Glasgow is my home city and a wonderful place to visit. It’s very different to Edinburgh , grittier but with so many lovely, interesting sights and the people have been voted the world’s friendliest! So true! Glasgow’s wealth – it was known as the Second City of Empire after London – was built on the tobacco and sugar trades, heavy industry and of course it was THE world’s greatest ship building city; Clyde-Built was a stamp of real quality. Glasgow’s architecture is Victorian rather than Georgian/Medieval as in Edinburgh. Nevertheless, Glasgow is old! The Cathedral was built in the 12th century and the University in the 15th century.
A day or so spent exploring the Dear Green Place as it is known (72 parks makes it very green indeed) is a day or two well spent. Charles Rennie Mackintosh is the city’s world famous architect and a visit to at least one of his unique and stunningly beautiful creations should be on any self-respecting Glasgow ‘ Must See’ list.
Getting around the city is easy with good bus services and a useful, if small Underground railway plus there is the train too.
Getting Around | Public Transport Glasgow | People Make Glasgow
The Hop On Hop Off bus is very useful too if time is short for getting around the city’s main sites.
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Glasgow | Official City Sightseeing© Tour 2020 (city-sightseeing.com)
This is what I would prioritise with a day or two in the city:
THE CITY CENTRE
George Square is overlooked by the vast City Chambers. It’s well worth booking a tour of the grand interior, built during the 19th century. It now functions as the offices and meeting rooms of Glasgow City Council and the city’s Lord Provost. I used to spend quite a bit of time here, as part of my job, attending Council meetings (tense affairs at times!) but even with it being so familiar, the Chambers are SO impressive to be in.
The Cathedral Complex
Only a 10 min or so walk from the Chambers, the city’s loveliest complex of buildings is found around the Cathedral. The medieval cathedral is cared for by Historic Environment Scotland and free to visit, with tours available also. A minute’s walk away is Glasgow’s oldest building, the 15th century Provand’s Lordship. Directly opposite is the Museum of Religious Life housed in a building which is based on the style of the Bishop’s House which once stood there. Architecturally, I think it fits in very well.
Scotland’s largest Victorian graveyard, where the rich and powerful lie beneath grandiose tombs, rears behind the Cathedral. It was inspired by the famous Pere Lachaise burial ground in Paris, but in fact, having visited both, there is no doubt that Glasgow’s is a much more impressive and well kept space! It’s vast – impossible to see it all unless you have all day! – and it also offers wonderful views over the city. Guided tours are available and recommended.
After visiting the above sights my own preference would be to get off my feet and enjoy a coffee in the lovely Café Gandolfi, a 5 minute walk downhill from the Cathedral on Albion Street. A bit of a Glasgow institution, it’s the nicest place to have breakfast or a break hereabouts with its unique Tim Stead carved furniture and fine Stained Glass windows. Not cheap for food, but good coffee awaits, a lovely warm ambience and a chance to browse a newspaper (several on offer, free to customers) for a wee catch up.
CAFE GANDOLFI, Glasgow – Merchant City – Updated 2021 Restaurant Reviews, Menu & Prices – Tripadvisor
The People’s Palace
A smaller museum in a grand building, covering the history of the city and its residents. Next door are the Glasshouses of the Winter Gardens( closed @Feb 2022.) Outside is the beautiful Doulton Fountain. Situated in Glasgow Green, the city’s oldest park and a short walk from the east end of the City Centre. About 15 -20 mins from Cafe Gandolfi.
For lovers of modern art, a visit to the city’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Royal Exchange Square (free entry) is worth fitting in too.
City Centre shopping
To me, the city’s nicest shopping street is Buchanan St , location of Prince’s Square, a lovely upmarket complex.
The Willow Tearooms are in Buchanan Street, reflecting the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh but the loveliest of the Mackintosh tearooms is in Sauchiehall Street at the top of the city centre. It’s an amazing space, just beautiful. Don’t miss a peek at the superlative Salon de Luxe! Or book Afternoon Tea there. I find that one formal tea of sandwiches, scones and cakes is more than enough for 2 people. I can’t vouch for food quality beyond their scones (which were ok – I do tend to be harsh when it comes to cakes/baking) but the venue is unbeatable in the city. Very special.
THE WEST END
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
A wonderful museum, free to enter and housing one of the finest Civic collections in Europe. I often take myself off for the morning to Kelvingrove, a beautiful building to wander around, with some fascinating art and exhibits. My favourites include William MacTaggart’s ‘The Paps of Jura’ a painting which transports me to the clean, salty air and huge skies of Scotland’s stunning West Coast.
I also love Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross – just superb.
I never miss a tour of the Glasgow Boys room where there are some fine works by the city’s Impressionist painters. After a visit to the Musee D’Orsay in Paris , I returned to Glasgow and happened to be visiting Kelvingrove. It did not disappoint or seem lesser in comparison – honestly! The actual space itself is magnificently grand too.
