A couple of years ago I rolled out a series of Itinerary Ideas articles that highlighted different areas of Scotland. When I’d written as many as I could, I couldn’t help but notice there were still some glaring holes on the map. It was this process that kickstarted the planning of my subsequent trips – I needed to dig into and explore these areas in more depth, but one part of Scotland — the most populous part — slipped off the radar: Glasgow. I am rectifying that today with a batch of itinerary ideas to help you make the most of a visit to Scotland’s most metropolitan region.
These Scotland Itinerary Ideas articles collect many of my previous articles on the selected region into one place, along with my assessment of their importance for the visitor and a bevy of useful tidbits that might’ve gotten lost along the way. At the end of the day, these articles should be useful cheat sheets to refer to when you begin planning your next trip to Scotland.
As always, don’t hesitate to pepper me with questions.
For as large and important as Glasgow is to Scotland, it sure doesn’t get a fair shake from the travel sector. Scotland is a country of stunning landscapes and bald-faced history stretching deep into the recesses of time and Glasgow is a metropolis, a city not much unlike other mega-cities elsewhere in the world. At least, that’s the default narrative. You will find a large, sprawling city when you visit Glasgow, but that’s not all. Here you’ll also find incredible parks, the best culinary scene in the country, Scotland’s best nightlife, and a rich historical tapestry underpinning Glasgow’s streets and structures. The lowdown on Glasgow is that it’s not a dingy, industrial city at all, but a vibrant and complex cultural capital that fleshes out the full picture of Scotland.
Things You Can’t Miss
The Necropolis & St. Mungo’s Cathedral. Glasgow’s east end has a dark, brooding air imparted, largely, by the Gothic eminence of St. Mungo’s Cathedral and the adjoining Necropolis graveyard. The cathedral stands as one of the only Scottish medieval churches to have survived the brutish Reformation intact, roof and all. After making your neck ache staring up at the cathedral’s sharp spires, head into the Necropolis with its eternally mist-shrouded mausoleums and tombstones canted at unsettling angles. This is one of the most atmospheric graveyards in all of Scotland!
Kelvingrove Park & Art Gallery. Covering 85 acres in Glasgow’s West End and straddling the River Kelvin, Kelvingrove Park is Glasgow’s most beautiful green space and provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. The park thrums with energy from the nearby university and here you’ll find joggers, dog-walkers, and a host of statues and memorials to famous personages. The renovated Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum stands by the park and has become the most popular free activity in the city (and most visited museum in the UK outside London!).
The beautiful, green West End. The western side of Glasgow from Argyle Street to Byres Road feels more like a university town than a megalopolis. This is the part of Glasgow all too many people forget or ignore when summing up Scotland’s biggest city. There is a youthful energy in the air thanks to Glasgow University and Kelvingrove Park, and the region is loaded with excellent restaurants, pubs, and shops. This is my favorite part of town and a wonderful place to let serendipity guide your wanderings.
Things You Shouldn’t Miss
Proper tea at a fine tearoom. Glasgow has some amazing tearooms — places to get proper high tea that will make you wonder why you don’t have it every day. The Willow Tea Rooms are perhaps the most famous in the city, showing off Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s architectural stylings in two locations on Sauchiehall and Buchanan streets. The Hidden Lane Tearoom is a hidden gem just off Argyle Street in an area that feels straight out of Harry Potter.
Pub-crawling around the city. Glasgow, as with the rest of Scotland, is blessed with a bounty of amazing pubs overflowing with single malt whisky and real ales. It’s easy to put together a pub crawl you’ll want to remember but will inevitable forget that includes drinking holes like The Bon Accord, The Ben Nevis, The Scotia, Blackfriars, and Babbity Bowster. Remember to drink sensibly: Ale before whisky.
