One day in Glasgow: the best things to do (2023)

As Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow has much to see and do. There are many architectural landmarks, green open spaces, world-class museums, fabulous restaurants and tea rooms, and a famous river to stroll along.

It’s the perfect place for a short break, but if you’re visiting other places in Scotland and only have one day in Glasgow, you can still see the main sights and get a feel for this great city.

This post gives you an outline of the best places to visit in one day in Glasgow.

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Where is Glasgow?

Located towards the southwest of Scotland on the River Clyde, Glasgow is around 50 miles from the capital Edinburgh and is a perfect day trip from Glasgow.

Edinburgh has many attractions to warrant a visit, such as Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Calton Hill, and the Royal Mile, to name a few of the highlights.

My post gives you an overview of the best things to do in Edinburgh in three days.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

Glasgow is even closer to Stirling, which is only about 25 miles away. For Braveheart fans, you can see a huge monument to Scottish hero William Wallace, a well-preserved old town, and the imposing Stirling Castle, which stands guard over the city.

One of Glasgow’s big selling points, however, is the city’s close proximity to areas of outstanding natural beauty.

The nearest is the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. There are braes (hills), forests, glens (valleys), lochs, mountains, and waterfalls, not to mention amazing wildlife and nature. These can be reached easily from Glasgow.

You can book a day trip to the National Park that includes Stirling Castle here.

The National Park is a great place to get off the beaten track. It also provides a stepping stone to explore further north into the Scottish Highlands, including visiting the world-famous Loch Ness or the Western Highlands.

About Glasgow

Aside from being the biggest city in Scotland, Glasgow is famous for its former shipbuilding industry on the River Clyde, which runs through the heart of the city.

It is also home to two of Scotland’s most successful football teams – Celtic and Rangers – and has a thriving nightlife and live music scene.

The city has also given birth to a long list of famous people. These include comedian Billy Connolly, architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, music artist Lewis Capaldi, tennis player Andy Murray, and actors James McAvoy and Robbie Coltrane, to name but a few.

In addition, you will find Scotland’s only underground train network, the Glasgow Subway. It also has an amazing Necropolis that has been featured as a location for the Batman film.

How to get to Glasgow

Glasgow has excellent transport connections.

International and domestic air passengers arrive at Glasgow International Airport (10 miles outside the city centre). Budget airlines tend to fly in and out of the city’s second airport – Glasgow Prestwick Airport – some 30 miles to the southwest.

Train passengers from England and Wales (and Scottish connections south of the city centre) generally arrive at Glasgow Central station. Passengers travelling to the north and to the east depart from Queen Street station.

Glasgow also operates an extensive intercity bus service with all long-distance arrivals and departures operating out of Buchanan bus station.

Why spend one day in Glasgow?

Glasgow University view through a park
Glasgow University

Visitors will find no shortage of interesting things to do during one day in Glasgow. There are many really good museums to explore, spectacular historic sites to see, a vibrant and buzzing nightlife, and some wonderful green spaces to relax and chill out in.

Although it’s a work in progress, the city has also invested considerably in rejuvenating the former ship building area around the River Clyde.

This is where you can also find major sights such as the Riverside Museum, the SEC Armadillo building (an events and conference hall), the Finnieston Crane and Glasgow Science Centre.

How to get around Glasgow

It’s easy to get around Glasgow, be this on foot, by public transportation, or as part of a tour or on a tour bus.

On foot

Because of the grid system of streets in central Glasgow, the main part of the city is very easy to navigate and very walkable. You will find many of the top attractions in this central area, as well as great restaurants and bars. 

The main sights on my list of things to see can be reached on foot – either independently or via an organised walking tour. This tour lasts around an hour and a half and will take you around the main sights of the city.

For other walking tours, click here.

By subway

It also helps that some of Glasgow’s main sights are located within a short walking distance from the train stations dotted around the city’s circular subway network. So if you’d prefer not to walk, the best way to get around might be via the underground trains.

