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HomescotlandThe 20 best things to do in Glasgow in 2023

The 20 best things to do in Glasgow in 2023

Among the things you need to know about Glasgow that tend to get left unsaid: it is a spectacularly beautiful city that did as much as almost anywhere else in western Europe to shape the modern world and the way we live now. For more information, keep reading – or better still, go there and ask a Glaswegian. Any Glaswegian. Glaswegians like a wee blether, so they do. They’re mouthy, irreverent, tipsy with talk, pleased to supply perfect strangers with up-to-the-minute bulletins as to their state of personal well-being and the human condition. And of course they swear wonderfully too.

Glasgow’s mostly Victorian city centre is said to resemble that of 19th-century New York. Filmmakers love it for this reason (go to the intersection of Hope Street and St Vincent Street and you’ll see why). But Glasgow’s grandeur is its own. A little frayed around the edges, perhaps, yet the grandeur remains. Take a few steps off George Square and into the City Chambers and look up. Gleaming acres of marble, alabaster, gold leaf, mosaics and mahogany, receding in mad Piranesi perspectives.

You get the grandeur in smaller doses too, in places where you least expect to find it, and it is a feature of the city’s present as well as its past. Contradiction is the key. ‘There’s more joy in a Glasgow knife fight than an Edinburgh wedding,’ they joke. Gallowgate humour. There is real strife here, but great wit and beauty and spirit too. Glasgow is a city that requires a kind of double vision if you are to see it clearly.

These are the 20 best things to do in Glasgow

1. Cycle to Pollok Country Park, Southside

Pollok Country Park
Pollok Country Park

Glasgow means ‘Dear Green Place’ in Scots Gaelic, and for good reason – it has 90 parks, and this is its largest, covering over 300 acres. It also has mountain bike trails and bluebell-filled woods, not to mention a golf course, stables, and a field of highly photogenic, marmalade-hued Highland cows. At its heart is Pollok House, a grand Edwardian stately home managed by National Trust for Scotland, with a café, elegant formal gardens, a picture-perfect water mill and manicured lawns.

Elsewhere on the grounds, a visit to The Burrell Collection is essential. After a long refurbishment project, its upgrade is finally finished, and it could now compete with some of Europe’s most impressive museums. Sir William Burrell was an antique collector who gifted 9,000 objects to the city, and they are all displayed beautifully in this light-filled, glass-panelled building surrounded by woodland. You will be dazzled by the sheer volume and eclecticism of the collection, from Ming vases and medieval weapons to a 15th-century stained-glass panel once belonging to the Royal window at Canterbury Cathedral. Burrell had excellent taste in art, too: the collection has paintings by Cezanne, Degas, Courbet and Manet, and if you wander through the hall on the ground floor, you’ll bump into Rodin’s The Thinker.

A cycle ride to Pollok Country Park is also a great idea. It features the River Clyde, the sci-fi architecture of the Science Museum and its nearby tower, green spaces, residential roads and bridges across the occasional motorway.

2. Walk along the River Kelvin, West End

River Kelvin glasgow
River Kelvin glasgow

Starting at the Great Western Road entrance to Glasgow Botanic Gardens, on a rainy day you can escape to the tropics inside elegant greenhouses and, in spring, admire seas of crocuses, daffodils and tulips. This walking loop first takes you through the Botanics and out onto Fort Road, leading down to the Garden Arboretum. Inside the arboretum, you’ll pass under the first of many vast red-stone bridges straddling the River Kelvin. Having followed the path, crossed a footbridge and turned right, you find yourself on the Kelvin Walkway, where the stroll continues beside low, mossy red-brick walls, the river rushing past on your right. At Kelvinbridge, refuel at dog-friendly riverside bar Inn Deep or cute coffee shop Kelvin Pocket, then keep going into Kelvingrove Park, a zigzag of paths carved into a hillside. At its peak, you’re rewarded with a view of Kelvingrove Art Gallery’s gothic turrets. Hungry? Grab an authentic Greek gyro from MacTassos food truck before entering the other side of Kelvingrove Park, where you’ll find blooming snowdrops, blossoms, bluebells, rhododendrons and wild garlic, depending on the time of year.

3. Explore Glasgow University, West End

Glasgow University
Glasgow University

A visit to Glasgow University shouldn’t be missed. Its elaborate neo-Gothic architecture is arguably the finest and certainly some of the city’s most iconic. Sitting above Kelvingrove Park, behind the main building visitors have an excellent vantage point across the west end and beyond – on clear days, hills rise in the distance. Next, cross the street to enter the Hunterian Museum, which holds special exhibits (such as a recent display of works by Whistler) and houses an impressive permanent collection. You can also explore the former home of Glasgow’s most famous artist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, just next door. Together with his wife, artist-designer Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, they built a unique home full of their artworks and designs.

