use of one of Glasgow's five park-and-ride sites located at convenient entry and exit points around the city.