Just look out for the orange, grey, and white circle signs with the letter S for subway in the centre, and you can hop on and off the trains. This underground network is really handy for getting from the centre of Glasgow to the West End, which is packed full of bars, cafes, and pubs.

On the hop-on hop-off bus

Alternatively, you could take advantage of the hop-on hop-off bus that links the main sights.

This is a great way to reach attractions further away from the centre or those less easily reached by public transport. It might also be the easiest way to sightsee if you are particularly tight on time.

Things to do in one day in Glasgow

Below are the main things to do with one day in Glasgow.

Wander around the city centre sights

Glasgow city centre is very easy to navigate on foot. There are two pedestrianised streets that you should wander down: Sauchiehall Street – running east to west – and the main thoroughfare, Buchanan Street, which runs south from Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (and the huge shopping complex next door) down to St Enoch Centre.

Walking west along Sauchiehall Street towards the Kelvingrove Park area, there is at least one notable landmark to watch out for. This is the Mackintosh at the Willow Tea Room, which was designed by the 19th-century architect Charlie Rennie Mackintosh.

Not far away, on Renfrew Street, is arguably one of Mackintosh’s most celebrated buildings, the Glasgow School of Art. However, a fire badly destroyed this listed building, and the structure is currently being rebuilt.  

Glasgow School of Art
Glasgow School of Art

On the way down Buchanan Street to St Enoch Square, you will also pass another of Mackintosh’s creations and his first building design, The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture.

Before you reach it, you can take a short detour to your left down George Street to Glasgow’s most prestigious public square, George Square. This is dominated by the colossal 19th-century City Chambers. You’ll also find Queen Street station in the northwest corner.

George Square in Glasgow with the City Chambers
George Square in Glasgow with the City Chambers

The square is definitely worth wandering around. It features monuments and statues of notable Scotsmen, most significantly the lauded national poet Robert Burns and inventor James Watt, among others.

You can go inside City Chambers, which offers free guided tours at certain times. The interior features some beautifully decorated rooms, most notably the huge (and gorgeous!) Banqueting Hall and the staircase.

Dotted around the grid layout of streets to the south of here (the Merchant City area) and to the west of George Square, you’ll find some great bars, cafes, and restaurants.

There are also some important architectural landmarks near here, such as the Gallery of Modern Art, Hutcheson’s Hall and the Tobacco Merchant’s House Exchange. Unfortunately, only the first two of these remain open.

Go to Glasgow’s East End and the oldest part of the city

To get a feel for the oldest part of Glasgow, head east towards Cathedral Square, about a 15 to 20 minute walk from George Square. This is where you’ll find several important Glasgow landmarks close to each other.

If you walk here, make sure you look at your surroundings in between the different sights. Here, as well as in other places in the city, you will come across huge murals decorating the side of buildings. Some of them are just incredible.

One of the wall murals in Glasgow
One of the wall murals in Glasgow

To learn more, and potentially follow a mural trail around these, check out this site. 

Alternatively you could join this street art walking tour.

St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art

The St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art is in Glasgow’s East End.

St Mungo was the patron saint of Glasgow and the person who some say introduced Christianity to the country back in the 500s. According to Visit Scotland the museum building was designed in the “Scottish baronial style”.

Open every day of the week and free to enter, the museum highlights the importance of religion, both worldwide and throughout history.

Provand’s Lordship

Nearby you’ll find Glasgow’s oldest building – Provand’s Lordship. Built in the late 1400s, the building is one of the only four remaining medieval buildings left in the city.

The house is currently being restored but should be reopened for public access in the summer of 2023. You can still stand outside, however, and admire the design.

Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis

A bit further on you can’t fail to miss the dark brooding Gothic masterpiece that is “Scotland’s largest place of worship”.

Glasgow Cathedral
Glasgow Cathedral

The cathedral took more than three centuries to complete, and inside, you will find the tomb of Glasgow’s patron saint, St Mungo. 

