What to see in Glasgow, Scotland
As befits a city that was at its richest through the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, the centre of Glasgow has a fine legacy of Victorian and Edwardian buildings with their lavish interiors and spectacular carved stonework. Outside of the central area the main streets are lined with the legendary tenements – the city’s trademark 3 or 4 story residential buildings built from red or blonde sandstone which positively glow during the summer. The controversial Bruce Report of the late 1940s triggered a massive regeneration program which lasted into the late 1970s and saw huge swathes of tenement housing literally wiped out to make way for soulless housing estates and high-rise tower blocks, whilst in the city centre, many large concrete office buildings were built of often questionable architectural merit. The few surviving examples worthy of note for those fans of Brutalist architecture are the massive twin 30-storey Camlachie tower blocks in the East End (sadly scheduled for demolition in 2014), Sir Robert Matthew’s Riverside estate in the Gorbals, and the gargantuan Anderston Centre by Sir Richard Seifert, close to the Kingston Bridge. Many of these buildings are now being replaced by modern glass and steel structures – epitomized by the likes of the Radisson Hotel on Argyle Street and the new BBC Scotland building on Pacific Quay.
Glasgow was also the home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the “Glasgow Four,” a group of leading proponents of art nouveau architecture. Indeed, during his lifetime, Mackintosh was probably better regarded abroad than he was in his native Glasgow, even apparently inspiring Frank Lloyd Wright and was recently resurrected as one of the city’s most beloved sons. As well as many fine originals and his magnum opus, the Glasgow School of Art, many other knock-offs and impersonations exist. However, despite the ‘cult’ of Mackintosh, Glasgow produced many other fine architects, the best known of whom is probably Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson.
Glasgow Cathedral (Cathedral of Saint Mungo), Cathedral Square, Castle Street. Summer: M-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Su 1PM-5PM; Winter: 9:30AM-4:30PM, Su 1PM-4:30PM. A fine example of Gothic architecture dating from medieval times and built on a site first consecrated in 397 AD. Behind the cathedral atop a steep hill is the Necropolis cemetery – dominated by the statue of John Knox and described by Victorians as a literal “City of The Dead”. Free.
City Chambers, George Square. Guided tours M-F at 10:30 & 14:30. This imposing structure in George Square was built in 1888 in the Italian Renaissance style and is the headquarters of Glasgow City Council. Tours of the building are available daily, and visitors can see the magnificent marble staircases, lobbies, see the debating chamber and the lavish banqueting hall. In front the building, George Square, the city’s notional centre, is populated by several statues of civic leaders and famous figures from history and is often used for outdoor events. Free.
Glasgow Cross, At the junction of Trongate, Saltmarket, High Street, Gallowgate and London Road. This intersection marks the original medieval centre of the city and is dominated by the clock tower of the original City Chambers (destroyed by fire in 1926), and the small hexagonal building known as the Tolbooth. Just to the west on Trongate is the Tron Theatre, a former church that was turned into a prominent theatre.
St Enoch Subway Station, St Enoch Square, Argyle and Buchanan Streets (subway: St Enoch). Always visible. The original subway station, a quaint building now used as a coffee shop, sits in the middle of St Enoch Square. Free.
Glasgow Central Station, Gordon Street, between Union and Hope Streets. M-Sa 04:00-00:30, Su 07:00-00:30. The city’s principal railway terminus, which is worth entering for its grand interior, which you can access from Gordon Street on the north side of the building. On the exterior, a feature of note is the massive glass walled bridge (known as Hielanman’s Umbrella) which spans Argyle Street and holds up the tracks and platforms. There’s also an excellent station tour exploring the hidden corners of the station guided by a Network Rail historian.
Willow Tea Rooms, 217 Sauchiehall St. During the temperance movement, the idea of “tearooms”, places where you could relax and enjoy non-alcoholic refreshments in differently themed rooms, became popular in Glasgow. This one, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1904, was the most popular of its time and has been lovingly restored.
Glasgow School of Art, 167 Renfrew St. Tour schedules vary by season. Seen as one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s finest buildings, housing one of Britain’s pre-eminent schools of art, design and architecture. Guided tours of the building are available (you must book in advance), or if you want to create your own art in the building, you can enroll for evening classes or the summer school.
