Glasgow is a dynamic, sports loving, music loving city with a great art and architectural heritage that stretches from the middle ages all the way to the 21st century. The nightlife scene that produced the likes of comedian Billy Connolly, the band Franz Ferdinand and the Knopfler brothers, Mark and David of Dire Straits is still alive with gigs of all sorts for those with the nous to seek them out. For international visitors, Glasgow has been too long in the shadow of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. But its youthful, rough and ready vibe is finally capturing the imagination of post millennial visitors. Here are just some of the cool things you can see and do in Scotland's second city.
Visit a World Class Museum or Two
Ever since it opened in 1901, Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum has been popular with locals and visitors alike. Its 22 galleries hold and eclectic mix of art, design, history, culture and even biology. This is where you can go to see prehistoric skeletons, giant stuffed elephants or master drawings by Leonardo da Vinci on tour from the Royal Collection. One of Salvador Dali's most famous paintings — Christ of St John of the Cross — hangs in its own special gallery. You can walk under a classic WWII Spitfire or visit a gallery of room settings demonstrating The Glasgow Style — the city's own turn of the 20th century Art Nouveau movement led by designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Museum, on Argyle Street in Glasgow's West End is open every day and is free.
Nearby, on the grounds of Glasgow University, The Hunterian Museum explores archaeology, paleontology, geology, zoology, entomology, stamps and Roman finds from excavations of Scotland's Antonine Wall. It's Scotland's oldest museum and has what is considered one of the finest museum collections in the world. The main museum of the Hunterian is open every day and is free to visitors but hours vary so check the website before you go.
The Riverside Museum, Scotland's National Museum of Transport, occupies a prime site on the River Clyde, the former epicenter of Scottish boat building. Tied up beside the striking steel and glass building, which was designed by the late award-winning architect Zaha Hadid, is the tall ship Glenlee — one of the few sailing ships built on the Clyde.
While at The Riverside, you can climb onboard an antique, horse driven trolley car or Glasgow streetcar, take a simulated ride in an original subway car — complete with sound and light effects. Or you can find the first car you ever drove on the enormous wall of cars, look at classic luxury and racing cars or marvel at Bangladeshi style, decorated vans.
It's a bit of a schlep to get here from the center of Glasgow, but you can take the No. 100 Bus from Queen Street, right outside of Glasgow Queen Street Railway Station, to the museum.
Glasgow's first single malt distillery to open in more than 100 years, the Clydeside Distillery has been making spirit whisky and hosting visitors since late 2017. Located in an impressive steel and glass addition to an The Old Pump House on the river, it combines state-of-the-art stills and monitoring equipment with old fashioned Scottish whiskey craftsmanship. You can book an hour-long tour (for £15 in 2019) to learn how whisky is made, see every step of the process and taste three "wee drams" — they thoughtfully provide takeaway "driver's drams" for designated drivers. The also offer whisky and chocolate tasting experiences for £28 — a revelation if you've never paired whisky and chocolate, and a top of the line, small group manager's tour for £120. The distilleries own "new make" whisky is not ready for tasting yet, but the company who owns the new distillery is part of a distribution group, so there are Highland, Lowland and Islay whiskies to taste. There's also a cafe and shop.
Take in a Show
Glasgow is a creative place with a very lively theater scene. You can take in a big touring production at one of the city's main stages — the King's Theatre, Pavilion Theatre or Theatre Royal, Scotland's oldest theater. Or go in for more colorful, original alternative work at places like The Tramway, The Citizen's Theatre and the Tron Theatre. There are always performances worth seeing in Glasgow. Just make sure you check the websites and book ahead because Glaswegians are avid theatergoers and shows are quickly sold out.
Glasgow's street art scene, especially around the city center, has really taken off in the past few years. Massive works regularly spring up on blank walls — everything from a modern-day St. Mungo (the city's patron saint) near the Cathedral, to flying taxis, pretty girls, feral tigers and contemporary mother and child portraits. You can even download a handy City Centre Mural Trail map to take your own, self-guided tour of the best works.
And Admire More Art in the Galleries
The Glasgow School of Art is a world class institution that draws art students and practicing artists to the city. They in turn support engagement with the arts in all sorts of ways. The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) is the city's center for engagement with contemporary art. Although it has a small permanent collection that includes Warhol and Hockney, it is most known for its rotating, interactive exhibitions designed to get audiences talking about and making art.
If you're interested in a more conventional gallery, there are plenty of those. The Hunterian Art Gallery (confusingly part of and sharing a name with Hunterian Museum described above), is undergoing a redisplay until May 2019 when its galleries of paintings by Whistler, the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists will re-open. Its collection includes works by Rubens and Rembrandt and it holds the world's largest collection of paintings by American artist and expat James McNeill Whistler.
