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A Rough Guide to Scotland: 10 Things to Do in Glasgow

Graduate in History, University of Strathclyde, worked in Glasgow Museums and on Bus Tours and a Walking Tour Guide. A 'Weegie' born & bred.


The origins of the name Glasgow may remain unclear. On the one hand, it's said to come from the Gaelic word 'Glaschu' meaning 'green place', on the other from an old Scots word for 'grey rock,' referring to the hill where now stands the Necropolis cemetery. It may have its origins in the ancient Brittonic language from what is now modern Wales.

In its early days after its founding in 543 AD, it was an ecclesiastical settlement and received burgh status in the 1170s. In more recent history Glasgow has been called the 'second city, after London of course, and the 'workshop of the British Empire during its industrial heyday of the 19th and early 20th century.

When the factories and shipyards slowly began disappearing Glasgow became a 'post-industrial' city based around commerce. Then in 1990, it was named the European Capital of Culture by the EU.

Today it's everything to everybody and whatever action and attractions you're looking for you can find it in Glasgow. Here are 10 of the top things to do in Scotland's biggest city.

1. Take a Tour and View the Architecture

Take a trip around the 'Victorian City' and enjoy some marvellous examples of architecture. The city bus tour is a good way to get around quickly and take advantage of the 'hop-on, hop off' opportunities to click those cameras.

Glasgow was the home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Alexander Greek Thomson and you can enjoy their architectural styles. Completed in 1909, the Mackintosh masterpiece of the School of Art and Thomson's St. Vincent Street Free Church from 1859 are perhaps the most famous. Plus there are many other grand buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

You have the 12th century gothic styles of Glasgow Cathedral. There's the neo-Gothic University of Glasgow from 1870, the Italianate City Chambers building of 1888 and the Venetian Templeton's Business Centre from 1892 which is based on the Doges Palace. There is also the fabulous Spanish Baroque style Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum from 1901 which is built in red sandstone.

But there are many more including the ubiquitous Glasgow tenement buildings, which have become a trademark of the city. There is also Provand's Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow, which dates back to 1471 and is now a museum.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

2. Visit the Museums and Art Galleries

Glasgow has enjoyed a cultural renaissance in its post-industrial era and there are many places of art and culture to visit. Here are the most popular.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in the west end is the most popular attraction and has 22 galleries. Exhibitions include archaeological artefacts, zoological species, dinosaur fossils, a collection of armour and weapons and many sculptures and paintings. Just a few hundred yards away lies the Hunterian Museum; founded in 1807 it's the oldest public museum in Scotland.

The Burrell Collection, over in the south of the city, was opened in 1983 and houses an eclectic collection of fine art that was collected by ship-owner Sir William Burrell over decades and donated to the city in 1944.

Alternatively, there is the more recent Riverside Museum from 2011 which was a development of the old Transport Museum and has fascinating examples of transport and industry. These include steam locomotives, trams, buses and also displays 'The Tall Ship,' the SS Glenlee berthed outside on the Clyde.

For more contemporary tastes, there's the Gallery of Modern Art from 1996 in the city centre, and for the common touch, the 1898 People's Palace in Glasgow Green which is dedicated to the social history of the city.

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The Buchanan Galleries

The Buchanan Galleries

3. Go on a Shopping Binge or Relax With Retail Therapy

Glasgow is one of the best shopping cities in Britain and many people travel there just to flex the plastic or flash the cash. And visitors will find that Glasgow certainly has a passion for fashion.

There are two large malls in the city centre, the St Enoch Centre, named after the patron saint of the city, and the Buchanan Galleries from 1998. Grand theatres of popular mass consumption to satisfy all tastes.

In between them geographically is the Princes Square Centre halfway down Buchanan Street. It opened in 1988 and is more independent and idiosyncratic in character. It's also a lively social hub to gather for lunch or coffee.

More exclusive treats can be found in the Italian Centre in the Merchant City with famous designer labels like Gucci and Armani. Although opened in 1991, parts of the architecture date back to the 19th century.

Elsewhere, sparkling diamonds and precious gold and silver will dazzle the window shopper in the Argyll Arcade collection of jewellery shops. Having opened way back in 1827, it's one of the oldest shopping centres in the UK.

All these outlets are within easy walking distance of each other, at least until those shopping bags start to strain the muscles and the enthusiasm.

The Barras Market.

The Barras Market.

4. To the Barras and Beyond

If you are in Glasgow during the weekend, then take a wander around the Barras market, one of the largest indoor markets in Europe. Considering the amount of rain in the west of Scotland, this isn't a bad idea!

The market is named after the Glaswegian dialect for "barrow" and was opened by local street traders James and Maggie McIver in 1921. You'll find everything at the Barras—maybe even some cheeky banter from the stallholders and the locals. Plus, if you're in the right place, you may enjoy the antics of a surprise raid on the bootleggers by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.

Unfortunately the legendary Paddy's Market in nearby Shipbank Lane was shut down by the council in 2009 much to the dismay of the public.

A 10 minute subway ride from the city centre will take you to Hillhead station where you will enter up the escalator into Byres Rd. In its immediate surroundings, you'll find lots of interesting independent shops in places such as Cresswell Lane and Dowanside Lane.

Pollok Country Park

Pollok Country Park

5. Return to Nature in the City Parks

Glasgow has one of the highest numbers of city parks in Europe in terms of population. There are around 90 parks and gardens within the city.

