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The best things to do in Glasgow

Exploring Glasgow’s parks

Days out Glasgow

Explore the beautiful and historical Pollok House

Once the ‘Second City of the Empire’ and Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow’s Clyde Valley setting makes it is the perfect place to give visitors the best of both city and country. With a population of over 600,000 it offers an abundance of metropolitan attractions such as museums, theatres and historical buildings alongside easily-accessible beauty of rolling countryside and coastal havens less than an hour from the city centre. There are plenty of lush oases at the heart of Glasgow, too.

Known as ‘The Dear Green Place’, Glasgow has over 70 beautiful parks, offering secluded tranquility in amongst the city streets with acres of plants, wildlife and a range of attractions. Top of the list has to be Rouken Glen Park in the city’s southside suburbs. Voted the UK’s Best Park 2016, it is certainly the perfect place for a walk with its picturesque boating pond, woodland pathways and waterfall. And after all the exertion, and the weather rules out a picnic, tea and cake can be enjoyed at the The Boathouse Café. Historic Glasgow Green, with the People’s Palace and the magnificent Doulton Fountain, is also well worth a visit or take a trip east to Tollcross Park and enjoy the superb rose collection there. Tollcross also offers an excellent sports, leisure and swimming centre.

Kelvingrove Park, by the River Kelvin, is the setting for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and the University of Glasgow. Founded in the 13th century, the University moved to its current site in 1870, and is a marvellous Gothic warren of quadrangles and spires. With tours from the visitor centre, plus the Hunterian, Scotland’s oldest museum, which includes scientific and medical exhibits, plus the famous – and largest – Whistler Collection, and the Mackintosh House, replicating Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s own home, it’s well worth the trip to Gilmorehill.

Still in the West End, the Botanic Gardens on Great Western Road are internationally-renowned for their extensive collections of tropical plants and impressive glasshouses – including the spectacular Kibble Palace. Minds grow as well as plants at the Botanics, with children’s art classes, horticultural talks and many exhibitions, concerts, open air dramas and guided history trails available. Moving south, Bellahouston Park, scene of the 1938 Empire Exhibition, has a fine walled garden – a pretty backdrop to the Mackintosh-designed House for an Art Lover. Sports lovers will also enjoy Bellahouston’s bowling greens, pitch and putt course, leisure centre and pool and nearby Ski Centre.

Pollok Country Park – Glasgow’s largest park – covers 146 hectares of the old Pollok Estate. Home to Glasgow’s prize-winning herd of Highland cattle, heavy horses, woodland walks and a wildlife garden, plus the elegant National Trust for Scotland-run Pollok House, a mountain bike circuit, it’s a fantastic place to spend a day, and is only a short train ride from Glasgow Central to Pollokshaws East. While the world famous Burrell Collection situated in the park is currently closed for refurbishment until 2020, fans of hit US show Outlander might be interested to know that many scenes were shot here, with the park standing in for the Highlands and Pollok House becoming the Highland residency of Lord Sandringham.

Known as ‘The Dear Green Place’, Glasgow has over 70 beautiful parks, offering secluded tranquility in amongst the city streets with acres of plants, wildlife and a range of attractions

Historical hotspots

Days out Glasgow

You can’t miss Glasgow Cathedral, located right in the city centre

Queen’s Park is a little gem with a lot of history. Set on the slopes where the Battle of Langside was fought, it is named after Mary, Queen of Scots. On a clear day, you can see Ben Lomond from the lofty site of the park’s flagpole, and there are the remains of ancient settlements nearby. Children love to visit the Victorian glasshouses, with the collection of creepy-crawlies, or take a walk round the boating pond before stopping at the playgrounds. Bowling, tennis and a cafe offer plenty for adults, plus there’s a municipal golf course at nearby Linn Park, home to the beautiful Alexander “Greek” Thomson-designed Holmwood House. This villa was built around 1857 and inside visitors can see restoration work on the rich, neoclassical decoration.

Next to Linn Park sits the little known Cathcart Hill where, at a spot known as Court Knowe, Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have watched her troops falter at the aforementioned battle. Named for another queen, Victoria Park in Scotstoun is a plant lover’s paradise. It boasts a lavish array of formal flower displays, rock gardens and hollies – not to mention the amazing prehistoric Fossil Grove. There is also a large leisure centre at Scotstoun, where you can swim, work out or enjoy a game of badminton.

Planted firmly at the historic centre of the city is Glasgow Cathedral, one of the few Scottish medieval churches to have survived the Reformation. Traces of the original church established by St Mungo, the city’s patron saint, still form part of the Blacader Aisle. The cathedral is a truly magnificent building, and holds frequent concerts and recitals as well as regular services. Glasgow has two other lovely cathedrals – the refurbished Roman Catholic St. Andrew’s in Dunlop Street, with its outstanding painting of St John Ogilvie’s martyrdom, created by Glasgow boy Peter Howson, and the Episcopal St Mary’s Cathedral in Great Western Road.