Glasgow Necropolis is east of the cathedral and only a short walk away. While the thought of exploring this vast Victorian cemetery (it spans 37 acres) may seem odd, once you’ve climbed to the top of the hill on which the cemetery is laid out, you will understand why it is worth going.

Part of Glasgow Necropolis
Part of Glasgow Necropolis
Parts of Glasgow Necropolis

The views are incredible, particularly of Glasgow Cathedral. About 50,000 people are buried here from all walks of life.

Glasgow Cathedral from the necropolis
Glasgow Cathedral from the necropolis

See some art

Glasgow is a great place to visit if you’re an art lover. It has several first-class art collections.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Top of the list is the striking red brick building, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in the West End of the city. I’d definitely go here, even if you only take a look at the magnificent building from the outside.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Inside, the museum boasts a fantastic collection of more than 8,000 artefacts that can be viewed across 22 galleries. The museum is free and is open daily.

The Gallery of Modern Art (aka GoMA)

This museum is also one place you should put on your list, especially if you are a fan of modern art. And it would be easy to visit on one day in Glasgow as it’s based in the city centre.

The GoMA contains a fine collection showcasing the works of various domestic and international artists spread over its four galleries. It’s open daily, although times vary, and it is free to enter.  

The museum stands on Royal Exchange Square, which links Queen Street with Buchanan Street. This is a pleasant area to stroll around soaking in the architecture.

Outside the front of the museum, you’ll see an old equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington (although somebody seems to have stuck a traffic cone on his head in more recent times!).

The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art
The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art

Other art galleries and museums

Aside from the Kelvingrove and GoMA, if you are spending one day in Glasgow, you can also choose from several other top museums that contain artwork. 

The Hunterian is a series of museums which is situated in the University of Glasgow and near to the Kelvingrove. It includes the Hunterian Museum (a natural history museum), the Hunterian Art Gallery (which includes the Mackintosh House, the home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife), and a zoology museum and anatomy museum. 

There is also The People’s Palace. This is a fabulous building on Glasgow Green, which are spacious grounds next to the River Clyde in the east end of Glasgow. The museum showcases a variety of exhibits covering film, photography, and prints. 

And in the south of the city, there is The Burrell Collection, which features paintings, tapestries, and stained glass. It is situated in Pollock Country Park.

This is a bit further out from the main part of the city, but train journeys are still only around 10 minutes and bus journeys 20 minutes. The museum’s website provides more detailed information on how to get here.

Explore more of the West End

If you’re visiting the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and have time on your Glasgow itinerary, you could explore other parts of the West End of Glasgow. This has a decidedly student feel to it, being so close to the University of Glasgow campus. 

There are plenty of places here where you can grab something to eat and drink.

The main action in the West End centres around Byers Road, but you should also check out Ashton Lane, Ruthven Lane, and the Great Western Road. According to Time Out magazine, part of this road ranked third in a poll of the “33 coolest streets in the world” in 2022.

As noted previously, you can also visit top sites in the West End, including the Mackintosh House, the Hunterian Museum, the Hunterian Art Gallery, Kelvingrove Park, and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.  

Get some fresh air

Glasgow is blessed with some great outdoor spaces and so there are plenty of places to get out and about and enjoy the fresh air.

Kelvingrove Park

One of the largest green spaces in the centre is the Victorian Kelvingrove Park, which covers 85 acres. The park can be reached easily from along Sauchiehall Street and is definitely worth visiting, especially if you’re heading for other sights in the area.

The River Kelvin runs through the park, and you are afforded some great views, particularly of Glasgow University.

A view of Glasgow University across the park
A view of Glasgow University across the park

Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Glasgow Botanic Gardens is another popular green space in Glasgow’s West End. It also lies beside the River Kelvin.

The gardens are on Great Western Road, only a short walk from Hillhead underground station. The main feature is the Kibble Palace, a lovely 19th-century glasshouse that houses a variety of plants, as well the National collection of tree ferns. 

