When it comes to Scottish cities, it seems like Glasgow often falls to the wayside in favour of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh.
To be honest with you (and this will come as no surprise), I do prefer Edinburgh; after all, I live here after years of yearning to move to the city. But it’s not to say Glasgow isn’t worth a visit – it’s Scotland’s biggest city, and considering it’s been one of my most visited cities for as long as I can remember, it’s somewhere I’ve very rarely posted about. Needless to say, for a criminally underrated city, I haven’t done it justice at all.
The thing is, I never really visited Glasgow as a tourist. Sure, I was a visitor – but I always went there to see friends when they were at university, or to see a band because for some reason they never play any further north than Glasgow; even taking school trips where we would spend a day at the science museum and that’s it. (Fun fact: Glasgow was the first place I ever stayed in a hostel – on a school trip! I remember hiding in a locker. Oh, to be that small & flexible again!)
So it wasn’t until recently – and once again delayed, with any plans to hop over there hampered by lockdowns – that I really finally got to do things in Glasgow that I could write about.
The truth is, there aren’t a lot of attractions in Glasgow. It’s just a cool city. It’s got great nightlife, fantastic shopping and everyone is ridiculously friendly. They say that people make Glasgow, after all. It may not have the cobblestone street charm of Edinburgh, but it has some spectacular architecture and a city centre that spans several gorgeous streets.
I guess this is why Glasgow finds itself a little overlooked. While it’s hugely popular with Scots, international visitors don’t have it showcased to them the way they do Edinburgh. A lot of blogs seem to struggle to talk about Glasgow because it’s easier to recommend things to do rather than talking about simply taking in the vibe of a city. It’s something that would be particularly hard to write about after just one visit, which is why it’s taken me countless visits to write this.
However, the more I look at what to do each time we visit Glasgow, the more I realise we haven’t done. There are some top things, like the Riverside Museum and the People’s Palace, that I haven’t visited yet. There are some attractions that haven’t reopened yet. And there are some quirkier places that I haven’t got around to yet.
Overall though, I do feel like I’m finally acquainted with the tourist side of Glasgow. Here are some of my favourite things to do in the city – and the best part is, they’re all FREE!
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum
Half the reason I hadn’t posted a guide to Glasgow before now is that I hadn’t visited Kelvingrove. There is absolutely no way you can write about it without mentioning everyone’s #1 thing to do. Now while I’m afraid most art galleries I make me want to watch paint dry more than look at the finished pieces, it turns out everyone was right – this is 100% my favourite “thing to do” in Glasgow.
The museum itself is nothing short of spectacular, with three huge halls surrounded by endless rooms of exhibits. As I can’t choose which is the most stunning, here are all three.
And, as with so many British museums, it’s completely free!
It’s the perfect rainy day activity too, which of course it was on the day we were there, so it’s great to have such an accessible place to keep dry AND learn lots of things on the way.
And if it’s not raining, stick around the area to wander around Kelvingrove Park and relax with the locals.
Glasgow Mural Trail
The one thing you’ve probably heard me talking about when it comes to Glasgow is the street art. Art galleries may not be my thing, but street art? Give me ALL OF IT. And it’s not like Glasgow just has a few of these dotted about. Every single one of my favourite ever street art murals is in Glasgow. Now that’s a hard feat for any city to achieve.
Not to mention that I currently have seven more that I want to check out. That’s seven recent artworks that mostly aren’t even on the official map yet.
Read more: Glasgow Street Art & Mural Trail
University Of Glasgow
If you’re over in the West End – and you definitely should be – then as well as Kelvingrove Park and the museum, one of the best places to visit is the University Of Glasgow. Not only is it absolutely stunning from the outside, but it also features these magical cloisters.
When we were there recently, there was a graduation going on with lots of people having their photos taken amongst the cloisters! It was a very subdued celebration compared to what I’m sure is normally a jubilant occasion, but it was really lovely to see.
The University Of Glasgow has been teaching students since 1451, making it the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world. (The two oldest are Oxford and Cambridge, followed by St Andrews in Scotland.) However the current site was built less than 150 years ago, which surprises me as it feels like it should be older than that!