The Burrell Collection & Pollok Country Park. Glasgow’s south side is home to the huge Pollok Country Park, some 360 acres of wooded green space. Until 1994, Pollok was the largest urban green space in Europe, and as recently as 2008 it was voted the best park in Europe. Inside the park’s vast bounds is The Burrell Collection, a magnificent collection of 8,000 pieces of art spanning medieval art, weapons, and armor, Islamic art, artifacts from Egypt to China, Impressionist paintings, and modern sculpture among others. It’s hard to fathom how one man, Sir William Burrell, collected all this himself.
Things to Do Off the Beaten Path
Ambulate to the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. Despite being in the center of Glasgow, the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre is off the beaten path for most people’s tastes. I can think of few places as quirky — perhaps only The House on the Rock near my home in Wisconsin. Their website describes it most aptly: “Hundreds of carved figures and pieces of old scrap perform an incredible choreography to haunting music and synchronized light, telling the funny and tragic stories of the human spirit as it struggles against the relentless circles of life and death.”
Visit Auchentoshan distillery. Situated in Clydebank to the northwest of Glasgow’s city center, Auchentoshan distillery is the nearest distillery for those hopping off a plane at Glasgow airport. Auchentoshan is one of only a few lowland distilleries, and its sweet, delicate flavor has led some to call it a “breakfast whisky.” That’s a dangerous path to tread. Auchentoshan is more like Irish whisky in that it’s triple distilled unlike the vast majority of Scotch, which is double distilled.
Attend Celtic Connections. Every January since 1994, Celtic Connections floods Glasgow with 300+ concerts, talks, ceilidhs, and workshops around the city. While not exactly off the beaten path, it’s timing in January requires dedication from visitors to brave Scotland’s winter. The festival focuses on Scottish traditional music but also features international folk, roots, and world music.
Logistics & Salient Bits
Bases. There’s no better base in Glasgow than the West End. The vibe is perfect and you’ve got easy access to great restaurants, pubs, shops, parks, and museums. If you want to head into the city center or east end, it’s an easy walk down Sauchiehall or Argyle street. I particularly like the Alamo Guest House, but there are endless good B&Bs and Hotels in the city.
Transportation. Glasgow is one place in Scotland where you don’t want a car. Walking around the city is easy and interesting, though if you’d like to get from place to place more quickly you’ve got a good bus system and Scotland’s only subway, the Clockwork Orange, which makes a handy loop crossing the River Clyde. Though I rarely recommend them, an open-top hop-on hop-off bus tour is a good way to get a sense of Glasgow’s size and character.
Food & Drink. Glasgow has a higher concentration of excellent restaurants than any place in Scotland. You can get excellent seafood at Gamba, traditional Scottish fare at The Ubiquitous Chip, and mind-blowing Indian at Mother of India Café. If you’re looking for Chinese, mainland European, Italian, or Vegetarian/Vegan, you won’t disappointed either. I enjoyed an incredible salad at The Left Bank in the West End, and believe me, a good salad is hard to find in Scotland. The Trans-Europe Café is a nice spot for brunch and conversation, and if you’re in the mood for afternoon tea check out the tearooms I mentioned above. Drinking is dangerous in Glasgow. There are simply too many incredible options. Brewdog’s proprietary pub across from the Kelvingrove Art Museum serves outrageous beers like their Tokyo beer-wine (18.2% ABV). Babbity Bowster and Blackfriars are a couple of CAMRA-championed pubs in the Merchant City known for their excellent real ales. The Horseshoe Bar is perfect for quaffing some real ale during a football match with rowdy patrons. Whisky enthusiasts can’t miss Ben Nevis or The Bon Accord, two pubs with immense selections, while The Scotia is Glasgow’s oldest pub.
Glasgow has everything you expect from a major city, from excellent restaurants to live music and theatre to cultural and sporting events, but with a Scottish twist — the Glaswegian accent might be the hardest to discern in all of Scotland. All of these elements add up to a unique destination worthy of a visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed these itinerary ideas!