As a long-established multi-cultural city, Glasgow also boasts several temples and synagogues, including the first purpose-built synagogue in Scotland at Garnethill, two magnificent gurdwaras, one in Pollokshields which opened in 2013 and the New Central Gudwara Singh Saba in the West End which cost £8.5 million and opened in 2016 on the site of the original Glasgow gudwara, and the country’s biggest mosque – the Central Mosque in Gorbals. Pre-arranged guided tours of the Gurdwaras are available. Adjacent to Glasgow Cathedral is the Necropolis, a fascinating Victorian garden cemetery which offers a fine vantage point for city views. Plus, you can often spot deer amongst these monuments to some of Glasgow’s most revered citizens of times gone by.

A tour not to be missed is the free, hour-long insight into Glasgow City Chambers. Available most weekdays at 10.30am and 2.30pm, this peek behind the scenes of the city’s town hall takes in the magnificent Banqueting Hall, with its ornate golden ceiling and murals depicting Glasgow’s history, and unravels the mystery of the bell that never rang and the fish that never swam – all part of the city’s legendary coat of arms. Unfortunately Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s legendary Glasgow School of Art, just off Sauchiehall Street, suffered a second massive fire in summer 2018 and is unlikely to be open to the public again anytime soon, while the Reid Building, designed by world-famous American architect Steven Holl and opened in 2014, and Window on Mackintosh Visitor Centre have re-opened.

Next to Linn Park sits the little known Cathcart Hill where, at a spot known as Court Knowe, Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have watched her troops falter at the aforementioned battle

Tunnels and museums

Days Out Glasgow

The UK’s very first police force was created in Glasgow!

Nearby, call in at the National Trust for Scotland-run Tenement House in Buccleuch Street, open from March to October in the afternoons. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, most Glasgow folk lived in tenements, and this wonderfully-preserved first floor flat has survived virtually unchanged for over a century, providing visitors with a uniquely-detailed insight into everyday life in Glasgow at that time. Another unusual insight into Glasgow life can be found at Glasgow Central Station. Walking the subterranean tunnels beneath the iconic train station, visitors will hear fascinating stories of famous and infamous travellers who have graced this A-Listed building since it opened in 1879. Tickets must be booked in advance.

Not many people know that the UK’s very first police force was formed in Glasgow. Exploring the history of policing from 1779 to the present day, the fascinating Glasgow Police Museum at 30 Bell Street has Europe’s largest display of international police uniforms and insignias from around the world. Two other little gems are the weirdly wonderful moving statues at Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery in nearby Trongate, and the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall just down the road. The Panopticon is the world’s oldest surviving music hall, seeing performances from such greats as Dan Leno, Harry Lauder and the debut of Stan Laurel. Lost to the city for generations, the music hall has only recently reawakened, and aside from shows and events is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday between noon and 5pm.

There is also the Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust, based at the city’s Bridgeton Bus Garage, which offers a chance to delve into motoring history with a fantastic collection of old buses, coaches and trucks. Check out their website for open days. Water plays a significant part in the life of any city, and Glasgow is no exception. Travel along the burgeoning waterfront of the River Clyde, past the vast Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) and the now instantly-recognisable SSE Hydro music venue which opened in 2013, and climb on board the Tall Ship ‘Glenlee’. Built in 1896, this sleek barque will take you back in time to discover what life was really like on the high seas.

Glenlee is now a centrepiece of the hugely popular Riverside Museum, a stunning museum of transport that’s sure to become an iconic part of Glasgow’s cityscape. Free to enter, Riverside is easy to access by bus, bike, car or train – or in the summer take the free Govan Ferry from Govan’s Water Row. The historic burgh of Govan on the southside of the river can also be reached via a footbridge near the SECC. Once there, visit Govan Old Parish Church to see the ancient hog-backed burial stones, then journey from the past to the future by calling in at the Science Centre and Planetarium. A futuristic silver pod filled with interactive exhibits, labs and science shows, a stunning planetarium and Glasgow’s tallest tower, this place puts the ‘wow’ into science.

Not many people know that the UK’s very first police force was formed in Glasgow

Studio and walking tours

Days Out Glasgow

The Glasgow Science Centre makes a great day out

The Clyde’s south bank is also home to broadcasters STV and the BBC – both of whom offer studio tours by appointment. You can take in most of Glasgow’s sights on an open-topped City Sightseeing bus tour, departing regularly from George Square seven-days-a-week with audio commentary by BBC historian Neil Oliver. Glasgow taxis – or ‘Black Hacks’ as they’re affectionately known – offer smaller, tailored tours. Or why not bike it? With a 300km network of cycle paths, including canal-sides and open parkland, Glasgow is a great place to ride. Another great way to get about is on Glasgow’s beloved ‘Clockwork Orange.’ One of the world’s oldest undergrounds, this cheery subway system links many of the major tourist attractions, and – best of all – runs in a circle, so you can never get lost!