I hadn’t realised until I went to book the Hunterian Museum that it’s actually inside the University Of Glasgow complex, and in fact the entrance is in the cloisters. So this was a two in one for us!
Once again, it’s a completely free museum, and it’s much smaller than Kelvingrove but still looks stunning inside. We did both of the museums in one afternoon and had plenty of time (disclaimer: we only went to the museum side of Kelvingrove so this is slightly untrue).
I was hoping it would be somewhat like the Hunterian Museum in London, home to gruesome finds in the surgeons’ college, but apart from a few jars and some deformed creatures, there was actually far, far more variety than I expected, from Polynesian costumes and weapons to rocks from space and electronics.
Tip: if you want something more akin to that, check out the Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh – I recommend not going if you’re easily grossed out!
Unfortunately one of the highly rated things to do in Glasgow is the Mackintosh House exhibition, a replica of the inside of a house lived in and remodelled by renowned architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, however on our visit this was shut due to Covid and the lack of space to enable social distancing. As it’s a separate exhibition, it does usually have an entrance fee.
Glasgow Cathedral & Necropolis
The first time I did something touristy in Glasgow, I finally made it to Glasgow Cathedral, which has been on my list forever and left me wondering why it had taken me so long. It’s got quite a unique exterior, shall we say, but it’s lovely inside, as per most cathedrals.
However it’s the Necropolis cemetery overlooking the cathedral that is really well worth a visit, and affords some pretty great views over the city.
Hands up who else likes to walk around a graveyard? This is one of the best ones I’ve ever been to!
Duke Of Wellington Statue
You can’t really talk about Glasgow without mentioning the Duke. He is the landmark of Glasgow, for one very simple reason: he is never without his Glasgow hat. Or several, as the case may be, depending on the day. I’ve seen him with three.
In fact, the Duke’s traffic cone hat has become so iconic and entrenched in Glaswegian culture, that there was absolute panic a few months ago when it disappeared. In 2013, there were proposals to raise him up to a height where people could no longer cone him, and within 24 hours, 72,000 people had fought against the proposals.
Like many great stories, this is generally accepted to have been the product of a particularly fruitful night out, but how it became the tradition that it is today, nobody’s quite sure. All we know is that the police eventually gave up removing the cone, and one (or more) has invariably remained on the Duke’s head – and often his horse’s head – ever since.
It’s safe to say that Glaswegians are very proud of the tradition, and to me it just sums up the fantastic sense of humour there.
Taking in the city centre
No matter what I do in Glasgow, it’s always the centre that I enjoy most. Whether it’s for shopping, eating, people-watching in George Square, or just taking it all in as I walk down Buchanan Street, there always seems to be something fun going on or something great to discover.
Literally on one visit, I had a bunch of people rally around me in a crazy fancy dress conga line. I may have even joined them. And then five minutes later, I stumbled across a guy playing techno music with a bunch of toy cats. Seriously – Glasgow is worth a visit to see this legend alone, I swear!! Unfortunately I’m struggling to find my video of him right now, but I do have a photo of the cats left unattended and you can watch a video of the insanity here.
George Square is a great starting point, and a lovely area to chill while waiting for a friend.
It’s also the place for protests, celebrations and all sorts of other things – when we were there in 2017, there was a bench filled with tributes to Chester Bennington from Linkin Park. It was so unexpected and emotional.
Fun fact: the beautiful building behind George Square is the City Chambers, which I’ve been trying to visit because its opulent staircase reportedly has more marble than the Vatican!
If you do venture out of the centre, I recommend a trip to the West End, accessible on Glasgow’s wee subway system. That’s right – Glasgow has an underground! It only does a single loop, but it has one. I was originally planning a post dedicated to the West End, but after only one visit, it felt like I wouldn’t give it justice because like the city centre, it has so many quirky corners to check out.
Combining these two areas and checking out all of the stops above would make for the perfect weekend trip to Glasgow – but make sure to plan plenty of time for food & drink.
