A question I get asked by my readers often is ‘Is Glasgow worth visiting?’ or ‘Should I visit Edinburgh or Glasgow?’
I’ll be completely honest, my first trip to Glasgow wasn’t great. In fact, it was awful.
I booked a hire car and left Glasgow before I’d even given it a chance.
I’m not alone in this; a few members in my Scotland Facebook group said they were underwhelmed by Glasgow.
I’ve returned to Glasgow several times since, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons about what I did wrong during my first visit.
If you’re wondering is Glasgow worth visiting, read on so you don’t make the same mistakes as I did when visiting for the first time!
Why I disliked Glasgow so much
I spent one day in Glasgow during my first trip to Scotland.
My friend and I had just spent two fantastic days in Edinburgh and I fell in love with the gothic architecture and medieval feel of the city.
Walking through the streets of Edinburgh for the first time, I felt as though I’d been transported back to the Middle Ages.
Let me set the scene: Standing proudly overlooking Edinburgh is Edinburgh Castle, a magnificent walled stronghold that sits on an extinct volcano that has been fortified for over 3,000 years. The Royal Mile, a bustling cobblestone street filled with pubs and tourist shops, runs between the castle and Holyrood Palace, a palace that has housed royalty including Mary Queen of Scots, and to this day is Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence in Scotland. Branching off The Royal Mile are discreet closes that are like keys, unlocking hidden parts of the city.
Then there is New Town; the gothic spear of the Scott Monument pierces the sky, looking down on the manicured Princes Street Gardens below.
Edinburgh is a tourist’s dream- it’s exactly how you’d expect a Scottish city to look and feel. With Edinburgh, you don’t need to plan. You can simply wander the streets and be wowed.
So, when I arrived in Glasgow, I had high expectations.
We booked our trip last minute and hadn’t done any research on what to do in Glasgow. Due to our spontaneity, the only affordable hotel available was far from the city centre. We were surrounded by dull grey and brown highrise apartments- it wasn’t exactly the most exciting view, but I learned a valuable lesson- book your accommodation in advance.
Then we caught a bus into the city.
My first impressions of Glasgow were this: wet, dreary, and depressing.
The buildings were Victorian-style, whereas I was expecting the architecture to be more gothic, similar to Edinburgh. There weren’t any castles or tall and rickety medieval buildings that I could see, nor were there any secretive closes. Glasgow looked like…a normal city.
I asked a bartender about things to do in the city. She told me that people mainly travelled to Glasgow for shopping or a night out. I’ve never really been into shopping while I’m on holiday [give me history and culture, thanks!] and I was nursing a two-day hangover, a parting gift from Edinburgh.
Those options were out. I now know she was describing the reason that Scots visit Glasgow. Locals travel their own country differently. They often take history or the big tourist attractions for granted. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve ignored tourist-friendly activities in my home of New Zealand!
So when she said that shopping and drinking were the main things to do in Glasgow, I was bitterly disappointed.
I felt like I had this picture of how a Scottish city should look in my head, and Edinburgh fit that perfectly. Glasgow was too modern for my taste.
We ended up hiring a car and heading to the Highlands the next day, and my verdict on Glasgow was that it was a waste of time.
I’ll be honest- I still cringe about my first Glasgow visit, and not because it was a disaster. The real reason I disliked Glasgow after my first visit was because I was a horrible, ignorant tourist.
Glasgow isn’t the type of city where you can just show up unprepared and unannounced. You need to do your research, and you need to look closer because there is so much more than meets the eye in Glasgow.
While Edinburgh certainly has the wow-factor, Glasgow’s charm isn’t as obvious until you spend some time there. Glasgow has many layers, and you have to peel them back to experience this city fully.
Is Glasgow worth visiting?
If you’re wondering is Glasgow worth visiting, my answer is hell yes!
It wasn’t until I visited several more times that I began to fall in love with the city’s quirky charm and understand where I went wrong on my first visit.
Glasgow does have a fascinating history, it’s history just isn’t as obvious as Edinburgh’s [which is quite frankly, Braveheart on steroids].
If you don’t have a scooby about what makes Glasgow special, here are five excellent reasons to visit:
1. The Incredible History
I was totally wrong about Glasgow not having much history- it has some of the most fascinating history in Scotland!