If you can wait until 2020 to visit Glasgow, the Burrell Collection, in Pollok Country Park on the south side of Glasgow, will be a must visit. The sprawling gallery, with its focus on Asian and European art has long been a reason for a side trip to Glasgow. It's currently under renovations but when it re-opens you'll be able to wander through galleries with 5,000 years of Chinese pottery and porcelain — the most important collection in the UK, French impressionist paintings and Medieval and Renaissance art and objects.
Every Saturday and Sunday, the East End of Glasgow turns into a series of huge, connected outdoor and indoor covered markets, known as The Barras (for the barrows goods used to be sold from and the "barrow boys" who sold them). It's a free for all — a bit like a combination of Les Puces — the flea market in Paris, Portobello Road in London and the covered markets in Birmingham's Bull Ring. You can buy, food, clothes, tools and household goods, dubious antiques and all sorts of junk. And in the midst of all this trade, there are cafes, regular shops, pubs and nightclubs. In fact, the place even has a ballroom — The Barrowlands — where live shows, raves and club nights are regularly staged.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh — called simply Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, was a turn of the 20th century architect and designer who almost single handedly created The Glasgow Style. His acknowledged masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art has suffered from two serious fires since 2014. The last one, in 2018 was so devastating that it may take as long as 10 years to recover the building.
But such is Rennie Mackintosh's influence in Glasgow, that the school will most likely rise again. Meanwhile, you can see his work at the Scotland Street School, which he designed. See the principal rooms of his own house and its furniture reassembled at the Mackintosh House at Glasgow University (yet another part of the Hunterian collections). Perhaps most interesting is A House for an Art Lover, created in the 1990s from plans Rennie Mackintosh entered in a competition but never built.
Provand's Lordship is one of Glasgow's oldest houses, one of four remaining Medieval houses in the city. It was built in 1471 as part of a hospital and later became a private home. Today it is furnished as it might have been in the 16th and 17th century. It's name comes from the way it was funded in the 19th century by the income of the Lord of the Prebend (or Provand) of Barlanark.
Behind it, St. Nicholas Garden is a herb garden in a medieval style. The house, at the top of Castle Street is free to visit. Next to it, the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art occupies another ancient-looking building. It was built in the style of a Medieval Scottish Bishops Palace, though this museum, which explores the role of religion in people's lives, is not actually an old building.
Dine Out with Gusto
Glasgow has developed into a foodie city for serious gourmands. Rather than the white tablecloth, fastidious refinement of Edinburgh's fine dining, the food scene in Glasgow is for people who really like to chow down on good food. Try the restaurants in the Finnieston/Argyle Street strip such as Porter and Rye for steaks and chops or Crabshakk, for shellfish. Visit the cafés on Ashton Lane off Byres Road in Glasgow's West End and the ultimate in Vietnamese street food, the Hanoi Bike Shop, also off Byres Road on Ruthven Lane.
Get Otherworldly at Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis
Don your best Goth wardrobe and take a walk in the Glasgow Necropolis. One of the spookiest attractions in the city, this Victorian garden cemetery is a remarkably beautiful place to commune with the spirit world. It was modeled after the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and is full of interesting stone angels and mausoleums. After your stroll, get more spiritual in Glasgow's soaring Medieval cathedral, right next door. Sometimes called St. Mungo's for the patron saint of the city (also St. Kentigerns and The High Kirk of Scotland), they've been saving souls in the current building since 1197, more than 800 years.
Russian emigré and artist Eduard Bersudsky has created a permanent exhibition of amazing kinetic sculptures using carved pieces, found objects and constructions of old scrap metal, plastic, rubber and wood. They perform all sorts of choreographed feats to imaginative, original music. This unlikely popular attraction has become one of the highlights of a visit to Glasgow. It's impossible to describe but people of all ages, speaking all the languages come out of this exhibition smiling.
Take in a Gig
Glasgow has an amazing range of live music venues, from the big concert arenas and clubs like the SSE Hydro, The O2 Academy and The Barrowland Ballroom, to the city's more intimate places. King Tut's Wah Wah Hut only seats 300 yet is regularly voted one of the top live music venues in the UK. Òran Mór in the West End is a bar and restaurant that hosts live music, comedy and theater. The Sub Club, in a city center basement, claims to be the oldest continuously running dance club in the world. Don't go to Glasgow without planning to party.
Like a big silver beetle, the titanium clad domes of this futuristic attraction squats on the rapidly developing Riverside Regeneration Area, across from the Riverside Museum of Transport. Inside there's an IMAX Cinema, a planetarium, and loads of science-oriented, interactive galleries stuffed with hands-on activities. After having your fill of geeky pleasure, go outside to the center's revolving tower and rise 417 feet for a terrific overview of the city.
The Waverley is the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world and you can take a day-long cruise on her from a pier at Glasgow's Science Centre on the Clyde. Her day cruises from Glasgow up the west coast are scheduled from June 25 to September 1 in 2019, with some early spring cruises also tentatively scheduled. Built 70 years ago, she is owned and maintained by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2019. The final schedule is published in March after which full information about prices as well as advance bookings are available.