While you certainly can’t see everything in a single day in any city, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. A Glasgow day trip is extremely rewarding. Scotland is full of beautiful landscapes but it is also home to some urban centers you should experience. If your schedule only allows for one day in Glasgow, you can get a great taste and feel for the city. From exploring the city center to eating like a local, here’s my itinerary for day in Glasgow, Scotland!
Get to Know Glasgow
Edinburgh may be the capital of Scotland but Glasgow is the country’s largest city (not to mention one of the largest in the UK). With its location on the River Clyde, the city became Scotland’s largest seaport and continued to grow for its working-class roots for centuries.
Because of its industrial-era history, Glasgow is rich in architecture and engineering. But it is also culturally rich, offering something for everyone. This has manifested itself in recent decades in a wave of successful Glaswegian rock bands: from Mogwai and Primal Scream to Franz Ferdinand and Travis. Legendary concert club King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut remains an important spot to this day.
Things to See in Glasgow, Scotland
For a Glasgow day trip, you need to have a plan of attack. You want to experience a little bit of everything. Here are a few of my favorite spots and stops in Glasgow. If you’re like me, it will only make you want to get to know the city more. One day is just not enough.
Ride the Subway
The Glasgow subway, simply called “The Subway” by locals, opened in December of 1896, making it the third-oldest underground metro system of its kind. (The London Underground is oldest, followed by Budapest’s metro.)
Today’s system still shares aspects with its original but, of course, there are some updates. What is particularly interesting about the Glasgow subway is the fact that how it’s laid out. The system has two lines that both run in a circle on either side of the River Clyde. The lines both serve the same stations but they run in opposite directions. That is, the orange line or outer circle runs clockwise while the grey line or inner circle runs counterclockwise. In only 24-minutes you can ride the entire system of 15 stations.
As part of recent modernization efforts, the subway has new cars featuring benches that run parallel to the tracks. There is also an electronic ticketing system but there are also plenty of ticket kiosks at the stations for purchasing paper tickets. The new subway cars feel small when compared to those in a more major city — say a New York City — but they are just right for the Glasgow community.
Explore George Square
The heart of any European city is undoubtedly its main square. In Glasgow, that honor belongs to George Square. In the heart of the city, the square dates to the late-1700/early-1800s. It has seen the city build up around it. Since 1889, the William Young designed Glasgow City Chamber anchors the eastern side of George Square. Opposite of it sits the Merchants’ House. The building is from the late 1800s and was once dedicated to the merchant guild but today serves as an event venue. On the south side, is the 19th-century one-time General Post Office building.
With the exception of the City Chambers, the buildings are today largely serving a different purpose. Hotels, restaurants, and offices for lawyers and accountants surround the square in these historic buildings.
Elsewhere gardens, statues, and monuments dot the landscape of George Square. Some are serious and moving, like a memorial to those Glasgow citizens lost during World War I. Others honor important Scots, like Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. And, of course, there are statues of royalty like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are depicted on horseback.
It’s also funny to note — at least for this Philly native — that George Square served as a stand-in for the City of Brotherly Love in the Brad Pitt movie World War Z. It’s not too surprising as the city really has a distinctly similar feel.
Check out the Street Scene and Admire the Architecture
Glasgow is famous for its street art, which murals ranging from those honoring famous Glaswegians to those simply artistic. I spotted a larger than life squirrel hanging out under a bridge on the edge of the River Kelvin. As you explore the city, you never know what you will find on the next block or around the next corner. And that is, without a doubt, part of the fun. It’s an easy part of the city to experience while walking around during your Glasgow day trip. You see it whether you want to or not.
But there is more than modern street art to Glasgow. If architecture is more your cuppa, then you will not be disappointed by Glasgow. Seemingly everywhere that you look in Glasgow is a nod to yesteryear. Victorian-era buildings, many of red or brown sandstone, litter the cityscape. And that bridge overtop of that squirrel? It’s a beautiful ironwork piece painted rich forest green. These are details you simply do not see anymore.
But Glasgow isn’t “old.” There are buildings with modern styles, too. Newer museums, like the Glasgow Science Centre and the Riverside Museums, feature incredible designs. The latter is the work of the late Zaha Hadid. The city is a beautiful mixture and blending of its past and its present.
