A natural vibrancy most cities dream of…
Forget everything you thought you knew about Glasgow. Emerging fresh from decades of urban regeneration, Glasgow is no longer the city pictured by the seminal 1935 novel, No Mean City. Instead, with a lively music scene, a huge art community and people who can make a party out anything, Glasgow has a natural vibrancy which most cities dream of. Here’s what to do in Glasgow.
3 things to know about Glasgow before you go
- Edinburgh might be the capital, but Glasgow is Scotland’s biggest city – nearly two million people live in the greater Glasgow area. Glasgow was one of the first cities in Europe to reach a million inhabitants – being in the path of the trade winds, it took 20 days less to sail between Glasgow and Jamaica than it did Jamaica and London, leading to a booming port trade with the West Indies.
- Charles Rennie Mackintosh is not Glasgow’s only famous son and architect. Alexander ‘the Greek’ Thomson helped ensure that many of Glasgow’s workaday city centre buildings were designed with a sense of iconic (or ionic) style. Many of the magnificent buildings in Glasgow city centre were built by wealthy tobacco merchants.
- St Mungos is not just a beer made by the West Brewery, but Glasgow’s patron saint and founder of the city. St Mungo (or Saint Kentigern) is buried in Glasgow Cathedral and is said to have performed four miracles, one of which was bringing a robin back to life – St Mungo is now the star of a large mural in the East End by artist Smug.
What to do in Glasgow City Centre
With big-city style, Glasgow city centre is permanently busy with shoppers, diners and drinkers. Stroll along Buchanan Street, Sauchiehall Street and Argyll Street for shopping which rivals London, marvel at the huge Victorian City Chambers on George Square and head to the regenerated Merchant City for cool bars and boutique shops.
Explore GOMA, the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art
Housed in a very grand neo-classical ex-mansion house built for a wealthy tobacco merchant, is the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art. The gallery exhibits works from masters such as Hockney, Goldsworthy, and Beryl Cook as well as regular new displays such as Inner City by Michael C McMillan whose recreation of LA is hauntingly reflective of Glasgow’s slum past. Gallery 1 is currently hosting the Glasgow International Arts Festival 2018, including John Russell’s incredible all-seeing elephant.
Outside GOMA is arguably Glasgow’s most popular piece of art. The Duke of Wellington might have defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, but the battle to keep a cone atop his statue outside the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art is as close to a literal representation of Glasgow as you can get – it has a certain persistence, humour and total disrespect of anyone in charge. After a prolonged campaign by the people of Glasgow to let the Duke keep his cone, the Council now sensibly turn a blind eye. I am sure the dapper Duke, who was also known as ‘the beau’ by his officers would quite admire his natty attire. Entry to GOMA is free.
Visit the Gallery of Modern Art
Afternoon tea in Glasgow at The Willow Tea Rooms
You might be surprised but Glaswegians were once strong supporters of the Temperance movement, promoting complete abstinence from the booze. However, not much was that different in the 19th century as knowing the Glaswegian appetite for entertainment and seeing the economic possibilities of temperance, Miss Cranston the daughter of a wealthy tea merchant, with the design skills of Charles Rennie Mackintosh opened four Glasgow tea rooms in 1896.
Today, taking tea in Glasgow is still a popular pastime and the Willow Tea Rooms on Buchanan Street are a beautiful recreation of a Miss Cranston tea room showcasing how Mackintosh’s White Dining Room and Chinese (Blue) Room would have looked. Grab a window seat overlooking the busy shoppers below and relax over afternoon tea – finger sandwiches, loaded scones and a huge slice of cake. Willow Tea Rooms can also be found at the Watt Brothers Department Store and a full restoration of the original tea rooms at 215-217 Sauchiehall Street is opening in time for Mackintosh’s 150th birthday on June 7, 2018.
Visit the Willow Tea Rooms
Three more things to do in Glasgow City Centre
- Watch the buskers on Buchanan Street – It might be Glasgow’s famous ‘Style Mile’ but the Buchanan Street buskers also attract the crowds. Glaswegians need little encouragement to get up and dance – you might happen upon the (not the real) cast of Still Game having a street party! If you fancy a sing-along yourself, don’t miss karaoke upstairs at the famous Horseshoe Bar
- Take a tour of Glasgow Central Station – With catacombs, underground tunnels and a fascinating history, tours of Central station take place most days and are £13.
