Things to see & do in Glasgow

Glasgow is interestingly known as the friendliest city in Scotland, and however you’re touring Scotland, a few days in Glasgow provide an appealing opportunity to explore the architecture of the legendary Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the world-renowned artworks of the Burrell Collection, and the sombre beauty of the Necropolis.

Glasgow is the departure point for rail vacations along the iconic West Highland Line, which is one of the most scenic routes in Europe, if not the world, taking you northwest through the Highlands to the port of Oban or Fort William, Mallaig and the Hebrides, past the foot of Ben Nevis.
Glasgow is inextricably linked with its shipbuilding past, with traces of it remaining around the city, from cranes to murals and museums.
This is a city with a long and proud history in transport, celebrated in style by the Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum on the bank of the Clyde, and immortalised by remnants of the shipbuilding industry including the historic Finnieston and Titan Clydebank cranes.

How can you spend a day in Glasgow? We’ve put together what we consider some of the top things to see and do in Glasgow, to get a feel for the city’s cultural atmosphere as well as its unique shipbuilding and architectural heritage.

Burrell Collection

The Burrell Collection is housed in a three-floor building in Pollok Country Park. It was a gift to the city from a Glasgow native, a wealthy shipping merchant who spent his life collecting artworks from around the world. On display is a collection spanning 6,000 years of art including Chinese porcelain, Egyptian pottery, ancient tapestries and paintings by the likes of Cézanne and Degas. Through consultation and workshops, the museum goes to great lengths to involve and engage with the local community in how it displays exhibits.

Finnieston Crane and Titan Clydebank

Two iconic symbols of Glasgow’s engineering and shipbuilding past, these immense cranes are no longer in use, but continue to stand tall on the bank of the River Clyde. The Titan has now been converted into a visitor attraction. While you may not fancy the bungee jump from the top, the onsite museum traces Glasgow’s history as a major center for shipbuilding, with videos showing the launches of the Queen Mary and QE2.

Grab a coffee

If you love your morning coffee fix even on vacation, you’re not alone. But skip the high street chains with their bland and over-priced confections. Dear Green is a Glasgow institution, proudly sourcing ethical coffee beans to roast, paying staff a living wage, and pursuing every opportunity to make its business more sustainable. And the coffee tastes amazing too. You’ll find Dear Green on the barista menu in cafés, bakeries and restaurants all around the city.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

One of the finest museums in Scotland, the Kelvingrove has more than 20 galleries showcasing works by the Old Masters and French Impressionists, arms and armour, natural history, treasures from ancient Egypt and many artefacts that shed light on Scotland’s history. Other attention-grabbers in the magnificent Spanish Baroque-style building include a huge stuffed elephant dubbed ‘Sir Roger’, a Spitfire hanging from the ceiling and Salvador Dali’s striking portrayal of the crucifixion.

Pollok Country Park

Glasgow’s largest park, on the south side of the city, is a peaceful space where you can enjoy woodland and riverside walks, cycling, walled gardens, and meet a herd of shaggy Highland cows. The park is also home to the world-famous Burrell Collection, one of the finest art galleries in Scotland.

Riverside Museum

Designed by the architect Zaha Hadid, the Riverside Museum explores the way we get around. Through 3,000 exhibits, from skateboards to locomotives to vintage cars, as well as touch screen displays illuminating the stories behind them, the museum brings to life Glasgow’s immense contributions to the fields of shipbuilding, train manufacturing and engineering. Outside, you can also step aboard a beautiful tall ship, the Glenlee, that once sailed the Clyde.

The Lighthouse

Built in the late 19th century by the Glaswegian architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, this former water tower atop a warehouse is now home to the Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, with enthralling and inspiring exhibitions covering everything from sustainable building techniques to Art Nouveau. It’s worth a visit if only for the spectacular panoramas over Glasgow from the viewing platform.

The Necropolis

This vast Victorian cemetery is the final resting place of some 50,000 people, and occupies a hill close to Glasgow Cathedral and Provand’s Lordship, the oldest building in the city. Many notable citizens have been buried here, from war heroes to shipbuilders, poets, writers and magicians, and superbly rendered statues and sculptures abound. It’s a pleasant place for a meditative wander, not least for the extravagant views across the city.

Wallace’s Well

In north Glasgow there stands a small, ancient well, where it is believed that William Wallace, aka Braveheart, took a sip of water to refresh himself shortly before he was betrayed and captured, then sent to England for trial, torture and execution. The well can be quite hard to spot, so keep an eye out for a Celtic cross memorial nearby.

Walking tours

Taking a walking tour is an immersive way to discover Glasgow’s history while also getting a feel for the city’s atmosphere as it is today. Plus, it’s much more environmentally friendly than jumping onto a sightseeing bus. You could explore the life and legacy of the renowned Glaswegian architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, visit famous locations from films and TV shows, or soak up the works of Glasgow’s street artists with a self-guided stroll along the Mural Trail, which has splashed colour onto the walls of many buildings and streets around the city.
Travel Team
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Our travelers also ask…

What is the best time of year to visit Glasgow?

Glasgow is a wonderful city to visit at any time of year, but the best time to visit is during the summer months, with July averaging around 19°C. Late spring and early autumn are also very pleasant in Glasgow, and usually mild too.

However, winter is a good time to come for festivals. It sees the annual Whisky Festival taking place, a celebration of Scotland’s finest tipple and the distilling prowess behind it. There’s also Celtic Connections, usually held in January, which is a huge platform of traditional Scottish music with performances by international and local artists in venues across the city. Plus, at Christmas you can enjoy the beautiful sight of the Glasgow City Chambers building in George Square adorned with lights.

Where can you go from Glasgow by train?

Glasgow is the starting point of the West Highland Line, ‘the iron road to the isles’ and one of the world’s most attractive rail journeys. Via Loch Lomond, the boggy Rannoch Moor and perhaps a spectacular steam train journey over Glenfinnan Viaduct (popularised by Harry Potter), the line culminates at the port of Mallaig. Here, you can easily board a ferry to the Isle of Skye to continue your Highland adventures with no need of a car.

How many days do you need to see Glasgow?

We would recommend at least two days to get the most out of a stay in Glasgow. A guided walking tour is a good way to get your bearings, as is a meander around the Necropolis, with views across the city. You could then spend a morning wandering the lovely Pollok Country Park and the Burrell Collection, before visiting one of Glasgow’s many prestigious museums such as the Riverside Museum or the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Is it easy to get around Glasgow?

It’s very easy to get around Glasgow without a car. The city boasts one of the oldest underground metro systems in the world, and also one of the smallest. There are just 15 stations in total, which can be travelled in a circular route clockwise or anticlockwise. It’s an easy, accessible and eco-friendly way to get around the city center.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Adam Marikar] [Intro: Ben Wicks] [Burrell Collection: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP] [Riverside Museum: Fredrika Carlsson] [What is the best time of year to visit Glasgow?: Ian Dick]