Things to Do in Glasgow
St. Andrews Castle on the east coast of Scotland dates back to the 1100s and was home to the Archbishops of St. Andrews. It was once the main administrative center of the Scottish church. The castle was badly damaged during the Wars of Independence and little of the original castle remains today. The new castle was finished around 1400 and was built to be easily defended. Steep cliffs to the north and east protected the castle, and the building included thick curtain walls and ditches. Five square towers served as living space for the bishop, his large household, and guests.
Later St. Andrews Castle served as a prison. Visitors can see the bottle dungeon where John Knox and George Wishart may have been imprisoned. Cardinal Beaton's body was also kept here after his murder. The mine gives visitors a sense of what medieval siege warfare was like. The castle also offers impressive views of the sea over the rugged rocky coast.
Dwarfed by haughty buildings on all sides and surrounded by statues of great Scots, George Square makes sense of poet John Betjeman’s claim that Glasgow is “the greatest Victorian city in the world.”
Named after King George III and built in 1781, George Square began life as little more than a muddy hollow used for slaughtering horses. Today, it’s surrounded by some of grandest buildings in the city, not least the imposing Glasgow City Chambers on the east side.
To Glaswegians, George Square is the city’s cultural center. Hosting concerts and events throughout the year, it comes alive during winter, when children skate around the ice rink and parents enjoy mulled wine at the Christmas market. In summer, George Square is a good place to find a bench and watch the world go by.
George Square leads to Glasgow’s famous shopping streets in the Style Mile, as well as the ritzy Merchant City district. Glasgow’s main tourist information office sits on the south side, and sightseeing buses begin their journeys here, making this a handy place to get oriented with the city.
Dating back to medieval times, Glasgow Cathedral is the only medieval cathedral on Scotland’s mainland to have survived the Reformation almost fully intact. A magnificent Gothic construction, it features stained-glass windows, a 15th-century stone choir screen, and the tomb of St. Mungo, Glasgow’s patron saint.
Stretching over 1,500 square miles, Cairngorms National Park is a popular destination for mountain bikers, nature lovers, sea kayakers, and hikers. The park has been named one of the world’s Last Great Places by National Geographic and is the perfect place to enjoy Scotland’s renowned wild landscapes of granite mountains and deep lochs.
A historic quarter in central Glasgow, Merchant City has a vibrant atmosphere thanks to trendy bars and restaurants, boutique hotels, and designer shopping. Extending from Merchant Square to Royal Exchange Square, this district is popular for a city stroll or people watching at a sidewalk cafe. It’s also home to the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA).
The Isle of Arran sits off the western coast of Scotland. Since the line the divides the Scottish Highlands from the Lowlands runs through the island, its landscape reflects this, and the island is often referred to as Scotland in miniature. The northern part of the island is more rugged and mountainous and sparsely populated. The southern part of the island has more rolling hills, and the majority of the island's population reside here.
The island boasts many attractions for visitors. Castles, such as Brodick Castle and Lochranza Castle, are located on the Isle of Arran. There is also a heritage museum where you can learn some of the island's history. Some people come to climb Arran's highest peak, Goatfell, which stands at 2,866 feet, while others choose to hike the more leisurely Coastal Way. Nature lovers will enjoy the beautiful scenery on the island, including waterfalls, rocky coastlines, and wildlife. It's also a popular place for water activities such as sea kayaking.
Housed inside a striking sandstone Victorian edifice, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one of Scotland’s most-visited cultural attractions. Works by Dali, Botticelli, and Monet are counted among its collection, alongside more eclectic items such as a taxidermy elephant, a Spitfire airplane, and a magnificent Lewis pipe organ.
When in Scotland, you don’t have to head to the Highlands for a taste of good whisky—you don’t even have to leave the Lowlands. The historic Glengoyne Distillery dates back to 1833 and is renowned for its award-winning malt whiskies, distilled at a third of the usual rate and matured in sherry oak casks.
Providing a glimpse into early 1900s working-class Glasgow life, the Tenement House, restored by the National Trust for Scotland, shows how Miss Agnes Toward lived for over 50 years in the four-room home she shared with other lodgers. The Victorian flat maintains much of its original fittings, and you’ll see fascinating details, such as the old straw beds and blackened ball of soap, providing an insight into another time.