4. Treat yourself at Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel, city centre

A spa day at Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel in the city centre is the remedy for inclement weather. The thermal experience involves saunas, bubbling pools and relaxation rooms; special bookings can also be made for the Rhassoul, combining mud and steam to soften and invigorate the skin. For heavenly relaxation, finish with a specialist hot-stone massage. Or try the more stimulating Detox Body Wrap, employing sea salt and algae to improve skin tone and eliminate toxins; natural products by Hebridean skincare brand Ishga use hand-harvested seaweed to transform and rejuvenate. Make a reservation at Iasg (one of Scotland’s most beautiful restaurants), where the signature Mara Margarita can’t be missed, along with Cumbrae oysters, Firth of Forth lobster and other Scottish seafood delights.

5. Take a trip to the theatre

Glasgow is home to the west of Scotland’s principal producing theatre, Citizens Theatre. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to see work by the country’s finest playwrights, including the likes of David Harrower and Zinnie Harris. Shockingly affordable tickets are best found at the Òran Mór, where daily lunchtime event A Play, a Pie and a Pint showcases more new writers than any other British theatre (and, yes, your £14 ticket gives you the bonus of a pie and a pint). For something more musical, high-production performances by Scottish Opera can be watched at the historic Theatre Royal Glasgow.

6. Listen to some live music

Particularly famous among Glasgow’s diverse music venues is the East End’s historic Barrowland Ballroom. In its time, it has held concerts with David Bowie, Oasis and the Foo Fighters. Jazz lovers should check out the intimate Blue Arrow Club; those who like classical can browse the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall’s programme, which may feature orchestral performances of John Williams soundtracks or sitarist Anoushka Shankar. Fans of experimental genres can drop into The Hug and Pint, which also happens to have one of the city’s best vegan kitchens; and for house and techno, tickets to Subclub – one of the world’s best basement nightclubs – are compulsory. If you’re looking for something romantic, a candlelight concert by Fever is just for you.

7. Visit the city’s museums and galleries

Filled with international and Scottish artists, the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art is also worth visiting to admire its neo-classical building (once the city mansion of a wealthy tobacco merchant) and the statue of the Duke of Wellington outside it. The latter was famously contemporised by members of the public using a traffic cone… once considered vandalism, it is now a city icon. The Kelvingrove Museum is the city’s largest and is divided into two themes: the Life galleries are concerned with natural history, while the Expression galleries display fine art by the likes of Titian, Monet and Dali. For something off the beaten track, check out Tramway, where visual arts rule the roost.

8. Explore Pollokshaws Road, Southside

Glasgow’s Southside has a strong multicultural community – in 2021, locals famously staged a successful day-long sit-in to prevent Immigration Enforcement from removing their neighbours. Home to some of the city’s best coffee shops and restaurants, busy high street Pollokshaw’s Road also has a lot going for it. But a gander here doesn’t stop after brunch; independent shops with well-curated windows are bound to draw you in. For everything Botanics, from dried bouquets and candles to plants and pots, head to Aperçu. For unique ceramics, thrown and fired on-site, stop at Wild Gorse Pottery; queer bookshop Category Is shouts equality from its windows and is stocked with exciting literature, and popping into Seamster Vintage will please any fashion hunter. All shopped out? Amble up to Queen’s Park for ice cream.

9. Shop the West End

Glasgow’s West End is a world of its own. There is a dizzying amount of good food, drink and coffee (and both of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants), photogenic cobbled lanes and smart independent cinema The Grosvenor. Plus, two of the city’s loveliest parks, a couple of its best museums, and the UK’s fourth-oldest university. There are also numerous independent shops worth exploring. Vintage-clothing fans are particularly spoilt for choice: hit The Glasgow Vintage Co., Duds. Vintage Clothing and Retro in quick succession before crossing Byres Road to browse hidden gem Starry Starry Night, where designer labels are guaranteed. Other highlights include Hoos for stylish houseware, window-dressing champion and florist Blooms, and quirky upcycled and vintage furniture shop Found.

10. Record hunt

At the niche end of Glasgow’s best things to do is record hunting. In the centre of town, you’ll find Palais de Danse, where it’s easy to think you’re lost as you enter what looks like a DJ’s attic blaring its speakers and showcasing a mind-blowing array of records. A walk away is Rubadub – a slicker operation where technical equipment can be browsed alongside music titles. Monorail Music not only offers a great space to spend time with friends but also has a carefully maintained blog that’s worth reading before you go. Meanwhile, in the West End, discover treasures in Mixed Up down cobbled Otago Lane or, over in the Southside, rummage records and vintage knick-knacks at Otherside, then enjoy a coffee at record café Some Great Reward.

