Updated: Apr 14
Glasgow is sometimes overlooked as a tourist destination – but this is a big mistake! Glasgow has a long and fascinating history with some of the finest inner city architecture in the UK. The city has a fresh vibe and air of confidence, which is testament to its reinvention as a modern European city of culture.
There are over twenty museums and galleries in Glasgow with free access. From incredible museums like The Burrell Collection and Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, to newer attractions like the Riverside Transport Museum – it’s a truly exciting city to visit – and the shopping is second to none!
If you only choose to do one thing in Glasgow, we thoroughly recommend following ‘The Mackintosh Trail’. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born in 1868 and became one of the world’s greatest architects, artists and designers. He was greatly influenced by the Arts & Crafts style and following this magical trail introduces you to many of his greatest buildings and interiors, including The Glasgow School of Art, Scotland Street School and House for an Art Lover. For more information about the trail visit www.glasgowmackintosh.com/plan-visit.
As always, please follow all UK Government Covid restrictions & guidance and only visit Glasgow if it's completely safe to do so. Here are my favourite places to visit in Glasgow:
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum
Housing one of Europe’s greatest civic art collections, this is the most visited museum in the UK outside London and it’s free! Housing 22 state of the art galleries you’ll find exciting pictures, sculptures, natural history, military and Egyptian exhibitions and much more. If you only visit one museum in Glasgow - this is the one!
The Burrell Collection & Pollok House
All collected by just one man, Sir William Burrell, this art collection includes an astonishing array of artefacts he collected from all around the world. The collection includes medieval art, weapons and armour, Egyptian and Chinese artefacts, impressionist works by Degas & Cezanne and lots of other modern sculptures.
Glasgow Cathedral & Provand’s Lordship
This impressive gothic cathedral, dating back to the 12th Century, is one of only a few medieval churches in Scotland to have survived the Reformation and is well worth a visit for its impressive architecture. Other notable buildings nearby include the impressive Glasgow Royal Infirmary and the Barony Church. This is also a good point at which to visit the St. Mungo Museum of Religion & Visitor Centre (See below).
Provand’s Lordship is Glasgow’s oldest house, built in 1471, and provides a fascinating insight into how a 17th Century house would have been furnished and run.
The Glasgow Necropolis
The Glasgow Necropolis is an amazing 37 acre Victorian garden cemetery, on a hill close to Glasgow Cathedral, with great views of the city. It’s well worth a visit to admire the spectacular tombstones and mausoleums of wealthy Glaswegians, long since departed from this world. It’s also a particular favourite with photographers for moody and atmospheric shots. Guided walks of the cemetery are available and highly recommended (book via website above).
Glasgow Science Centre
With its own Planetarium, Science Mall and IMAX Cinema, this is an educational and fun day out for the whole family. Don’t miss the 100 metre Glasgow Tower which offers fantastic views of the city and beyond.
The People’s Palace & Winter Gardens
Located at Glasgow Green, the People’s Palace tells the story of Glasgow and its people from 1750 to the end of the 20th Century and houses a fascinating collection of paintings, photographs and artefacts, giving a fascinating insight into how Glaswegians ‘lived, worked and played’. If you really want to get to know the real Glasgow, this is the place to come.
The adjacent Winter Gardens are home to a beautiful Victorian glasshouse which houses some very impressive tropical plants and palm trees. It’s a great place to get some peace and quiet in lovely surroundings, or even grab some lunch or a coffee in the lovely cafe. The Doulton Fountain, in front of the palace, is the largest terracotta fountain in the world. After visiting, don’t forget to explore the lovely parkland of Glasgow Green.
The Gallery of Modern Art
Located in the heart of Glasgow, GoMA is the most visited modern art gallery in Scotland and a hub for visitors and artists alike to meet, discuss and enjoy contemporary art. It’s free to visit and consistently attracts some of the best and most interesting collections of art in the world.
The Centre for Contemporary Arts
The CCA is a fantastic multi functional arts centre in Sauchiehall Street with year round cutting edge exhibitions, films, music and literature from all around the world. There’s a cinema, bookshop and cafe, alongside studio and gallery space for artists.
Riverside Museum of Transport & Travel
Opened in 2011, this fantastic transport museum enjoys a wonderful waterside location and is a great opportunity to learn more about Glasgow’s rich industrial heritage. This modern museum is home to vintage cars, motorbikes, trains, trams, bicycles and the complete recreation of a Victorian Glasgow Street. There are over 3,000 different exhibits, many of which you can climb aboard. Also, don’t forget to visit the Tall Ship ‘Glenlee’ which is berthed just outside. This fabulous ship went around the world four times! This museum is a great family day out and completely free!
Glasgow Botanic Gardens & Kibble Palace
Established in 1817, fifty acres of immaculate botanical gardens and amazing glass houses in Glasgow’s West End, containing an impressive collection of tropical and temperate plants from all around the world. The most impressive glasshouse is the wrought iron framed Kibble Palace which houses an impressive range of temperate plants. This is the ideal place to chill out with a picnic on a hot summers day in Glasgow.
