A Weekend Trip to Glasgow | A Culture Filled City Break Guide for First-Timers
With tourists flocking to Edinburgh, underrated Glasgow is far less crowded than its rival and we won’t complain about it! Long considered the engine of the industrial revolution in the UK, Glasgow has reinvented itself as Scotland’s cultural hub. Free museums, landmark buildings, a thriving food scene make it a great destination for a weekend trip for those with an interest in culture and history.
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How to Get to Glasgow
Glasgow is the UK’s third biggest city and as such it is easily accessible by train. Glasgow also has an international airport with airlines regularly flying in from abroad and the rest of the country.
Take the Train
With two train stations conveniently located right in the city centre minutes away from hotels, restaurants and shops, travelling to Glasgow by train can’t be made easier.
If you are travelling from cities situated north of Glasgow, you’ll be arriving at Glasgow Queen Street station. The station opens up on George Square, one of Glasgow’s main squares dominated by the City Chambers’ grand building (more about it later).
Travelling from any location south of the city, you’ll likely be arriving at Glasgow Central station, the busiest train station in Scotland. You will need at least 4.5 hours to reach Glasgow from London, and 3.5 hours from Manchester. With a journey time around one hour from Edinburgh, Glasgow is a clear winner if you want to escape the crowds of the Scottish capital at the weekend.
As you leave Glasgow Central, don’t miss the old Booking Office dating from the 19th century. Its striking wooden, rounded facade contrasts sharply against the concourse’s modern glass ceiling.
Fly into Glasgow
You can fly directly to Glasgow from many European cities like Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Paris. Emirates flies from as far as Dubai. Low cost airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair fly all year long to Glasgow from London, Birmingham, Dublin or even Belfast turning Glasgow into an attractive destination for a weekend trip. Check Skyscanner for the best flight deals.
The Glasgow Airport Express service 500 is the shuttle bus that connects Glasgow airport to the city centre in just 15-20 minutes. The bus departs every 30 minutes 24/7 just outside the terminal. A single ticket costs £4.50 only. To save time, I usually buy mine online and show it to the driver when boarding the bus.
A VERY SHORT HISTORY OF GLASGOW
The story goes that Glasgow was founded in the 6th century by Saint Mungo, a Christian missionary who built a church where Glasgow Cathedral now stands. The rural settlement grew into a small town while it became a diocese with its own bishop.
Where to Stay During your Trip to Glasgow
The best option for a weekend trip to Glasgow would be to find accommodation in the city centre to stay close to everything the vibrant Scottish city has to offer. But like many European cities, centrally located hotels can be expensive. And like Dublin, Glasgow has a pub culture that could interfere with your sleep if your room overlooks a busy street. Believe me, I’ve been there…
I found a cheaper and quieter option on the immediate outskirts of Glasgow city centre with the Premier Inn Glasgow City Centre South Hotel. Premier Inn is not known for the memorable character of its hotels, I concede you that much. It is however a reputable brand with good quality standards. My double room was spotless and spacious, the bed very much comfortable.
Being located a good 20 minutes walk from Glasgow Central station, the Premier Inn hotel was significantly cheaper than similar accommodations in the city centre. The Merchant City and the East End were just 15 minutes away, making this hotel a good enough base to explore the city with restaurants nearby.
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What to Do During your Weekend Trip to Glasgow
Between free museums and architectural wonders, there is a lot to do and see during your city break in Glasgow. These are my top recommendations if you visit the Scottish city for the very first time.
Take a tour of the University of Glasgow
Founded in 1451, the University of Glasgow is one of Scotland’s four ancient universities. Transferred from High Street to the West End in 1870, the “new” 19th century campus was built in flamboyant Gothic revival style that would leave any visitors gobsmacked.
Guided tours were advertised on a big banner just outside the main building as I was approaching the University. I’m never against a good guided tour so I seized the opportunity. They were organised and led by trained students for a fee, once a day at 2pm. During a good hour, my guide led her group through the University grounds, pointing out lots of interesting architectural features and diving into the history of her glorious university.
UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW
Price: Free access to the grounds
Address: University Avenue, Glasgow
How to get there: I walked 30 minutes from Glasgow city centre heading west. Taking a stroll through Kelvingrove Park on the way made the journey more enjoyable.
Tip: Take advantage of the guided tour and the money goes towards supporting the students.
Walk the Alleys of Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis
Glasgow Cathedral also called St Mungo’s Cathedral lies at the heart of medieval Glasgow in the East End. Dating back to the 13th-15th century, the Cathedral is a great example of Scottish Gothic architecture. I was blown away by the height of its magnificent wooden ceiling.
On the hill opposite the Cathedral is Glasgow’s Victorian cemetery called Glasgow Necropolis. The cemetery was laid out as a park offering one of the best views over the city landscape. I took a stroll around this unusual cemetery and I promise you, it wasn’t as gloomy as the name wanted me to believe.