It’s said to have been founded by the Christian missionary St. Mungo sometime during the 6th century. You can explore Glasgow’s earliest history on the Glasgow Medieval City Trail, which is a short walk from the centre of the city. At the heart of the medieval city trail is Glasgow Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in Scotland which was built in the 1100s. St. Mungo is now buried there.
The Glasgow Necropolis is also fascinating; it’s a Victorian cemetery and has over 50,000 individuals buried there. Be sure to spend some time wandering around the tombs and gravestones, and book a guided tour to learn the stories about some of the folk buried here.
From the 18th century, Glasgow grew incredibly wealthy from importing goods such as tobacco, sugar and rum from the Americas. Glasgow became a hub for the working class and its population surged.
During the 19th century, Glasgow became even wealthier from shipbuilding, chemical manufacturing, coal mining and iron founding. The money was poured into the city’s infrastructure, and as you walk the streets you’ll see this part of history coming to life.
Glasgow has plenty of free museums where you can explore the city’s history. If you can see only one, I recommend the Kelvin Grove Art Gallery and Museum– one of Glasgow’s most famous buildings.
2. The People
Glasgow’s slogan is ‘People Make Glasgow’ for a reason. The city is full of colourful, friendly and hilarious characters. Glasgow feels a lot more welcoming than other cities in Scotland and Glaswegians are always up for a good time.
You are far more likely to meet locals in Glasgow compared to Edinburgh, which is usually heaving with tourists. If you want to understand modern, everyday life in Scotland, you’ll certainly experience that in Glasgow!
A few famous names that hail from Glasgow include Billy Connolly, James McAvoy, Frankie Boyle, and Kevin Bridges. Google them if you’re not sure who they are, and you’ll understand why people really do make Glasgow!
Read More: 50 Travel Tips for Scotland
3. The Vibrant Art
I’m no art expert and you won’t often find me in an art gallery, however, Glasgow’s art scene is incredible. My idea of the perfect day in Glasgow [weather pending] would consist of walking the Glasgow Mural Trail and popping into funky pubs and bars along the way.
There are many other impressive murals throughout the city that aren’t on the official trail, and you’ll see murals in many pubs and beer gardens [particularly in the West End].
4. Abundant Restaurants & Bars
My future trips to Glasgow are almost certainly going to revolve around food- Glasgow has a huge selection of incredible restaurants to suit all styles and budgets.
I recommend going for lunch or dinner at Ashton Lane in the West End. Filled with great restaurants and bars, this area is one of Glasgow’s swankiest and looks particularly dashing at night when it is lit up by fairy lights.
If you’re on a budget, head to a chippy and try a Munchie Box. A Munchie Box is a box stuffed with an assortment of takeaway favourites including pizza, doner meat, chips, salad, onion rings, mushrooms and more. Be sure to share it with a friend as there’s a lot of food!
Glasgow also has some of Scotland’s best pubs and nightlife on offer. The city is even more alive when the sun goes down, and if you’re interested in hanging out in a pub to people watch or you want to go clubbing, Glasgow is one of the best places to raise your glass and let your hair down.
5. Glasgow University
Glasgow University is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world. It’s also assumed by many to be the inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter series. I mean, come on- the resemblance is uncanny!
This university is magical and so much fun to explore. The architecture that I thought the city centre lacked? Forgotten when I explored the grounds of Glasgow University; it really does feel like you’re at Hogwarts.
I recommend checking out the cloisters– popular with Instagrammers- before walking to the car park located at the southern end of the university for gorgeous views of the Kelvin Grove Art Gallery and Museum and the city.
Edinburgh vs Glasgow
As I mentioned earlier, Edinburgh is exactly what you’d picture a Scottish city to look like. They’ve got a castle, a palace, and the Royal Mile. Edinburgh is a smaller city, and easy to navigate on foot in one day. It’s also a great city for photographers; you won’t run out of impressive gothic buildings to photograph!
Glasgow didn’t take off until the 1800s, so the city is much more modern.
Read more: 10 Must-Sees in Scotland You Can’t Miss
While Edinburgh is more eye-catching, Glasgow makes up for it with its cultural attractions, kind and colourful characters, and layers of history and hidden gems. It’s less touristy than Edinburgh and is definitely better for shopping and nights out on the town.