Mitchell Library, North Street. M-Th 09:00-20:00, F-Sa 09:00-17:00, closed Su. One of Glasgow’s best public buildings, it is the largest municipal public reference library in Europe. The imposing structure houses a spectacular reading room, although it has to be said much of the Mitchell’s extensive collection is housed in the rather ugly 1970s extension attached to the rear. You can easily lose a day in here! Free.
There are a number of interesting bridges over the River Clyde in the City Centre. The Tradeston Pedestrian Bridge crosses the river east of the M8 motorway and is nicknamed the “Squiggly Bridge” by locals because of its distinctive S-shape. Nearby, the Kingston Bridge carries the M8 motorway across the Clyde. Built in 1969, the bridge is far more spectacular to stand beneath than drive over, with an almost cathedral-like vista and a strange aura of calmness that betrays the likely traffic chaos that is going unseen directly above your head. Further west, the Clyde Arc, locally referred to as the “Squinty Bridge”, is a relatively new and prominent bridge over the River Clyde that has an elegant curved design and is unique for how it crosses the river at an angle.
Clyde Auditorium, Exhibition Way. Affectionately known by Glaswegians as the Armadillo, this building is a concert hall which forms part of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre complex. Designed by Sir Norman Foster, and contrary to popular belief, not inspired by the Sydney Opera House, it is in fact supposed to represent ship’s hulls. The auditorium has now garnered some world fame for being the place where the Susan Boyle audition – one of the most downloaded YouTube video clips in history – was filmed.
Glasgow University, University Avenue. Exterior and campus always visible; Visitor centre M-Sa 9:30AM-5PM. Founded as an institution in 1451, the University itself is the fourth oldest in the entire United Kingdom, and one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country. Contains the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, including a reconstruction of Mackintosh’s house. The exterior of the main building is fine in its own right; the current main University building is neo-gothic and dates from 1870, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott (the man who also designed London’s St Pancras railway station). The main building has an interesting visitor’s centre (open all year round) which is free and sits atop a drumlin with commanding views over Kelvingrove Park and the western fringes of the city. Free.
In Search of Raintown
Fans of the Glasgow band Deacon Blue have often made the pilgrimage to the top of the Granite Staircase to recreate the cover photograph of their famous 1987 album Raintown. Sadly, neither of the two cover photos from the album is now possible to reconstruct. Two decades have seen Kelvingrove Park’s trees grow to obscure the view of the Clyde and the Finnieston Crane from the top of the Granite Staircase. Equally, the rear cover shot of the M8 motorway approach onto the Kingston Bridge (adjacent to the Mitchell Library) was taken from a disused bridge upon which an office building has now been constructed.
Atop a steep hill across Kelvingrove Park from the university is Park Circus, an area of Georgian town houses laid out in a radial pattern similar to the English city of Bath. This neighborhood has made the transition from originally being an upmarket residential area to a prestigious office district for mainly legal and consultancy firms, although in recent years there have been moves to encourage the companies back into the city centre and return the buildings to residential use. If you make the effort to walk through Kelvingrove Park, go up to this area as it is worth descending down the grand Granite Staircase, on the south side of the hill facing the river.
Scotland Street School, 225 Scotland St. Tu-Th and Sa 10AM–5PM, F and Su 11AM–5PM, closed M. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s last major building – thoughtfully designed, with an excellent museum covering both Mackintosh and the changing faces of schools. Free.
House for an Art Lover, Bellahouston Park. Opening times vary. Built in the 1990s to Mackintosh’s original 1901 entry for a design competition.
Holmwood House, 61-63 Netherlee Rd (in Cathcart, in the South Side of the city). Summer months only, Th-M 12PM-5PM. Now run by the National Trust, and currently in the process of being renovated, Holmwood House is one of the best examples of the work of Glasgow’s other great architect: Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson.
If this just whets your appetite for information on Glasgow’s architecture, try and get hold of a copy of Central Glasgow: An Illustrated Architectural Guide, by Charles McKean and others.
