Glasgow, Scotland exceeded my expectations. I knew it was beautiful. I knew it had loads of castles. I knew Sean Connery was from Scotland and that lots of movies have been filmed there, not to mention television productions like the popular Game of Thrones. I however, did not expect to be fascinated by the history, and especially the greenery, food and the friendliness of the people. We spent an amazing 10 days visiting Glasgow and its neighbor, Edinburgh, including the now decommissioned royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth. Here is a rough Glasgow guide filled with, in my humble opinion, must visit places to make your time in the city memorable.
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Why visit Glasgow?
Because Glasgow is beautiful. There are loads of things to do, no matter what your tastes are. It is also a very green city with over 90 parks. There are very interesting museums that are free, great architecture and a bustling music scene (UNESCO city of Music). Have you heard of bands like Simple Minds, Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand and one of my eternal favorites, The Blue Nile?. Yep! All from Glasgow. If beer is your thing, there are plenty of craft beer pubs. If you’re more into whiskey, you can tour top notch distilleries such as the Auchentoshan Distiller, just a few minutes outside the city center. They make Scotland’s only triple distilled single malt whiskey. Bet that tastes amazing. I daresay you would have plenty to do, see and eat on your trip to Scotland.
Glasgow Visitors Guide: a Rough Guide of where to stay, what to see and what to eat.
Where to Stay in Glasgow:
Glasgow has an international airport which is serviced by many of the larger airlines such as British Airways, Emirates and Delta. Just like on our Poland trip, we took Ryanair, the low budget airline as they have a direct flight from Valencia. I know a lot of people complain about them, but if you read and abide by their guidelines, it really isn’t so bad. It’s about a 20 minute ride from the airport to the center. We used Uber once again because it is so convenient. On arrival, we were met by cold, fog and rain. It was definitely not what one would expect of summer. The weather in Glasgow is definitely not tropical. Somehow, I was under the impression that it would be muggy, if not particularly warm (thanks to my google translate app ;-) ), so we had brought lots of tee shirts and a light jacket each. Wrong! We were freezing. Since it rains often, I would suggest packing a light raincoat. Trust me, you’ll need it. We stayed at an AirBnB that was close to the center. I won’t link on here as the owner was just renting for a month before he himself moved in to the newly purchased apartment. Needless to say, it was quite nice. We also spent 3 nights at a really nice boutique hotel close to George Square, smack dab in the center of town. There were loads of places to eat nearby, there was even a setup for an “events in the sky”. You know, the crazy fad of getting hoisted up by some crane so you could have a fancy feast while dangling some 100 feet in the air. I never cease to be amazed at how strong death wish is for people :-). No, thank you. Death can come to me, I am certainly not going to prod and poke at it ;-).
The Z Hotel was perfect for us. It’s set away from the noise and the rooms are smaller but cozy and welcoming. At 5PM daily, there is a wine and cheese reception. Your first glass of wine being complimentary (large selection too). It’s a really nice way to meet fellow travelers. The reception and restaurant are all one big room. I booked it on one of my favorite hotel sites, lastminute.com which l have mentioned before. If you have nerves of steel, you can wait like me and book last minute as we got the room over half off. If you are a planner, you can use our affiliate link. I highly recommend the Z hotel in Glasgow. The small staff is nice and everyone so friendly which seems to rub off on the guests as well. Right outside of the hotel, there is a huge poster of “People Make Glasgow”. I totally believe it. We had an awesome time and can’t say enough about it. There are of course other lovely hotels in the area, I think anything near George square is a good bet. Click here for the best hotel prices.
Glasgow Guide Sights: Interesting places to visit
Another advantage of staying at the Z hotel was that the Hop-on-hop-off bus stop was right at the square. This is a great way to get an overview of the city. It makes it easier to then decide what to focus your holiday on. Here are some favorite places we visited.
The decision had been made by me to visit just 2 castles. One in Glasgow, and the other in Edinburgh. It’s quite easy to dedicate a whole vacation to “castling” . There are certainly tons of them. The decision to visit Stirling castle was easy. I’d only had good things and most people said it was their favorite overall. The experience was amazing. I loved hearing the history of the castle.
Getting from Glasgow to Stirling Castle: Queen Street Station
It was easy. The fact that we were so close to the Station made it painless. The Z hotel is a 2 minute walk from the station. Our tickets were £8 pounds each way l think and the journey was about 35 minutes in a comfortable train. The views out the window were incredible. Everything so lush and green. When you get to Stirling, you can either walk up to the castle, which is uphill all the way on cobblestones. We took a taxi from the station at a cost of £3 because it was wet, cold and rainy, not that l would have walked anyway.
The first thing you notice from the top? Stunning views of the town. I knew Scotland was green, but WOW! Really incredible. I kept thinking of movies like Highlander and my favorite Gerald Butler movie that I’ve written about before, Dear Frankie. I recommend taking one of the free guided tours provided with your entry ticket as it really fills you in on the history of the castle. A castle as well as a fortress, many Scottish Kings and Queens were crowned there. The guide was so cool and we got to hear many interesting tidbits about royal life like the sad life of Mary, Queen of Scots. Did you know Glasgow is Gaelic for Dear Green Space?. I did not, but it makes perfect sense. So much green space, I think we spent a total of 2 days just hanging out in the parks people watching (when it wasn’t raining of course :-) ).
