It is undeniable that Scotland has a near endless amount of beauty, culture, and fun to offer to visitors from across the world. When picturing Scotland, the stunning, sweeping landscape of the Highlands may come to mind, or perhaps the enthralling history built into the walls of Edinburgh’s stunning architecture.
What perhaps does not come to mind is the city of Glasgow. As Scotland’s most populous city, Glasgow is a vibrant hub of culture with a fascinating history, which is sometimes sadly overlooked in favour of its largely prettier cousin, Edinburgh. As a Glasgow native, I wish to point visitors in the right direction for a rich, fulfilling trip in my city - and to show that it comfortably has just as much to offer visitors as anywhere else in the country.
Glasgow lies to the west of Scotland’s central belt, situated on the River Clyde. It may not have a castle, but its history spans its place as a centre of the Scottish Enlightenment and a hub of shipbuilding and engineering during the Industrial Revolution. Today, it is a hub of culture, arts, dining, and nightlife, having been named the fourth best city in the world to live – and the friendliest city in the world – by Time Out in 2022. Indeed, Glaswegians’ friendliness speaks for itself upon a visit to the city. What follows is my guide to Glasgow’s food and drink, culture, nightlife, and accommodation.
Food and drink
Having visited cities across Europe and the globe, I retain the belief that Glasgow has one of the best food and drink scenes in the world. The high-quality options available are truly endless. Beginning with the first meal of the day, Cafe Strange Brew, Wilson St. Pantry, and The Brunch Club cannot be beaten for breakfast or brunch, each showcasing extensive and varied menus, absolutely delicious food, and great coffee to go alongside it.
For something lighter for lunch, visit the city’s beloved Sprigg for a customised salad bowl packed with the freshest ingredients. Other lunch – and dinner – favourites are the city’s beloved Paesano and Sugo: sharing the same owners, these very affordable restaurants specialise in delicious Neapolitan pizza and authentic pasta dishes respectively. Not only is the food delicious, authentic, and cheap, but the service is always fast despite the ever-bustling nature of the restaurants. Both are a must-visit for anyone wishing to experience a true Glasgow favourite – and exceptional Italian food.
For more pizza, Errol’s Hot Pizza offers different but equally delicious New York-style pizza, and Nonna Said showcases high-quality pizza with a range of extravagant toppings – think Philly cheesesteak and salt and chilli chicken. For pasta, visit Bar Vini, Oro, or Sarti for delicious, authentic pasta and a wonderful dining experience.
In regards to other cuisines, Glasgow hosts exemplary restaurants for practically every one. Makin & Ramen for Japanese, Kimchi Cult for Korean, Panang for Thai, Cafe Andaluz for Spanish, Mezcal and Rafa’s for Mexican, Yiamas for Greek… the list is endless. One can also enjoy a top-class steak at The Spanish Butcher, amazing fried chicken at Buck’s Bar and the country’s best burger at El Perro Negro. Furthermore, for contemporary dining, Five March is a fantastic option alongside the higher end Six by Nico.
Glasgow also boasts a thriving coffee culture. Many of the best independent coffee shops of the city are in the West End, Southside, and East End areas, so it’s worth a quick journey to grab a coffee and cake and take a wander around these areas’ charming neighbourhoods, filled with independent boutiques. Coffee highlights include the city centre’s Laboratorio Espresso and Spitfire Espresso, the West End’s Black Pine, 1841, and Kaf, the Southside’s Godshot Studio and Short Long Black, and the East End’s Us v Them and Zennor. Each boast the highest quality coffee, stylish interiors, and fantastic atmospheres.
Culture and activities
In terms of culture, Glasgow is home to museums and art galleries in abundance. Drop into its famous Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for a range of history and art exhibitions, the central Gallery of Modern Art for impressive modern art exhibits, the historic People’s Palace to learn about the city’s history, or the architecturally striking Riverside Museum with its fascinating transport and technology collections – all of which are, incredibly, free entry for all.
For fans of art and architecture, there is also The Lighthouse (which also hosts a fantastic viewpoint of the city), as well as House for an Art Lover and The Willow Tea Rooms for fans of the famous Glasgow architect and artist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. If you prefer unconventional art, take a guided walking tour of the city’s iconic street art.
For shopping, Glasgow boasts a huge range of high street and high end brands on its central shopping street, Buchanan Street, at the heart of the city centre. For those seeking more unique items, vintage shops lie in abundance in the city’s West End, including West Vintage, The Glasgow Vintage Co, and many more. The city also offers independent music and book shops, such as Love Music and Voltaire & Rosseau respectively.
Glasgow has a plethora of music venues, ranging from the iconic Barrowlands and intimate King Tut’s to the city’s massive stadium venue, the SSE Hydro. Glasgow’s crowds are also known to be some of the best and liveliest in the entire world, so if you can catch a gig here – or its hugely popular TRNSMT festival in the summer – do so!
If theatre is more your thing, the city is home to the historic King’s Theatre and Royal Theatre, alongside the more contemporary Tron Theatre and unconventional Tramway. Or, if you’d rather catch a film, do so at the city’s beloved independent Glasgow Film Theatre.
If you’re a sports fan – specifically football – you’re also in the right place. Take a tour of the nation’s national football stadium, Hampden park, or pick a side in the city’s infamous football rivalry between Celtic and Rangers and choose to tour Celtic Park or Ibrox Stadium.
Whilst Scotland isn’t known for its good weather, you may well catch at least one glorious sunny day in Glasgow. If you do, grab a picnic and make the most of one of the city’s fantastic parks: the favourites of which are Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Glasgow Green, and Queen’s Park.
It is a well-known fact that Glaswegians love a party, and the city indeed offers something for everyone when night time falls. The Locale, Banana Moon, Tabac, and Hillhead Bookclub are some hip local favourites for a casual drink. Alternatively, head to Dockyard Social or Platform for a variety of street food vendors, a range of beers and cocktails, and a bustling atmosphere.
For those wishing to dress up and sip on a cocktail, one can enjoy views across the city at Red Sky Bar or divulge in some cocktails amongst stunning interiors at The Spiritualist or Fly South. Those in the mood to party can head to the stylish, dressy Moskito, the causal, indie-music fuelled Firewater, or the city’s famous home of dance music, Sub Club.
Having spent a day sampling some of Glasgow’s highlights, one can comfortably rest in one of the city’s great hotels. There is of course a good range of self-catering accommodation available on Airbnb and the likes, but the city’s hotels should not go unconsidered as an option for your stay.
CitizenM remains a Glasgow favourite, with compact but modern, stylish rooms at a reasonable nightly rate. Similarly popular is the Radisson Red nearby the SSE Hydro. Home to the aforementioned Red Sky Bar, this hotel showcases spacious, airy rooms with fantastic views of the city. For visitors on a budget, Yotel offers low prices and clean, modern rooms – as well as being home to the popular rooftop bar, Vega. For those seeking luxury, the five-star Kimpton Blythswood Hotel boasts large, sleek rooms and a stunning modern spa.
For those unfamiliar with Glasgow, I hope this guide has shed light upon the endless potential the city has as a travel destination. Perhaps it is not the first place which comes to mind as a tourist planning a visit to Scotland – but it is somewhere which should undeniably be incorporated into any trip to the country. Whether you seek an unforgettable night out, a day packed with history and art, a truly memorable live concert, or just a delicious burger, Glasgow will welcome you with open arms and a plethora of options and experiences.