Planning a trip to Glasgow, Scotland: A Victorian industrial city discovers culture

Glasgow was an industrial revolution powerhouse, the “second city of the British Empire” from the 19th to early 20th centuries. With its wealth came a Victorian building boom, whose architecture is only beginning to be appreciated as the city comes off a decade-long publicity blitz.

This civic and mental makeover of the 1980s has turned Glasgow from the depressed slum it had been for much of this century into a real contender for Edinburgh’s title of cultural and tourist center of Scotland.

With friendlier people and tonier shopping than Edinburgh and a remarkable array of art museums, Glasgow has put itself firmly on the must-see map of Scotland. Spend at least one night, two if you can, to drink in its renewed splendors.

What to see and do in Glasgow

The old part of Glasgow centers around the cathedral and train station. The shopping zone of Merchant’s City is west of High Street. Glasgow grew westward, so the finest Victorian area of the city is the grid of streets known as the West End. All of these areas are north of the River Clyde. The city has a good bus system and an underground (subway) that swoops from the southwest in an arc back to the northwest. Rides on either are 65p ($1.10).

As far as sightseeing goes, it’s art, art, and then some art for good measure. Luckily, admission to almost all of Glasgow’s attractions is, ahem, scot-free. Make sure you fit in at least the Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum (tel. 0141/287-2699), strong on Italian and Dutch old masters like Botticelli, Bellini, and Rembrandt, as well as the moderns—Monet, Picasso, van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Whistler, and Ben Johnson. There’s also a whole horde of Scottish artists represented, with works dating from the 17th century to the present. Most people breeze past the quite good collections of sculpture, ethnological artifacts, arms and armor, natural history, decorative arts, and relics of Scotland’s Bronze Age.

The other great gallery of Glasgow is the Burrell Collection (tel. 0141/649-7151), about four miles southwest of the city center in Pollok Country Park. The mind-boggling array of art and artifacts of this formerly private collection spans the globe, dating from the neolithic era to the modern day, with special attention to ancient Rome and Greece as well as paintings by Cézanne, Delacroix, and Cranach the Elder. Also in the park is the 18th-century mansion Pollok House (tel. 0141/616-6410), with a fine series of Spanish paintings by El Greco, Goya, Velázquez, and others.

Next on the list is the Hunterian Art Gallery (tel. 0141/330-5431) at University Avenue, which controls the estate of the great artist James McNeill Whistler (born American, but proud to be of Scottish blood). Art Nouveau innovator Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed and built his own home, and though this architectural treasure was demolished in the 1960s, most of it has been painstakingly reconstructed here to house the gallery.

Across the street from the Hunterian Art Gallery is the Hunterian Museum (tel. 0141/330-4221), with a nifty collection of everything from archaeology (Roman and Viking) to paleontology and geology (dinosaur fossils). There’s also an exhibit on the exploits of Captain Cook—in short, enough stuff to give naturalists and the kids a welcome break from all those paintings.

The kids—and certainly history buffs—might also get a kick out of the People’s Palace (tel. 0141/554-0223) on Glasgow Green (Britain’s first public park). Beyond a lush greenhouse filled with palms and a tea room, the museum contains a few drips and drabs of artifacts from the Middle Ages and Mary Queen of Scots, but the main collections bring to light the life of an average Victorian Glasgowian.

When you’re all museumed out, rest in the pews of the Cathedral of St. Kentigern, an austerely but gorgeously Gothic 13th-century church with a 12th-century under-church of great pointy arches and web-like vaulting. Below the cathedral is the Necropolis, filled with fantastically diverse tombs in a jumble of architectural styles.

How to get to Glasgow

Half-hourly trains arrive in 50 minutes from Edinburgh, and the eight daily trains (four on Sunday) from London take almost six hours to arrive in Glasgow.

The helpful tourist board’s office (tel. 0141/204-4400; is at 11 George Square.

Where to stay in Glasgow

The huge Central Hotel (tel. 0141/221-9680; fax: 0141/226-3948), at 99 Gordon St. near the central station, has tatty turn-of-the-century charm for just £70 ($115.50) per double; barring that, the tourist office will help you book a room.

Where to eat in Glasgow

Although revitalized Glasgow has plenty of refined international eateries these days, it’s hard to beat the value of The Carvery’s (tel. 0141/248-2656) hearty buffet of British specialties. It’s in the Forte Crest Hotel, on Bothwell Street.

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

Related Articles



This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in December 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

about | contact | faq

Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.