On a visit, you’ll see how an independent woman lived in a time of gas lighting (electricity wasn’t introduced to this house until 1960), and on the ground floor you’ll get to peruse Miss Toward’s extensive personal archive.
Complete with turrets and battlements, this Gothic Revival-style castle is revered for its storybook good looks. Inveraray Castle has been the seat of the Clan Campbell since the 15th century and has more recently served as a filming location for Downton Abbey. The castle houses collections of weapons and art, and is surrounded by manicured gardens.
More Things to Do in Glasgow
On a tiny peninsula at the northern tip of Loch Awe surrounded by glens, Kilchurn Castle is one of the most photographed spots in Scotland. The castle of 1,000 calendar covers, Kilchurn has had many lives: it served as the powerhouse of the Campbell clan from the year 1440 and was even later used as barracks able to house up to 200 troops during the Jacobite Risings. In the 1750s, however, a huge fire caused by lightning ran right through the castle, and its ruins have been abandoned ever since.
Kilchurn is for anyone who has ever dreamed of having a ruined Scottish castle all to themselves, with no tourist trinket shops around. There isn’t even an attendant at the door of this picturesque ruin, but despite being unmanned, there are plenty of information boards throughout the castle. Climb to the top of its four-story tower for views of the loch and surrounding hills, and remember to say hi to the sheep on your way out!
Many of the Stuart royals, among them James I and Mary, Queen of Scots, did stints in this loch-side 15th-century pleasure palace. Gutted by fire in the 18th century, Linlithgow lies in ruin, though evidence of its grandeur—from the great hall to the intricately carved King’s Fountain—is still plentiful.
Set within the city’s oldest park, historic Glasgow Green, the fascinating People’s Palace documents the social history of Glasgow, recounting tales of city life from 1750 through to the 20th century. Adjoining the red sandstone Victorian museum building is the Winter Gardens, a Victorian-era greenhouse packed with tropical plants.
Machrie Moor Standing Stones (Machrie Moor Stone Circles) is a collection of six prehistoric monuments dating back to the Neolithic period and the early Bronze Age. They were found and first recorded in 1861 by Irish naturalist James Bryce, who numbered them from 1 to 5. In addition to the standing stones, there are hut circles, ancient cisterns and burial cairns on site. It is believed that the most prominent stone circles were strategically placed so as to be as widely visible from every vantage point nearby. Rising starkly from the middle of rural fields, the three tallest pillars are made of red sandstone with the tallest at 18 meters. It is estimated that the stones were used for astrological purposes, often representing legendary figures in ancient folklore. The mystery and ancient history surrounding these stone structures makes for them particularly fascinating to visit. Summer Solstice is a notable time to see them, as they are specifically lit at sunrise at this time — which historians claim may point to their significance.
Set atop the Ayrshire cliffs, this sprawling neoclassical mansion is one of Scotland’s most famous stately homes—it even appears on the back of the Scottish 5-pound note. Designed by 18th-century architect Robert Adam, Culzean (pronouncedCullane) boasts palatial interiors and grounds that encompass woods, follies, and even beaches.
Though the pedimented and pillared Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) building is very much classical, the collection of challenging contemporary artworks contained within it are anything but. The gallery’s art collection spans the 1950s to the present day, with artists including David Hockney, David Shrigley, and Andy Warhol all represented.
Sweeping through the heart of the Style Mile in Glasgow city center, Buchanan Street hosts some of Scotland’s best shopping, bars, restaurants and cafes.
A hodgepodge of high street and designer names tucked inside some of Glasgow’s grandest Victorian buildings, Buchanan Street is especially busy on Saturdays, when the young and glamorous hunt out new fashions and street performers entertain the crowds.
At the north end is the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and the Buchanan Galleries shopping mall, which hosts more than 90 brand-name stores. Toward the southern end, the refined Art Nouveau atmosphere and designer goods of Princes Square draw ladies who lunch. One of the most upmarket retail streets in the United Kingdom, Buchanan Street is also home to the flagship House of Fraser department store, which boasts Scotland’s largest beauty hall and is conveniently located right across the street from Princes Square.
