My wife and I took a wonderful trip to the United Kingdom last fall. We visited friends in London and decided to take a three-day trip to Glasgow while we were so nearby. The train ride to Glasgow was as wonderful as Glasgow itself. We took Virgin Trains from London to Glasgow which is about a five-hour trip costing under £200. For an extra £80 we sprung for first class and enjoyed extra leg room; free wi-fi and charging stations; free food and drinks; and free entertainment. The real treat, however, was the view. The train takes off from King’s Cross or Euston and travels over gorgeous countryside and along half a dozen national parks depending on the route. The rolling green hills were impressive and made a lovely back drop for dinner and conversation.
Once in Glasgow, we got an SPT Smartcard which is a reusable subway card for the city’s incredibly easy system. After a short ride we exited the subway at Kelvinbridge and walked half a mile to the Kelvin Hotel. While there are many ways to stay in Glasgow, this hotel has excellent staff who serve a tasty traditional Scottish breakfast each morning, and it is located right next to the Glasgow Botanical Gardens. We were able to walk to the subway and to numerous west side attractions such as the Kelvingrove Park, half a dozen museums and just as many churches.
Rather than taking a standardized tour, we proceeded to check out the city’s highlights on our own – and almost exclusively on foot. We started with touring the Glasgow Botanic Gardens and stopped for tea on the lawn where dozens of locals pause for lunch, a nap or play. From there we stopped in at the Oran Mor across the street for a pint before wandering the streets of the Hillhead area where we walked along the cobbled street of Ashton Lane and saw the Kelvin River and the Kelvinbridge. Eventually we made our way to The Sparkle Horse for a sea bass and pork loin supper with friends from Glasgow.
The next day we were up early and walked down the street for breakfast at Urban West with avocado toast, eggs benedict and strong coffee. We headed out from there to Kelvingrove Park and wandered for hours through just part of its 84 acre lands: seeing statues, gardens and unique spots like the Stewart Memorial Fountain and the Bandstand. From there we returned up Great Western Road to experience A Play, A Pie and A Pint at Oran Mor. After a short nap at the Kelvin Hotel, we continued our tour by walking to George Square which includes the square’s many statues, Glasgow City Chambers and Tron Church. Of course, we had to stop in at The Piper Whisky Bar which stocks whisky from every Scottish distillery.
We started our final day in Glasgow with a traditional Full Scottish Breakfast at our bed-and-breakfast. After filling our bellies, we headed out to see some historic religious sites and take on the museums. We popped in to Inn Deep along the River Kelvin for one last Scottish meal and a pint, and then we enjoyed our lovely train ride back to London.
Here is a complete guide including the must-do tours, sites, bites and drinks:
The easiest travel is by foot, and whenever a break is needed, the Glasgow subway system is extremely simple to navigate. It consists of an inner and an outer circle which travel the same route only in opposite directions. While there may be a faster choice sometimes between the inner and outer, they both stop at all stations. Fares are cheap at £3/day, £14/week and £54/month depending on how long the visit is. Plus, save the Smartcard and reuse it on future visits. Uber and Gett are available as alternatives to the subway, buses or taxis.
Glasgow Botanic Gardens
The Hillhead area of Glasgow is rich with history and landmarks. Pull out a phone and use the area’s origins and history page to navigate to everything pertinent without a guide. Walk down Ashton Lane and Hidden Lane for arts, crafts and good eats. Check out the Western Baths, the River Kelvin and Kelvinbridge, and stop in for a bite and a pint at Inn Deep.
Strolling through the 84 acres of Kelvingrove Park can take as little or as long as desired. A downloadable pdf for navigating The Heritage Trail is available. Highlights include Mackintosh House, Lord Kelvin statue, the Psalmist statue, Lord Lister statue, and the Kelvingrove Bandstand. Upon leaving the park, see the Royal Crescent on Fitzroy Place.
The square named after George III holds 12 statues plus the cenotaph. The square is also home to the Glasgow City Chambers and a short walk from Tron Church. Touring the statues is easy with online guidance, and City Chambers Tours are available twice daily Monday – Friday. Don’t forget to check out the whiskeys and tapas at The Piper Whisky Bar.
City Centre Tour
This tour can be taken in a variety of ways because it covers a large area encompassing everything from Argyle Street Station or George Square all the way back to Charing Cross Station. Sites include the Gallery of Modern Art, the Lighthouse, the Glasgow Green, the People’s Palace and King’s Theatre. Walking Tours in Glasgow has a good one run by locals lasting 2.5 – 3 hours with plans to start a free 1.5 hour tour schedule soon.
