Visiting Scotland can burn quite a hole into your wallet – even if the British Pound is at a historical low point at the moment. Still, eating out is more expensive and so is beer, hotel rates can be really high, especially during the summer and holiday season, and whether you buy train tickets or rent a car you won’t always get away with a super cheap deal. And then you have all the admission fees for castles and whisky distilleries. The good news is that you can easily save some pennies, especially when you visit the less touristy city of Glasgow! Here are my top 10 fun and free things to do in Glasgow.
And the best thing? Seven of these 10 double up as awesome activities for rainy days!
1) Explore the Botanical Garden
When I first moved to Glasgow I lived in the northwest of the West End. Every day I would walk to uni through the Botanical Garden, and often stop by the glasshouses for a break from the cold. It is still one of my favourite places in town, and a must see when you visit Glasgow as well!
The Botanical Garden lies just a 10-minute walk away from the subway station Hillhead and is a good spot to visit even when it’s raining. One the one hand green is always more beautiful when it’s wet in the air; and on the other hand there are two large glasshouses which free to enter. The round and white Victorian glasshouse is one of the best spots to come for a picnic lunch, or just a relaxing break sitting on a bench. The plants are split up in geographical sections and if you want to learn more, take a look at the signposts in between them.
The second glasshouse is a bit bigger, and certainly more diverse. It lies a bit further up the hill. You enter at the top and make your way from one section to the next. Each room represents a different climate, from arid desert plants to a lush rain forest – which is no doubt my favourite.
2) Visit the Gallery of Modern Art
Like most museums in Glasgow the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) is free to enter any day of the week! You might know it better from the outside than the inside, as this is where the iconic Duke of Wellington statue resides – yes, the one with the traffic cone on its head. Only in Glasgow…
Anyway, the museum itself is great and always offers a variety of local and international artists, and some quirky items in the museum shop!
Top tip: If you’re hungry for sweeties, check out Patisserie Florentine on the right side of the square! For drinks head to Max’s Bar further down on Queen Street to the left and try an Espresso Martini.
3) Kelvingrove Park & Art Gallery
The green heart of the city’s West End is Kelvingrove Park, a huge Victorian park which is cut through by the River Kelvin and offers amazing views up towards the University’s bell tower. There is a really nice cafe by the playground in the far back corner of the park, as well as a big meadow where the locals come to sit in the sun during the summer, or sled downhill during the winter.
For an eclectic, yet impressive museum experience head to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery where you can see everything from dinosaur bones to a painting by Salvador Dali.
4) A Walk by the Riverside
On a sunny day – yes, even Glasgow does get some sun – there is nothing better than a walk along the Clyde’s Riverside. You could also rent a city bike and cycle all the way from Glasgow Green to the Harbour – the first 30 minutes of your ride are free if you have an annual subscription; otherwise it’s £1 for 30 minutes.
Walking along the river will bring you past the many beautiful bridges across the Clyde – they don’t say ‘Glasgow made the Clyde and the Clyde made Glasgow’ for nothing. One of them is the quirky Clyde Arc, or Squinty Bridge, in Finnieston which was opened in 2006. Close by is the Hydro, Glasgow’s major concert venue, the SECC Conference Centre, the Armadillo auditorium and the Glasgow Science Centre on the other side of the river.
End your walk with a visit to the Riverside Museum, a transport museum that was designed by the world-famous architect Zaha Hadid, and a tour around the Tall Ship museum. Both are free to enter!
It might sound a bit morbid to visit a cemetery during your holidays, but the Necropolis – Glasgow’s unique Victorian cemetery – is worth to go that one step further. Not only are some of the graves of such intrinsic detail and beauty, you also get a fantastic view over Glasgow Cathedral and the rest of the city!
6) Free tour of the City Chambers
I actually still haven’t done this tour – one more thing to put on my to do list for the next rainy day – but I’ve heard that the interior of Glasgow’s City Chambers falls nothing short of its magnificent exterior!
The tour is free of charge and takes place twice a day from Monday to Friday. No pre-bookings are required!
7) The Barras
Should you find yourself in Glasgow on a sunny Saturday, why not spend the day in the East End? The Barras is one of Glasgow’s few remaining markets and is most likely to experience the Glaswegian vibe in the most authentic way.
Read up on more ideas on how to spend a day in the East End of Glasgow, including more info about The Barras!
8) Pretend you’re
Harry Potter Hermione Granger at UofG
I might be biased, because I study here, but if you ask me, the University of Glasgow is the most beautiful out of all the universities in Glasgow – and there are quite a few. Where else can you pretend that you’re enrolled in Hogwarts and work on your PhD thesis in Muggle Studies with a focus on film festival culture?!
The university is a great photo spot – also with great views across to the Kelvingrove Museum – and there are two museums on site, should you fancy learning a bit more about the university’s collections (The Hunterian) or the designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (The Mackintosh House).
9) Do a self-guided street art tour
You can’t compare the street art in Glasgow to the likes of Berlin, London or New York, but there are several large-scale murals spread out across the city centre. Together they make up the Glasgow City Centre Mural Trail.
You can pick up a brochure at the Visit Scotland office in town, or download it here.
10) The Lighthouse
Before you get too excited – there is of course no real lighthouse in Glasgow. The Lighthouse is rather a design and architecture centre with many collections and exhibitions featuring more work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and a great little museum shop. From the third floor you can access the viewing tower, which sits high about the city centre – hence the name.
Note, that you have to climb quite a lot of stairs to reach the top, but the views are SO worth it!
What I love about Glasgow so much is that it is not a city designed for tourists, but rather for its locals. Hence, most of its attractions are public and you hardly ever run out of free things to do in Glasgow!
Are you curious what else awaits you in Glasgow?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.