If Edinburgh is the smart, sophisticated, posh older sibling, Glasgow is the hip, charismatic and humble younger of the two.
So which city do I prefer now?
While I think Edinburgh is a fantastic city with gorgeous architecture, I’m going to be spending more time exploring Glasgow from now on.
Glasgow is a city you can return to again and again. There is literally so much to see and do here, after 10 visits there are still a bunch of things to do on my bucket list!
Don’t just take my word for it; locals often say you cannot miss Glasgow, and they know Scotland best.
Tips for visiting Glasgow for the first time
One of the main reasons I disliked Glasgow on my first visit was because I didn’t plan a thing. I was an awful tourist; Glasgow isn’t a city where you can rock up unprepared.
As I mentioned earlier, much of Glasgow’s charm is tucked away. There are layers and layers of history you need to peel back in order to truly appreciate Glasgow’s magnificence.
To avoid my original disappointment when first visiting Glasgow, here are some tips for visiting for the first time:
- Do your research before arriving in Glasgow- don’t just show up unprepared as I did on my first visit! Come equipped with some general knowledge of Glasgow’s history, and choose some attractions you want to see in advance. While I’m all for spontaneous travel, Glasgow is a city you need to plan for. If you need help with your planning on paper, check out my Ultimate Scotland Bundle which features my printable Scotland planner. It’s a big shortcut to help you plan your Scotland trip!
- Book a walking tour with a local– this is my best tip when planning a trip to Glasgow. There are so many hidden pieces of history in Glasgow you’ll miss otherwise. Trust me on this- you’ll thank me later!
- Book your accommodation in advance. Don’t leave it to the last minute like I did, or you’ll be disappointed with what you end up booking. I’ve since stayed at the Ibis Styles near George Square and highly recommend it. It’s very central, and comfortable, and I love how the hotel has decorated the interior with the Glaswegian personality in mind!
- If you are planning on visiting both Edinburgh and Glasgow, visit Glasgow first. You’ll appreciate Glasgow much more with fresh and curious eyes. Edinburgh’s architecture is much more dramatic- so it’s better to build up to it.
- Research upcoming concerts or gigs happening in Glasgow in advance of your trip. Going to a gig is a great way to experience Glasgow’s culture!
- Use the tube or the train to get around the city. Glasgow is huge, and some of the best attractions are spread throughout the city. You can purchase an all-day ticket for the tube at the station. You can purchase your tickets for the train at the station – there’s no need to book in advance.
- Make sure you know what to pack for your trip. Wear comfortable walking shoes- you’ll still be exploring a lot on foot! Also make sure they have waterproof soles because, well, it’s Scotland.
- Never ask for salt and sauce at a chippy [it’s an Edinburgh thing]. Have vinegar or ketchup like a true Glaswegian.
Question: What was your first impression of Glasgow? Did you like it? Do you prefer Edinburgh or Glasgow? Leave me a comment below!
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MY BEST TRAVEL TIPS FOR SCOTLAND
Here is a list of travel resources that I always use that save me time and money. For more tips check out my ultimate guide on planning a trip to Scotland.
+ Booking flights: I use Skyscanner when researching and booking my flights as I find them to have the best deals. I also use Google Flights to compare flights I’ve found on Skyscanner.
+ Accommodation: I use Booking.com when booking my accommodation in Scotland. I also use Hostelworld to book hostels [pay a small deposit to book, free cancellation].
+ Travel insurance: I always recommend booking travel insurance for any trip you take. Personally, I use CoverMore– I used to sell this insurance when I was a travel agent and dealt with claims on behalf of my customers frequently and they were really easy to deal with. World Nomads is also another high-quality insurance provider I recommend.
+ Tours and Activities: I use GetYourGuide whenever I can to book tours and activities. I also recommend purchasing the Explorer Pass if you plan on visiting a few attractions.
+ Transport: When hiring a car in the UK I always use Auto Europe, a car rental comparison website that has great deals. For train times and bookings I use Scotrail [Scotland’s main network] and I also compare prices with Trainline. For bus travel, I use Megabus for cheap fares.
+ What to pack: The weather is changeable in Scotland and you can sometimes have four seasons in one day! I’ve written this comprehensive packing list for Scotland that will tell you everything you need to pack, whether you’re travelling from abroad or living locally and you’re planning a day trip to Scotland.