There are also many city walking tours, including the intriguing Women’s Heritage Walks devised by Glasgow Women’s Library where the often-hidden history of the city’s women is revealed. For instance, did you know that St Enoch (familiar to many as a huge shopping mall!) was the mother of Glasgow’s patron St Mungo? Glasgow is, of course, a river city, so it’s good to see it from a watery angle. Clyde Cruises provide river cruises and a seasonal water shuttle between Glasgow and intu Braehead, where you can take part in a vast range of activities at Soar, such as Paradise Island Adventure Golf’s 18-hole indoor course or have a ‘shot’ on the UK’s tallest indoor slide at the Climbing Zone, plus shops, restaurants and cinema.

There’s also a ferry operating between Yoker and Renfrew – a river crossing point for over 500 years. Enjoy a longer trip ‘doon the watter’ courtesy of Glasgow’s old lady of the sea, the SS Waverley. Sailing from the Glasgow Science Centre, the beautifully-restored Waverley is the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world. Offering cruises on the River Clyde and the scenic West Coast, the steamer’s onboard facilities include an observation lounge, refreshments and a souvenir shop – plus you can visit the engine room to see how it all works. A little further downstream is the Titan Crane at Clydebank, which gives visitors the opportunity to see the Clyde from 150 feet up.

The iconic 100-year-old crane, based in the former John Brown’s shipyard, is open from May to September each year. We’re also fitba crazy in Glasgow, and you can enjoy tours at Ibrox Stadium, Celtic Park and the national stadium at Hampden, which also houses the Scottish Football Museum which is open seven days a week unless an event is being held. A calendar of events is available online. If you enjoy taking part in sport as much as watching it, Glasgow Climbing Centre in Paisley Road West (near to Ibrox Stadium) is a converted church where you can scale the heights of a 40 foot climbing wall with all the latest safety gear, and instruction if required. And, if you can’t make it to Scotland’s ski slopes, the aforementioned Soar’s Snow Factor at intu Braehead is the ultimate family destination with real snow, skiing and snowboarding – as well as the Baltic Ice Bar for grown ups.

There are also many city walking tours, including the intriguing Women’s Heritage Walks devised by Glasgow Women’s Library where the often-hidden history of the city’s women is revealed

The great outdoors

Days Out Glasgow

Learn all about Scotland’s industrial heritage at the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Rural Life

However, if you love the great outdoors and care to travel a little further, there are boundless leisure and pleasure pursuits on Glasgow’s doorstep. You’ll find plenty to do at the Museum of Rural Life, just outside East Kilbride, including a 1950s working farm with dairy cows, sheep and pigs, and an award-winning museum telling the story of the Scottish countryside. And the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, featuring tram rides, old machinery and a ‘mining life’ experience, is only a 20-minute drive from the city centre in Coatbridge. Beautiful Loch Lomond is less than an hour’s drive from Glasgow, providing a true taste of Scotland’s breathtaking scenery, with mountains, glens and the vast expanse of the UK’s largest freshwater loch offering everything from water skiing to Munro bagging – not to mention cruises on the wonderful Maid of the Loch, moored at Balloch.

If you are headed in this direction the Scottish Wool Centre at Aberfoyle has daily live animal shows. Alternatively, take a train from the city centre to the coastal resorts of Ayr, Troon or Largs. From Largs, you can hop on the short ferry ride to Millport, hire one of the many bikes available and enjoy a cycle round this virtually traffic-free spot. The dramatic cliff top Culzean Castle, situated in a country park, designed by Robert Adam and famously visited by President Eisenhower, is only an hour’s drive down the coast from Glasgow, too, and while in Ayrshire Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway is also well worth a visit. Just 10 miles away from the city centre is the UK’s largest onshore wind farm with 130 kilometres of trails and a visitor centre open March to October – Whitelee Wind Farm – on Eaglesham Moors.

Conservation village Eaglesham itself, with its 18th- and 19th-century cottages lining the beautiful woodland space known locally as “The Orry”, and which includes the charming Wishing Well Tearoom, is also worth a visit. Other areas of specific scenic beauty include the Clyde Muirshiel area and the Campsie Fells. Both the Roman Antonine Wall and the Forth and Clyde Canal are National Monuments. While in the Forth Valley, only 25 minutes by car from Glasgow’s city centre, the Kelpies are a must. These gob-smacking 30-metre high horse head statues, open to the public since spring 2014, never fail to impress.

There’s also a World Heritage site at New Lanark, a utopian 18th-century mill village by the Falls of Clyde. And you don’t need to venture far to sample our national tipple – Auchentoshan and Glengoyne distilleries are both around half an hour from Glasgow, offering tours and whisky tastings. As Scotland is also the home of golf, we can boast over 20 excellent golf courses in the Clyde Valley, as well as a network of major waterways, cycleways and footpath routes. The Clyde coast, with its excellent sailing waters and verdant scenery, is only an hour away by road or rail, and a few hours more will see you at the top of the Cairngorm Mountains, poised to try out some testing climbs and skiing facilities. Of course, this is just a flavour of what you can do around Glasgow. Hopefully, with all the city has to offer, you’ll be returning soon!

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Your guide to arts and culture in Glasgow

Image credits: ©Andy Buchanan Photography/Glasgow Science Centre; Glasgow Museums; Glasgow Police Museum; National Trust for Scotland;; Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, North Lanarkshire

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