‘Instead of shores where ocean beats,
I hear the ebb and flow of streets’
Glasgow by Alexander Smith
In the past year, I have wanted to immerse myself in as much Scottish landscape and culture as I can. So a trip to the ‘Dear Green Place’ was inevitable. I had heard the usual commentary like, ‘Oh Glasgow’s not as pretty as Edinburgh’ and ‘Isn’t it grey and cold there?’. They were wrong. Glasgow has a beauty all its own. One it owns with pride, allowing visitors to experience for themselves when they visit. Glasgow has so much to see and do and the cheery charm, however rough around the edges, is overpowered by the friendliness of its people and proximity to a wealth of outdoor sights, treks, hikes and history. Go and see what you are missing!
In the meantime, here’s my guide to what to add to your list of must-sees.
Where to Stay?
I stayed in the Fraser Suites, serviced apartments in Merchant City, which was a good location to start exploring the first few places on my list. This area of Glasgow was originally a working district from the 1750s with the warehouses and residences of the wealthy tobacco traders located here. Now it has been likened to the Covent Garden of Glasgow with bars, restaurants, shops and sights all within a stone’s throw of your hotel. This area formed the backbone of Scotland’s largest city and is ideally located close to the Glasgow Cathedral, which is where the city was founded. Here are my links to a discount with booking.com and Airbnb to help you find a deal on your next break.
Disclaimer: Using these links you may get a discount and I will get credit for every visitor who books using my link. We all win!
What to See and Do?
Dedicated to St Kentigern/ St Mungo and built in the 1100s. It is the most complete, medieval cathedral on mainland Scotland to survive the Reformation when churches were destroyed or defaced. Also, it’s the oldest building in Glasgow. Check out the website for opening times. I went on a Sunday at 9 am and it was closed until 11 am, so there you go. To find it go to the top of High Street at Cathedral Street. You will see a blue police box outside that looks like a Dr Who Tardis but is actually a miniature station from which you can call the police. Outlander fans; this is the location for l’Hopital des Anges in Season 2.
This one, the third necropolis I’ve seen, is a beautiful city of the dead. I’ll admit it seems a tad odd to visit a new city and swing on by a graveyard but the intricately designed structures, headstones and mausoleums provide for an interesting stroll around. Plus this Victorian, garden cemetery is built on a low hill so you have an elevated view over the cathedral and part of the outlying areas of the city. It’s open from 7:00 am to 4:30 pm daily and free to enter.
Fun fact: I read fifty thousand people were buried there but not everyone was given a named gravestone or cited on a monument. However, every one of the 50,000 interred’s details was recorded and are available in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library archives.
The writer of the nursery rhyme ‘Wee Willie Winkie’, William Miller, is buried here and his gravestone is up the little hill on the left past the entrance bridge. I also spotted a small gravestone to a little girl called Wee Bessie Wilson and all the graves near her, including hers, have large conch shells on them. Fascinating stroll around.
3. Mural trail
While walking back towards the centre from the cathedral I noticed that I had inadvertently stumbled across the Mural Trail. You can book tours which will take you to all of the impressive works of art that adorn some of the city’s walls, gables, abandoned shop fronts, site boundary boards and corrugated fences. Incredibly talented street artists have claimed these urban canvases as their own leaving remarkable art for all to enjoy. I am pretty sure there is even a Jack Vettriano mural of Glasgow legend Billy Connolly on Osborne Street. If street art is your thing I urge you to check out the trail as it has some incredibly beautiful pieces by, amongst others, Rogue-One, SmugOne, EJEK, Klingatron, Mark Worst, Guido Van Helten and Ali Wyllie.
Duke of Wellington statue and GOMA
A few years ago I heard about this jaunty, hat-wearing statue and didn’t appreciate the importance it had to the city. The Duke of Wellington statue in front of the GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art) on Royal Exchange Square is a monument to Arthur Wellesley, famous for defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Erected in 1844 it has stood in place undisturbed since. In the 1980s a traffic cone appeared atop the statue one morning and all attempts to hinder the adornment from reoccurring since have been futile. Whenever a cone is removed it is just a matter of days before a new one is in its place. When I visited there was actually a cone beside the statue waiting for a night-time reveller to scale the statue and perch it on top. It seems fitting that the statue is located outside the museum of modern art as I wondered if it’s a contemporary commentary on art? If nothing else it reflects the Glaswegian sense of humour and Lonely Planet acknowledged the ‘Coneheid’ statue as one of the world’s top ten most bizarre monuments.