University of Glasgow
Swing over from a trip around Hillhead or Kelvingrove to discover historic cloisters and walk emerald green quads. It’s another tour that affords plenty of bonuses such as the Hunterian Art Gallery, the Mackintosh House and the Wellington Church of Scotland. The university provides an online aid for self-guided tours, and The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery admission is free.
Churches, Cathedrals and More
The major religious sites can be seen with an oval walk 3 – 4 miles long – shorter if using the subway for portions of the route. Go from Wellington Church to St Mary’s Scottish Episcopal Cathedral, which is open from 10 – 12:30 from May through September. Then continue on to Tron Church near George Square and then Glasgow Cathedral (also called St Mungo Cathedral) with free daily guided tours and where the Necropolis is also located. Conclude with St Enoch Square which doesn’t have a church there any more but is still revered as a religious site due to its lengthy history.
The lands of Glasgow Green were donated to the people of Glasgow in 1450 and was originally used for washing, drying, grazing and swimming. In the 1880s and 1890s it gained the three-story terracotta Doulton Fountain; the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens; and the Templeton’s Carpet Factory. The Palace is museum, picture gallery, concert hall and gardens. The Carpet Factory now houses a business center, residential housing, a brewery and restaurant (which offers tours on Saturdays and Sundays). The Glasgow City Council provides information on its website about the Green that includes pdf downloads about the history of the Green and a Glasgow Green Heritage Trail map and guide. Enjoy numerous fountains, statues and more.
Kelvingrove Museum: The Kelvingrove Museum is free to the public and is open seven days a week. There see everything from French Impressionists to Dutch Old Masters to Scottish history and archaeology. With 22 themed rooms, it’s possible to spend an entire day in the museum.
The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery: Scotland’s oldest public museum is The Hunterian which was built in 1807. Part of the University of Glasgow, free tours are offered daily including Antonine Wall Tour, Medical History Highlights and The Byzantine among others. While in the area, also check out The Mackintosh House. Both are open Tuesday – Sunday.
St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art is full of galleries exploring faith among various peoples and cultures around the world. Some highlights include the painting “The Sabbath Candles” by Dora Holzhandler, a bronze sculpture of the Hindu god Shiva Nataraja, and a Zen garden. The museum is free of charge, open Tuesday – Sunday and frequently has talks about culture and religion. As a bonus, it sits next to the Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis – both of which are impressive in their own right.
The Lighthouse is also known as Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, and it was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first public commission. It’s free to the public and open seven days a week. Check the website for upcoming exhibitions and events.
The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) is conveniently located in the city center. While it contains some displays from around the United Kingdom, GoMA focuses on Scottish artists and has increasingly emphasized works from younger generations of Scots. Like most of Glasgow’s museums, it is free of charge and open seven days a week.
The Royal Highland Fusiliers Headquarters is home to the Regimental Museum which boasts a vast collection of military memorabilia, artwork and photographic collections dating back over 300 years. Open Monday through Friday at 9am, admission is free.
Glasgow Museums Resource Centre provides a place for artwork to be safely stored when not on display of one of Glasgow’s museums. It was created to also act as a visitor center and can be visited Monday through Sunday for free and learn about the museum through various talks and tours.
Glasgow Women’s Library: For a one-of-a-kind experience, check out the Glasgow Women’s Library, the United Kingdom’s only Accredited Museum dedicated to women’s history. The library is open Monday – Saturday for visiting, reading and attending a wide range of programs and events.
The Burrell Collection: The 18th-century Pollok House is a mansion with gorgeous gardens with over 1000 rhododendrons, antique furniture typical of 1930s Scottish living and The Burrell Collection of fine art by Manet, Cezanne, Degas and more. Entry is free, but be sure and check for availability as it has recently been undergoing refurbishment.
Provand’s Lordship is a 1471 home turned museum filled with 17th-century furniture and royal portraits. Provand’s Lordship Garden is behind the house and is a very calm, quiet herb garden with a covered cloister area. The museum and garden are open and free Tuesday – Sunday.
Riverside Museum: The aptly named Riverside Museum lies beside the River Clyde focuses on transportation technology: cars, trains, trams and ships. In addition to paintings and 3D models, there are over 90 touch screen for an interactive experience. Visit seven days a week with free entry.
The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG): The RCPSG has thousands of rare medical and surgical instruments, books and artwork. It’s free to visit, and they often provide guided tours. The only catch here: it’s only open to the public Mondays from 2 – 5pm.
