Glasgow is one of Scotland’s most exciting and metropolitan cities, full of culture, nightlife and history. And if you’re visiting on a budget, there’s plenty to do that won’t cost you a penny. From exploring the Botanic Gardens to checking out hip art at GoMA, here are some of the best free things to do in this Scottish hub.
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Ascend the Carrara marble staircase in the City Chambers
A visit to Glasgow is not complete without stopping by the awe-inspiring City Chambers. A truly magnificent work of Victorian architecture, this exceptional building is used as the Glasgow City Council headquarters. No words can sum up the beauty of the Carrara marble staircase, and the Banqueting Hall is captivating too. Free tours run daily.
Get lost in the work of Vincent van Gogh and Salvador Dalí
Glasgow has one of the largest civic art collections in Europe, so set aside a few hours to explore part of it in the extraordinary Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. With 22 themed galleries, more than 8,000 objects and an abundance of masterpieces, this place can make the hours fly by. Two of the most famous pieces in the collection are Salvador Dalí’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross and Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Alexander Reid.
Explore the city’s art scene through a different lens
Embark on Glasgow’s Mural Trail, and you’ll find yourself stepping into a new world – one where a taxi ascends towards the heavens via a bunch of balloons and a saint gets a contemporary makeover. These graphic murals, created by renowned street artists such as Rogue One and Smug, offer an insight into the city’s lively art scene outside the galleries.
Travel back to Glasgow’s past at the Riverside Museum
This striking building, designed by Zaha Hadid, lies on Glasgow’s waterfront. Inside, you’ll discover the full spectrum of transport and travel – the museum contains more than 3,000 objects and stores everything from skateboards and vintage buses to locomotives and motorbikes.
Stroll amid the splendour of the Botanic Gardens
A wander through the magical Glasgow Botanic Gardens will do anyone a world of good. With an abundance of flowers and plants, including a rose garden, an herb garden and the national collection of tree ferns, this site offers plenty to explore. The glasshouses alone make the gardens well worth a visit; they are some of the finest (and most unusual) architectural wonders in Glasgow. Be sure to visit the crown jewel: the Kibble Palace. It houses trees and plants from all over the globe, as well as eight sculptures.
Climb to the top of the Lighthouse
Another significant arts landmark, the Lighthouse is Scotland’s Centre of Design and Architecture, sitting proudly in the middle of the city. While it doesn’t necessarily look like a lighthouse from the outside, the striking spiral staircase inside will guide you to a viewing platform with a 360-degree vista of the city.
Try to get a ‘Doctor Who’ TARDIS working
Although Doctor Who is more commonly associated with Cardiff, fans can travel through time and space on the Glaswegian Whovian Tour. This expedition across the city is a great way to see the sights while visiting locations associated with both the television series and the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi. No need to book anything – just look up the route online and be on your way.
Grab a moment of calm in a Victorian cemetery
Around 50,000 people are interred in this Victorian cemetery, but a visit is far from ghoulish. Picturesque and serene, the Glasgow Necropolis has become a cultural and architectural landmark in the city. Don’t miss the grave of Alexander McCall, Glasgow’s chief constable in the mid-1800s; it was one of Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first solo designs.
Stretch your legs in Glasgow’s green spaces
The name Glasgow is reportedly derived from the Gaelic term for “green valley”, and the city certainly lives up to its title. Have a wee stroll through some of the famous parks, including Bellahouston Park, Queens Park and Pollok Country Park. Make it your mission to traverse them all.
Visit one of the oldest buildings in Glasgow
The Provand’s Lordship, with its impressive display of 17th-century Scottish furniture and the magical St Nicholas Garden, dates back to 1471. It’s one of only four medieval buildings left in the whole city. See if you can spot all of the Tontine Heads in the garden cloisters – these mysterious stone faces were found scattered throughout the city and have been reunited here. A little pocket of calm within an urban jungle, Provand’s Lordship will make for an intriguing and informative visit.
Gaze at hip modern art at GoMA
Perfect for a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-style outing, the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) is an oasis of inspiration with its ever-changing exhibitions by local and international artists. From paintings and sculptures to photography, prints, videos and installations, there’s a wealth of styles and media to explore. Set within an 18th-century neoclassical building that’s as beautiful as the art inside it, GoMA is the perfect place to while away a rainy afternoon.
Appreciate the conical addition to the Duke of Wellington
Pause outside the GoMA to get an insight into the incorrigible Glaswegian sense of humour. The Duke of Wellington equestrian statue is an unmissable free tourist attraction (not to mention a great photo opportunity) due to the now-iconic traffic cone placed permanently on his head. When the council threatened to take it down, thousands of Glaswegians united in showing their unwavering loyalty to the cone with extensive petitioning and marches.
Discover the Hidden Gardens
You might not think a traffic-heavy road between two busy train lines is a good spot to unwind, but that’s exactly where Glasgow’s Hidden Gardens lie. Tucked neatly behind Pollokshaws Road, this little urban retreat is full of local art, sculptures and beautiful flowers and plays host to a litany of talks and other activities throughout the year – most of them completely free.
Board the Tall Ship
It’s rare to find a floating museum that’s free to visit, but the Tall Ship, an 1890s baroque sailing vessel now owned by the Clyde Maritime Trust, is one of them. Climb aboard and get a real, tangible sense of what it would have been like to sail on a merchant ship during the Victorian era, minus the price tag – and the scurvy.
Additional reporting by Callum Davies.
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