Culture vultures do pretty well in Glasgow, with a wealth of world-class museums, galleries, attractions, exhibition spaces and points of historical interest dotted around the city and beyond. There's quite a bit of variety too, with everything from football and fossils to art and ancient artefacts on offer, showcasing just how rich and diverse is this city's cultural heritage. We've picked what we think are the best museums for exploring all this history, so take a look and prepare to be blown away - there's a lot to enjoy.
A magnificent and imposing mass of red sandstone and gothic-looking spires, Kelvingrove is Glasgow’s finest museum – and arguably Scotland’s too. The collection contains more than 8,000 pieces, which range from one of Europe’s greatest displays of civic art to a Supermarine Spitfire suspended dramatically from the ceiling. You’ll also find a world-famous assembly of arms and armour from throughout the ages, pieces from ancient Scotland and ancient Egypt alike, and various natural history exhibits showing off weird and wonderful beasts from across thousands of centuries.
The Hunterian is Scotland’s oldest public museum, housing one of the largest collections outside of the country’s national offerings. The Hunterian sits in the heart of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s neo-Gothic University of Glasgow building, and its treasures proudly reflect the university’s long and rich history of discovery, research and innovation. It includes everything from scientific instruments once owned by steam-engine father-figure James Watt, to ethnographic objects from Captain Cook’s Pacific voyages, a major art collection and one of the finest bodies of Roman material in Britain.
Intended as a gleaming symbol of modern Clydeside, rising from the post-industrial wasteland where shipyards once stood, the Riverside Museum has attracted scorn as well as accolades since it opened in 2011. This ambitious 7,500 square metre zig-zag metal and glass structure, designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, won the European Museum of the Year Award in 2013. The 3,000-strong collection of objects detailing Glasgow’s rich past from its era as maritime powerhouse through to the present day are as fascinating as ever, and engrossingly displayed.
Based in Pollok County Park, as so many of the city’s finest visitor attractions are (see also Kelvingrove Museum and The People’s Palace on Glasgow Green), The Burrell Collection is a vast assortment of more than 8,000 objects gifted to Glasgow in 1944 by Sir William Burrell (1861-1958). A fabulously wealthy Scottish shipping merchant and philanthropist with a taste for antiques and fine art, Burrell had a personal gallery that was one of the greatest ever amassed by a single individual. It included many important examples of late medieval art, Chinese and Islamic art, and pieces from ancient civilizations, as well as works by such masters as Rodin, Degas and Cézanne.
It seems difficult – actually, make that impossible – to believe there’s a museum dedicated to Scottish football, going on the basis of the country’s past performances on the pitch. But this is a country with an extremely proud history in the beautiful game. After all, evidence suggests Scots actually invented football in its modern form, perhaps as early as the 15th century. Since opening in May 2001 within the (at that time) newly redeveloped Hampden Park stadium, the Scottish Football Museum has existed to promote the country’s long football heritage, and build and maintain a national football collection to inspire future generations.
Since the 1940s, The People's Palace has taught visitors about the social history of the city – from its 19th-century slums to its hosting of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, at which time the ornate red sandstone museum and glasshouse sat proudly in the centre of the public hub on Glasgow Green. Through a wealth of historic artefacts, paintings, prints and photographs, film and interactive computer displays, it’s possible to discern much about how Glaswegians lived, worked and played in days gone by. The museum gives a glimpse into lives spent in ‘single end’ one-room tenement homes and nights out at ‘The Dancing’ in the famous Barrowland Ballroom (not much has changed in that respect).
Going back to school is something that would fill many of us with horror – but don’t let the thought of playgrounds past put you off Scotland Street School Museum. This space is both a fine example of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s architecture, and a fascinating museum, giving insights into the education system in Scotland from the late 19th to the late 20th century (clue: it wasn’t always especially forgiving). Since opening as a museum, it has become a must-visit for Mackintosh fans, and those interested in a taste of living social history.
