Things to Do in Glasgow
Dwarfed by haughty buildings on all sides and surrounded by statues of great Scots, George Square makes sense of poet John Betjeman’s claim that Glasgow is “the greatest Victorian city in the world.”
Named after King George III and built in 1781, George Square began life as little more than a muddy hollow used for slaughtering horses. Today, it’s surrounded by some of grandest buildings in the city, not least the imposing Glasgow City Chambers on the east side.
To Glaswegians, George Square is the city’s cultural center. Hosting concerts and events throughout the year, it comes alive during winter, when children skate around the ice rink and parents enjoy mulled wine at the Christmas market. In summer, George Square is a good place to find a bench and watch the world go by.
Get a taste of Highland whisky without leaving the lowlands with a visit to the Glengoyne Distillery, located right on border of the Highlands, just half an hour’s drive from Glasgow. The historic distillery dates back to 1833 and is renowned for its award-winning malt whiskies, famously distilled at a third of the usual rate and matured in sherry oak casks.
Along with its fine whisky, Glengoyne is celebrated for its scenic location, hidden away amid the wooded valleys of the Campsie Hills, with its own wetlands, beehives and renewable energy source. Visitors to the distillery can choose from a number of guided tours and tastings, including the chance to peek into the legendary Warehouse No.1, take a Malt Master tour or indulge in a comprehensive whisky tasting masterclass.
There are many reasons why Glasgow’s Gothic Cathedral is an important building. It’s the only Scottish cathedral on the mainland to have survived the Reformation relatively unscathed. Dating back to the 15th century, the building stands on a historic site blessed by St Ninian in 397.
Another reason to visit the cathedral is found in the lower church, where the tomb of St. Mungo lies amid a forest of Gothic stone pillars. Also admire the carved stone choir screen, the lofty nave, the traditional and modern stained glass, and the medieval wooden beams of the cathedral’s roof.
Glasgow’s oldest city park, the People's Palace and Winter Gardens, was built in 1898 as a cultural center. Now a museum telling the story of Glasgow’s social history over the centuries, it’s a fascinating place to while away a few hours.
Paintings and photographs trace the city’s story, and reconstructions of tenement life bring the tale to life. The Winter Gardens surrounding the museum feature a Victorian conservatory filled with tropical plants. The Doulton fountain in front of the museum is the largest terracotta fountain in the world.
The oldest house in Glasgow, the eccentrically named Provand's Lordship was built in 1471 for the chaplain of St Nicholas Hospital.
The city's only medieval building to avoid the wrecking ball, the house is now a museum. It's a fascinating place to see period details in situ, from 16th-century furnishings to a 20th-century sweet shop. The building also hosts a series of rotating exhibitions, so drop in to see what's on. The garden surrounding the medieval house re-creates a medicinal herb garden based on a 15th-century design.
From Hindu deities to the Buddha, Zen design and Christian artworks, the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art explores religions from around the world.
This somewhat controversial but award-winning museum examines the role of religion in daily life over the centuries, focusing on the world’s main religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. Interactive displays bring voices from around the globe to life, and also focus on the beliefs of ancient and modern-day Scots. The museum stands on the original location of the bishop’s palace, and re-creates the heavy stone and mullioned windows of a medieval building. After browsing the displays and exhibits, enjoy a rest and cup of tea in the museum’s tranquil Zen Garden.
Sweeping through the heart of the Style Mile in Glasgow city center, Buchanan Street hosts some of Scotland’s best shopping, bars, restaurants and cafes.
A hodgepodge of high street and designer names tucked inside some of Glasgow’s grandest Victorian buildings, Buchanan Street is especially busy on Saturdays, when the young and glamorous hunt out new fashions and street performers entertain the crowds.
At the north end is the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and the Buchanan Galleries shopping mall, which hosts more than 90 brand-name stores. Toward the southern end, the refined Art Nouveau atmosphere and designer goods of Princes Square draw ladies who lunch. One of the most upmarket retail streets in the United Kingdom, Buchanan Street is also home to the flagship House of Fraser department store, which boasts Scotland’s largest beauty hall and is conveniently located right across the street from Princes Square.
