Top 15 things to do in Glasgow
Glasgow is a dynamic, sports-loving, music-loving city with a great artistic and architectural heritage that stretches from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. The nightlife scene, starring comedians like Billy Connolly, the Franz Ferdinand Band and the Knopfler Brothers, Mark and David of Dire Straits, is still full of all kinds of concerts for those who can’t look for them. For international visitors, Glasgow has been too long in the shadow of the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. But its youthful, rough and ready atmosphere finally captures the imagination of visitors after a millennium. Here are just some of the interesting things you can see and do in Scotland’s second city.
Visit a world-class museum or two
Since its opening in 1901, the Glasgow Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum has been popular with locals and visitors alike. Its 22 galleries house an eclectic mix of art, design, history, culture and even biology. Here you can see prehistoric skeletons, giant stuffed elephants or masterful drawings by Leonardo da Vinci in a tour of the Royal Collection. One of Salvador Dali’s most famous paintings, Christ of St. John of the Cross, hangs in his own special gallery. You can walk under the classic World War II Spitfire or visit a gallery of room settings showcasing Glasgow style. – The city’s 20th-century Art Nouveau twist, led by designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The museum on Argyle Street in Glasgow’s West End is open every day and is free.
Nearby, on the University of Glasgow campus, the Hunter’s Museum explores archaeology, paleontology, geology, zoology, entomology, stamps and Roman finds from the Antonine Wall excavations in Scotland. It is the oldest museum in Scotland and is considered one of the best museum collections in the world. The main Hunterian museum is open every day and is free to visitors, but hours vary, so check the website before you go.
Catch the Riverside Trolley
Riverside Museum, Scotland’s National Transport Museum, occupies a prime location on the River Clyde, the former epicenter of Scottish shipbuilding. Next to the striking steel and glass building designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid, the late Glenley Tall Ship, one of the few sailing ships built on the Clyde, stands.
While in Riverside, you can climb aboard a vintage, horse-driven Glasgow trolley or streetcar, take a simulated ride on the original subway car – with sound and light effects. Or you can find the first car you ever drove in a huge wall of cars, look at classic luxury and racing cars or marvel at Bangladeshi styled decorated vans.
It’s not easy to get here from downtown Glasgow, but you can take the No. 100 bus from Queen Street, right outside Glasgow Queen Street train station, to the museum.
Taste amber nectar at the Glasgow distillery
Glasgow’s first single malt distillery to open in more than 100 years, Clydeside Distillery has been producing distilled whiskey and welcoming visitors since late 2017. Housed in an impressive steel and glass building in the Old Pump Room on the River, it combines state-of-the-art staffing and monitoring equipment with old-fashioned Scotch whiskey craftsmanship. You can book an hour-long tour (for £15 in 2019) to learn how whisky is made, see every step of the process, and taste three “tiny drams”-they thoughtfully provide in-house “driver drams” for designated drivers. They also offer a whiskey and chocolate tasting for £28 – a revelation if you’ve never made a whiskey and chocolate pairing, and the best tour for a small group manager for £120. The distilleries’ own “new make” whiskeys are not yet ready for tasting, but the company that owns the new distillery is part of the distribution group, so you can try Highland, Lowland and Islay whiskeys. There’s also a cafe and store.
Take in the show.
Glasgow is a creative place with a very lively theater scene. You can take in a big touring production at one of the city’s main stages – the Theatre Royal, the Pavilion Theatre or the Theatre Royal, Scotland’s oldest theater. Or take on more flamboyant, original alternative work at places like the Tramway, Citizen’s Theatre and the Tron Theatre. There are always plays worth seeing in Glasgow. Just make sure you check websites and book in advance, because Glaswegians are avid theater lovers and shows sell out quickly.
Admire the art on the streets
Glasgow’s street art scene, especially in the city center, has really taken off in the last few years. Mass works regularly appear on blank walls, from contemporary St. Mungo’s (the city’s patron saint) near the Cathedral to flying cabs, pretty girls, wild tigers and contemporary portraits of mother and child. You can even download a handy City Center Mural Trail map to take a self-guided tour of the best works.
And admire more art in the galleries
The Glasgow School of Art is a world-class institution that attracts student artists and practicing artists to the city. They, in turn, maintain an engagement with the arts in every way possible. The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) is the city’s center for contemporary art. Although it has a small permanent collection that includes Warhol and Hockney, it is best known for its rotating interactive exhibitions designed to get viewers talking and creating art.
If you’re interested in a more conventional gallery, there are many. The Hunterian Art Gallery (mixed media and sharing a name with the Hunterian Museum described above), is undergoing a reintroduction until May 2019, when its galleries of Whistler, Glasgow and Young and Scottish colorists will reopen. Its collection includes works by Rubens and Rembrandt, and it houses the world’s largest collection of paintings by American artist and émigré James McNeil Whistler.
If you can wait until 2020 to visit Glasgow, you should definitely visit the Burrell Collection, located in Pollock Country Park on the south side of Glasgow. The huge gallery, with its emphasis on Asian and European art, has long been a reason for a side trip to Glasgow. It’s currently under renovation, but when it reopens, you can stroll through galleries of 5,000-year-old Chinese pottery and porcelain, the most important collection in Britain, French Impressionist paintings, and Medieval and Renaissance art and objects.
