Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow is strangely absent from many Scotland itineraries, but this city is not to be missed. Find out why Glasgow should absolutely be on your itinerary for Scotland and how to get the best out of exploring this city sustainably.
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Glasgow – Why Visit?
Ahead of making the international headlines for playing host to Climate Conference COP26, Glasgow has struggled to make it to the top destinations to visit in Scotland, with travellers in stead opting to spend time in Edinburgh, the Highlands and Islands.
You could say that Glasgow has been overlooked.
Always known as a “working city” through and through, Glasgow is in fact Scotland’s largest city, both in terms of size and population. Once the shipbuilding hub of the world, Glasgow was famous for its shipbuilders yards on the Clyde which were once the largest employer in the city, but when trade was moved overseas and the yards fell into disuse by the late 1960’s, harder times set in for Glaswegians.
In recent years, the somewhat ‘edgy’ label that Glasgow seems to have earned is being challenged, and Glasgow was voted the top weekend city break by Conde Nast Traveller in 2021.
This city is not only home to some of the warmest and most welcoming people in Scotland, but among other things it has museums and galleries a-plenty, great food, and several options for sustainable travellers looking to ensure that their tourism benefits locals and the environment, in keeping with the spirit of COP26.
Having recently spent more time in Glasgow (previously I’d always been “passing through”), in this post I’ll share some of the reasons I think Glasgow deserves a day or two of any trip to Scotland.
1. The People
Glasgow is known for its warm welcome – which although it sounds obvious is not something to be taken for granted. #peoplemakeglasgow. Throughout my time in this city, I was welcomed with broad smiles and friendly voices.
Glaswegian hospitality has become so much the hallmark of Glasgow, that it’s become part of its brand. People Make Glasgow is not just the trending hashtag of this spirited city, but it’s also become the brand of the local tourism board, Glasgow Life, who serve local Glaswegians as well as visitors to get the most out of this beautiful city.
Whether you’re just visiting local pubs, cafes, taking a tour or just wandering around, it’s hard not to notice the warm welcome here.
On my street art walk of Glasgow (more below) the stories that my guide shared left a lasting impression, of the Glasgow community coming together to look out for each other. Best of all, unlike many other cities, the concept of Glaswegian does not just apply to those born and bred here, but rather to anyone that chooses to make a home or visit the city.
2. The Green Space
In Scottish Gaelic, Glaschoo means ‘dear green space’ – and the reality does not disappoint. At a time where we’re all re-evaluating the importance of and our relationship with outdoor space, being able to access beautiful nature within cities is becoming all the more important.
Glasgow ranks within the top 10 UK cities for green space, and during my visit I was able to experience first hand the beautiful autumn colours while wandering through Kelvingrove Park, as well as the beautiful meandering trails and friendly heeland coos of Pollok country park in the south of the city.
Given that most people come to Scotland to see beautiful nature, it was refreshing to find that you don’t have to go beyond Glasgow’s city limits to get some beautiful greenery. In total, Glasgow has over 90 (yes ninety) parks to enjoy, and visitors and residents alike can enjoy cycling trails, strolling along the Clyde River or Canal to the north, woodlands with ruined castles (at Linn Park, which are home to the ruins of Cathcart Castle which once hosted Mary, Queen of Scots), autumn trails and so much more.
My favourite of all was Kelvingrove, located just to the west of central Glasgow, with its somewhat reminiscent of New York’s central parks hills and pathways, and stunning views out across to Glasgow University.
3. Sustainable Hotels & Places to Stay
Glasgow is home to some great hotels and guest houses, many of which are eco-friendly. The tourism board has partnered with Green Tourism, one of the best known sustainability certifications, to make choosing somewhere to stay that’s sustainable even easier.
I stayed at the mid-range Maldron Hotel in Glasgow City Centre which had modern rooms, super comfy beds, and a hearty breakfast to set anyone up for the day. Best of all, it is certified by Green Tourism and has invested in a range of sustainability measures which focus on reducing its energy consumption and the footprint of its staff and guests.
Click here to find out more and book the Maldron City Hotel, Glasgow.
There are plenty of other options when it comes to sustainable places to stay in Glasgow, too, including the trendy Village Hotel which is located right on the Clyde in the Finnieston area of Glasgow, just to the south east edge of the city. The hotel has its own spa, chic dining, and the location right by the river is fabulous.
The hotel has its own Village Green campaign which represents the hotel’s commitment to reinvesting into the local community and being a community hub for the area as well as a great place to stay for visitors to the city.
Click here to find out more and book the Village Hotel Glasgow.