A multimedia mixed bag of paintings, ceramics, furniture and sculpture come together at the Gallery of Modern Art, one of Britain’s most popular contemporary art museums. Temporary exhibits mix with the fine permanent collection of works by the likes of Hockney and Warhol.
GoMA is housed in a straitlaced neoclassical building complete with pedimented and pillared facade, the perfect foil for the challenging, fun and inspiring artworks that lie within.
Glasgow’s Merchant City buzzes with cool bars, hip restaurants, boutique hotels and designer stores. Stretching from Merchant Square to Royal Exchange Square, the whole area is perfect for a stroll and popular for its high-end shopping centered on Ingram Street and the Italian Centre, the home of the UK’s first Versace. With its piazzas, arches and pavement cafes, the city center district has a decidedly continental feel - a surprise in the heart of Scotland’s biggest city.
Remember to look up at all of the Victorian facades and lovingly restored 18th-century warehouses. From Glasgow Cathedral in all its Gothic glory to the looming necropolis known as the Victorian City of the Dead, there is plenty to interest architecture aficionados. Make sure to look out for Provand’s Lordship, too; it’s the only medieval house in the city.
Just steps from Glasgow’s Style Mile, the Lighthouse serves as a popular place to spend a couple of hours. Also known as Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, this attraction is most famous for its sweeping views of the city’s eclectic skyline, best seen from its sixth-floor viewing point, accessible by elevator or by way of 133 steps up a spiral staircase.
Designed in 1985 by iconic Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Lighthouse was originally home to The Glasgow Herald newspaper, one of the longest-running newspapers in the world. But regardless of the newspaper’s history, why is there a lighthouse up an alley in central Glasgow? Well, the building’s famous tower only resembles a lighthouse—the tower was actually built to house an 8,000-gallon water tank to protect the building and its contents against fire. The Lighthouse hosts exhibitions, workshops and discussions related to design and architecture.
More Things to Do in Glasgow
Providing a glimpse into early 1900s working-class Glasgow life, the Tenement House, restored by the National Trust for Scotland, shows how Miss Agnes Toward lived for over 50 years in the four-room home she shared with other lodgers. The Victorian flat maintains much of its original fittings, and you’ll see fascinating details, such as the old straw beds and blackened ball of soap, providing an insight into another time.
On a visit, you’ll see how an independent woman lived in a time of gas lighting (electricity wasn’t introduced to this house until 1960), and on the ground floor you’ll get to peruse Miss Toward’s extensive personal archive.
Glasgow’s grand Victorian cathedral to high culture, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum boasts an excellent collection of Scottish and European art. Displays are spread over two floors of this impressively grand red sandstone building, whose marble, mosaics and Spanish baroque details have recently been restored. Traveling exhibitions are also hosted, along with the permanent collection of treasures. Take a tour of the gallery highlights, including the famously surreal Crucifixion by Salvador Dali.
Relaxed and trendy, lively and culturally diverse, the West End area offers some of the best things to do and see in Glasgow. Its Victorian architecture and cobblestone alleyways keep with tradition, while its many boutique shops, coffee shops, and Bohemian cafes present the modern side of the city. While vintage and antique shops keep the past alive, the student scene of the nearby, world renowned University of Glasgow keeps things current. Other don’t-miss sights include the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, the Botanic Gardens, and the famous Grosvenor Cinema.
A variety of parks, galleries and museums provide dozens of options for an afternoon. A stroll in the streets or along the river — or an evening in one of the many bookstores, tea rooms, pubs, or unique restaurants — is also an option. Each summer the area is home to the famous West End Festival.
While you’re visiting Glasgow’s lively university quarter, take the opportunity to drop into the hallowed Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery. Scotland’s first museum, the Hunterian opened in 1807. Displaying the collection of renowned physician William Hunter, who spent time at the university as a student, the museum exhibits an idiosyncratic array of artifacts, from coins to fossils, scientific instruments and curios.
In a separate building across University Avenue, the art gallery highlights the work of the Scottish colorists and landscape artists. The standouts here are the work by artists known as the Glasgow Boys, and the gallery’s renowned collection of works by James McNeill Whistler. Don’t miss Mackintosh House, with its re-created interiors from the home of famous architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Mackintosh Collection brings together the largest array of Mackintosh designs, watercolors, drawings and correspondence.