Kibble Palace in the botanic gardens
Kibble Palace in the botanic gardens

The gardens are free to enter, and inside you’ll find more than 9,000 plants spread out across its grounds.

If you like botanical gardens and are also visiting Edinburgh, see my post on a visit here.

The River Clyde

If you fancy a grittier experience, consider taking a walk along the River Clyde from the city centre. You can stretch your legs and then possibly stop off at some of the sights in the area.

We started by Bridge Street, not far from St Enoch’s Square. However, you could skip this walk, catch the Scotrail train to the Exhibition Centre stop, and then walk down to the river.

Sights around the Clyde

If you cross over either Bell’s Bridge or the Clyde Arc bridge to the south side of the River Clyde, you will be rewarded with great views of the sparkling and futuristic-looking SEC Armadillo events building.

The SEC Armadillo building
The SEC Armadillo building

You’ll also see the Finnieston Crane, a striking landmark that has become a symbol of Glasgow and its industrial past.  

The Finnieston Crane
The Finnieston Crane

On the south side of the Clyde, just west of Bell’s Bridge, you can visit the superb Glasgow Science Centre. This is one of the city’s best museums and is packed full of interactive science exhibits that will appeal to all ages. 

There is also a range of unique experiences here.

There is the Glasgow Tower (which holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s highest freestanding structure that is capable of fully rotating) and the Newton Flight Academy (where you can fly a plane on one of its flight simulators).

There is also the Space Zone, an immersive experience that leads you into the museum’s planetarium.

Learn about Glasgow’s transport and technology history

Also along the river is the award-winning Riverside Museum. Described as Scotland’s first purpose-built museum, this unique structure was designed by architect Dame Zaha Hadid.

This transport and technology museum can be found on the north side of the Clyde, with the Tall Ship berthed in front of it on the water.

Inside you will discover a fantastic collection that comprises more than 3,000 objects reflecting Scotland’s esteemed contribution to engineering and scientific breakthroughs in this area. 

The Riverside Museum and Tall Ship
The Riverside Museum and Tall Ship

The museum is free to enter and is open every day.

Have afternoon tea

A great thing to do on a day trip to Glasgow is to stop off for some afternoon tea. We built this into our itinerary as a nice treat when we were flagging a bit from walking around the sights, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our day.

The city boasts quite a few venues where you can indulge in some tea and delicious cake, but we’d recommend the place we went to: Mackintosh at the Willow on Sauchiehall Street. This is an ideal place to tuck into some delicious cakes and sandwiches while learning about one of the city’s most famous residents.

The tearooms are in the old original tea rooms building (the Willow Tea Rooms).

Here you can see some of the designs created by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and there is a small, yet fascinating, exhibition next door. This is dedicated to Mackintosh, who designed the stunning interior of this gorgeous building with his wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. 

Explore the Merchant City area

Only a short stroll away from the centre of the city is the small Merchant City area. This is also one of the oldest parts of Glasgow, with medieval sites to see.

One of the highlights of this area is the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, a performing arts museum that presents shows featuring mechanical figures. Another landmark in this area is the 17th-century Tolbooth Steeple.

If you visit in July you may be lucky enough to coincide with the Merchant City festival. This includes a street carnival, and you can sample some tasty street food.

One day in Glasgow

As you can see, there are plenty of places to visit in one day in Glasgow. If you don’t have much time, you can still see many of the main sights and potentially earmark it for another visit in the future.

I hope you enjoy your trip!

Other ideas for short UK breaks and day trips

If you’re vacationing in the UK, then check out some of my other posts. These include the top things to do in 3 days in Edinburgh, a royal day trip to Windsor, and a visit to Blenheim Palace.

If you fancy seeing the sea, you should consider a trip to the south west – I’ve written about things to do in Beer in Devon, in Weymouth in Dorset, as well as in nearby Lyme Regis.

A visit to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is also well worth it, as is Dover Castle.

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