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.
George Square leads to Glasgow’s famous shopping streets in the Style Mile, as well as the ritzy Merchant City district. Glasgow’s main tourist information office sits on the south side, and sightseeing buses begin their journeys here, making this a handy place to get oriented with the city.
Dating back to medieval times, Glasgow Cathedral is the only medieval cathedral on Scotland’s mainland to have survived the Reformation almost fully intact. A magnificent Gothic construction, it features stained-glass windows, a 15th-century stone choir screen, and the tomb of St. Mungo, Glasgow’s patron saint.
Stretching over 1,500 square miles, Cairngorms National Park is a popular destination for mountain bikers, nature lovers, sea kayakers, and hikers. The park has been named one of the world’s Last Great Places by National Geographic and is the perfect place to enjoy Scotland’s renowned wild landscapes of granite mountains and deep lochs.
A historic quarter in central Glasgow, Merchant City has a vibrant atmosphere thanks to trendy bars and restaurants, boutique hotels, and designer shopping. Extending from Merchant Square to Royal Exchange Square, this district is popular for a city stroll or people watching at a sidewalk cafe. It’s also home to the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA).
Housed inside a striking sandstone Victorian edifice, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one of Scotland’s most-visited cultural attractions. Works by Dali, Botticelli, and Monet are counted among its collection, alongside more eclectic items such as a taxidermy elephant, a Spitfire airplane, and a magnificent Lewis pipe organ.
When in Scotland, you don’t have to head to the Highlands for a taste of good whisky—you don’t even have to leave the Lowlands. The historic Glengoyne Distillery dates back to 1833 and is renowned for its award-winning malt whiskies, distilled at a third of the usual rate and matured in sherry oak casks.
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.
Set within the city’s oldest park, historic Glasgow Green, the fascinating People’s Palace documents the social history of Glasgow, recounting tales of city life from 1750 through to the 20th century. Adjoining the red sandstone Victorian museum building is the Winter Gardens, a Victorian-era greenhouse packed with tropical plants.
Though the pedimented and pillared Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) building is very much classical, the collection of challenging contemporary artworks contained within it are anything but. The gallery’s art collection spans the 1950s to the present day, with artists including David Hockney, David Shrigley, and Andy Warhol all represented.
Set atop the Ayrshire cliffs, this sprawling neoclassical mansion is one of Scotland’s most famous stately homes—it even appears on the back of the Scottish 5-pound note. Designed by 18th-century architect Robert Adam, Culzean (pronouncedCullane) boasts palatial interiors and grounds that encompass woods, follies, and even beaches.
More Things to Do in Glasgow
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.
Fans of the late Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh will love Buchanan Street’s Willow Tea Rooms, replete with the iconic designer’s signature high-backed chairs. Look out for Nelson Mandela Place as you shop ‘til you drop; in 1986, the handsome square was named after Mandela in protest of his imprisonment by the South African Apartheid regime.
Built in 1471 as the home to a hospital chaplain, this grey-stone house is one of just a few surviving medieval buildings—and the only surviving medieval residence—in all of Glasgow. Provand’s Lordship now serves as a museum, with period-accurate rooms filled with antique furnishings and displays relating to the history of the house.
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. The permanent Mackintosh Interpretation Centre, located on the third floor, allows visitors to see small-scale models of Mackintosh buildings that never came to fruition, along with original furniture and photos. As the Lighthouse was the designer’s first public commission, it is an ideal starting point for a Mackintosh-inspired trip through Glasgow.
Set amid idyllic Ayrshire countryside in the village of Alloway, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum celebrates the life and work of Scotland’s most famous poet. Though officially called a museum, the site is made up of several different attractions—a museum, a cottage, a church, and a monument, which together form Burns National Heritage Park.
Named after Glasgow’s patron saint, St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art focuses on six major world religions—Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Sikhism—and the sacred art they’ve spawned. The museum is set in a reproduction of a medieval building on the site of Bishop’s Castle and features a own Zen garden.
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.
Set within Glasgow University, The Hunterian (Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery) showcases the once private collection of former student and 18th-century anatomist and physician, Dr. William Hunter. Among the eclectic assortment of objects and art are pickled organs, Roman artifacts from the Antonine Wall, and a collection of works by James McNeill Whistler.
Get a peek at the weird and wonderful aquatic species of Scotland’s lochs at SEA LIFE® Loch Lomond, one of Scotland’s top aquariums. In addition to local underwater highlights, visit seven themed zones featuring sharks, rays, otters, seahorses, a touch pool, an ocean tunnel, and more. The aquarium is a short drive from Glasgow.
Equipped with state-of-the-art interactive exhibits, an IMAX cinema, a planetarium, and a 416-foot (127-meter) observation deck, the Glasgow Science Centre will keep visitors of all ages engaged and entertained. The museum’s Science Show Theatre hosts live demonstrations so visitors can witness the magic of science firsthand.
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.
The historic mill village of New Lanark was once a beacon of social conscience in the Industrial Revolution—today it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The refurbished factory, warehouses, houses, and school are home to a wealth of attractions, from educational rides to a roof garden.
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.
Please note: The Burrell Collection is currently closed for renovation. The reopening is scheduled for spring 2021.
Glasgow’s David Livingstone Centre is devoted to the famous Scottish explorer and missionary who opened up interior Africa over 150 years ago. A biographical museum dedicated to his life and work, the center is housed in Shuttle Row where Livingstone was born and raised in poverty with 23 other families back in the early 19th century.
At the museum you’ll see many items related to Livingstone’s Africa explorations, including journals, letters, navigational equipment, and dioramas of significant moments in his travels.
The David Livingstone Centre is set in 20 acres of parkland overlooking the River Clyde, so after a visit to the museum it’s popular to take a walk through the woods along the Clyde Walkway and along to Bothwell Castle.
Please note The David Livingstone Centre is currently closed for renovation. The reopening is scheduled for 2020.
A typical country estate garden with a burn winding through its woodland glen toward the River Clyde, Geilston Garden was landscaped over two centuries ago and it’s typical of small country estates of the time.
Geilston has its own walled garden that’s become known for its 100-foot Wellingtonia tree in the middle of the lawn, and come springtime, its azaleas and heathers. There’s also a kitchen garden which comes alive every April with the first sowings of carrots, parsnips and beetroot. In season, you can buy the garden’s produce — fruits, flowers, and vegetables from a small stand near the entrance to the garden.
Geilston House, thought to have been built in 1766, is currently not open to visitors.
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