Glasgow is such a vibrant city that surprises the tourists for its design, culture, art and nightlife. If it is impossible to avoid the classic topic “better Glasgow or Edinburgh“, my thought is very easy:”both!“. Indeed, these are two completely different cities that show some of the aspects that characterise Scotland.
Having said that, these are my personal suggestions about the top 6 things to do and see in Glasgow in a couple of days (or even more).
1 – Explore Glasgow centre following a “Mackintosh itinerary”
The lively city centre boasts some interesting buildings not to be missed in, they represent Glasgow architectural masterpieces as well as the Mackintosh heritage. You can follow a tematic route across the city that allows to discover hidden gems off the beaten track. Some personal highlights are:
- St Vincent Street Church, that reminds me a Greek temple;
- The Hatrack with its awesome glazed Art Nouveau facade;
- The Daily Record Printing Works, designed by Mackintosh;
- The Stock Exchange, founded in 1844 in the heart of Buchanan Street;
- The Lighthouse, drawn by Mackintosh, today it hosts the Centre for Architecture and Design and it has a panoramic roof terrace;
- The Gallery of Modern Art and the statue of the Duke of Wellington with a traffic cone on his head;
- Hutchesons’ Hall, it was a hospice for men and a school for poor boys;
This itinerary leads to George Square, the Glasgow main square, where there are several statues dedicated to important Scotsmen (look at Walter Scott obelisk in the centre).
While wandering around the square you can admire the beautiful City Chambers, realised between 1882 and 1888 and today City Council home. Free tours are available at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm.
In 2018 Glasgow celebrates 150 years of Mackintosh so that many special events and exhibitions take place in town to display a huge collection of objects and furnitures designed by him.
A place not to be missed is The Glasgow Art Club in 185 Bath Street. It was established in 1867 and from 1893 it’s located in its present location. Originally the membership was limited just to artists but from 1886 on lay members were also admited, mainly for financial reason. That wasn’t the case for women, indeed they were not accepted until 1985. The aim of the club is always the same, promoting art in the city as well as in the rest of Scotland thanks to artist members’ exhibitions and shows open to the public.
Inside the club you can see many and many scultpures and paintings of different styles made by past and present members. The highlight of the the visit is definitely The Gallery, also known as the Long Room. Dated back to 1892-1893, Charles Mackintosh itself designed most of it. After the recent restoration, it’s finally possible to observe the frieze, a stencilled artwork painted by Mackintosh in 1893 and also his first major public work.
In 2018 there’re free guided tour every Thursday until the end of May and then from October to mid-December.
Last stop is in Sauchiehall Street 217 to visit the renovated Mackintosh at The Willow, located in the same building that hosted the Tea Rooms entirely designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1903. After decades of decay, in 2014 The Willow Tea Rooms Trust started its restoration aiming to reopen it the 7th of June, the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth.
The original tea room was possibly the finest example in the world of the Art Nouveau scheme by its author, which had complete control over the interior and the exterior design. During my visit in April I had the chance to explore a small area of the building while works were still in progress in order to restore every single room to its original splendour.
Besides that, the reopening will also include a new exhibition and visitor centre located at 215 Sauchiehall Street in order to help local and international visitors to understand and then appreciate Mackintosh’s work and legacy.
2 – Visit of Glasgow Cathedral and The Necropolis
The Glasgow Cathedral is located in the east side of the city centre, 15 minutes far by foot. The church is the best preserved from the Gothic period in Scotland. It was founded in the 7th century by apostle Kentigern (also known as Mungo) that later became patron saint of the city. The visit is free though donations are welcome.
Local volunteers are also available for short guided tours.
Situated on a hill just behind the Cathedral, The Necropolis is a Victorian cemetery where some of the most relevant men and women born in Glasgow are buried. It is interesting to note all the different style that characterize every tomb, creating a unique panorama that it is worth a visit.
Furthermore, the Necropoli is a perfect viewpoint over Glasgow Cathedral and the city skyline.
Before heading back to George Square, pay a (free) visit to Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow, dated back to 1471.
The museum exhibits the medieval furniture and shows us the way of living in Scotland during that age.
