Best things to do in Glasgow
What is it? Glasgow has been unfortunate to lose a few of its best clubbing and concert spaces in recent years, including The Arches and the O2 ABC. Fortunately, the SWG3 arts complex has risen phoenix-like from the flames to become a new hub of creativity, live entertainment and partying with a slew of spaces including The Poetry Club, the Warehouse, the Acid Bar and, during summertime, the huge Galvanizer’s Yard.
Why go? For club nights, live concerts and festivals welcoming major local and touring DJs and bands, indoors year-round in the covered spaces and outdoors come the warm months. Look out for cool exhibitions – as well as great beer, wine, coffee and donuts – in the Acid Bar, with its small but perfectly formed rooftop terrace.
What is it? Situated in the old Pumphouse building that once controlled entry to the famous Queen’s Dock – and thus Scotland’s whisky exports to the world – Clydeside became one of the first new distilleries in generations to operate in Glasgow when it first started running its huge copper stills in 2017.
Why go? For a tour of their pristine and impressive facilities. A new chocolate and whisky tour allows visitors to savor five carefully selected single malt whiskies, each expertly paired with freshly-made artisan chocolate handcrafted by Sugar Wings of Glasgow.
What is it? Glasgow Cathedral was consecrated in 1197 and remains a sturdy and impressive example of Scottish gothic architecture both inside and out. The other big gothic attraction nearby is the Necropolis, Glasgow's gloriously atmospheric cemetery inspired by Père Lachaise in Paris and dating back to 1833.
Why go? Amble among the monuments, look out over the city and wonder just how green and bucolic the view was more than two centuries ago. Ankle-length black leather coat and Demonia boots optional.
What is it? Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which opened in 1901 and is Glasgow’s most popular tourist attraction, is a striking piece of architecture in the Spanish baroque style, fashioned out of red sandstone.
Why go? There is some truly wonderful art here, with galleries given over to Scottish colourists and French impressionism, for example. Look up as you enter and you’ll see Sophie Cave’s spooky floating heads, all sporting eerie human expressions. In the adjacent museum find an iconic Spitfire WWII fighter airplane suspended from the ceiling, above stuffed animals including old favourite Sir Roger the elephant.
What is it? At the Hunterian Art Gallery, find the Mackintosh House, with its historically and aesthetically important interior and brutalist exterior. Built in the 1960s near the former home on Southpark Avenue of Glasgow’s most famous architect Sir Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and his wife, the artist Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (1864-1933), the modern concrete structure adjoining the uni’s gallery-library complex remembers the Mackintosh’s legacy in fond but precarious style. Inside is a meticulous reassemblage of the principal interiors from their home.
Why go? Two separate major fires in four years at Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building tragically caused the almost complete destruction of the defining work by one of the city’s most celebrated sons. As the Mac is painstakingly rebuilt, the Hunterian is a great place to start discovering other, smaller, Mackintosh gems around Glasgow.
What is it? An intuitive joint venture between craft brewers Williams Brothers and macro-brewers Tennents situated partly in a 1930s-era former box factory beside the Tennents brewery on Duke Street in the East End, Drygate is a so-called “experiential” micro-brewery, beer hall and restaurant, uniting all the quality and class the Williams have come to be recognised for, with all the resources a big brand partner can bring. There’s a beer hall with big screens for sports and space for music and comedy events, and a terrace for those rare Glasgow days when the rain isn’t pouring down.
Why go? You can sample 26 rotating beers on tap and countless more bottled variants. If you're looking to go behind the scenes, that's easily sorted: just jump onto one of the brewery tours and you’ll discover exactly how Drygate’s great beers come to be. Feeling a little peckish? Grab some of the delectables on offer at Drygate’s kitchen.
What is it? There are several escape games to choose from in the city, but Escape Glasgow was the first, having opened its doors in 2014. They alone have five different rooms to try, with themes ranging from wizardry to detection and infection. Crack the codes, uncover the keys and break yourself out of the immersive, interactive team games.
Why go? Challenge your puzzle solving powers and bond even closer with mates.
What is it? As any film buff in the city will take great pride in explaining to you, Glasgow was once one of Britain’s great cinema cities. By the end of the 1940s, it boasted a total 114 movie theatres. Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT), called the Cosmo until 1973, opened in 1939 as Scotland’s first arthouse cinema. Today, it effectively remains Glasgow’s last. A third screen was added in 2013 to maximise capacity, particularly during the booming annual Glasgow Film Festival every February, for which it operates as the main hub.
Why go? The discerning cinema-goer will always find something to see at GFT – from art house and foreign-language gems to independent documentaries, late night cult screenings and classics back on the big screen. From the dramatic exterior – a brown brick geometric, windowless façade inspired by Dutch modernist architecture – to the deliciously retro interior, particularly the sweeping 394-seater main cinema, it’s a true one of a kind structure.