Where to eat & drink
It’s hard to know where to even start with Glasgow’s restaurants. It’s a haven of foodie goodness, hidden hot spots and international cuisine, and while the first thing you might think of is a deep-fried Mars bar or indeed deep-fried pizza, it was also in Glasgow that tikka masala was created. These days it’s become an ever more innovative food city. These are some of my favourites in the city centre & in the West End.
Bread Meats Bread – I feel like this is a bit of a cheat because it’s also my favourite place to eat in Edinburgh, but like many independent restaurants in Scotland, there are branches in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. If you want a good burger, this is the place to come.
Pizza Punks – a punk pizza place? Absolutely. Glasgow is a pretty big hotspot for rock music (don’t worry, I won’t put Cathouse on this list) so it’s fitting that one of our favourite spots is a rock-themed restaurant, which happens to do phenomenal pizzas. I have a feeling this is going to become a regular haunt for us!
Willow’s Tea Rooms – a perfect lunchtime option right on Buchanan Street, we’ve popped in here with a friend and she treated herself to their afternoon tea which was sublime (pictured above). Ash & I stuck with standard toasties and they were delicious too, but I think I might have to go for the afternoon tea next time! Yum!
Bavaria Brauhaus – we haven’t eaten here yet, but we stumbled across this grandiose building and decided we had to at least have a drink there. It is AWESOME inside! (Also pictured above)
Tantrum Doughnuts – I must admit I haven’t yet indulged in a tantrum doughnut, but it’s been recommended to me, so I’m passing that recommendation on to you and will report back once I no longer have to worry about fitting my post-lockdown flab into my wedding dress!
Koko House – we stopped here for lunch almost on a whim, with not enough time to sit in as we’d had to pre-book the Hunterian museum. However I really love the interior, so I’d recommend sitting in if you have the chance. They specialise in extremely fluffy Japanese pancakes, and they are one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. Ash opted for a beef crepe, which was so massive he couldn’t even finish it.
Old Salty’s – unapologetic fish & chip shop with a twist of Italian. It’s got a bit of an American diner vibe (which we did not get from the photos we’d seen) but it’s so good and all the staff were so, so friendly. I had, of all things, a macaroni pie. And with much stiff competition, it was the best damn macaroni pie I’ve ever had.
Hanoi Bike Shop – sorry, I haven’t been to this one yet, but we want to go there so badly that I have to put it on the list. It’s got great reviews, don’t worry. This unassuming Vietnamese joint is tucked away down a small alleyway but it’s funky enough to catch your eye from the road!
Although I haven’t actually been into anywhere on Ashton Lane, I recommend a wander down it as it’s really cool! Everyone raves about Ubiquitous Chip, to the point that it’s pretty much universally the highest rated restaurant in Glasgow, but it’s an expensive option so if you’re anything like us, it’s perhaps best saved for a special occasion. Belgian watering hole Brel also had a really lovely outdoor area around the back, but when we tried to go in it was totally packed. Maybe next time!
I realised that I’ve never looked up Glasgow on TripAdvisor, so I’ve had a look to see if there’s something glaringly obvious that I haven’t done, or worse, have never heard of. Number one is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, so that’s absolutely fair enough. #7, however, is the Tennent’s Brewery, and with that I closed TripAdvisor. If you want one piece of advice from me, don’t drink Tennent’s. It’s like pretending that you like American beer and then drinking Budweiser or Coor’s Light.
If you fancy a good beer, check out Drygate instead – one of Ash’s favourite beers is the outlandishly named Disco Forklift Truck. Or, of course, treat yourself to some whisky, which is naturally a-plenty in Glasgow!
It’s hard, now that I’ve put this list together, to see why Glasgow remains such an underrated city. Whether you want cultural activities, a walk in the park or just to go out for unpretentious drinks, Glasgow has something for everyone. It might not be as refined as Edinburgh, but that’s the point. It doesn’t want to be, nor does it need to be.
It’s got beauty on its door step with Loch Lomond only twenty minutes away, and it’s a convenient hub for getting almost anywhere else.
So what are you waiting for (other than for Covid restrictions to end)? Glasgow is very much waiting for everyone to discover it.
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