When people hear that I lived in Glasgow, Scotland, for two years, their first reaction is, “why?!” Glasgow lacks the castles, the beaches, the prestige, the lake monsters, of other Scottish cities, but it makes up for its lack in a certain kind of charm.
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I lived in Glasgow for two cumulative years, and I continue to go back and visit. There will always be the staple attractions, but Glasgow boasts a vibrant art and music scene that is constantly changing. Far from being a run-down, industrial city anymore, Glasgow has entered the 21st-century full force and promises to see tourism numbers rise over the next decade.
Best Time to Visit Glasgow
After spending a winter in the city, I can say with certainty that if you are planning a short vacation to the Scottish second city, you are much better off visiting in the summer. This is when the locals come out of the woodwork and the city begins to feel vibrant again.
However, that’s a very general rule: weather in Scotland is notoriously fickle and you could find that even in July, you’ll get a week of rainy weather out in the islands or Highlands. Temperatures don’t fluctuate wildly in Glasgow but be warned that May will still be chilly at times, while by September and October you’ll hit the rainy season. Winter in Glasgow is charming if you live there and can’t escape, but the dark can sometimes last for days. For a general weather guide, visit Scotland Info’s weather page.
What to do in Glasgow
Many visitors to Scotland fly into Edinburgh and visit the Highlands or Inverness on a whirlwind trip that leaves no time for explorations of Glasgow. However, many travellers that I speak with about Glasgow say they heard good things about the city – when they got back home. I say, there is so much to do in Glasgow that you could live there and still not do it all.
The top-rated attraction in Glasgow is the Kelvingrove Museum. Located just off the University of Glasgow campus in the West End, the Kelvingrove is by far the most eclectic museum I’ve ever visited. From Spitfires to Surrealism, from full-scale skeletons of prehistoric creatures to Egyptian mummies, from Burns to bees, there is a definite intrigue to this collection.
Glasgow offers a plethora of museums in addition to the Kelvingrove. A ten-minute walk from the Kelvingrove is the new Riverside Museum, designed by the late Zaha Hadid, and combines the old Transport Museum and Tall Ship exhibit into one informative and interactive attraction. On the University campus – a worthwhile stop itself – is the Hunterian Museum, the former private collection of William Hunter and the oldest museum in Scotland. Across town, near the site of the original university, is St. Mungo’s Cathedral, necropolis, and Religious Museum. The cathedral was one of the few to survive the Reformation and is a stunning example of Gothic architecture.
Many visitors to Scotland are curious about Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his architectural legacy. There are several destinations within the city centre, like the Glasgow School of Art, the Willow Tea Rooms, and the Lighthouse, and others on the suburban outskirts, like the Scotland Street School and the House for an Art Lover, and plenty more in towns further away, like the Hill House in Helensburgh. For guided tours, click here to learn more about the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Tour in Glasgow. For a list of Rennie Mackintosh attractions and must-sees, click here.
For people-watching, a must-do in any city I visit, I recommend both Buchanan Street, in the City Centre, and Byres Road, in the West End. Both are easily accessible via the subway, and both are full of wild characters. In the summer, both the West End and Merchant City hold festivals. These are great, generally free, attractions that feature parades, music, food trucks, and more!
A unique attraction in Glasgow isn’t actually a location, it’s a journey. I recommend all visitors take a ride on the Clockwork Orange, which is what Glaswegians call their subway. The trains are – what else – orange, and there are only two lines: the Inner Circle and the Outer Circle. Students, and graduates, often partake in the Subcrawl, a pub crawl that allows you to buy a day pass (about £4) and hop on and off at each station to find the nearest pub.
Where to Stay in Glasgow
Glasgow has all the big name hotels, from Hilton to Marriot to Hyatt and Radisson Blu. I have only stayed at two hotels in Glasgow and I can recommend both, but for more hotel information, check out this list from The Telegraph and Visit Scotland’s accommodation page.
My first visit back to the city after leaving was to see some old friends. I stayed at the Citizen M Hotel on Renfrew Street, and it certainly had a great vibe to it. The second time, I stayed at the Park Inn on West George Street with my mother and grandmother. At both hotels, the check in process was smooth, the staff were excellent, and the location perfectly suited to our needs.
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Where you stay in Glasgow doesn’t necessarily depend on what you want to do – the city is quite small and easy to navigate – but it may depend on how long you are there for. Travellers coming in for a short stay may want to stay in the City Centre. All of the corporate hotels are there, along with a few boutique hotels, and, of course, you are much closer to the main attractions. Travellers staying for more than four days should consider a hotel or an Airbnb in the West End.
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Where to Eat and Drink in Glasgow
There are several pockets of great eateries in Glasgow. Here, I break the list into two areas: the City Centre and the West End.
In the West End, the first is the ever-popular Ashton Lane (and its neighbours, Cresswell and Ruthven). Tucked behind the university, the Lane is chock full of bars and restaurants. On any given day, you will find students and locals alike enjoying a rare sunny day or hunkered down away from the rain. At night, the fairy lights above light up and the cobblestones glisten in the rain. Revelers go from pub to pub and most places are packed from late afternoon onward. There are also some fantastic delis along Byres Road and Hyndland Road: do not miss them.
A fifteen-minute walk from Byres Road, toward the city centre and tucked away in a little alley behind Gibson Street is a cozy tea shop. Tchai Ovna is popular with the student population as well as the locals that live nearby and at times it can be hard to find a place to sit. However, don’t let that deter you from visiting. The tea collection is staggering – from Turkish çay to yerba maté to all sorts of herbal and black teas from across the globe. The shop also offers board games and live music.
Along Sauchiehall Street, in the City Centre, you’ll find the nightclubs. These venues pack in the crowd and blare the music until the wee hours of the morning. Often, small venues like Nice ‘n Sleazy or King Tut’s Tiki Hut (on St. Vincent Street) will have up and coming bands performing.
The Merchant City is also a happening part of town. This newish neighbourhood is beyond George Square in what used to be, what else, where the wealthy merchants lived and worked. In the 1950s, this area fell into decline after plans to build a ring road around the city centre were published. Warehouses were demolished to make room for the road and city council office were moved. The plan fell through, however, so in the 1980s Glasgow made the decision to revitalise the area. Now, it’s similar to Covent Garden in London’s West End. Bars, high-end shopping, boutique restaurants, and yuppie lofts make up much of the neighbourhood.
How Much Time do You Need in Glasgow?
The length of your visit to Glasgow depends a lot on your trip to Scotland. If you’re planning to explore the length of the country, from Thurso down to the lowlands and out to the islands with stops in between, you’ll be okay with two days in the city. If you’re only planning to head over to St. Andrews and Edinburgh, three to four days is great.
Visitors that are interested in exploring the museums and the cultural side of Glasgow may find time cut a bit short with only two days, especially if you are interested in getting out of the city to some of Mackintosh’s more remote buildings. The same for visitors that are curious about the nightlife and food scene.
And, anyone interested in basing in Glasgow to explore the Inner Hebrides or Highlands regions should plan on two days on either side of that trip to explore.
Glasgow has a lot to offer the casual traveller. From fantastic food to museums galore, the city has finally hit its stride and should be on every European visitors list.
About the Author:
Sarah Johnson is The Girl With The Map Tattoo. She’s a traveller and writer who can currently be found backpacking around New Zealand. She lived in Scotland for two years, during which she obtained a Masters in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History before realising she didn’t actually want to do anything with that except visit old historical attractions around the world. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also follow her story on Snapchat @maptattoogirl.