What is it? Definitely one of – if not the – most renowned club in Glasgow. Run by Harri and Domenic since its founding in 1985 and 1992, respectively, you're always guaranteed a good night here.
Why go? Given Harri and Domenic's credentials, they're not shy of famous DJ mates to come and entertain the nightly masses. The likes of Gilles Peterson, Erol Alkan, Mylo and Optimo have all graced the decks and continue to do so. Check the website before you go in case a big name has sold out the night.
What is it? Based within the National Stadium at Hampden, the museum focuses on Scotland's unique football heritage. It contains an extensive collection of memorabilia as well as showy items such as the Scottish Cup, the world’s oldest surviving association football trophy (the English FA Cup would be older but the original was nabbed in 1895).
Why go? To tour the 52,000-capacity National Stadium and for a chance to practice your victory dance in the Scottish Football Hall of Fame.
What is it? The Citz, as the Citizens Theatre is affectionately known, is the mother venue for Glasgow theatre. It’s the principal producing theatre in the west of Scotland and a veritable conveyor belt for trustworthy stage favourites, as well as works by new and exciting directors. Now undergoing an essential £20 million redevelopment expected to last until 2020, its shows currently take place at the Tramway Theatre and other venues around Scotland.
Why go? For some of the best theatre productions in Scotland, from contemporary versions of classic plays to new Scottish dramas and updated kids classics. Famous names to have trodden the boards or worked backstage at the Citz over the years are too many to mention: Rupert Everett, Helen Baxendale, Tim Roth, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and the list goes on.
What is it? One of the most iconic and cherished music venues in the world, and for an enduringly good reason. You’ve never really experienced live music in Scotland until you’ve stumbled into the famous Barrowland Ballroom – a dusty, old, family-owned Glasgow institution that’s been embraced by several generations of live music fans alike for more than four decades. All while retaining independence, integrity and a gloriously retro feel like few other spaces of its size.
Why go? Barely altered in architecture, décor or spirit in its lifetime, shows at the Barrowland today include new and veteran acts alike – every major promoter in Scotland books here. The mere view of the venue’s massive garish flashing coloured neon sign hovering into view down the Gallowgate on a show night is sufficient to give gig-goers a buzz of anticipation.
What is it? Rising from the ground like a shimmering silver hermit crab, the Glasgow Science Centre is a wonder inside and out. The space-age structure houses a planetarium, cinema, galleries with hands-on activities, two cafés and a gift shop. There’s also a revolving tower that provides visitors views of the city from 417 feet up.
Why go? If not for the science, then go for the massive IMAX cinema screen.
What is it? This Zaha Hadid-designed waterside museum carries an extensive collection of vehicles including ambulances, buses, police cars, horse-drawn taxis and motor cars that look like they drove to Glasgow from the set of a 1930s action movie. Formerly housed in the old Museum of Transport at Kelvin Hall, they’ve been cherished by Glaswegians for generations.
Why go? The impressive late-Victorian, three-masted Tall Ship that’s berthed outside the museum in the River Clyde – a stunning monument to Glasgow’s rich maritime heritage.
What is it? Sharmanka shows involve sculptures made of reclaimed scrap, synchronised music, coloured lighting and hundreds of carved grotesques living out stories that are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, all set against the inevitable and relentless cycle of life and death.
Why go? Don't be put off by the prospect of Russian tragedy told through the medium of electro-powered wooden figures. There is something charming, simple, direct and utterly hypnotic about these shows.
What is it? Faith is the story of Glasgow in many ways – Protestant or Catholic, Muslim or Hindu, it’s intertwined with everything from education to work and sport. How appropriate, then, than the city should be home to one of the only public museums in the world devoted solely to the subject of religion. Opened in 1993 and named after Glasgow’s patron saint, it’s housed in a building designed in the Scottish baronial style by architect Ian Begg in 1989.
Why go? For a cross-faith experience, building bridges of understanding and respect between different faith groups, or people with no faith at all. It houses some beautiful religious art and artefacts from all over the world, touching on Hinduism, the Mexican Day of the Dead and more. There’s also a small, placid zen garden if you’re feeling inspired to practice your meditation.
What is it? Has any single structure come to stand for Glasgow more so than the Finnieston Crane? Probably not. A relic of the age when Glasgow’s shipyards made this one of the most powerful and important industrial cities in the world, the giant grey cantilever crane – still emblazoned with the title of its former owners Clydeport, and one of just four remaining such cranes on the Clyde – is no longer in working order. But it has been wisely retained and recontextualized in new proximity to such shiny modern buildings as the Armadillo, The Hydro, the Glasgow Science Centre and the BBC Scotland headquarters, as a potent and emotive 174-feet-tall symbol of proud engineering heritage.
Why go? The Finnieston Crane is just one among several landmarks on the Clyde – the famous river upon which Glasgow is built – which can be experienced along a relatively short walk from Glasgow Green east of the city centre upriver to Govan. From the St. Andrews footbridge to The Clyde Arc (or the Squinty Bridge, as it’s known, for its odd shape), there’s a crossing for practically every era of modern Glasgow history. Carry on past Pacific Quay and the Finnieston Crane and you’ll eventually reach Glasgow’s spectacular Riverside Museum.