Stroll & Shop in the Pedestrian Areas
One of my favorite parts of any European city is the pedestrian areas. And I don’t mean parks. Well, not just. In the heart of most cities, you’ll find shopping districts that are pedestrian-only. In Glasgow, you will want to head to Sauchiehall and Buchanan Streets.
Regardless of whether you want (or need) to go shopping, you can go out for a stroll at your own pace, window shop, and simply enjoy a day out. You may encounter some performance artists, musicians, or demonstrators, but that’s all just part of the experience. It’s a real taste of the city for your Glasgow day trip.
Visit a Museum
As I said earlier, Glasgow is rich in its history. The city has a number of great museums where you can experience its history and culture for yourself. A number of these museums are also free, so if you’re only visiting for a day, you can pop in and out without feeling guilty for not seeing the entire collection on display. Here are a few of the most popular of the city’s museums:
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is perhaps the city of Glasgow’s most famous museum. Since its opening in 1901, Kelvingrove Museum has housed a little bit of everything in its impressive walls. Today, there are 22 galleries where you can see art, attend an organ recital, learn more about the city’s favorite son of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and more. Admission to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is free.
- There’s also the Riverside Museum, which was formerly known as the Glasgow Museum of Transport. There you can get a taste of the city’s seaside history as well as other transportation for landlubbers. The museum is hands-on, meaning you can help put out a fire with an interactive exhibit. You can also board trains, trams, and buses that have since been retired. Entry to the Riverside Museum is free.
- The Glasgow Science Centre sits on the edge of the River Clyde in three shiny titanium-clad buildings which include a freely-rotating tower and an IMAX theater. The state-of-the-art museum has something for every age and there are a number of interactive exhibits the keep you fully engaged.
Where to Eat in Glasgow, Scotland
With no shortage of restaurants in Glasgow city center, it can be difficult knowing where to go. For a single day trip to Glasgow, I recommend going classic and keeping things simple. And what is more classic than a British pub and then a stop in a tea room?
If you’re looking for a rough and ready pub, look elsewhere. The Drake Bar and Restaurant is cool and classy while still being casual. It’s the kind of place where you can take your sweetheart or your family — or your dog as they’re dog-friendly!
The menu at The Drake features modern gastro pub cuisine but I recommend stopping in on a Sunday for the traditional and delicious roast. I’m still thinking about the roast chicken and Yorkshire pudding. My husband and I stopped in during a Rangers and Celtics football (I mean, soccer) match and the staff was helpful, welcoming and it gave a great feel for Glasgow. The Drake is a neighborhood spot that’s well worth seeking out.
Willow Tea Rooms
For a taste of Glasgow’s history (literally!), you need to head to the single remaining Charles Rennie Mackintosh Willow Tea Rooms. There were only ever four to begin with and this particular tea room dates to 1915. Mackintosh’s designs are thoroughly modern Art Nouveau, complete with custom furniture and windows. These tea rooms were quite popular in their time. But like so many places, the Willow Tea Rooms eventually fell out of style and were largely forgotten until renovations and a rebirth in 2014.
And if you’re in Glasgow you simply have to visit! The spacious tea room is only part of what makes it special. The tea and food are fantastic. My husband and I somewhat unintentionally found ourselves standing in front of the Watt Brothers Department Store which plays host to a tea room on its third floor. (Or rather, it did, until last month when the department store went into administration.) My husband is still raving about the carrot cake he had, featuring frosting that was seemingly spiced and not overly sweet. Meanwhile, their house blend of tea and scones were the perfect combination for me. Things were surprisingly quiet on the Sunday in September when I visited. The staff is extremely friendly and on top of everything.
While the Willow Tea Rooms at the Watt Brothers Department Store is no longer an option, the location at Buchanan Street is still around.
It’s quite easy to take a Glasgow day trip as the city is very connected transportation-wise. In addition to an international airport, the city has two major train stations with regular connections between Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are, of course, also plenty of buses that serve the city, too.
I found train connections from Edinburgh Waverley Station to Glasgow Queen Street to be quick and relatively inexpensive. Because the trains run so frequently, you can generally walk up to the station and buy your ticket on the spot. There’s no need to purchase ahead of time. As always, regardless of whether you opt for a train or a bus, be sure to check the latest bus schedules for up to date routes, stops, and time information.
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All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own. This post contains affiliate links.