4. Community Tourism in Glasgow
Given that people are Glasgow’s centrepiece, it’s no surprise that community-based tourism features strongly here, and there are plenty of opportunities to spend your tourist pounds or dollars on experiences that also give back to locals.
One of the best ways to support community based tourism initiatives is to stay at a hotel (such as one of the above) which is sustainability rated and is actively reinvesting back into the local community. Another way is to go on an organised small group tour or private tour of the city – there are many to choose from – including historical city walks, food tours, street art tours and more.
One of my favourite experiences was going on a street art tour with Glasgow Walking Tours in Scotland. My tour guide, Caron, brought Glasgow to life for me, with stories behind the incredible murals that we saw, along with plenty of local tips about her favourite hangouts and a few Scottish independence jokes thrown in for good measure!
Another tour company that I highly recommend is Invisible cities – who are a social enterprise which specialise in working with those who have been affected by homelessness and offer full training as tour guides to provide employment opportunities through tourism. My guide Sonny from Invisible Cities regailed us with plenty of stories from historic Glasgow as we walked around the city centre and shared his own perspectives – the tour ended poignantly at the statue of the homeless Jesus.
5. A History of Rebellion and Expression
Glasgow’s independent nature shines through and can clearly be seen through its diversity of people, art and culture. Among other things, Glasgow has long been famous for its industrial action and standing up for its people – even during COP26 we’ve seen a large number of public services workers going on strike for the purpose of furthering the cause of their members.
As one of the world’s former greatest industrial cities, the rights of each worker have been fought over and protected here, and this pattern can be seen woven in Glasgow’s history.
This inherent right to protest, defend freedoms and promote egalitarianism is closely tied to Glaswegian values – and if you choose to stay longer in Glasgow you’ll find yourself part of a tightly held community. For those passing through, the Summerlee Museum shows a deeper look into the heart of industrial life in Glasgow.
6. The Food
Glasgow might not be the first city that jumps to mind when thinking of culinary hotspots around the world, but as of the last few years an innovative – and delicious – food revival has been taking place, with nary’ a deep fried Mars-bar to be seen!
From trendy restaurants and bars in Glasgow’s hip west end that celebrate traditional Scottish food, to cosy pubs, to high-dining seafood and vegan restaurants, one thing that blew me away on my recent trip to Glasgow was the range and quality of food on offer. Whether you’re in search of traditional Haggis, a good Scottish fry-up (breakfast), delicious vegan fare or cute Instagrammable bakeries with great cakes, you’ll easily find it.
Many restaurants are also focusing on low-impact, locally-sourced menus that are either plant-based or centred on local ingredients, too. Some of my favourites included Gamba (for seafood), the Ubiquitous Chip (for no-nonsense, high-end Scottish cuisine), Glaschu (fine dining), and Soul Food Kitchen (for vegan brunches and lunches).
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7. Museums & Galleries
Once you’ve finished eating your way around Glasgow, there’s no better way to help digest the lunch than a few hours at one of the city’s award-winning galleries or museums.
Glasgow has literally dozens of museums and galleries to choose from, the best known and awarded being the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, which is set in the middle of Kelvingrove park to the west of Glasgow’s city centre. Just a short walk from Glasgow’s botanical gardens, you’ll find some of Europe’s finest art. Also of note are the GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art), the Burrell Collection (re-opening in 2022) and the Riverside Museum which is home to a huge transport collection from Glasgow’s past.
Although not museums, I also recommend a visit to Glasgow’s beautiful Cathedral and nearby Necropolis cemetary – not only for their beautiful architecture and dramatic gravestones, but also for their lovely views out over the city.
8. Ease of Connection
Last but not least, one of the best reasons to visit Glasgow is it’s so easy to get there from most cities in the UK, without going anywhere near an airport.
From London, trains run every hour or two and take just 4.5 hours to reach central Glasgow, with beautiful scenery along the way through the edge of the Lake District and the Scottish lowlands. Trains are run by Avanti West Coast and leave from London Euston station into Glasgow Central.
Or, for a truly unique experience, take the Scottish-run and recently completely renovated Caledonian Sleeper train which runs nightly between London and Glasgow (as well as other routes to Scotland). Fall asleep in London and wake up to the sights of the Scottish Lowlands creeping past your window, from your very own (very comfy!) sleeper berth. This journey takes longer to allow passengers time for more than 40 winks (around 8 hours).
Editorial: This post was produced in collaboration with Visit Britain, Impact Travel Alliance, and Hello Fora, with the objective of learning more about the opportunities for responsible travel in the UK.
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