What is it? Mono is little short of an independent music, arts, drinking and dining mecca: it's a vegan café-bar, record store, concert venue and gallery, all under one big domed roof. You can spend a whole day here, from lunchtime until last orders. Opened in 2002 on the corner of the Merchant City’s old railway arches based King’s Court retail development (home to several good independent shops – yet another reason to visit), Mono is the flagship of a family of similarly-minded venues in Glasgow, including Stereo, The Old Hairdresser’s, The Flying Duck and The 78.
Why go? Record store Monorail – co-operated by members of much-loved Glasgow band The Pastels – is housed within the Mono complex and represents one of the best record stores in Scotland, if not Britain. The food at Mono gets better year upon year – whether you’re a dedicated vegan or a meat-eater in the mood for a little change, you’ll find something to love. As a live music venue, the calibre of artists discerningly booked at Mono – often stuff you simply won’t find at other venues, be it cult and leftfield bands and singer-songwriters or experimental noise artists – keeps the venue at the very heart and soul of the Glasgow music scene. Every great music city should have a place like this.
What is it? Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) occupies a stately looking neoclassical building in Royal Exchange Square in the heart of the city centre just off Buchanan Street, which, since being built as a townhouse by a wealthy tobacco lord in 1778, has served several purposes, from dwelling to a bank to a library. In 1996, it became Glasgow’s foremost centre for contemporary art.
Why go? With its thriving contemporary art scene surrounding the world-renowned Glasgow School of Art, which has produced many a Turner Prize success stories over the years, GoMA exists to showcase not just the work of the city’s greatest artistic talents but also to highlight what those artists share in common with others around the world in terms of influences and practices. If you’re ever in any doubt as to how to find GoMA, just ask for directions to the traffic cone statue. The grand carving of the Duke of Wellington that sits outside the front door of the gallery is probably even more famous than GoMA itself among ordinary Glaswegians – mainly because he wears a plastic traffic cone on his head.
What is it? One of the key hubs for Glasgow’s creative community, based in the cultural quarter of the Merchant City, Street Level Photoworks offers the public the means to make and engage with photography and lens-based media while supporting and exhibiting great photographers both Glaswegian and from much further afield.
Why go? For exhibitions by star snappers from Scotland and far beyond. The best part? It’s all for free.
What is it? For an incredibly scenic adventure, hop on a train to Pollokshaws West (just ten minutes from Glasgow Central). Once there, you’ll find a beautifully sculptured dear green place, surrounding grand old Pollok House and art gallery the Burrell Collection (closed for refurbishment until 2020).
Why go? Get the blood pumping with a stroll through serene surrounds, followed by cooing over the Highland cows and Clydesdale horses.
More of the best of Glasgow
Glasgow offers all kinds of options for entertaining children whether you want to chill out with a coffee while the little dears scamper, supervised, up a climbing wall, do something educational in one of the city's best museums, or just go and get some fresh air while marvelling over the sheer power of a thoroughbred Clydesdale horse. RECOMMENDED: Time Out's guide to half-term in Glasgow for kids
From distilleries that are hardly out of town to those nestling in the countryside, and another on an island in the Firth of Clyde, Glasgow has all kinds of options when it comes to day trips involving Scotland’s national drink. For details of opening times and prices, plus how to get there, check the individual distillery websites before setting out. Of course, if that all sounds like too much hard work, you're also welcome to stick around Glasgow and sample the water of life at some of the city's best pubs and bars.
Afternoon tea is no longer the prerogative of grand dames, complaining about dry scones and brushing crumbs off their fox fur. Although there an element of doing-something-nice-with-grandma about the activity, it has an altogether younger profile in Glasgow these days – the sandwiches and cakes are more interesting, and cocktails and G&Ts are more likely to crop up on the menu.
Glasgow still mourns the loss of the enormous Borders bookstore on Buchanan Street, a remarkable outlet that fell victim to changing times – and the credit crunch – in 2009. Whether or not Scotland’s biggest Waterstones, plus a collection of second-hand and specialist stores, makes up for the demise of the Borders behemoth, we leave to the book-buying public to judge…
On the hunt for a place to crash in Glasgow? There are hotels aplenty here, of all varieties. Whether it’s a converted Victorian mansion, stylish self-catered apartments in a renovated bank, or the latest hi-tech chains, you’ll find a wealth of great hotels here, many of them within walking distance of Glasgow’s best bars, restaurants, theatres and galleries. Some deserve a visit even if you’re not staying, just for the wow factor – like the champagne bar at Grand Central, and, for decent Scottish cuisine, Barry Duff’s bistro at one Devonshire Gardens Hotel du Vin. Here’s our selection of the best hotels in Glasgow.