3 – Discover Outlander locations in Glasgow
If you are keen on Outlander tv series, Glasgow it is definitely your place. Across its centre there are 2 locations to be discovered:
- John Street 45 (close to George Square), the building delimited by two massive archs, today it hosts the Registration Office of Glasgow City Council. It was the place where Claire and Frank got married in the 7th episode of the season 1;
- once inside the Cathedral go downstairs to the Lower Church, the place where St Mungo is supposed to be buried. This is the location of the Hôpital des Anges where Claire works during her French stay in season 2.
Besides that, in 10 minutes by foot from the Cathedral there is the Tennent’s Brewery. Just before arriving there, on the left side you will notice several beautiful wall paintings. In one of them you may recognise Sam Heughan (alias Jamie Fraser) keeping a couple of pints of beer. Indeed, before being in Outlander, Sam was promoting Tennent’s and for this reason he appears on the wall.
I have to thank Susanne that with her blog “Adventures around Scotland” helped me find the Outlander tv series locations in Glasgow.
4 – The Glasgow West End museums
The West End is the new growing cultural area of Glasgow overlooking River Clyde. It is well known for the museums that every year welcome an increasing number of visitors. Not to mention the fact that most of them are free of charge. In one day it is impossible to visit all of them, so I just chose three.
The Riverside Museum
Located at Pointhouse Quay, the Riverside Museum is the new museum of transport of Scotland. I have never seen something similar, there is not a specific route to follow, the best thing to do is to wander and look around you. The museum boasts a huge collection of historic cars, trams, autobus, bicycles and locomotives. In addition to that, the Main Street represents a typical Glaswegian street from 1895-1930, including the subway (one of the oldest in all Europe), shops and bars.
The Tallship Glenlee
The Glenlee was one of the last ships built in Glasgow’s shipyards to be still afloat. It is moored just behind the Riverside Museum and the access is via gangway. From the deck you have a fantastic view of both sides of River Clyde with the opportunity to distinguish modern buildings like The Hydro and the Science Centre. The visit of the rooms used by the crew shows us the daily life while sailing. In the lower deck there are a bar and an area dedicated to children where they can learn by doing.
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is undoubtedly the top attraction in Glasgow and is one of the most popular in UK. The building in red sandstone is situated in Kelvingrove Park and it is easily reachable with a 20 minutes walk. The museum hosts over 20 public galleries, one of them for children. The Scottish area has a great relevance among the other ones and it includes design, art as well as a Mackintosh section.
The masterpiece that attracts all the visitors is Dalí’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross, one of the most famous paint by the catalan artist. Apart from that, take a seat in the main hall and enjoy the organ recital that takes place at 1.00 pm Monday – Saturday and at 3.00pm on Sundays.
After visiting the museum go for a stroll across Kelvingrove Park, a natural paradise with beautiful sights of the surroundings to fall in love with.
5 – Get on the Glasgow Hop-on Hop-off bus tour
The double-decker open top bus permits to discover Glasgow places of interest thanks to an itinerary that lasts around 75 minutes (audio guide included). Otherwise, you may use it to get on and off at the 21 stops available across the city.
6 – Get lost in Glasgow nightlife and shopping madness
Another way to discover the Scottish city is through its vibrant nightlife. The city centre, especially in the area called Merchant City, offers a great range of bars, restaurants and then clubs where to go… no one will be disappointed!
Besides that, Glasgow is the capital of shopping and Buchanan Street is the place to go. Here you will find the Style Mile with its numerous shopping centre: Buchanan Galleries, John Lewis, Princes Square, House of Fraser, Argyll arcade and St Enoch Centre. Basically you should spend one day just to visit these places. I was there during Christmas time and the atmosphere was incredible. I got lost admiring all the decorations and the twinkling lights in the streets and on the facades as well.
Far from being a definitive list, these are my top 6 things to do in Glasgow. I promise that I will be back to continue the visit and to discover all the other beauties not to be missed.
For all the information about what to do and see in Glasgow go to People Make Glasgow, the official destination marketing organisation for the Scottish city. Instead, if you are looking for a Hotel in Glasgow, take a look at the dedicated section on Booking.com website.