History came alive in some of the rooms as they had people dressed up who were willing to tell you more about life in the castle. That made it memorable, for example, I had no idea that they played golf way back then. After the tour, we enjoyed walking around by ourselves. Even though it was crowded, it didn’t feel like it because the grounds are huge. I don’t know if any other castle can top this, we had a wonderful day at Stirling Castle. Our entry to Stirling Castle was complimentary thanks to VisitScotland, otherwise the price would have been £15 for adults. Opening times: 9.30AM-6PM with the last entry at 5.15PM. They close an hour earlier during winter. Find more information here. For other ways to spend a day in Stirling, make sure to check this post for awesome ideas.
University of Glasgow:
I’m not ashamed to confess that l had Uni envy. I went to the smallest pharmacy college in Boston, we had just 2 buildings for the whole school. The college rented dormitories from nearby Simmons College and a few of our classes were held at the Harvard Dental School across from us, that’s how small it was. To see this University, with its gorgeous, stately buildings that looked more like houses of parliament than school was really impressive. Everywhere in Scotland, you hear stories of J.K Rowling using pretty much every tourist attraction for inspiration in the Harry Potter books. This was also true here. We heard that one of the halls was the basis for Harry’s house. Not sure if it’s true, and l don’t care. Let’s just say l was inspired by it too. We just happened to visit on graduation day, so there was a festive feeling in the air with laughter, bagpipes and smiling students and professors who were only too hapy to pose for us. We certainly would have slipped into the ceremony and had some champagne, but we were woefully under dressed. You should definitely visit the University of Glasgow. I would have attended classes every freaking day just to be in the space.
Tip for visiting the University of Glasgow: Make sure and stop at the front gate to pick up a self guided tour brochure. It’s free. We ended up making a few friends along the way as we pointed out things to other tourists who were wandering aimlessly. They do have paid tours at 2PM from Tuesdays to Sunday at a cost of £10 per adult which gives you more insight about its 550 year old history. The “Welcome Point” is right in the McIntyre building which is on your left as you enter through the gates. It was really handy having the brochure too as l picked up a few tidbits, such as the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed the iconic red British phone booths as well as the Battersea Power Station (something I’ve seen and liked for so many years and I’m now watching the transformation with curiosity and glee). He also designed the Professors Square, row houses that were originally designated for their use. We also saw the University Chapel, one of the few places where inter faith marriages can take place. Other places we saw included:
The Lion and Unicorn Staircase:
Symbols of the United Kingdom. Lion for England, and Unicorn for Scotland. They were created in 1690 by a stonemason William Riddel, and moved to their current site in 1870, stone by stone.
The Gilbert Scott Building and Bute Hall:
The tower is 278 feet tall. I can definitely see how it could have inspired J.K Rowling. Perhaps it’s time to re-watch Harry Potter movies now that l’ve been to Scotland.
This is where the graduations are held and connects the East and West quadrangles.
The Hunterian museum, Scotland’s oldest is also in the University. There is also the Hunterian Art Gallery with featuring works by world class artists like Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens. We didn’t get to visit, perhaps next time. You could easily spend the whole day at the University if you have the time.
This was a fun place and one of the highlights of the trip. I’m a big fan of the movie “Night at the Museum” so l enjoyed it a lot. We kept quoting lines from the movie. We split our day between the University and this museum as it is just a stone’s throw away. There are 22 themed galleries inside and l couldn’t have asked for more. Definitely recommended. many wonderful pieces of art and l really enjoyed the human faces floating gallery.
It you like shopping, there’s no better place to do it than in Glasgow. It was also just a short walk from the hotel. Loads of name brand stores, plenty of street performers with bagpipes for the full on Scottish experience, soul music singers. A perfect place for people watching, especially in the pedestrian only streets. I can only imagine what the place must look and feel like come Christmas time and the frenzy. I’m sure l would enjoy it very much.
These of course barely skim the surface of things to do. Check out some more awesome Glasgow things to do on the crazy tourist.
Good Food Guide Glasgow: Yummy Eats
One can not go to Glasgow and forget about the food. There is quite a lot of international cuisine in the city. I already mentioned how much we liked haggis in the postcard so needless to say, we had it a few times. We also had really good gyros and pizza. One place we went to, we were served by a Pakistani guy who picked up on Federico’s Italian accent. Turns out he is a naturalized Italian (showed us his papers and all :-) ), thrilled to speak in Italian, made and served us Greek food in Scotland. It doesn’t get more international than that, does it?. It was also the longest time l spent in a place..haha..they went on forever! Being part of the U.K, you would expect similar items so we feasted on full English breakfasts, fish and chips, haggis and scotch pie. Everything yummy.
Our most favorite place to eat was at a restaurant called Bothys. Federico’s desire was to go to at least one authentic Scottish restaurant. A little research and l came up with this place. It was a little hard to find, down a tiny street and almost gave up in favor of a second place l had as a backup. Thanks to google maps, we finally did find it. It was completely worth it. The food was delicious, the service fantastic and we timed it right. Since it took a while to find it, there were very few people left as like, no kidding..a huge number of people were leaving as we walked up. For sure we would not have waited had we come earlier and saw the crowd. The waiters are in traditional kilts which added an air of authenticity. Located on the west end, it fit perfectly into our day which was University, walked to Bothys for lunch, walk to Kelvingrove after lunch.
These are just a few of the things to do in Glasgow. We are not into the club scene, but needless to say that there is a happening scene there. Pub crawling. Loch Ness, the list goes on. We look forward to visiting Glasgow again and checking out other areas of Scotland as a whole. Would we live there? You betcha! London without the high prices. Maybe not in winter though :-). Our trip to Edinburgh was just as fun and l can’t wait to share that with you either. I hope you can put this Glasgow rough guide to good use if you get there.
Have you been to Glasgow or any part of Scotland? If yes, did you enjoy it? Do you have any other suggestions for things to see and do in Glasgow? If not, does Glasgow look like a place you would like to visit?