11. Discover Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens

The Glasgow Botanic Gardens, West End is home to exceptional florae. Inside its conservatories, you’ll find a steamy tropical jungle, an otherworldly collection of orchids, an arid space for cacti and succulents, and more. Outdoors, abundant displays of crocuses, daffodils, azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons and tulips emerge across spring and summer, and there is an edible plant garden to take inspiration from. Kibble Palace – a beguiling greenhouse with its teacake dome – was once privately owned and located on Loch Long. In 1873, having been dismantled, transported by barge and enlarged through the initiative of its owner, it reopened as an event space before becoming the horticultural destination it is today.

12. Mugdock Country Park, Mugdock

One of Glasgow’s most special features is its proximity to nature, and the west coast is famous for its many beaches and lochs. Just 10 miles north of the city, you’ll also find the magical Mugdock Country Park, which serves as a starting point for the West Highland Way, a hiking route for campers in search of Scotland’s great wilderness. Except for a handful of conservation sites, including a mediaeval castle and World War II battery, much of Mugdock Park’s natural landscapes seem virtually untouched. Wild deer may sprint through trees as you wander along streams, up hills, and through boundless ferns and bluebells.

How to get there: Driving from Glasgow’s West End to Mugdock Country Park takes approximately 20 minutes. Trains departing from Glasgow Queen’s Street to Milngavie take 25 minutes, from which you can walk or catch a bus to the park.

13. Journey on the world’s last sea-faring paddle steamer

The UK’s iconic paddle steamer, The Waverley, with its scarlet chimneys and formidable horn, is a sea-faring slice of history. Turning an impressive 75 years old in 2022, inside you’ll find a tearoom, dining room, bar and the boat’s vital organs: the hot, hardworking steam engine, and, beyond the portholes behind you, its vast rotating paddle wheels. Boarding it in the morning from outside the Science Centre in Glasgow, you’ll cruise up the River Clyde, passing the Glenlee, a moored 19th-century sailing ship, the Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum, then onwards under the monumental Erskine Bridge and into open water. Get off at the village of Tighnabruaich to discover stunning west coast scenery, before catching the steamboat back in the late afternoon.

14. Explore the Necropolis

Glasgow’s beautiful 37-acre Necropolis in East End stacks a hillside overlooking the city. Ornate tombs and monuments, built in various architectural styles, dominate this Victorian garden cemetery, along with elms, ivy and other wildlife. The Necropolis looks down on the stunning Glasgow Cathedral, which, dating back to the 1100s, is the oldest building in the city and the only structure of its kind in Britain to have survived the Reformation. The burial ground was, nonetheless, always non-denominational: its first occupant, in 1832, was a Jewish jeweller; its second, buried in 1833, the Christian wife of the cemetery’s superintendent. A staggering 50,000 prominent and wealthy people were subsequently buried on its slopes.

15. Get crafty at a pottery class

Ever since UK TV sensation The Great Pottery Throwdown, people have – quite literally – gone potty for the craft. In Glasgow, you can now sign up for beginners or taster workshops at the likes of Glasgow Ceramics Studio and Wild Gorse Pottery, but those who enjoy a drink or two while they get creative should check out The Craft Pottery’s BYOB events. With an artist’s guidance, you can wheel-throw or hand build mugs, jugs, or mini pots, decorating them in whatever way your imagination inspires as you sip your tipple of choice.

Price: The Craft Pottery two-hour BYOB hand-building group taster sessions, from £40 per person; Glasgow Ceramics Studio two-hour private taster sessions, from £95 per person or £120 for two.

16. Uncover a (really) hidden gem

Tucked away above an amusement arcade in a not-particularly-lovely part of town is the dictionary definition of a hidden gem: the Britannia Panopticon, the world’s oldest surviving music hall, where Stan Laurel made his debut in 1906. In its heyday, it was home to freak shows, zoos, wax works and a very tough crowd, who made sure performers who didn’t make the grade were pelted with rivets from the shipyards, rancid turnips and horse manure. Although in a state of dilapidation, the Panopticon’s hallowed halls are still used for comedy, film, burlesque and drag nights to raise funds for its restoration. There are upcoming film screenings including Freaks and Lon Chaney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Or for the princely sum of £2, you can simply soak up the atmosphere, play the old pianola, browse exhibits and marvel at the acts on the bill, ranging from the World Smallest Man to the World’s Tallest. As there’s no heating, wrapping up warm is a must, but you might get the shivers anyway – a mysterious dark figure is often sensed on the balcony, which is still littered with ticket stubs from shows gone by.