Museums and art galleries
Glasgow Science Centre
The Victorians also left Glasgow with a wonderful legacy of museums and art galleries, which the city has dutifully built upon. The following list is only a selection. The city council alone runs several museums and galleries. Visitors should be aware that most of the galleries appear to be closed on Sundays, and that – to the understandable annoyance of many visitors to Glasgow – most of the museums shut their doors at 17:00.
Burrell Collection, 2060 Pollokshaws Rd, Pollok Country Park. M-Th, Sa 10:00-17:00; F/Su 11:00-17:00. This is a collection of over 9,000 artworks gifted to the city of Glasgow by Sir William Burrell and housed in a purpose-built museum in the Pollok Estate in the south of the city. Free.
Gallery of Modern Art, Royal Exchange Square (on Queen Street in the City Centre). M-W, Sa 10:00-17:00, Th 10:00-20:00, F/Su 11:00-17:00. This gallery houses a terrific collection of recent paintings and sculptures, with space for new exhibitions. In the basement is one of Glasgow’s many public libraries, with free internet access and cafe. Free.
Glasgow Police Museum, 30 Bell Street. Summer: M-Sa 10:00-16:30, Su 12:00-16:30; Winter: Tu 10:00-16:30, Su 12:00-16:30, closed M and W-Sa. The Glasgow police force is the oldest in Britain, dating back to 1779. It has dealt with a number of famous cases, and many of the paraphernalia relating to some of these are in this museum; there is also a section dealing with the history of police forces throughout the world. Opened up in new premises (2010). Free.
Glasgow Science Centre, 50 Pacific Quay. Summer: Daily 10AM-5PM; Winter: W-F 10AM-3PM, Sa-Su 10AM-5PM, closed M-Tu. Has hundreds of interactive science exhibits for children, an IMAX cinema, and the 125-meter Glasgow Tower, the only tower in the world which can rotate through 360 degrees from its base.
Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University Of Glasgow, University Avenue. Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 11AM-4PM, closed M. The art gallery contains a world famous Whistler collection, and various temporary exhibitions. It also contains The Mackintosh House, a reconstruction of the principal interiors from the Glasgow home of the Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928). The separate museum is the oldest public museum in Scotland and has a variety of exhibits, including a display on the Romans in Scotland (featuring items found in the Roman Fort in Bearsden), one on the various dinosaur discoveries found on the Isle of Skye, and various temporary exhibitions.
The Spitfire in the Kelvingrove Museum
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle Street . M-Th, Sa 10AM-5PM; F, Su 11AM-5PM. The city’s grandest public museum, with one of the finest civic collections in Europe housed within this Glasgow Victorian landmark. The collection is quite varied, with artworks, biological displays and anthropological artifacts. The museum as a whole is well-geared towards children and families, with “discovery center” rooms of interactive exhibits and all the displays labeled with easy-to-understand descriptions. The “Life” wing holds fossils, wildlife displays, artifacts from ancient Egypt, exhibits on the Scottish people, a hall of arms and armor, and even a Supermarine Spitfire hanging in the main hall of the wing. The “Expression” wing holds a fantastic collection of fine and decorative arts, including Salvador Dali’s celebrated “Crucifixion of St. John of the Cross” painting and select works by renowned artists like Van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt, as well as a hall of period Glasgow furnishings by Mackintosh. The main hall has a functioning organ, and daily recitals are played in the afternoon. Free.
Old Govan Church and Govan Stones, 866 Govan Rd. Summer: check website; Winter: by appointment. Discover the unique collection of early medieval stones carved in the 9th to 11th centuries to commemorate the power of those who ruled the Kingdom of Strathclyde. One of Glasgow’s most important historical and cultural assets, explore the 31 monuments within the beautiful setting of Govan Old Church. Free.
People’s Palace and Winter Gardens, Glasgow Green. People’s Palace Tu-Th, Sa 10AM–5PM, F, Su 11AM–5PM, closed M; Winter Gardens Daily 10AM-5PM. The People’s Palace is a great folk museum, telling the history of Glasgow and its people, from various perspectives, displaying details of Glasgow life (including one of Billy Connolly’s banana boots). The Winter Gardens, adjacent, is a pleasant greenhouse with a reasonable cafe. Free.
Provand’s Lordship, 3 Castle Street (opposite Glasgow Cathedral). Tu-Th, Sa 10AM-5PM; F, Su 11AM-5PM, closed M. Glasgow’s oldest remaining house, built in 1471, has been renovated to give visitors and idea what the inside of a Glasgow house was like circa 1700. Free.
