14 Best Free Things To Do In Glasgow
Scotland’s largest city has lots of visitor attractions and interesting things to see and do - and the great news is that many of them are completely free.
Ever since Glasgow was named European City of Culture in 1990 it has drawn millions of visitors from the UK and further afield who quickly come to appreciate everything this amazing city has to offer.
Here are just a few of the best things to do in Glasgow for free:
Glasgow Botanic Gardens
Enjoy a walk around Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Founded in 1817, these beautiful gardens have been delighting visitors for 200 years.
The highlight of any visit is to see Kibble Palace - an enormous Victorian glasshouse that now houses a spectacular collection of ferns.
Amazingly this glasshouse was created by entrepreneur John Kibble at his home, and was dismantled, enlarged and moved to the Botanic Gardens in 1873.
The glasshouse has been restored in the 21st Century and is now looking at its best again.
In Kibble Palace you can pick up a brochure about the Heritage Trail which highlights nearly 30 points of interest to help you discover the gardens.
The River Clyde and The Finnieston Crane
The River Clyde is central to Glasgow’s history as a great trading city in the days of the British Empire, and also to its shipbuilding heritage.
So it’s well worth taking a walk along the Clyde from Glasgow Green towards the Riverside Museum and Tall Ship.
Along the way, you’ll see relics of the past like the iconic Finnieston Crane - no longer used, but a powerful 53 metre high memorial to the days when shipbuilding on the Clyde was at its height.
You’ll also see modern Glasgow emerging in the form of recent developments such as the Glasgow Science Centre, the Hydro, the famous Armadillo and the BBC Scotland building.
Look out for the Clyde Arc - known locally as the “Squinty Bridge”.
Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)
The most popular modern art gallery in Scotland, you’ll find GOMA in a surprisingly traditional-looking building in the city centre.
Exhibitions within the gallery change periodically, and as the gallery aims to put on thought-provoking displays of work from both local and international artists, the exhibitions tend to divide opinion.
Even if you don’t enjoy the work on display, you’ll probably be interested in the building, which was built in 1778 as a townhouse for wealthy merchant William Cunninghame.
The building also contains a Tourist Information Hub.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
One of the best free things to do in Glasgow is to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
One of Scotland’s top 3 free visitor attractions, and featuring more than 8,000 objects in 22 galleries, Kelvingrove is one attraction you mustn’t miss.
The Gallery and Museum was comprehensively refurbished at a cost of more than £27m, and re-opened in 2006.
A few of the highlights include galleries of work by French and Dutch artists, a gallery devoted to Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style, The Glasgow Boys and lots more.
Other noteworthy objects on display include The Kelvingrove Organ dating from 1902, a Mark 21 Spitfire built in 1944, and Fulton’s Orrery, a 3D working model of the solar system from the 1820s.
Once again, visitors will enjoy the wonderful architecture of the building at Kelvingrove nearly as much as the contents.
While you’re visiting the amazing Kelvingrove Museum, take time to enjoy its setting - and admire the exterior of the building, from Kelvingrove Park.
Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, this superb Victorian park on the banks of the River Kelvin consists of 85 acres of parkland and is a wonderful place to spend a few hours.
The park includes children’s play areas, a skateboard park, a large bandstand that was restored in 2013, bowling and croquet greens, tennis courts, and the impressive Stewart Memorial Fountain.
A great place to wander around, or have a picnic on a sunny day.
With a history going back more than 800 years, Glasgow Cathedral is a landmark you mustn’t miss.
Consecrated in 1197, this has been a place of worship ever since.
Of course, the building has gone through many changes over that time - and visitors can see its evolution, and admire architecture added and change over many centuries.
The cathedral has a fine collection of 20th century stained glass windows. Don’t miss The Great West Window in the Nave which is “The Creation” by Francis Spear.
You’ll also want to see “The Millennium Window” unveiled in 1999.
You’ll find the Glasgow Necropolis adjacent to Glasgow Cathedral, on a low hill to the east.
This Victorian cemetery is the final resting place of more than 50,000 people, and there are over 3,500 monuments to the dead.
Highlights include the Monument to John Knox (Scottish minister and leader of the Reformation) which stands on the summit of the hill, and actually pre-dates the rest of the cemetery.
There’s a great view of the Cathedral and the city from this location too.
The John Henry Alexander (of the Theatre Royal) Monument, and the Charles Tennant Monument (Tennant was a chemist and industrialist who invented bleaching powder) are well worth seeing.
The Hunterian museum and art gallery is the oldest public museum in Scotland.
Admission to the main museum and gallery is completely free - though there’s a small charge for admission to special exhibitions - but there’s plenty to see and enjoy in the free areas.
Here are just a couple of the highlights:
“The Antonine Wall: Rome’s Final Frontier” tells the story of this great wall that was built by the Romans in 142 AD - and stretched from the River Clyde in the west to the Firth of Forth in the east.
