Glasgow is unlike many touristy cities in numerous ways – the people here are friendly, approachable and interested in why tourists might come to check out their town; most cultural institutions are free to visit and initially more aimed at the local population rather than attracting crowds from outside; the public transport system remains scattered with no ticket for all… but in one respect Glasgow is like any other touristy city around Europe: like anywhere else you can board a red Hop on Hop off Glasgow bus and explore the best the city has to offer.
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With many visitors only passing through Glasgow on their way from Edinburgh to the Isles or Highlands the bus tour seems like the perfect solution, but on the other hand how much is there really to see and could you not just do it in your own pace without paying for the bus ticket? Unlike London, for example, there is only one route to choose from and the things you can actually do and see in Glasgow are comparably limited. That is why I wanted to find our for myself – taking a City Sightseeing bus in Glasgow, is it worth it?
City Sightseeing Glasgow opened its bus doors in 2013 which is the year I moved to the city. And yet it took me until last weekend to board one of their tours. I had friends visiting from Vienna and, let’s say, we had a rather rough Friday afternoon after partying at the James gig in the Hydro and with Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules at the Butterfly and the Pig all night…
The plan was to simply walk around the city centre and take it easy. We walked from busker to busker along Buchanan Street until I decided to show them George Square and the impressive City Chambers. As if by magic the sun came out the moment we set foot on the square and the bright red of the double-decker tourist buses caught our eyes.
Quickly we made up our mind to ditch the walking around until later and make the most of a sunny day. A bus tour it was.
Good to know about City Sightseeing Glasgow
The ticket set us back £14 (£13 with student discount) and the tour was scheduled to depart in about 5 minutes. For £1 your ticket will be extended to last 2 days! In high season the tours are running every 15 minutes from 9.30am to 4.30pm and the entire circle takes about 1,5 hours if you don’t get off the bus. Tickets are also available for two days so you can take your time and explore.
There is an English-speaking tour guide on board the bus who tells stories of the city, explains the different sights and attractions the bus drives by and keeps an eye out for anybody who might want to get off the bus. However, there are also audioguides in other languages available – just in case you struggle with the Glaswegian accent too much.
Our guide was really nice and got so excited towards the East End of the city (which is where I live) that I immediately liked him. My friends took such a liking to his stories and jokes that we decided to stay on the bus for the entire circle, and not get off. We’d still have the next day to go to a museum or the University of Glasgow if we wanted to see more.
The Hop on Hop off Glasgow Route
The tour has 21 stops and at each, you could get off to visit several attractions, like the Riverside Museum (designed by Zaha Hadid) and the Tall Ship museum by the River Clyde, or the famous Barras market and the People’s Palace in the East End of the city. It gets you around all of the most important sights of Glasgow and gives you a good overview of how the city is laid out.
The route takes off at George Square in the city centre and takes you towards the East End first. You come by the Royal Infirmary hospital and Glasgow Cathedral with the option to walk up the Victorian Necropolis cemetery for amazing views. The bus continues to the Barras, People’s Palace and Glasgow Green.
You then circumnavigate the Merchant City which is a historic part of the city. Most of the buildings here (which now house restaurants, shops and bars) were built by wealthy merchants. Many of them made their fortunes through the transatlantic slave trade.
WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT SCOTLAND AND THE SLAVE TRADE?
You can read more about Scotland’s slave trade history here and here. I also highly recommend this video about street names in Glasgow.
Glasgow Museums also have an interesting resource about the legacies of slavery in their collections.
The tour next loops through the city’s financial and hotel district. After a bit of a breather (both literally and figuratively) you drive along the Clyde, for a stop at the Finnieston Bridge, the SSE Hydro and the Armadillo Auditorium by the river.
The next stop is by the Riverside Museum from where it is just a short walk across the river to the Glasgow Science Centre.
The final leg of the tour takes you to Glasgow’s popular West End, past the University of Glasgow, through Kelvingrove Park and along the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum.
Every now and then I had a couple of stories to add, news bits and personal anecdotes that made the tour probably even more interesting to my friends who were visiting Glasgow for the first time, but all in all they got a pretty good picture of what the touristy side of Glasgow is all about.
There were a few stops that I would have expected, but were eventually not on the route, like crossing the River Clyde to see the city from the south shore or driving past the beautiful Botanical Gardens, but I guess you can only fit so much into 1.5 hours.
Of course the tour won’t replace a good ol’ Glasgow pub crawl and it won’t give you any insight in the up-and-coming neighbourhoods of Govanhill, Shawlands or Dennistoun, but for a first impression and overview of Glasgow the City Sightseeing bus tour is definitely a great option.
Even though we did not use our ticket to the maximum benefit of getting off and on the bus as we pleased, we still had a great time seeing Glasgow’s main attractions from the comfort of the bus. The sun in our faces, the wind in our hair, and Glasgow at our feet.
Next time I have friends visiting me and Glasgow for the first time (and until Glasgow gets its own free walking tour), the bus tour will be high up on my list of things to do!
Have you ever done a City Sightseeing tour in Glasgow or another city? What did you think – was it worth the time and money?
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Featured Image, Route Map Image & Pin Image via City Sightseeing Glasgow.