- Climb up the Lighthouse – Now part of Scotland’s Centre for Architecture and Design, the Lighthouse tower was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh as part of the offices for the Glasgow Herald Newspaper. The Tower once housed an 8,000-gallon water tank to protect the building from fire.
Down On The River Clyde
The Clyde river bisects the city of Glasgow in two and was once home to huge shipyards and ports trading in cotton and tobacco. Today the industry crowding the banks of the Clyde is more of the news and entertainment variety – the river is home to the both the BBC Scotland and STV studios, as well as the Scottish Exhibition Centre and the Hydro music venue.
The Riverside Museum
Opened in 2011 at Pointhouse Quay, the spectacular Riverside Museum was designed by the world renowned Zaha Hadid Architects and makes a dramatic statement on a quayside which is still very much under regeneration. Built to replace the much-loved Glasgow Museum of Transport, you will still hear it called this by most Glaswegians. Whilst the Transport Museum will be much-missed by some, it wasn’t the best of homes, with damp damaging many of the items on display. Its flashy new home is now twice the size, with 3000 items on display.
The most dramatic part of the museum is its colour scheme of grey & yellow. The contrasting colours provide the perfect backdrop to the rather higgledy-piggledy collection of trains and trams and bikes and streets and spaces inside the museum, much like actual Glaswegian life outside. For all the Riverside Museums outside glamour and style, it’s certainly not ‘Aw fur coat, nae knickers’. Just like Glasgow itself.
Visit the Riverside Museum
Three more things to do on the Clyde, Glasgow
- Climb the Glasgow Tower – Part of the Science Museum, the Glasgow Tower is the only structure in the world that can turn 360 degrees – and at 127m it is the tallest freestanding building in Scotland. The tower is designed to swing in the wind, but if wind gusts get over 25mph at the top then the tower will close. For safety reasons, you have to be able to descend the stairs to go up the tower. Tickets to the tower are £6.50.
- Head to an event at SWG3 and street food at Big Feed – home to some of Glasgow’s best festivals, music and food & drink events, SWG3 offers up everything from raves to poetry slams in its huge courtyard and warehouse space. To the south of the Clyde is Big Feed, Scotland’s largest indoor street food market with events every two weeks.
- Find out about scotch whisky – Down at the Queens Dock in an Old Pump House is the new Clydeside Distillery which opened in 2017. Whilst the Clydeside’s whisky won’t be ready until 2020 you can now tour the second distillery to re-open in the heart of Glasgow. Tours of the Clydeside Distillery are £15 for adults.
What to do in Glasgow’s East End
Possibly the most ‘Glasgow’ of all Glasgow’s districts, the East End is in deep in the midst of change. From the iconic Barras Market to the peacefulness of Glasgow Green, to the splendour of the People’s Palace, and proper old school pubs and bars around the Glasgow cross don’t be intimidated by the area past or today’s building work and explore the East End.
Take a tour of the Glasgow Murals
Glasgow has embraced street art – giving Banksy a run for his money. From the most well known Mural on the High Street, which tells the story of The Bird That Never Flew and St Mungo, follow the Glasgow Mural trail around the city to find the Hip Hop Marianettes, a spaceman, the world’s most economical taxi and a lot of love for famous Glasgow comedian Billy Connolly.
Follow the Glasgow Mural Trail
Three more things to do in the East End of Glasgow
- Visit Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis Cemetery – otherwise known as St Mungo’s Cathedral, the Glasgow high kirk is one of the last remaining examples of Scottish Gothic Architecture – saved from destruction during the Reformation. Next to the Cathedral is the fascinating and huge Necropolis, which contains hundreds of memorials to the city’s dead, including many designed by Alexander ‘the Greek’ Thomson.