- University of Glasgow
I took a stroll around the campus of the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world because I am a sucker for architecture and also especially wanted to see the Hunterian Museum and the fairy light wound columns in the cloisters. For the ultimate Christmas-feel make sure to stop by here in winter before the lights are taken down. There’s a very Harry Potter-esque feel to the grounds and of course, the cloisters were used as a film location for the Outlander series, doubling as Harvard University in season 3.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
This stunner of a red brick building houses an incredible collection of historical artefacts and art installations including a real WW2 Spitfire suspended from the ceiling. The gallery is free to enter and I cannot recommend it highly enough for a culture stroll around during your Glasgow visit. The vaulted ceilings reminded me of the National Museum in Edinburgh and its contents were just as interesting and educational. There is currently an exhibit of about 50 ‘floating heads’ suspended over the entrance foyer. The design by Sophie Cave features multiple expressions on the all-white faces which are lit by a cycle of changing coloured lights.
Ashton Lane and West End
I was on a brunch hunt on Sunday morning because brunch and afternoon tea are my favourite, obnoxious millennial meals. Grazing is real. So I heard that the West End was the jewellery box of brunch restaurants and made my way there with no plan. Nestled on Ashton Lane is Ubiquitous Chip and if the tasty menu doesn’t please you then the lush, leafy interiors will. Set on two levels including a balcony seating area you feel as if you are dining in an atrium. This former undertaker’s stables is locally known as ‘The Chip’ and a good choice for quality brunch food.
The quaint, cobbled lane houses a few bars, cafes and a cinema and since the area was regenerated it is firmly on the tourist trail. Of course, there are many more local spots to choose from but if you are on a city break and want to hit up the big names here’s one! Glasgow’s West End houses a plethora of cafés, bars, shops, hotels, clubs and restaurants and is cosily located near Kelvingrove Museum, University of Glasgow and the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. It is popular with students and tourists but well worth the visit.
- Park Circus
If you are a fan of the beauty of curved, terraced buildings that echo Bath’s architecture then take a little meander up to Park Circus. These Category A listed buildings are a dose of house envy and have access to a private garden. For a mere £550,000, you could buy a top floor duplex apartment in the Circus and live out your belated Jane Austen dream. Near here is the stunning Trinity House Tower and on Glasgow Doors Open Days you can view this Victorian landmark building.
- The Hidden Lane tearooms
If you are fond of finger sandwiches and a sweet treat or two why not stop for afternoon tea. And if it’s a tad too inclement outside to explore all the more reason to indulge at The Hidden Lane tea rooms. Argyle Court houses a hodgepodge of studios and a craft community and is perfect for a side of scone with clotted cream. At £15 for a tier of sandwiches and sweet bites, this is a fun way to while away a few hours.
- The Lighthouse
When I visit a city I like to explore up high and down low. So anywhere with views out over the city is on my list. Charles Mackintosh, Glasgow’s favourite son, designed this tower with some great views out over the city from within its heart. There is a level 6 covered balcony type of room with some views but the real gem is up the many flights of stairs (which are wide enough to not induce vertigo to the vertigo sufferers of the world, like me) on the 3rdfloor. Its free to enter and free to climb to the viewing areas but once out on the tower platform space is minimal. And I mean minimal.
- Riverside Museum
Visit the site of a former shipyard on the banks of the river Clyde to see the Glasgow Museum of Transport. With the Glenlee berthed outside and the building’s impressive modern design, it’s worth a photo at least. Open 10 am – 5 pm Monday to Saturday and 11 am to 5 pm on Sundays this free-to-enter museum is full of impressive objects from ‘skateboards to locomotives, prams and cars to a Stormtrooper’.
This was my first visit to Glasgow and hopefully not my last so I have included the big ticket items I thought were worth seeing on a first time round break. From Glasgow, there are multiple day trips and excursions to take to explore the countryside and environs. Use the city as your base and make your way into the Highlands. Check out my post here on a beginner’s road trip through the Highlands. You can easily jump on the train and in about an hour reach Edinburgh for an extra bonus day of exploration if your itinerary allows. Have a look at my post on why you too will fall in love with Edinburgh.