Covering how the wall was built, the lives of Roman soldiers on the frontier and how the wall was re-discovered over the past 350 years, this is an enjoyable exploration of the Roman history of Scotland.
Lord Kelvin was a scientific giant who lived in Glasgow for much of his life. You can find out more about him - how he improved safety at sea, and how he solved the problems of laying telegraph cables across the Atlantic - leading to global electronic communications we enjoy today.
The museum has a collection of Lord Kelvin’s scientific instruments on display.
There’s lots more to see including exhibitions on the museum’s founder William Hunter, an exhibition about the evolution of Medicine in Glasgow, a famous Egyptian mummy and more.
Pollok Country Park
Voted Best Park in Britain in 2007, and Best Park in Europe in 2008, you should definitely visit Pollok Country Park - if only to see if you agree!
Children will appreciate a visit to the play park - and you can check out the Ranger Centre with details of all the park has to offer.
If you have bikes with you, there are mountain bike routes to enjoy, or you can just cycle gently around the park, enjoying the landscape.
As well as parkland, there are formal gardens to enjoy - as well as woodland with a woodland trail.
It also costs nothing to admire the contrasting exterior architecture of Pollok House and the Burrell Collection which are both located within the park.
Housed in a fantastic modern building designed by architect Zaha Hadid, the Riverside Museum is a wonderful collection of transport-related objects that tell the story of people’s quest for greater mobility through the years.
There are three superb replica Glasgow streets that you can explore - and now you can even go inside some of the shops.
Many of the cars, bikes and motorbikes are mounted on walls - and make a dramatic display.
They’ve been photographed in 360 degrees outside and in, and you can access these photos via interactive touch screens.
There are also railway locomotives, including one of the largest on display anywhere in Britain - and now the locomotives have access platforms to help you get a better close-up look.
The Tall Ship
Conveniently berthed outside the Riverside Museum, the Tall Ship is named the Glenlee - and it’s one of only 5 Clyde-built sailing ships still afloat.
Launched in 1896 as a bulk cargo carrier, the Glenlee sailed around the world four times before being bought by the Spanish Navy and used as a training vessel until 1981, and then left to rot in Seville Harbour.
In 1992 the Clyde Maritime Trust bought the ship and set about returning her to the Clyde.
Now restored, the Glenlee plays an important role in connecting visitors with Glasgow’s maritime heritage.
It’s free to board the Tall Ship (for groups of 8 or fewer) - and you can explore every corner of the vessel from the cargo hold where there’s a play area for under 5’s, to the Captain’s cabin.
There are now audio guides to tell you all about this fascinating ship.
Scotland Street School Museum
This building was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and operated as a school until 1979.
The building now houses a fascinating museum that tells the tale of education in Scotland over the past century.
For fans of the architect, there is a Mackintosh room with more information about the building, including his original designs.
Kids love this museum as they can really relate to the subject, and contrast what they see with their own experience of education in the present day.
The opportunity to dress up and pretend to be a student from the early 20th century will be particularly popular.
The perfect mix of nostalgia for older visitors and education and fun for the youngsters.
Billed as Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, The Lighthouse houses exhibitions and events that showcase the best in architecture and design.
But it’s not just the contents of the building that make The Lighthouse worth visiting: This building was the first public commission by Charles Rennie Mackintosh - so it's a great place to start a Mackintosh tour of Glasgow, and a must-see for fans of the great architect.
There's a Mackintosh Interpretation Centre on permanent display - consisting of a "present-day" section with a guide to the building, and an interpretive section showing Mackintosh's achievements during his lifetime.
You won't want to miss climbing the beautiful helical staircase to the top of the tower, and enjoying superb views of Glasgow from the external viewing gallery.
Check out the video for more details on what The Lighthouse has to offer.
People's Palace and Winter Gardens
Centrally located in Glasgow Green, The People’s Palace is the place to go for an insight into the lives of ordinary Glaswegians over the last 300 years.
The social history of Glasgow is told through a superb collection of photographs, paintings, prints, film and interactive displays.
Discover Glasgow’s unique sense of humour with a feature on the city’s famous comedians including Billy Conolly. You’ll also find out about “The Dancing” at the Barrowland Ballroom, “Doon The Watter” (trips down the Clyde) and “The Steamie” (public laundry).
Behind The People’s Palace, you’ll find the Winter Gardens - a large enclosed space where palms and other exotic plants flourish, and where you can wander happily and escape from the elements, making it ideal for a cold or rainy day.
Once again, the building itself is almost as interesting as its contents. Also, don’t miss the Doulton Fountain, which is the world’s largest terracotta fountain - you’ll find it near the entrance.
As you can see, Glasgow offers a variety of interesting places to visit, both indoors and out, totally free of charge. A visit to Scotland’s largest city needn’t be an expensive proposition - so why not start planning your trip today?
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