The Barras Shop
Every Saturday and Sunday, the East End of Glasgow transforms into a series of huge, interconnected outdoor and indoor covered markets known as Barras (for the goods from the mounds that used to sell and the “mounds” that sold them). It’s free to all – a bit like a combination of Les Puces, the flea market in Paris, Portobello Road in London, and the indoor markets in the Birmingham Bullring. You can buy, food, clothes, tools and household items, questionable antiques and all kinds of junk. And among all this commerce are cafes, casual stores, pubs, and nightclubs. In fact, the place even has a ballroom, Barrowlands, that regularly hosts live shows, raves and club nights.
Go looking for Charles Rennie McIntosh
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, referred to simply as Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, was a 20th century architect and designer turnaround who almost single-handedly created Glasgow’s style. His acclaimed masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, has suffered two major fires since 2014. The last, in 2018, was so devastating that it could take up to 10 years to rebuild the building.
But such is the impact of Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow that the school is likely to rise again. Meanwhile, you can see his work in the Scotland Street School he designed. See the main rooms of his own house and his furniture collected at the Mackintosh House at Glasgow University (another part of the Hunterian collections). Perhaps most interesting is the Art Lover’s House, created in the 1990s from plans that Rennie Mackintosh entered a competition but never built.
Immerse yourself in the Middle Ages.
Prowand’s Domination is one of Glasgow’s oldest houses, one of four surviving medieval houses in the city. It was built in 1471 as part of a hospital and then became a private home. Today it is furnished as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries. The name comes from the way it was financed in the 19th century by the income of Lord Prebend (or Provender) of Barlanark.
Behind it is St. Nicholas Garden, a medieval-style herb garden.The house at the top of Castle Street is free to visit. Next door, the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art occupies another old building. It was built in the style of a medieval Scottish bishop’s palace, though this museum, which explores the role of religion in people’s lives, is not really an old building.
Dinner with gusto
Glasgow has become a foodie city for serious foodies. Unlike the white tablecloth, sophisticated sophistication of Edinburgh cuisine, the gastronomic scene in Glasgow is for people who really like to eat good food. Try restaurants in the Finnieston / Argyle Street strip, such as Porter and Rye for steaks and chops or Crabshakk, for clams. Check out the Ashton Lane Cafe near Byres Road in Glasgow’s West End and the unbeatable Vietnamese street food, Hanoi Bicycle Shop, also near Byres Road on Rathven Lane.
Get otherworldly in Glasgow cathedral and necropolis
Put on your best Gothic closet and take a stroll through Glasgow’s necropolis. The Victorian Garden Cemetery, one of the city’s scariest attractions, is an amazingly beautiful place to connect with the spirit world. It was modeled after the famous Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris and is full of interesting stone angels and mausoleums. After your walk, take a stroll through the soaring medieval Glasgow Cathedral next door. Sometimes called St. Mungo’s for the city’s patron saint (also St. Kentigerns and the Supreme Kirk of Scotland), they have been saving souls in the current building since 1197, over 800 years.
Miracle at the Sharmanka Artistry Cinema.
Russian immigrant and artist Eduard Bersudsky has created a permanent exhibition of amazing kinetic sculptures using carved figures, found objects and structures made from old scrap metal, plastic, rubber and wood. They perform all kinds of choreographed feats with original, original music. This unlikely popular attraction has become one of the highlights of a visit to Glasgow. It’s impossible to describe, but people of all ages, speaking all languages, walk out of this show with a smile.
Take in a concert.
Glasgow has a wide variety of concert venues, from big venues and clubs like SSE Hydro, O2 Academy and The Barrowland Ballroom, to the city’s more intimate venues. Wah Wah Hut King Tut has only 300 seats, but it is regularly hailed as one of the best live music venues in the UK. Òran Mór in the West End is a bar and restaurant with live music, comedy and theater. The Sub Club, located in the basement of the city center, claims to be the oldest continuously operating dance club in the world. Don’t go to Glasgow without planning a party.
Engage with science at the Glasgow Science Center
Like a big silver beetle, the titanium domes of this futuristic attraction sit squatting in the fast-growing Riverside Regeneration Area, across from the Riverside Transportation Museum. Inside is an IMAX movie theater, planetarium and plenty of science-oriented interactive galleries filled with hands-on activities. After getting your geek on, step outside to the center’s revolving tower and climb 417 feet for a stunning view of the city.
Cruise on the historic steamboat
The Waverley is the world’s last paddle steamer, and you can take a day cruise on her from the pier at the Glasgow Science Center on the Clyde. Her day cruises from Glasgow to the west coast are scheduled from June 25 to Sept. 1, 2019, and some preliminary spring cruises are also tentatively scheduled. Built 70 years ago, she is owned and maintained by the Steamship Preservation Society, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2019. The final schedule is published in March, after which full pricing information as well as tentative reservations are available.