The Glasgow School of Art is still a functioning school. However, it maintains an archives and collections section with paintings, photographs, architecture history, textiles and plaster casts. The Glasgow School of Art is open most days of the year, have free admission and admit the general public. Please note, though, that they prefer an appointment to view the archives.
Other Museum Options: There are many other museums to check out in Glasgow. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has a collection of oil paintings and portraits. Transmission Gallery is a nonprofit artist space that puts on various exhibitions throughout the year. Visit the National Piping Centre, tour its museum, meet the piper and even play the bagpipes (for a fee). It is intermittently closed for maintenance, so check ahead. For monthly rotating exhibitions – primarily by Scottish artists – stop by the Roger Billcliffe Gallery.
- Buchanan Street is the place to go for high-end shopping, and it’s a great place for watching street performers.
- Buchanan Galleries in the same area is a mall-like shopping center that also features some brands unique to both Glasgow and all of Scotland.
- Sauchiehall Street is known for walking, shopping – and tearooms!
- St Enoch is another mall-like area with shops, a food court and gourmet restaurants, too.
- Oran Mor has live music, comedy and theater to go with brews, ciders and whiskeys.
- Inn Deep is a quaint pub on the River Kelvin with good grub, too.
- The Sparkle Horse for sea bass, pork loin and, of course, whiskey or wine.
- Urban West has fresh breakfast and lunch choices and rich java brews.
- The Piper Whisky Bar serves an excellent tapas menu – try some haggis!
- Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery is known for quality, local food and scrumptious desserts.
- Ubiquitous Chip is another Scottish staple located in the West End.
- Fanny Trollopes Bistro – the most mouthwatering, inventive menu in town!
- Number Sixteen features a regularly changing set menu for lunch.
- The Anchor Line Bar and Grill focuses on seafood and offers craft cocktails.
- Di Maggios Theatreland has tasty Italian food opposite the Royal Concert Hall.
- Grosvenor is a complex with eclectic food in its café, a bar and an independent cinema.
- Piece offers tasty sandwiches and rich coffee at an affordable price on Argyle Street.
- The Piper Whisky Bar – over 200 malts!
- The Sparkle Horse – cozy vibe with wide selection of beers, wines and whisky.
- West Brewery – the only UK brewery to produce all its artisan beers in accordance with the German Purity Law of 1516.
- Red Bus Bistro – retro afternoon tea spot while sightseeing from a vintage Routemaster bus!
- Hidden Lane Tearoom – stop on Argyle at one of the most heralded tearooms in Glasgow
- Cup Tea Lounge – the cupcakes are the highlight here.
- Grand Central Hotel – offers an exclusive Champagne bar overlooking Central Station.
- Mint and Lime Bar – one of the most affordable sports pubs in Glasgow.
- Stravaigin – this is the go-to spot for a li’l hair of the dog: Blood Mary and Bloody Maria (tequila version) served here routinely.
- Blythswood Hotel Salon – an adorable boutique hotel bar with rave reviews!
- Blue Dog – in addition to the full bar, they feature live jazz music nightly.
If the budget allows some splurging, Glasgow has plenty to offer. Glasgow Royal Concert Hall hosts classical, jazz, pop, rock and folk artists year-round. For independent cinema and local Glasgow films, check out the Glasgow Film Theatre in the heart of the city. Search What’s On Glasgow for current plays and musicals running at King’s Theatre and Theatre Royal Glasgow.
There are also a number of paid touring options. Glasgow Music City Tours offers a Merchant City Music Walking Tour of Glasgow and a Musical Mile Tour for about $22. To combine whisky tasting with a walking tour, go to Once Upon A Whisky which has both a West End and City Centre tour – running around $65. For a mere $13 try the Glasgow City Centre Walking Tour by Walking Tours in Glasgow. If beer sounds better than whisky, $41 will purchase Scotbeer Tours and Tasting. Open top bus tours are also available in Glasgow. During my travels, I’ve always found Viator to be a reliable way to book those and similar types of city tours – and they have a handy app. (I have no relation personal or professional with Viator.)
Glasgow is a proud city with innumerable opportunities to explore it. Most places of interest and museums are free to the public and within walking distance if planned well. Hotels and other housing are reasonably priced, and food and drink are likely to account for the majority of spending. The locals are extremely nice and always eager to share information about their city and its history. For a good review of Glasgow history before visiting, see The Glasgow Story.
A ‘GABHAIL TLACHD!