ST MUNGO’S CATHEDRAL & NECROPOLIS
Address: Castle Street, Glasgow
How to get there: It is a 15 minutes walk from the Merchant City to the East End. I accessed the Necropolis through Church Lane, a cobbled street at the back of St Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art.
Tip: Take a stroll down High Street till you reach Glasgow Cross. At its centre still stands the Tolbooth Steeple, the only surviving building of Glasgow’s 17th century town hall.
Lose Yourself in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Built in red sandstone so characteristic of Glasgow but in Spanish Baroque style, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is truly remarkable. The gallery opened for the very first time in 1901 and has since become one of Scotland’s most popular attractions.
Kelvingrove has something for everyone as you wander its 22 galleries. From Scottish archeology to French Art, from Ancient Egypt to Natural History, an impressive 8000 items are on display in this monumental building. And the best of it, it is free!
KELVINGROVE ART GALLERY & MUSEUM
Address: Argyle Street, Glasgow
How to get there: The museum is located 30 minutes on foot west of the city centre.
Tip: As you are already here, visit Kelvingrove Park and the University of Glasgow situated nearby if you don’t wish to come back later on to this part of the city.
Visit Glasgow City Chambers
Glasgow city hall, better known as City Chambers, offers free tours twice daily and shouldn’t be missed. A highly knowledgeable local guide will take you through this grand Victorian building sharing all sorts of anecdotes on the history of the place and the people who worked within its walls.
I climbed up its spectacular central staircase and discovered the portraits of the Lord Provosts hung in the Picture Gallery. I sat on the red leather benches of the Council Chamber and stared (a while!) at the richly decorated vaulted ceiling of the Banqueting Hall. A must-do!
Address: George Square, Glasgow
How to get there: The City Chambers are easy to find, the building dominates George Square in the city centre.
Tip: There is no booking system in place so I showed up a little bit early to make sure I got a spot for the tour.
Stroll Around the West End and the Botanic Gardens
At the heart of Glasgow West End is Hillhead, a neighbourhood with a village feel that attracts students and hipsters alike. From there, explore cobbled Ashton Lane where you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants to suit anyone’s taste.
Don’t forget to visit the Botanic Gardens at the top of Byres Road where you can enjoy the tropical atmosphere of Kibble Palace, a 19th century glasshouse. The gardens are very popular during the summer time as locals take over the lawns.
Address: 730, Great Western Road, Glasgow
How to get there: I walked 40 minutes from the city centre to the Botanic Gardens on a beautiful day from the city centre. Alternatively you can take the subway from Buchanan Street to Hillhead, you’ll be there in 15 minutes.
Tip: The University of Glasgow and Kelvingrove are very near, so you might want to visit these two great places while you are in the neighbourhood.
Browse the Shops in Buchanan Street
Victorian and modern design cohabit strangely well on Buchanan Street. The former villas and townhouses built in the 18th and 19th centuries are now home to trendy stores lining up the large, pedestrianised street.
You’ll surely be intrigued by Princes Square’s historic facade turned artwork. Have a peek inside. Behind the yellow sandstone hides an upmarket shopping centre housed in a former 19th century merchant square covered in a glass ceiling.
Where to Eat in Glasgow
Byres Road in Glasgow West End is a definite hotspot for foodies. You’ll find numerous acclaimed restaurants along the busy thoroughfare (Number 16) but especially around Ashton Lane, a small side street.
In the 18th century, warehouses were built by Glasgow’s Tobacco Lords in a district stretching from Queen Street to High Street. The neighbourhood has now been rejuvenated and renamed the Merchant City. The warehouses have become restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs nested into stunning 18th century architecture. If you are looking for a cool place for an evening meal before a night out, this is a part of Glasgow you should explore.
Essential Tips for Visiting Glasgow
- Getting There | Search for the best flight deal to Glasgow with Skyscanner. For train tickets, you can buy online on ScotRail, the main train company servicing Scotland.
- Where to Stay | There is no shortage of hotel rooms on Booking.com but if you are a light sleeper, you may want to make sure the neighbourhood is quiet enough at night time. As mentioned earlier, I stayed at the Premier Inn Glasgow City Centre South Hotel, cheaper than most hotels and away from the pubs and late bars. Check the latest prices.
- Where to Go Next | Located just 30 minutes north of Glasgow by train, Stirling is a must-see for those who love a good Scottish castle to explore and an historic market town to visit. You can read more about Stirling on my blog here and where to stay if you’re planning to stay the night.
- Planning | For more advice on things to do and where to eat during your weekend trip to Glasgow, why not buy Lonely Planet’s Scotland Travel Guide. I like to bring a hard copy on my travels for last minute research and inspiration. For francophones, the French version is available to buy online here.
- Travel Insurance | Don’t forget to buy travel insurance before visiting Glasgow. Heymondo has a nifty app to help you get the assistance you need while on the go.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link, I earn a little money at no extra cost to you.