In fact, Glasgow Green is the oldest park in Britain, dating back 1450 when King James II granted the parkland to Bishop William Turnbull and the people of Glasgow. In the Green, you can see the spot were James Watt had the idea to revolutionise steam technology in 1765 after a walk from the old Glasgow University buildings on High Street.

The largest park is the Pollok Country Park on the south side of the city and contains two full golf courses, among other things. It was gifted to the city in 1966 by the Maxwell family, the historic gentry who had owned the land as their private estate.

In the south are also the large Queens Park and the smaller Maxwell Park. In the south west there is Bellahouston Park.

Kelvingrove Park in the west side also has a river called the Kelvin and is one of the most attractive areas to spend a pleasant afternoon. Further west is Victoria Park which has a Fossil Grove for those interested in Archaeology.

Hampden National Stadium

Hampden National Stadium

6. Visit the Famous Sports Arenas

The host city for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and home to the 'Auld Firm', Glasgow has lots on offer for sporting enthusiasts.

The national football stadium is Hampden Stadium where there is a museum dedicated to Scottish football. It was also the home ground of Queens Park for over a century when they remained strictly amateur. They are the oldest club in the country, founded in 1867, and only turned professional in 2019.

In the east end there is Celtic Park and in the Southside, Ibrox Stadium, home grounds of the famous and hugely successful Celtic and Rangers clubs respectively.

Less famous, but still popular in public affection, are the 'Maryhill Magyars' or Partick Thistle. Their ground is at Firhill, just north west of the city centre.

The Commonwealth Games brought even more sporting facilities to the city. The Commonwealth Arena, the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, the Hockey Centre and Tollcross International Swimming Centre.

The Glasgow Science Centre

The Glasgow Science Centre

7. The Glasgow Science Centre

The Glasgow Science Centre opened in 2001 as part of the Clyde Waterfront Regeneration project on the south bank of the river and is a purpose-built complex of three principal buildings. A popular attraction, it was awarded a five-star rating by the Scottish Tourist Board

The three buildings comprise the Science Mall, which contains interactive exhibitions and a Planetarium, the Glasgow Tower. Reaching 127 metres, it is the tallest freely-rotating tower in the world. There is also an IMAX cinema, the first of its kind in Scotland screening 3-D films along with standard 2-D films in IMAX format..

As well as its main location on the Clyde, the Science Centre also manages the visitor centre at Whitelee Wind Farm, situated on the moors near Eaglesham. With over 200 turbines, it's the largest wind farm in the UK.

Glasgow band 'Gun' at The Barras.

Glasgow band 'Gun' at The Barras.

8. Live Music and Dance

The Glaswegians like to party and invite you to do the same. The city has long been regarded as one of the favourite stopping points for tours and has been designated as a UNESCO heritage site for music.

The Hydro, the SECC, the Academy and the Barras are the biggest venues, plus there are open air festivals in the summer like TRNSMT and the Riverside DJ Festival. There is also a Jazz festival in June every year. In addition to big ticket events, there are many smaller clubs that hold live concerts.

But on any day of the week, you can enjoy a vast selection of live music in Glasgow's bars. It has every musical genre. Rock, Pop, Folk, Jazz, Blues, Funk, Techno, Reggae—you name it, you'll find it. You can even take part as there are jam sessions and open-mic evenings as well as karaoke and local cabaret performances.

For the nobler arts, there is regular classical music at the Royal Concert Hall or the Queens Hall and sometimes small recitals in the city centre.

The Celtic Connections Festival.

The Celtic Connections Festival.

9. Join in the Festival Festivities

Edinburgh may have the biggest cultural festival in the world but Glasgow welcomes artists from all over the world to its annual events.

The Celtic Connections Festival in January is the largest winter festival in Europe and, as the name suggests, is a celebration of traditional folk music. It's not just from Europe but all over the world, where there is a heritage of music with Celtic roots.

For fun and laughter come to the International Comedy Festival. This takes place every springtime and is also the largest of its kind in Europe with club comedians mingling with top TV stars in various venues large and small.

As you would expect with any major city, there are more specialised events on books, food, science, arts, comics, the Glasgow Mela and popular local festivals in the West End and the South Side.

The Waverley Paddle Steamer

The Waverley Paddle Steamer

10. River Trips and Boat Excursions

If you want to ride the waves, then take a cruise on the water. The Clyde River runs through the heart of the city and, in the past, was the heartbeat of Glasgow. It helped the city grow through shipping and shipbuilding.

Today there are still remnants of the glory days at Govan and Scotstoun and you can still take a trip on the river. There is a catamaran called the 'Clyde Clipper' which is also available for charter on special occasions. The famous paddle steamer, The Waverley, plies its trade on summer excursions, 'Doon the Watter' as they say in Glasgow, all the way down to the Ayrshire coast. Built in 1946, it's the last seagoing passenger-carrying paddle steamer in the world.

Closer to home, you can take the shuttle boat from the city centre to the Riverside Museum in the west. This evokes the old days when the Cluthas (ferry boats) travelled up and down the local route. Their name came from 'Clota' the ancient Roman name for the river.

So that's a little flavour of 'Dear Old Glasgow Town' to whet your appetite. Although, you might be missing one or two ingredients, that of the warm welcome and the great humour of Glasgow's people. This port-industrial gem may be a rough diamond but it's a friendly city and its coat of arms are always open to visitors from all around the world.


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