Built in the 1200s, Glasgow Cathedral epitomizes the Gothic side of the deeply historic Scottish city it services. Glasgow is changing rapidly, making it one of the more exciting and up-and-coming European metropolises, but on occasion it can be rewarding to visit a relic of a bygone era. After all, as an American, part of the reason I travel to Europe is to walk on streets and stand in front of churches constructed before Europeans even knew the Americas existed.
Glasgow Cathedral sits at the heart of an interesting city torn between centuries. On one hand, Glasgow is unapologetically modern, thanks its world-renowned music and pub scene; on the other, Scotland’s largest city also boasts an incredible array of Gothic and Victorian architecture that makes it a history lover’s dream destination. And here’s something every traveler to Europe loves to hear: Glasgow Cathedral, along with most of the city’s other top destinations, are completely free to tour, offering a much-needed respite from the higher cost of visiting Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh.
First time visitors to Glasgow ought to start at Glasgow Cathedral, which sits at the heart of the historic city center. Whether or not one subscribes to tales of the paranormal world, there’s no denying the haunted aesthetic of both the interior and exterior of this church – and trust me, plenty of anecdotes about how the occult persist in Glasgow, as “Haunted Glasgow” tours are a thriving part of the city’s tourist business.
Interestingly, Glasgow Cathedral isn’t actually a cathedral, at least not in the doctrinal sense. “Cathedral” denotes Catholic churches intended to represent the entire diocese of which they are a part. Of course, Scotland has not been Catholic since the late sixteenth century, and practitioners of the Church of Scotland have used Glasgow Cathedral ever since the Reformation. The term “cathedral” is thus more a nod to history as opposed to accuracy; before the Reformation, Glasgow Cathedral was, in fact, a Catholic cathedral and the denotation did not change when the nation converted to Protestantism.
I visited late on a Sunday afternoon in mid-March, and the church had only a handful of other visitors. I kept telling Kevin I thought the cathedral looked like the set of a historical drama. Outlander or The Other Boleyn Girl or even Game of Thrones could have been filmed here.
To date, Glasgow Cathedral is actually the oldest structure I’ve ever stepped foot in, and while the church continues to undergo extensive restoration efforts to this day, travelers can still feel the weight of past centuries in every part of the church. I liked observing how the stairs leading down to the crypt have thoroughly been made slippery thanks to centuries of worshipers and travelers alike wearing down the stone.
I didn’t know this until after I visited, but Glasgow Cathedral is, in fact, a working church managed by the crown of the United Kingdom. Cool, right? Far too often European landmarks are beautifully preserved but longer serve their intended purpose; many sites in Glasgow, including its stunning cathedral, are exceptions to this trend.
Visitors to Glasgow Cathedral can also enjoy a spectacular view of the Necropolis from church grounds; if you’ve ever wanted to visit an urban hilltop cemetery with a world-class view, the Necropolis is the sight for you:
The exterior of Glasgow Cathedral made all of my Scottish dreams come true. Ever since I was a pre-teenager, I’ve kept a growing list of all the places I’d one day like to visit. For reasons I don’t recall, Scotland has been near the top of that list for the better part of a decade, and I’m grateful my first day in the country led me to such a uniquely Glaswegian sight. Between an afternoon visit to the cathedral and neighboring Necropolis and a tasty dinner at a thoroughly twenty-first century pub, Glasgow definitely met the high standards I’d had when planning the trip.
To learn more about Glasgow Cathedral’s operating hours and centuries-long history, please visit the Scottish historical society’s official website here. If you are interested in attending a Christian mass at the church, please visit the website for Glasgow Cathedral here.