It always surprises me that more people haven’t visited Glasgow. I’ve been coming here all my life—my grandmother was born and raised here—and the city has always been one of my favorite travel destinations. Now that I’m back I want to explore more of the highlights and convince you to visit, too.
I’m here on a sponsored trip with People Make Glasgow, and they’ve put together an itinerary that covers everything from the big attractions to the under-the-radar highlights. In 3 days, I’m going to see, eat, and experience my way through this amazing place.
Starting with the main events. I leave The Grand Central Hotel and begin in George Square, where the Glasgow City Chambers building dominates the scene. I’ve always admired it from the outside, but this time I’ve discovered a reason to venture in. The building’s stunning marble staircase is a sight to behold and has doubled as everything from the Vatican to the Kremlin in movies.
Nearby, The Lighthouse was designed by Glaswegian Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the most celebrated architects and designers of the 20th century.
Formerly called The Herald Building, the space is now home to Scotland’s national center for design and architecture. In addition to exhibits on Mackintosh and others, it has viewing platforms with great panoramas of Glasgow.
But not all of Glasgow’s best views are from up high. I take a City Sightseeing Tour on a double-decker bus and am treated to good views of everything from Glasgow Cathedral to the Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum as I go.
And speaking of the cathedral, I spend time exploring it and the adjacent Glasgow Necropolis while I’m in town. The views from the latter are spectacular, and I love walking through the rows of over-the-top tombstones commemorating Glasgow’s wealthy 19th century merchants.
But some of my favorite views of Glasgow are in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in the West End. This place is not only home to a world-class collection of art and objects, but also gorgeous interior architecture.
I explore rooms full of paintings by the Glasgow Boys, furniture by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and halls with Spitfire airplanes suspended from the ceilings. It’s a treasure trove that spans genres and centuries.
Later I take an audio tour of House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park in the Southside. It was designed by Mackintosh in 1901 but not built until the late 20th century when a group of artists and engineers executed his plans.
House for an Art Lover features contrasting light and dark interiors and intricate details that the architect and his wife were famous for. I take in the heavenly bright rooms and stay for lunch at the cafe, where the bruschetta displays the same attention to detail in both looks and taste.
Glasgow Spirits and Spas
Speaking of taste, my next port of call is the new Clydeside Distillery. Located in the old Pump House at the Queen’s Dock, this whisky distillery is bringing single malt back to Glasgow after a long absence. A tour and tasting educate me about Glasgow’s history and get me in the Scottish spirit.
And speaking of spirits, the new Gin Spa is next on my itinerary. I head over to the pint-size space for a 60-minute massage with gin botanicals. It relieves the tension in my shoulders and comes with a post-treatment gin and tonic of my choosing. Relaxed in body and mind, I’m ready for more Glasgow.
Glasgow Women’s Library
Relaxed is a good state of being, because the next place on my list is a library. Glasgow Women’s Library is the only accredited museum in the UK dedicated to women’s lives, histories, and achievements. Set in a historic building, it not only houses books, but also serves as an event and exhibition space.
On top of that, Glasgow Women’s Library offers heritage walks, cycling tours, creative writing workshops, and other opportunities to learn. I only have a short visit, but it’s enough time for the place and staff to imbue me with their energy.
Glasgow Shopping and Markets
Which I need, because my next stop is Buchanan Street, home to some of the city’s best shopping. Glasgow is the UK’s largest retail hub outside London’s West End, and places like Princes Square are good for browsing and buying.
But it’s not the only place to shop. Away from the high street, Glasgow has a wealth of independent markets and boutiques. One day I visit the Glasgow Vintage and Flea Market at Barras Art & Design in the East End. This place is vast and eclectic, with music playing from old radios and rooms full of everything from antique tricycles to rotary phones.
One of the highlights is the Braw Wee Emporium, where owner Jennifer McGlone stocks new items from local Scottish makers. Offering everything from music to clothing and gifts, it’s a great place to support local designers and pick up something authentically Glaswegian.
I get a chance to meet some of the designers the following day when I visit The Hidden Lane. A community of artists, musicians, and creators, it’s set in a jumble of brightly colored buildings tucked away off Argyle Street in the West End’s hip Finnieston.
The Hidden Lane is made up of 100 studios that are part work space, part shopping complex, and part educational facility—some studios offer jewelry making and sewing classes.
I get a tour from Libby Walker, one of the artists. She shows me her studio and shop, which is filled with her illustrations of Glasgow. She also takes me to meet Mhairi Mackenzie at Bonnie Bling, where acrylic jewelry and accessories fill the studio. Rounding out the tour is a visit to Scott at Vanilla Ink, where his students and apprentices are busy learning the craft of jewelry design.
Restaurants in Glasgow
I could stay all day to shop and learn, but hunger calls. I grab lunch at the Hidden Lane Tearooms, a sweet cafe tucked in a corner near the studios. Later that evening, I come back to Finnieston for dinner at Ox and Finch. They do unspeakably delicious things to mozzarella, and the veggie haggis goes down a treat.
Elsewhere I enjoy classic Glasgow restaurants like Cafe Gandolfi. Its wooded interior is out of a fairy tale—the back of my chair is twice my height—and the mung bean tarka daal reminds me why this place has been pleasing palates for years.
Not far from here, I have dinner at Anchor Line. Its nautical theme is a reference to Glasgow’s past as a shipbuilding hub, and I love looking at all the vintage travel posters and cruise paraphernalia as I tuck into a big pot of steamed mussels.
As I do, I’m reminded of my grandmother. She emigrated to Chicago on board a ship like the ones on the walls. The city has changed immensely since she left, and each time I visit I further appreciate the layers of history and cutting-edge creativity that have brought Glasgow from the shipbuilding days into the present. There’s so much to discover here that I see a completely different side of the city on every visit. If you haven’t been yet, you should start discovering it for yourself.
This is a paid partnership with People Make Glasgow.