Riverside Museum, 100 Pointhouse Place (subway: Kelvinhall). M-Th and Sa 10AM-5PM, F and Su 11AM-5PM. A recently reopened museum with an excellent collection of vehicles and models to tell the story of transport by land and sea, with a unique Glasgow flavor. Besides the usual rail locomotives, buses, trams, cars and planes, the museum also includes a recreated subway station and a street scene of old Glasgow. Behind the museum is the Tall Ship, the Glenlee, built in 1896 and one of only five Clydebuilt sailing ships that remain afloat in the world today, now restored and open to the public.
Sharmanka, Trongate 103. Performances Th and Su 7PM or by individual appointment. A kinetic gallery / theatre. It consists of a number of strange machines created by the Russian artists Eduard Bersudsky. The machines perform stories and the light and sound during the performance adds to a really unique and amazing experience.
St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art, 2 Castle Street (next to the Glasgow Cathedral). Tu-Th, Sa 10AM-5PM, F, Su 11AM-5PM, closed M. This museum features exhibits relating not only to Glasgow’s patron saint and the growth of Christianity in the city, but numerous exhibits pertaining to many faiths practiced locally and worldwide. Free.
Street Level Photoworks, Trongate 103. Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 12PM-5PM, closed M. An alternative art gallery/installation space. Free.
Tenement House, 145 Buccleuch Street. Summer months only, Daily 1PM-5PM. A National Trust for Scotland site, a middle class Glasgow tenement house preserved in pretty much the way it was in the early 20th century.
Transmission Gallery, 28 King Street. Tu-W, F-Sa 11AM-5PM, Th 11AM-8PM. A gallery set up in 1983 by ex-students of the Glasgow School of Art as a hub for the local art community and to provide exhibition space. Free.
If you should fall in
Glasgow Green is the home of the Glasgow Humane Society. The Society was founded in 1790 and is the world’s oldest practical life-saving body. Until June 2005 the society volunteers were responsible for rescuing those unfortunate to fall into the River Clyde. Unfortunately modern health and safety regulations require two lifeboat men on duty and a lack of volunteers has forced the sole lifeboat man, to stand down the service after 215 years. The rescue service is now performed by the Strathclyde Fire Brigade.
For a large city, Glasgow has a surprising number of parks and green spaces; there is more parkland here than in any other British city.
Botanic Gardens. A major park in the West End (the most popular aside from Kelvingrove), the Botanic Gardens contains extensive tropical and temperate plant collections from around the world.
Glasgow Green, (train: Bridgeton or Argyle Street, then walk or take the bus along London Road). The most famous of the Glasgow parks, Glasgow Green was founded by Royal grant in 1450 and has slowly been enclosed by the city and evolved from grazing land into a modern public park. “The Green” as it’s known to the locals is one of the major venues for concerts and open air events in Glasgow. Among the highlights are the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens (covered above), Nelson’s Memorial, an obelisk or needle: built to commemorate Nelson’s victory at the battle of Trafalgar, the Templeton Carpet Factory, with its ornate brick work (now a business center), and the Doulton Fountain, the largest terracotta fountain in the world. There is limited official parking in or around the green and the area is notorious for car crime. Be aware the council will tow away illegally parked vehicles and charge you to get them back!
Kelvingrove Park. In the city’s West End, this is also a very popular park, particularly with the students from the nearby University. The most prominent landmark here is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on the banks of the River Kelvin which runs through the park. It also contains a recently constructed skate park.
Fossil Grove, Victoria Park. Summer months only; Daily 10AM-4PM. The remains of an ancient forest, around 330 million years old. This is the only example of a preserved forest from this period on Earth.
Tollcross Park, 254B Wellshot Rd G32 7AX. Tollcross Park is internationally famous for its unique Rose Garden and impressive Winter Gardens. The park has many hidden gems including the Glen Nature Walk, Children’s Farm and Courtyard Visitor Centre. The park is full of points of interest and offers a welcome retreat from the busy surrounding streets. The park is open from dawn until dusk. However, the specific facilities in the park may differ. Free.