The Waverley Paddle Steamer
The Waverley paddle steamer was built in Glasgow in 1947 and is an impressive 693 tonne paddle steamer operating passenger excursions around the British coast. She is now the last seagoing passenger paddle steamer in the world.
Scotland Street School Museum
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, this fabulous former school building is now a museum dedicated to schooling and education. It’s an absolutely must for Mackintosh fans.
Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery
The Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery was founded in 1807 and is Scotland’s oldest public museum. It’s free to visit and is estimated to contain around a million items on display! It contains the largest collection of Charles Rennie Mackintosh works and the re-assembled interior of his Glasgow home, along with scientific instruments, Roman artefacts and other interesting scientific objects from leading scientists and naturalists.
The Hunterian Museum of Anatomy
This is one of Glasgow’s hidden gems. Available by appointment only, this incredible anatomy museum is full of perfectly preserved specimens that are truly fascinating - although not for the squeamish!
St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art
Named after Glasgow’s patron saint, this free museum in Cathedral Square, explores the importance of religion in peoples’ lives over the ages. The museum spans all the worlds major religions and even includes an authentic Zen Garden. The museum is full of beautiful and fascinating religious artefacts, and other works of art, that are well worth a look.
The Scottish Football Museum, Hampden
With over 2500 objects on display and 14 different galleries, this is a mecca for any football fan – Scottish or not! The world’s oldest national trophy, the Scottish Cup, is also on display here. The Scottish Football Hall of Fame is a must see too.
The Lighthouse was opened in July 1999, in Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s derelict Glasgow Herald offices and is Scotland’s first dedicated national centre for architecture and design. The centre largely focuses on digital design, animation and architecture, with a wide range of events and exhibitions throughout the year. The centre houses the Mackintosh Interpretation Centre (the “Mack”) which narrates the life and works of this famous Glasgow designer and architect. The Mackintosh Tower at the top of the building is the place to go for great views of the city.
The Glasgow School of Art
(Temporarily closed due to fire)
The Glasgow School of Art is famously designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and is one of just a few independent art schools in the UK. The School houses the Mackintosh gallery which has a large collection on display of some of his most important pieces. All other areas of this iconic building are open by guided tour.
NOTE: After another recent fire, it’s hoped the building can be soon restored to it's former glory.
Glasgow City Chambers
The City Chambers were opened by Queen Victoria in 1888 and today they’re the headquarters for Glasgow City Council. The building’s incredibly ornate decoration, including the main Carrara marble staircase and Banqueting Hall, reflect the wealth of the city when it was built as an industrial powerhouse and Second City of the Empire. Daily tours of this magnificent building are available.
Central Station & the Forgotten Victorian Village
It might be Scotland’s biggest and busiest railway station, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Take a tour and you’ll be fascinated by the lost Victorian village below the station, hidden amongst a maze of derelict foreboding tunnels. Perhaps the highlight of the tour, is climbing to the station’s iconic glass roof for fabulous views of the city. Something slightly different and truly fascinating.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House
The Hill House is located high on a hill in Helensburgh overlooking the River Clyde. Mackintosh designed almost everything in the house including its furniture. It’s an absolute ‘must see’ if you’re a fan of his work.
The Panopticon theatre was built in 1857 and is the world’s oldest surviving music hall. It’s believed that Stan Laurel made his stage debut here in 1906. The small auditorium used to attract huge crowds in its heyday up to four times a day. It’s a very atmospheric place and well worth visiting. A visit really gives you a sense of just how important theatre was to the people of Glasgow - and indeed still is. There’s also an amazing vintage charity shop which raises funds for the theatres ongoing restoration.
New Lanark Heritage Village
Situated around 40km southeast of Glasgow, New Lanark is a beautifully restored village of cotton mills and workers’ housing on the River Clyde. It was founded in 1786 and is now a UNESCO protected World Heritage Site. Makes a fascinating day out for the whole family.
MY OTHER 'MUST SEE' PLACES IN AND AROUND GLASGOW
There are so many interesting places to visit, and things to do, in Glasgow it would take an entire book to mention them all. With this in mind, here are a few other places in and around Glasgow that are well worth a visit.
Loch Lomond & Loch Lomond Park Centre (Balloch, Alexandria)
Tennents Wellpark Brewery
The Clydeside Distillery
The Museum of Piping
Scottish Maritime Museum
Trongate 103 and the Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery
Holmwood House, 61-63 Netherlee Road
Cathedral of St. Kentigern, Cathedral Street
Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, 200 Woodhead Road
House for an Art Lover
Victoria Park & Fossil Grove
The University of Glasgow
Regimental Museum of the Royal Highland Fusiliers
Oran Mor Pub - A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Glasgow Police Museum
The Mitchell Library
Celtic Park Football Stadium
The Tenement House
St Andrew’s Cathedral
Govan Old Parish Church
The Willow Tearooms
I hope this list of my favourite places to visit in Glasgow gives you some inspiration. As always, please stay covid safe while visiting by following all government advice & regulations.
Author: David Wheater