The Museum shop is excellent and a good place for some quality souvenirs or gifts.
The main downstairs café is just ok, although they do reasonable scones and tea and I’m happy there for a short time if I can get a nice window seat overlooking the University opposite. I wouldn’t waste time though on their Afternoon Tea which has nothing homemade about it unfortunately – all pretty commercially made, low quality stuff. For a good, genuinely home – made Afternoon Tea or good cakes, the nearby Hidden Lane tearoom, a ten minute walk away, is the place to go. All served in delightful antique and very pretty crockery. Or else I’d make for the lovely cafe atmosphere and truly first class cakes and breads in nearby Kember and Jones in Byres Road. Their Pistachio and Rosewater Cake is sublime. They also have an excellent breakfast and lunch menu.
Glasgow University and Cloisters
A lovely 10 minute walk uphill from Kelvingrove Museum through the park and it’s the University’s turn to be admired. Very Gothic, founded in 1451, it’s the 4th oldest University in the English-speaking world. The Cloisters are beautiful and were used in the series ‘Outlander.’
The Hunterian Museum
The Hunterian Museum, based within the University, is free and well worth a look, with some excellent Roman sculpture and artefacts on display. It’s a beautiful, fascinating small museum, just the right size for absorbing some truly wow exhibits.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh
The world famous architect was a Glasgow boy and even today, 100 years later, his designs look awesomely ahead of their time and so unique. Any visit to Glasgow MUST include a visit to one of his life affirming interiors! House for An Art Lover is the best example of his design in the city, though within the University complex itself is the excellent Mackintosh House. (Kelvingrove also displays some of his Art Deco furniture.)
The Mackintosh House
A re-modelling of the house that Charles Rennie Mackintosh lived in with his wife Margaret Macdonald (and a fine artist in her own right) and although it now has an ugly modern façade, the interior is a real delight.
University of Glasgow – The Hunterian – Collections – Permanent Displays – The Mackintosh House
Sadly, CRM’s masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art (the Library was stunning) suffered two devastating fires in the past decade and remains closed to visitors.
House for an Art Lover (City’s southside)
My favourite of all the city’s CRM interiors. Set in Bellahouston Park, this is a truly gorgeous house. Can’t imagine ever actually living in it but it is soul stirringly beautiful.
Handily, the Art Lover’s Cafe is my favourite place for a good lunch or scones or breakfast in the city. Accessible via train to Dumbreck station (then a 5 min walk) or via the Subway to Ibrox and a 10 min walk. Lovely walled garden to sit in beside the House as well as the large grounds of the park.
Classic City Views – Glasgow Harbour
A walk across the River Clyde, the artery of the city in days gone by, via the Squinty Bridge (as it’s known locally) gives great views of the iconic Finnieston Crane and the futuristic architecture of the Armadillo.
I’m no great fan of a lot of modern or industrial architecture but I must admit, this is an impressive spot. The crane is symbolic of Glasgow’s past history as the greatest ship building city in the world. A coffee or cocktail on the roof top bar of the nearby Radisson Red (open from 12noon), offer a brilliant bird’s eye view of this corner of the city.
The Riverside Museum/Glenlee Tall Ship
20 mins from the Squinty Bridge along the riverside walkway lies this stunning museum(free entry), recipient of the European Museum of the Year Award when it opened in 2013. Not planes, but trains, automobiles and ships as well as examples of the old trams that used to take Glaswegians round the city. Me included! It’s hugely nostalgic for anyone who was brought up in the city – terrific for kids too – but generally, a superb collection awaits. There’s a Victorian cobbled street too, complete with shops which you can have a gander in (cobblers, sweet shop, chemist and even an old Glasgow ‘spit and sawdust’ pub.) Some of the trains and trams are open to view too.
The museum also has on display, the Paco Rabanne mini dress which Audrey Hepburn once wore in the film ‘Two for the Road.’ That’s the transport link! It’s a cracker of a dress.
Outside, the lovely Tall Ship, the Glenlee is berthed (free entry) and not to be missed! For much more on this excellent museum:
The museum is within walking distance (20 mins or so) from Kelvingrove.
EATING OUT/PICNIC FOOD
In the West End (Byres Rd/ Kelvingrove/University) I always head for Kember and Jones on Byres Rd which offers good cakes, scones and good food overall. Great home made breads of all types. I really am drawn to lovely interiors and ambience, so this places ticks these boxes. Usually busy and they don’t take bookings!
For carry out food, although it is a supermarket , Waitrose is also worth a look at the junction with Great Western Road – great cheese, deli stuff, cold meats etc and a great selection of chocolate. There are various other delis on Byres Rd/Great Western road too as well as an M&S Food outlet.
There are also two of Scotlands’ top cheesemongers in Byres Rd/Great Western Road -Ian Mellis’ and George Mewes, both also selling some other deli stuff (olives, breads etc.)
