Things to do in Glasgow, Scotland

Stuart Forster provides an overview of things to do in Glasgow, Scotland.

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Some people might argue the city is reinventing itself, distancing itself from its industrial heritage. Others will tell you that the vibe in this city of almost 600,000 inhabitants has long been buoyant and the fact that the wider world is finding out what Glasgow has to offer is long overdue.

Head out to one of the hip bars, cafes or restaurants of the centrally situated Merchant City district and you may also hear locals tell you the fact Glasgow was named both the 1990 European Capital of Culture and the United Kingdom’s City of Architecture and Design in 1999 indicates that things here have been on the right track for a generation now.

City of Architecture and Design

As that latter accolade indicates, the city centre is the home to a number of attractive edifices. One of the most striking is the grand Glasgow City Chambers, opened by Queen Victoria back in 1886. The building – which houses an ornate, Italianate marble staircase – faces George Square, the location of numerous statues of dignitaries, including Sir Walter Scott, Prince Albert and Lord Clyde, a 19th-century British military Commander-in-Chief in India. The square is also the site of the cenotaph, the sombre memorial to the 200,000 Glaswegians who served during World War One, a conflict currently in the public consciousness due to commemorations marking the centenary of the conflict’s beginning.

Unfortunately, there was bad news on 23 May, when one of the city’s best know pieces of architecture, the Glasgow School of Art, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and built at the turn of the last century, suffered significant fire damage. Rennie Mackintosh was born in Glasgow in 1868 and is regarded as one of Britain’s most influential Art Nouveau and Modernist designers and architects. One of the easiest ways to enjoy his legacy is by taking a self-guided walking tour around the city and viewing sites including the Lighthouse building – constructed in 1895 as an office for The Glasgow Herald newspaper – and Mackintosh House at the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery. If you feel the need to pause on your tour, one of the best spots to do so is within the elegant Room de Luxe at the Willow Tea Rooms (217 Sauchiehall Street), which were designed in 1904.

Want to know more about the city before visiting? Glasgow: A History of the City is by Michael Fry:

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

You can also see examples of Rennie Mackintosh’s work within two rooms of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, one of 13 free-to-visit museums and galleries in the city. The vast Kelvingrove museum opened in 1901 and displays artefacts as diverse as a Spitfire aircraft, medieval armour plus art from across Europe, including Salvador Dali’s celebrated Christ of St John of the Cross painting. Kelvingrove’s grand, central hall features a huge pipe organ and, one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions, warrants the short trip from the city centre.

If you prefer the sleek metallic facades of contemporary architecture then head towards the River Clyde. Glasgow Science Centre, an interactive hub with exhibitions relating to science and technology, comes highly recommended by many of the city residents. It’s also the site of the 127-metre tall Glasgow Tower, the world’s tallest freestanding rotating structure. During the journey to the top of the tower, which provides panoramic views of Glasgow, you’ll learn about aspects of the city’s history.

An Armadillo by the Clyde

Strolling along the south bank of the river gives you great views of the Clyde Auditorium – known to locals as ‘the Armadillo,’ after the armour-plated creatures – due to the angular segments which span the concert hall. The iconic building was designed by the famous Foster and Partner architectural bureau and forms part of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, which is known popularly as the SECC. One of the best times of day to view the modern buildings and the neighbouring, 13,000-capacity SSE Hydro arena is during the evening, as the translucent, modernistic facade can be illuminated in a number of colour schemes.

If you’re a transport buff plan a trip to the Riverside Museum, which was named Europe’s Museum of the Year in 2013. You’ll see motorbikes, motorcars and locomotives but also have an opportunity to stroll along recreations of Glaswegian streets of bygone years. The angular, contemporary attraction also has more than 90 touch screens providing information about exhibits if you’re eager to learn more.

Arguably an attraction in its own right is the Subway, the subterranean public transport system which was opened in 1896. The long-established underground network is often dubbed ‘the clockwork orange’ due to its colour scheme and circular route. It’s one of the easiest and most cost-effective methods of travelling between a good number of Glasgow’s attractions.

Want to read up on the city’s history before a visit? You can do that in Glasgow: The Autobiography by Alan Taylor (£).

Shopping and Art Deco Architecture

No visit to the city would be complete without a stroll along Sauchiehall Street, the pedestrianised shopping artery that’s also the site of Glasgow’s first skyscraper, the Art Deco-style Beresford building, which opened as a hotel in 1938 but now hosts private apartments. Its presence is another example of bold architecture within the city.

Following the success of the Commonwealth Games there’s a palpable buzz around Glasgow. As autumn colours begin to add their golden hues to the trees of Queen’s Park, whose hilltop provides one of the best spots to gain an overview of the city skyline, there’s no time like to present to explore this Scottish city.

Further Information

Take a look at the Glasgow Life website for more on Glasgow’s museums, art and cultural events.

See the Visit Scotland website for more information about Glasgow and the country as a whole.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.

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The metallic facade of the Imax Cinema in Glasgow, Scotland. It stands in by the Glasgow Science Centre. Photo by Stuart Forster.
The metallic facade of the Imax Cinema in Glasgow, Scotland. It stands in by the Glasgow Science Centre. 

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