Fans of the late Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh will love Buchanan Street’s Willow Tea Rooms, replete with the iconic designer’s signature high-backed chairs. Look out for Nelson Mandela Place as you shop ‘til you drop; in 1986, the handsome square was named after Mandela in protest of his imprisonment by the South African Apartheid regime.
Built in 1471 as the home to a hospital chaplain, this grey-stone house is one of just a few surviving medieval buildings—and the only surviving medieval residence—in all of Glasgow. Provand’s Lordship now serves as a museum, with period-accurate rooms filled with antique furnishings and displays relating to the history of the house.
Just steps from Glasgow’s Style Mile, the Lighthouse serves as a popular place to spend a couple of hours. Also known as Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, this attraction is most famous for its sweeping views of the city’s eclectic skyline, best seen from its sixth-floor viewing point, accessible by elevator or by way of 133 steps up a spiral staircase.
Designed in 1985 by iconic Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Lighthouse was originally home to The Glasgow Herald newspaper, one of the longest-running newspapers in the world. But regardless of the newspaper’s history, why is there a lighthouse up an alley in central Glasgow? Well, the building’s famous tower only resembles a lighthouse—the tower was actually built to house an 8,000-gallon water tank to protect the building and its contents against fire.
The Lighthouse hosts exhibitions, workshops and discussions related to design and architecture. The permanent Mackintosh Interpretation Centre, located on the third floor, allows visitors to see small-scale models of Mackintosh buildings that never came to fruition, along with original furniture and photos. As the Lighthouse was the designer’s first public commission, it is an ideal starting point for a Mackintosh-inspired trip through Glasgow.
Set amid idyllic Ayrshire countryside in the village of Alloway, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum celebrates the life and work of Scotland’s most famous poet. Though officially called a museum, the site is made up of several different attractions—a museum, a cottage, a church, and a monument, which together form Burns National Heritage Park.
Named after Glasgow’s patron saint, St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art focuses on six major world religions—Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Sikhism—and the sacred art they’ve spawned. The museum is set in a reproduction of a medieval building on the site of Bishop’s Castle and features a own Zen garden.
Paying admission to get locked in a barren cell? At Inveraray Jail, it is worth it. The former prison turned museum manages to bridge the gap between tourist attraction and meaningful infotainment and delves into the darker parts of Scottish history. Small as it was, Inveraray was the seat of the Duke of Argyll and thus, the town came to be of central importance. The prison and the courthouse were opened in 1820 and prisoners from all over the area were brought here, not only men, but also women and children. Due to overcrowding, an additional building had to be constructed but the whole jail eventually shut down in 1889, when larger prisons in the bigger cities took over.
A visit to Inveraray Jail includes a tour through the different wings of the prison and even a trial lock-up in the cells and courtyard cage. Visitors can read stories about the inmates who were locked up in those cells, sit in the restored courtroom and listen to trials and meet the warden and prison guards, all dressed up in authentic period costumes. Coincidentally, Inveraray Jail is believed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Scotland and has many ghost sightings to report.
Relaxed and trendy, lively and culturally diverse, the West End area offers some of the best things to do and see in Glasgow. Its Victorian architecture and cobblestone alleyways keep with tradition, while its many boutique shops, coffee shops, and Bohemian cafes present the modern side of the city. While vintage and antique shops keep the past alive, the student scene of the nearby, world renowned University of Glasgow keeps things current. Other don’t-miss sights include the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, the Botanic Gardens, and the famous Grosvenor Cinema.
A variety of parks, galleries and museums provide dozens of options for an afternoon. A stroll in the streets or along the river — or an evening in one of the many bookstores, tea rooms, pubs, or unique restaurants — is also an option. Each summer the area is home to the famous West End Festival.
Set within Glasgow University, The Hunterian (Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery) showcases the once private collection of former student and 18th-century anatomist and physician, Dr. William Hunter. Among the eclectic assortment of objects and art are pickled organs, Roman artifacts from the Antonine Wall, and a collection of works by James McNeill Whistler.
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