Artisan Scottish Cheese | I.J. Mellis (mellischeese.net)
George Mewes Cheese | Buy cheese online at George Mewes Cheese
Byres Road/Great Western Rd
Byres Road doesn’t have the cache it once had, a bit too full of the usual High St shops though there are the good cheese shops mentioned above and an excellent Fishmonger/Game dealer. Oxfam runs a very good second hand book shop. The University Café is a retro spot for some traditional café fare – rolls and sausage, fried egg (or both) etc – inside, it’s like stepping back into the 1950s.
The Little Curry Shop (41 Byres Rd) nearby does superb and great value Indian food.
Great Western Road has some interesting shops dotted along its length – Caledonian Books is one of the best second hand booksellers in the city; Roots and Fruits does Kember and Jones bread and some interesting deli stuff and take away cakes.
MEDIEVAL SCULPTED STONES
One of the UK’s finest collections of carved Viking stones is in Govan Old Church, on the other side of the river and almost directly opposite the Riverside Museum. It’s an amazing collection of 31 stones – quite awesome actually. For more detail:
The Govan Stones Feature Page on Undiscovered Scotland
Glasgow is a very park rich city; the Victorians really did recognise the need to create green spaces for the city’s residents amidst the smoky , polluted atmosphere during the days of heavy industry and coal fires. They were Glasgow’s ‘green lungs.’
Pollok Country Park
Voted Europe’s Best Park, this is a true breath of country air in the city’s leafy southside. Beautiful place for a stroll, with Highland Cattle, plenty of woodland, formal gardens around lovely Pollok House and the first class Burrell Museum (re-opening 2022). The Victorian Kitchen in Pollok House gets very busy and is popular with locals and families though to be honest, it could be better than it is, food quality wise. Cakes can be poor and bought in; scones are home made but just ok. The Burrell Museum is a gorgeous building, with terrific exhibits and also offers a café. It houses the private collection of one of Britain’s richest men during Victorian times.It is still being refurbished and will open in 2022.
Otters in the river, kingfishers, goosanders, woodpeckers, families out for a stroll, joggers and cyclists, I’m here most days for a 5 mile hike or a run. The park offers miles of safe, relaxing walking on tarmac and woodland trails.
At the end of Byres Rd is this attractive city park, always busy in summer with formal displays and access to a river walk along the Kelvin. It’s a pleasant place for a breath of garden air. It has a small café with an attractive outdoor terraced seating area and is pretty good for tea and a good scone.
Pleasant park, lots of walking, quite large – it also houses the gorgeous Art Lover’s House. Downstairs is one of the best places for lunch in the city – the Art Lover’s Café.
The home of the national Football Team with a small football museum, a must for football fans. Very atmospheric.
Glasgow is recognised as one of THE capitals of great Indian curries in the UK, along with Birmingham and Leeds.
My favourites – Mother India, the Little Curry House and my local Turban Tandoori, Giffnock.Trying to get agreement amongst Glaswegians about the best curry place in the city is an impossible task! Everyone has their favourites.
Fine dining is to be had at Brian Maule in a somewhat atmosphere-lacking , if grand room; Gamba is good for fish; Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery is the best of the fine dining options with a great interior too – old Glasgow at its best. Intimate and atmospheric, don’t be put off by its less than salubrious surroundings in the Anderson area, west of the city centre and under the motorway/Kingston Bridge. Downstairs is The Shandon Belles, less expensive and with a cosy atmosphere. The city’s 1st Michelin star in 18 years was recently won in 2021 by Cail Bruich in Great Western road – still to try it.The Ubiquitous Chip in the West End in Ashton Lane, is fine dining too. Good but expensive and another Glasgow institution.For Chinese food, I am a big fan and regular customer of the Amber Regent in the city centre.
The city centre offers a very wide selection of eating out places, with plenty of cheaper options than I’ve listed and lots of big brand outlets, burger bars, Italian, Nando’s , Miller and Carter Steakhouse, TGI Fridays etc.
A dinky wee two line underground train service loops round the city – a bit like a toy train compared to London and Paris or New York! That said, it’s the world’s third oldest. I love the smell of it – damp and woody, quite unlike any other subway I’ve been on anywhere in the world. Handy for getting to and from the city centre and Kelvingrove/West End. Ibrox underground station is a 15 minute walk from House for an Art Lover.
I like visiting neighbourhoods in a city, to get a better sense of a place. Very pleasant neighbourhoods in Glasgow include the grand stone villas of Pollokshields/Maxwell Park (St Andrews Drive and avenues off this), very accessible from Pollok Country Park; the lovely red sandstone flats and townhouses of Hyndland (a short walk from Byres Rd) and elegant Newlands – around Newlands Park/Lubnaig rd (a Conservation area and a 15 min walk from Pollok Park.)