London and Edinburgh might lead as the United Kingdom’s most popular cities for tourists, but Glasgow, as the biggest city in Scotland and third largest in the UK, offers a contemporary vibe and vibrant culture that will leave you wondering why it isn’t featured higher on the must-visit list.
Scotland is as popular a destination as ever, and while visiting the UK may have gotten cheaper for international visitors, thanks to a drop in the pound, it can still be on the expensive side of European travel. Luckily, adding a visit to Glasgow into your Scotland itinerary doesn’t have to put a huge dent in your budget!
After a recent visit, I was hugely impressed by all the free things to do in Glasgow, so there’s no real excuse not to step away from the delights of Edinburgh and experience the diversity of another Scottish city before you head to the highlands, or on your way back.
21 Free Things to Do in Glasgow
1. Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum
As far as museums go, this has to be one of the best, and easily the first thing I thought of for a list of free things to do in Glasgow. It’s been welcoming guests since 1901, and is something you shouldn’t miss! Kelvingrove is arguably the best museum in Scotland, housing huge displays of art, natural history exhibits, and historical archaeological objects from around the world and right here in Scotland. It’s a space that showcases the history of real people.
The building itself is a masterpiece, built in a mixture of styles but most closely resembling Spanish Baroque. There’s an abounding rumour that it was built the wrong way around, due to the back of the building facing the main street where most people enter, but it was built to face Kelvingrove Park. You could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon here and still feel like there’s more to explore!
2. Kelvingrove Park
While you’re in the area, you might as well visit Kelvingrove Park as well. Glasgow is actually located on two rivers, the River Clyde and the River Kelvin, which runs through here. Kelvingrove Park is an example of a classical designed Victorian Park, with plenty of riverside trails and grassy areas. Its location close to the University of Glasgow makes it popular with students and on sunny days they’ll be out in abundance.
3. Explore the West End
The West End of Glasgow offers a myriad of cultural institutions like the Kelvingrove and University of Glasgow, but its also a spot to browse vintage and antique shops, and find plenty of great eateries and bars. Make sure you wander through here to really get a feel for the hip side of Glasgow!
Hidden behind Argyle Street you’ll also find the aptly named, Hidden Lane. It contains over 100 studios used by designers, craftspeople, musicians, writers, and just about everyone else you can think of in the creative industries, all with amazing stories. The colourful houses and cobbled lane are certainly not what you would expect find here!
4. The University of Glasgow & the Hunterian Museum
The University of Glasgow itself is worth a wander around if you’ve ever wondered what it might feel like to study somewhere that looks a bit like it came from the pages of a Harry Potter novel. Within the grounds, you’ll also find the Hunterian Museum, which is Scotland’s oldest public museum. It includes a huge collection of items from fossils and ancient artifacts, to an anatomy museum (maybe not for the faint of heart), and an art gallery with a large Mackintosh Collection, a Glaswegian architect, and artist.
5. The Lighthouse
In the centre of Glasgow, down a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alleyway off Buchanan Street is the Lighthouse. If like me, you have never heard of him before, then this is the perfect place to learn a bit more about Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and his legacy in Glasgow. Not to be confused with the OTHER Charles Macintosh of Glasgow, who invented the waterproof coat, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was an architect and artist who was influential in European design. He developed a distinctive style that merged Japanese influences and traditional Scottish architecture and stretched so far as to what sort of cutlery would be used within the building he was designing. The furniture he designed was very unique, and now easily identifiable. Later in life, he focused mostly on watercolour painting.
The Lighthouse is a great starting point for learning more about Mackintosh and his contribution to the streets of Glasgow. You can also climb the tower that was Mackintosh’s first public commission as an architect, to see Glasgow from another angle. All for free!
6. The Glasgow School of Art
The Glasgow School of Art was once Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s school, and he went on to win an architectural competition to design a new Glasgow School of Art building. It took over ten years for the design to come to full fruition, but it has long been considered Mackintosh’s masterpiece. Tragically a fire in 2014 damaged the west wing, but restoration work is taking place. You can still visit of course, just not this part of the building.
7. Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA)
GoMa is Scotland’s most visited art gallery, housed in a grand building, complete classical columns, in the centre of Glasgow. It was originally built as a “townhouse” and has also masqueraded as a bank and a library. In 1996 it was opened as Glasgow’s premier centre for contemporary art. The exhibits are constantly changing and there are always events and activities happening for all ages.
Don’t forget to pause outside and admire the statue of the Duke of Wellington, almost permanently crowned with a traffic cone since the mid-1980s, thanks to local pranksters who never allow it to be removed for long.
8. Riverside Museum of Transport & Travel
If you really want to dig deeper into what makes Glasgow tick, then the Riverside Museum of Transport & Travel provides a step back in time to the foundations of the city, what it used to be like and how the people lived. In 2013 it won the European Museum of the Year award, and it’s large collection of everything transport related continues to be a source of fascination for all different types of visitors.
9. The Tall Ship
Out the back of the Riverside Museum is the Glenlee, now known as the Tall Ship, which is a restored Victorian sailing ship. It’s one of only 5 ships of this type still afloat today, and you can board it to find out more about the maritime history of the area. There’s also an under 5’s play area in the hull of the ship so it’s a great stop for families looking for family-orientated free things to do in Glasgow.