17. Find art where you least expect it

Creativity isn’t just confined to galleries and the Glasgow School of Art – you’re constantly tripping over it everywhere you go, thanks to a proliferation of street and graffiti artists who use the city’s walls, railway sidings and underpasses as their canvas. There’s so much of it that the council has created The Mural Trail to link these large-scale endeavours, which range from 10-foot-high hyper-realistic squirrels to portraits of Billy Connolly. Beyond the city centre, more murals are to be found at Yardworks, which was the original champion of Glasgow street art and is now part of the sprawling SWG3 creative arts complex. The complex has transformed a derelict industrial landscape into a constantly developing hub of live music, poetry and spray paint. To show how serious Glasgow is about nurturing its urban artists, soon there will be a purpose-built Yardworks Studio, which will contain a six-metre wall for large-scale pieces. It will form the centre of Scotland’s first street art district, extending along the Clyde to Govan and Yorkhill. And if that’s inspired you, you can always take your pencils to the pub. Every Monday in the upstairs rooms of Sloan’s, one of Glasgow’s oldest haunts, experienced artists and novices alike take a life drawing class that rejoices under the name of All The Young Nudes.

18. Stroll around Park Circus, West End

Park Circus, with its handsome concentric Victorian terraces, is often overlooked for the more immediate rewards of Kelvingrove Park below it, but it’s the perfect spot for an autumn promenade. Designed in the mid-19th-century by Glaswegian architect Charles Wilson, it was originally intended to be the park’s focal point. It’s now one of Glasgow’s swankiest addresses, home to vast residences, charming mews houses, cobbled lanes and the Granite Steps, which offer a sweeping view of the park. After deciding which house to buy, warm your cockles at the ultra-cosy Ottoman Coffee House, in the former Glasgow Society of Musicians building, with vaulted ceilings, Turkish lanterns and stuffed chairs. Or pop into the Common Guild gallery in Woodlands Terrace, which, despite its modest presence, showcases a diverse range of young contemporary artists, with a current group exhibition featuring Edinburgh painter Rabiya Choudhry, Sean Edwards and Kate Davis. Closer to Christmas, you will probably be drawn towards the park to the shamelessly absurd Elfingrove, which transforms Kelvingrove Museum into a festive grotto complete with the UK’s largest ice rink, a snow wheel and candy floss machines. It’s a spectacle the Victorians would have approved of.

19. Go the library

Thanks to Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who helped to establish many of Glasgow’s local libraries, Glasgow is a well-read city – with some unusual libraries that are well worth a browse. The Mitchell Library is one of Europe’s largest public libraries, and has an impressive copper dome and over a million books, including the city’s archive. In the East End, the Glasgow Women’s Library was established 25 years ago to document the social history of women in the city and is now the UK’s only accredited museum solely dedicated to the stories and lives of women. But perhaps the most intriguing is A Library of Olfactive Material, a non-profit project created by Perfumer Clara Weale. Behind a modest storefront in St Andrew’s Square, it features a collection of 100 scents, including a rare materials section that ranges from Ambercore to Zenolide. Open by appointment, you can book a session to explore the library’s neatly displayed rows of mysterious aromas and pick up a few sample vials to inspire your senses. Or simply follow your nose to their perfume-making workshop and create your own signature scent.

20. Go sight-seeing along the Riverside

The Clyde Walkway meanders for 40 miles through the Clyde Valley to New Lanark, but this 5km stretch to the West End is ideal for taking in the sights of the Glasgow skyline. On the way, you’ll learn that Glaswegians are unable to resist nicknaming their local landmarks, from the Science Centre’s Glasgow Tower (Crash helmet on a stick) to the Clyde Arc, which bisects the river at an angle, and is therefore forever known as the Squinty Bridge. You’ll also spot the Hydro, which starred as the venue in Will Ferrell’s Eurovision movie and was at the centre of Glasgow’s real-life bid for the contest. In the coming months, it’s host to an almost embarrassingly stellar line of musical legends including Rod Stewart and Roxy Music. And not to be outdone, at the nearby SEC (known as the Armadillo) Bob Dylan will also be making an appearance. On your travels, stop off for a dram at the ultramodern Clydeside Distillery, with its panoramic picture windows and gleaming copper stills. You could also visit the stylish café for whisky-flavoured doughnuts by local artisan bakery Tantrum. Then continue towards Zaha Hadid’s Riverside Museum to discover Glasgow’s transport and maritime history and its bygone record shops in Spinning Around – a free exhibition showing until March 2023.

Maris Lopez
Maris Lopezhttp:////my-lifestyle.co
Hey there! I'm Maris, an American girl who is passionate about adventure, the outdoors and all things travel!
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