Faith is the story of Glasgow in many ways. How appropriate, then, that the city should be home to one of the only public museums in the world devoted solely to the subject of religion. Three permanent galleries host a vast array of ancient artefacts and artworks. You can learn about the main religions of the west of Scotland (Catholicism and Protestantism, that is, not football), visit a Zen garden (the first in Britain), admire a sculpture showing Islamic calligraphy, or marvel at a magnificent bronze carving of the Hindu god Shiva Nataraj (Lord of the Dance).
Since opening in 1996, House for an Art Lover – as the German competition’s title Haus eines Kunstfreundes translates – has been much-loved, both as a visitor attraction and as a venue for exhibitions and events, both public and private. There’s much to enjoy, too. Take a stroll around the walled garden, where you can admire the house’s remarkable exterior with its beautifully irregular features that blend both old and modern ideas and masculine and feminine forms. Or explore inside, where you’ll find ornate bedrooms and music rooms, grand halls, and sweeping staircases.
This four-room house was, for the first half of the 20th century, the residence of ‘independent lady’ Agnes Toward, and has been faithfully restored to look just as it would have in her time. Much of the home and its contents remain exactly as they were left by the Towards, featuring marble sinks and coal-fired stoves, blackened bars of soap and jars of jam, with the addition of period features, such as authentic gas lighting, to recreate the dark atmosphere of the home before it had electricity installed in the 1960s.
A futuristic, architectural flourish on the south bank of the river, this attraction comprises three buildings: the science mall, the Cineworld IMAX cinema and the Glasgow Tower. In the mall, there are educational exhibits that aim to inspire visitors – great for children – while the cinema shows short, science-related movies. The tower is an impressive 127 metres and can rotate 360°, giving great views of Glasgow, but has been plagued by problems since opening in 2001. Currently it functions in summer only – as long as it's not too windy.
Built in 1752, Pollok House has been a visitor attraction since the 1960s, when, along with the estate itself, the grand country mansion was donated to the City of Glasgow by its last heir Dame Anne Maxwell. The house is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, which cutely describes it as ‘Scotland’s answer to Downton Abbey’, because of the flavour of privileged 1930s living found in its many lavish spaces. Living rooms, bedrooms, a billiard room, a library for 7,000 books – there are plenty of rooms to explore, and each is packed with period furniture and furnishings.
Let's be honest about this. Seeing a small part of fossilised forest, said to be around 330 million years old, will either thrill you giddy or leave you scratching your head as to why someone wants to look at tree-shaped bits of rock. If the latter, don't go. If the former then head for Victoria Park in the west of the city and this Site of Special Scientific Interest. The petrified stumps were discovered in 1887 when the park was being landscaped from the remains of an old quarry; the museum building was constructed around the fossils. Weirdly atmospheric, being here almost feels like walking on to the set of some dystopian sci-fi movie. For non-palaeontologists, the venue has displays to help visitors understand what they're looking at.
Not only acclaimed as perhaps the finest house designed by celebrated Victorian architect Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, Holmwood also has a beautiful interior, a charming kitchen garden and some grounds to explore. Some say it's Thomson's domestic masterpiece. It was built for local businessman James Couper, completed in 1858, but changed hands several times over the next century and more, some later owners actually covering over the original and rather fantastic decorative features. The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) acquired the property in 1994 and commissioned some very careful restoration work to create what visitors see today.
Part of the Hunterian Art Gallery within the University of Glasgow precincts in the West End, the Mackintosh House has a recreation of the main interiors from Charles Rennie and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh's actual house which once stood nearby in Southpark Avenue. It looks as close to the original as possible in terms of decorations, fixtures and furniture while on the outside it looks like a late 19th century end terrace house with Art Deco elements trying to burst out of a concrete motorway pillar, shored up with an embankment of setts. Whether you find the historically and aesthetically important interior to be the primary attraction here, or the brutalist dream state exterior, there's a great deal to engage the visitor.
This house dates to 1471 so can legitimately be described as late medieval, albeit very late medieval. It's the oldest surviving building of its kind in the city centre, a Grade A listed monument and gives some insight into what the area was like when James III was on the throne, before mercantilism and industry rolled over the top of a formerly pleasant stretch of Scottish countryside. Originally part of a complex commissioned by the Bishop of Glasgow that included St Nicholas's Hospital and Chapel, it's the only portion left standing and now serves as a museum.