10. Enjoy Live Music
Stepping away from the museum side of things now, because Glasgow isn’t just an art and cultural centre because of them! In 2008 Glasgow was named a UNESCO City of Music, the first in the UK, ahead of Liverpool even. Reasons for this include the wide variety of music venues across the city that house over 130 live music sessions a week, the city being the home of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish Opera, the number of independent music labels that have sprung up here, the Conservatoire (a performing arts school) and the soon to be 25 year old Celtic Connections Festival, which features local artists and those from around the globe.
You might wonder how this can make the list of free things to do in Glasgow, but much of the live music sessions in the city have free entry. As someone who lives in Edinburgh, I’ve been forever told that Glasgow is a better night out, and this is probably why! Pop along to any number of bars that offer all sorts of genres of music for free entry (although you might want to buy a pint!).
Should you be willing to spend a little money, check out what’s coming up on the gig schedule for the city or take a Glasgow Music City Tour to learn more.
Ross Cooper & Tom Oakes
11. The Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens are within walking distance of the city, and offer a welcome green escape, particularly on a summery day. In 1873 the glass-domed Kibble Palace was built, and it’s free to enter to see the exotic plant life within. There’s also the Main Range glasshouse, and a step inside these on a dull or drisly day will have you feeling like you’ve been transported to some other tropical location.
12. Glasgow Cathedral
St Mungo is the patron saint of Glasgow, and the Glasgow Cathedral is also called St Mungo’s Cathedral or the High Kirk of Glasgow. It’s considered to be the birthplace of Glasgow, built on the site where St Mungo is said to be buried. It’s the only medieval cathedral to survive the reformation in 1560.
Visiting a graveyard can seen like a rather macabre thing to do on holiday, but in thinking about it it’s something I’ve done quite a lot! Pere Lachaise in Paris, Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh (famous for it’s Harry Potter connections), it’s not as unusual as you might think. The Glasgow Necropolis was the Victorian cemetery of Glasgow, located just by the cathedral. There are many elaborate tombstones and crypts here, and all details of those buried are held at the Mitchell Library.
14. Glasgow Street Art
The art in Glasgow isn’t just contained within its many museums and galleries, you can also find a grittier version on the streets. As part of the regeneration of the city centre, a huge mural trail was made. Now you can see small and large pieces of artwork all across the city. You’ll probably spot many of them as you walk around anyway, but if you want to take the time to learn more then you can download a free map here.
15. People’s Palace & Winter Gardens
In the Glasgow Green next to the River Clyde is the People’s Palace and the Winter Gardens. The People’s Palace tells the historic story of the people of Glasgow from the 1700s to the late 20th century through photographs, film, and a collection of objects and artifacts. The Winter Gardens is another glasshouse, but complete with a cafe.
16. Finneston Crane & the River Clyde
The banks of the river Clyde were once a bustling port area, where goods from around the world changed hands. Glasgow wouldn’t be what it is without the river, and a walk alongside the riverside will take you past many Glasgow landmarks. There’s the Clyde Arc (called Squinty Bridge by the locals), the Glasgow Science Centre (known as the Armadillo), and the Hydro, the biggest venue in Glasgow.
The Finneston Crane is also an enduring symbol of Glasgow and it’s industrial past. It was completed in 1931 and is now one of only 11 such cranes left in the world.
17. Pollok Country Park
Pollok County Park offers another great free thing to do in Glasgow for those looking to get out of the urban city centre. There are over 146 hectares of walks, a walled garden, woodlands, and a play park. You can also catch a glimpse of some Highland Coo’s and close up if you’re lucky!
If you want to splash a little cash then Pollok House, a country house and the birthplace of the National Trust, holds an impressive collection of artwork within its antique furnished rooms. They also have an Escape Room below stairs for those looking for something even more different!
18. Walk down the Style Mile
When it comes to shopping, Glasgow definitely takes the cake in Scotland. Argyle Street, Buchanan Street, and Sauchiehall Street have been crowned the “Style Mile”, with a multitude of boutique and big brand shops. While shopping isn’t free of course, this area is also worth a walk around thanks to the number of buskers performing everything from live music to dance and other spectacles, and close to Christmas time the lights are beautiful!
19. Browse the Markets
Glasgow has several markets, and taking a wander through them will give you another insight into the city. The Barras Market, named for the wheelbarrows traders used to sell their goods in, and located next to the Barrowland Music venue, is a longstanding Glasgow institution that has a street and indoor market on the weekend. There’s everything from handcrafts to fruit and vegetables sold here.
Newer markets to Glasgow include Sloans Market also held every weekend and the Urban Market at Drygate. Also, check out Merchant City, not strictly a market, it’s the old merchant’s warehouses that have been transformed into great places to eat and boutique shops.
20. Glasgow City Chambers Tour
Glasgow City Chambers overlooks George Square and is one of the grandest buildings in Glasgow. It holds an enormous marble staircase and mosaic ceilings. They offer a free tour twice a day from Monday – Friday.
21. Victoria Park & Fossil Grove
Did you know that Glasgow likely comes from the Gaelic word for “green hollow”? It’s no wonder Glasgow has over 90 parks and green spaces then! Victoria Park is another such space, but it also holds the Fossil Grove. Discovered in 1887, it is likely Glasgow’s oldest visitor attraction. The Fossil Grove contains fossilised tree stumps of now-extinct trees, that would have existed at the time when Scotland was situated in a much warmer locale.
And that’s the list of 21 free things to do in Glasgow! It should definitely keep you going for awhile…
If you liked it, pin it!