Known as “Scotland’s answer to Downton Abbey,” the Pollok House gives a taste of 1930s upstairs/downstairs life. Upstairs, visitors will find period furniture and furnishings, as well as one of the finest collections of Spanish art in the United Kingdom, with Goyas, Murillos and El Grecos all on show. William Blake paintings are also part of the collection. And downstairs is home to the huge servants’ quarters.
Set in Pollok Country Park and said to be one of Scotland’s finest Edwardian country houses, Pollok House was the ancestral home of the Maxwell and Jardine families. The site is a popular spot for a stroll, and visitors can look out for the rhododendrons; there are over 1,000 kinds in the park.
Glasgow is justifiably proud of the Burrell Collection, a varied and idiosyncratic collection gifted to the nation by industrialist Sir William Burrell in 1944.
From rare paintings by Degas and Cézanne, to Islamic calligraphy, Roman statues, Renaissance tapestries, stained glass and architectural relics from medieval buildings, a wander around this eclectic collection reveals the extraordinary depth of Sir William’s passion as an avid collector. You can also see atmospheric rooms re-created from the Burrells’ castle home, authentically furnished in the Gothic style Sir William favored. Stop for lunch in the museum’s cafe, or pack a picnic to enjoy in the expansive grounds.
A wild landscape of granite mountains, heather-covered moors and gentle glens covering 1,500 square miles of the Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms National Park was named one of the world’s “Last Great Places” by National Geographic.
Formed 40 million years before the last ice age, the Cairngorms are especially popular among mountain bikers, snowboarders, sea kayakers and hikers. They’re also a hit with the Scottish Queen: she spends every summer there at Balmoral Castle and Estate.
More than 50 of the Cairngorms’ mountains reach over 2,953 feet, and the national park boasts five of the United Kingdom’s six highest mountain summits. Those looking for a challenge can hike up the summit of Cairngorm’s namesake mountain, while the more leisurely crowd can take the much-used mountain railway to the top. Once up there, remember that it’s a Scottish tradition to take a “wee nip” of whisky. Cheers!
Set among four hectares of Ayrshire countryside in the village of Alloway, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is a celebration of the life and work of Scotland’s most famous wordsmith.
The extensive museum contains a collection of over 5,000 artifacts relating to the Bard’s life, work and legacy. Visit Burns Cottage, where the poet was born, see the grand monument dedicated to him, and wander the commemorative gardens created in honor of the great “Rabbie” Burns. From the lawn, you can also see the famous Brig o’Doon, a 15th-century bridge immortalized in the Burns’ poem Tam o’ Shanter.
Perched on a cliff looking out to sea and surrounded by 600 acres of manicured gardens and forests, Culzean Castle (pronounced Cullane) is one of Scotland’s most impressive stately homes. It’s been in the hands of the Kennedy clan since the 14th century, though it wasn’t until 1777 that Culzean went from windswept medieval castle to the neoclassical dream seen today. No expense was spared during Culzean’s 18th-century redesign, when the 10th Earl of Cassilis commissioned the leading architect of the day, Robert Adam, to work his magic on the family home.
Today, Culzean Castle is run by the National Trust for Scotland, and it is even featured on the reverse side of five-pound notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland. With its cliff-top walks, beaches, pagodas and caves, the stately home and gardens are worth a full day’s dedication. Visitors can even stay the night in the Eisenhower apartment on the top floor. Remember to look out for the iconic oval staircase.
Peeking out from the rocky seashore of Ayr Bay, the dramatically situated Dunure Castle was once the seat of the Kennedys of Carrick and the notorious site where the last abbot of Crossraguel was roasted on a spit.
Today, the castle’s bloody legacy is all that remains and the once-mighty stronghold lies in ruins, but it’s none-the-less an enchanting spot, with elements of the stone-brick 13th-century castle still clearly visible. It’s none-the-less an enchanting spot, especially at sunset, with the crumbling guard-tower framed by rugged coastal cliffs and the crashing waves of the Atlantic.
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