- Sup up at the Tennents, West and Drygate Breweries – Did you know that the national drink of Scotland is not actually whisky, but a lager? Made by the Wellpark Brewery in the east end of Glasgow, Tennent’s lager has been made in Glasgow since 1885. Over on Glasgow Green, the West Brewery also makes German-style lager and wheat beers and serves them up in their own beer hall next door. By the Cathedral is Drygate Brewery who make craft beer in an old box factory. All three breweries offer tours.
- The Barras Market and Barrowland Park Album pathway – the ‘barras’ street market is an east end of Glasgow institution. Named after the barrows that the traders used to ply their wares, the market is also home to the Barrowland Ballroom – the city’s seminal music venue. Over on the Barrowland Park is the album pathway – artwork created by Jim Lambie which lists the names and dates of bands who have played at the Barrowland since 1983.
Glasgow West End
With the prevailing wind direction sending the smog and noise from Glasgow shipyards east, the west end of Glasgow, home to Harry Potter-like Glasgow University, is the city’s posh bit. Centred around trendy Byres Road, Partick and upwardly mobile Finnieston, the west end has grand crescents, large public parks and boutique shopping on hidden lanes.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Opening in 1901, the spectacular Kelvingrove Art Gallery is one of Scotland’s most popular visitor attractions. With 22 galleries, 8000 works of art, including Instagram favourites the floating heads, a spitfire plane, Roger the stuffed elephant, and the controversial Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John on the cross. Entry to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, like all Glasgow’s museums is free.
To celebrate the 150th birthday of Charles Rennie Mackintosh a special exhibition Making the Glasgow Style is currently on display at Kelvingrove. More than just another exhibition of Mackintosh’s works, Making the Glasgow Style tells the story of the Mackintosh’s contemporaries at the Glasgow School of Art. The exhibition runs until the 14 August 2018.
Three more things to do in Glasgow West End
- Visit the Mackintosh House at the Hunterian Museum. Part of Glasgow University, the Hunterian Museum is the oldest museum in Scotland, first opening in 1807. Spread across the campus, the Hunterian is made up of an art gallery, anatomy and zoology museums and the Mackintosh House, a beautiful recreation of the interior of the now demolished Mackintosh home. With many items of the Mackintosh’s own furniture, the house is decorated as close as possible to the original. Entry to the Mackintosh House is £6.
- Stroll around the Glasgow Botanical Gardens – with 8 acres and the incredible Kibble Palace to explore, an afternoon in the Glasgow botanics offer up a welcome relief from the hectic city centre.
- Explore the West End Lanes – hidden in the west end are many small and fashionable lanes – echoing those found in Melbourne. Search out 50s and 60s antiques on Cresswell and Ruthven Lane, cafes and collectables on Dowanside Lane and go for dinner and drinks on the most famous of them all, Ashton Lane.
Map of things to do in Glasgow
Getting to Glasgow
- By train – most mainline services to Glasgow arrive into Central Station. Trains from Edinburgh and other central Scotland locations arrive into Queen Street Station.
- By air – Glasgow has two airports, International and Prestwick. The Glasgow Airport Express Bus (no.500) runs every 10 minutes from the airport to Buchanan Street Bus Station. Prestwick Airport has its own train station for connections to Glasgow Central. The train takes 40 minutes.
Getting around Glasgow
- City Sightseeing Bus – running every 15 minutes from George Square, from 9.30am till 4.30pm the hop on hop off Glasgow sightseeing bus takes you east to west across the city with 21 stops from the Kelvingrove Museum and People’s Palace. Tickets are £15 for adults and £33 for a family and are valid for two consecutive days. The bus is both handy way to get around town and it also has a great commentary telling the story of the city – look out for the live guides for some Glasgow banter. Buy city sightseeing tickets online.
- Glasgow Underground – known colloquially as the clockwork orange, the 120-year-old Glasgow subway is handy for exploring the city centre and Glasgow’s west end. The subway is circular – and trains run in both directions. Hardy types might want to take part in the ‘subcrawl’ – a pub crawl around each of the 15 stops on the underground. As Glasgow as it comes!
Got a Glasgow locals tip for what to do in Glasgow?
Let me know in the comments below.