Glasgow might be Scotland’s most populous city, but to this day, international travel remains focused on Edinburgh. Sure, Glasgow may not host the world-famous Fringe festival every August, and a centuries-old castle may not sit high above it on a hill, but there are plenty of attractions that make Glasgow a destination in its own right. Up until a few decades ago, Glasgow was largely covered in soot, but the city has since undergone an intense face lift that allows visitors to fully appreciate the rich, old-world architecture that coexists alongside an energetic modern culture. That hard, working-class edge remains, however, and visitors will leave feeling as though they have seen a slice of authentic urban Scottish life.
Learn more about my top seven can’t-miss Glasgow attractions below.
1. Stroll through the Necropolis, a photogenic cemetery with a view
I’m not sure how a cemetery on a hill came to be one of Glasgow’s defining attractions, but for travelers looking for a peek into the city’s legendary haunted history, the Necropolis is the spot to visit. Only a relative handful of the 50,000 graves are marked, and none of the citizens buried here will ring a bell with foreign visitors, but the views of Glasgow are unparalleled and the experience of strolling through the Necropolis is unique.
2. Tour the hauntingly Gothic Glasgow Cathedral
I’m about as secular as they come, but even I felt dwarfed by Glasgow Cathedral’s grand architecture. Inside, the massive church is dark, quiet, and almost unwelcoming – the many nooks and crannies of the cathedral sent chills down my spine. This is the perfect place to come and feel as though you’ve stepped back in time a few hundred years.
3. Check out one of the city’s many free museums
While Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, draws more of a tourist crowd, Glasgow is significantly more wallet-friendly than its neighbor. Museum-hoppers will enjoy visiting the renowned Kelvingrove Art Gallery, the People’s Palace and Winter Garden, and the Gallery of Modern Art.
4. Admire Glasgow’s quirky, old-world architecture
Why exactly is there a clock tower in the middle of a three-lane downtown street? Who knows, but I appreciate that Glasgow’s urban planners were not deterred in the slightest by the existence of random architectural gems in the middle of proposed roads. The result, today, is that visitors can enjoy offbeat connections between Glasgow’s rich past and energetic present.
5. Check out Glasgow’s political center at George Square
As far as central European plazas are concerned, George Square may strike some as underwhelming. However, visitors interested in the city’s vibrant political climate ought to tour the City Chambers, open from 9am-5pm during the week.
6. Go on a mural scavenger hunt
Glasgow boasts one of Europe’s top live music scenes, and the lists of concerts and shows is endless. Glasgow’s obsession with art does’t stop with it’s thriving alt-rock scene, however; even a casual stroll of downtown will reveal some truly impressive works of art on a variety of buildings. Best of all? A self-guided mural tour is completely free! The city of Glasgow offers a helpful guide to the city’s works of public art here.
7. Enjoy a low-key dinner at a local pub
Whether you drink alcohol or not, you won’t regret grabbing a massive plate of food at a pub, a beloved tradition all throughout the British isles. Pubs tend to be inexpensive, dimly lit, and full of local characters enjoying the night out. My top recommendation in Glasgow? Maggie May, a conveniently located eatery right in the heart of downtown. Are you a vegetarian or traveling with children? Don’t worry. Macaroni and cheese is a pub favorite!
For more information, check out my comprehensive Glasgow city guide here.