City trips can burn quite a hole in your wallet – accommodation, transport from and to the airport, eating out, going for drinks, maybe see a gig, pay for museums or other attractions, not to mention all the shopping opportunities… Luckily, Glasgow is a really budget-friendly city in Scotland – so the good news is, planning a trip to Glasgow can save you pennies to spend them on more trips to the Highlands! To proof that travel in Scotland does not have to cost you an arm and a leg, here are 45 fun and free things to do in Glasgow.
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What I love about Glasgow so much is that it is not a city designed for tourists, but rather for its locals. Hence, so many of its attractions are public and you hardly ever run out of free things to do in Glasgow!
On the map: Free things to do in Glasgow
Free Attractions & Points of Interest
George Square is the geographical heart of the city and an excellent starting point for your ventures in Glasgow. Around the square, you will find 12 statues of Scottish personalities, like Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and James Watt, but also of Queen Victoria – one of only four statues of women in Glasgow.
The most impressive building on George Square is Glasgow City Chambers, which was built between 1882 and 1889. There are even free tours of the City Chambers – for more info, head straight to the Free Tours section.
Located just east of the city centre, Glasgow Cathedral is one of Glasgow’s oldest buildings. The site of the church has been a place of worship for centuries and it allegedly stands where the city’s patron saint St Kentigern (also called St Mungo) built his first church. The Cathedral’s Volunteer Guides are happy to give you a one hour tour of the church – it’s free, but donations are welcome. The Saint’s tomb is located in the lower crypt of the Cathedral and many of the decorative elements around it (as well as Glasgow’s Coat of Arms) are inspired by the Saint’s legends:
Here’s the Bird that never flew
Here’s the Bell that never rang
Here’s the Tree that never grew
Here’s the Fish that never swam
Find out more about visiting Glasgow Cathedral.
It might sound a bit morbid to visit a cemetery during your holidays, but the Necropolis – the Victorian cemetery behind Glasgow Cathedral – is worth it. You will find gravestones and tombs of intricate detail and beauty, and a great view over the Cathedral and the rest of the city.
Free guided tours led by Friends of the Glasgow Necropolis volunteer guides are available several times a month – but donations towards the restoration of the cemetery are welcome.
Tolbooth Steeple & Merchant City
The Tolbooth Steeple is one of the few pre-Victorian buildings in Glasgow and stands right where the medieval market cross of the city would have stood before. It marks the entrance to the Merchant City an area of Glasgow’s city centre.
The Merchant City is where the wealthy merchants of Glasgow built their luxurious townhouses during the city’s richest moments in history. Many of these merchants earned their fortune through the transatlantic slave trade and so financed these opulent buildings. Some were plantation owners or owned the ships that transported African people to the Americas or goods back to Europe, others were directly involved in the trade of products from the colonies (such as tobacco or cotton).
Many street names in the Merchant City (and Glasgow City Centre beyond that) are named after such merchants, but there is no public acknowledgement of their involvement in the slave trade (i.e. in the form of plaques or history boards).
Today, many of these buildings house restaurants, cafes, shops and even a museum (the GoMA, located in the townhouse of tobacco trader William Cunninghame).
University of Glasgow
I might be biased because I study here, but if you ask me, the University of Glasgow is the most beautiful out of all the universities in Glasgow – and there are quite a few. Where else can you pretend that you’re enrolled in Hogwarts and work on your PhD thesis in Muggle Studies with a focus on film festival culture?!
The lanes of Byres Road
Nearby the University lie some of Glasgow’s famous lanes – hidden streets and backyards that are lined with little shops, great restaurants and cosy bars & pubs. One of the most beautiful ones is Ashton Lane which is lit up by fairy lights at night, but it’s worth exploring Cresswell Lane and Ruthven Lane as well.
Finnieston Crane & River Clyde
The River Clyde sealed Glasgow’s fate to become the second-most important city of the British Empire after London. It is where the merchant ships landed from their lucrative (and exploitative) visits to the British colonies overseas – many merchants earned their wealth from tradition products from slave plantations in America. The shipyards here built thousands of ships to sail the seas of the world.
Today, most of these shipyards are closed and most docks have been reclaimed by land. However, there are a few remains that remind you of Glasgow’s heavy industry past, such as the Finnieston Crane near the Squinty Bridge and the new concert halls by the waterfront.
Forth & Clyde Canal
The Forth and Clyde Canal was opened in 1790 and crosses central Scotland from the Firth of Clyde (west of Glasgow) to the Firth of Forth (north of Edinburgh). Despite not leading right through Glasgow, the canal has a basin at Port Dundas, a part of Glasgow just north of the city centre.
The big buildings along the basin at Speirs Wharf are former textile mills, granaries, distilleries and power stations, now converted into office spaces and residential buildings. If you’re up for a walk, you can follow the canal’s basin further north all the way to the Maryhill Locks.
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Free art & culture in Galleries & Museums
Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA)
Like most museums in Glasgow, the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) is free to enter any day of the week! You might know it better from the outside than the inside, as this is where the iconic Duke of Wellington statue is located – yes, the one with the traffic cone on its head.
GoMA is housed in a neoclassical townhouse built in 1778 by William Cunninghame who made a fortune through the slave trade. Cunninghame dominated the transatlantic trade of tobacco, which came from American slave plantations.
The museum always offers a variety of local and international artists and some quirky souvenirs at the museum shop!
Before you get too excited – there is, of course, no actual lighthouse in Glasgow. The Lighthouse is Scotland’s centre for architecture and design with several exhibitions featuring current design projects, contemporary art and work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. From the third floor, you can access the viewing tower, which you can reach over a set of stairs – it’s exhausting, but the views are worth it!
Centre of Contemporary Arts (CCA)
The CCA is a cultural hub in the city centre of Glasgow with an exhibition space, a great book shop, a cafe bar, a theatre space and a cinema. While the exhibitions are always free, lots of events held at the theatre and cinema as also free of charge!
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum exhibits an eclectic collection of art, fossils, dinosaur bones, minerals, furniture and curiosities from around the world. One of the highlights in the museum is without a doubt an original Salvador Dali painting, but my favourite is the Flying Heads installation by Sophie Cave. It is Scotland’s most popular visitor attraction and a must-see during your time in Glasgow!
The Huntarian is a museum at the University of Glasgow and includes the Hunterian Museum at the main building of the university, the Hunterian Art Gallery by the University Library, the Mackintosh House and the Zoology Museum withing the Graham Kerr building on campus.
I recommend visiting at least the Hunterian Museum at the main building, to see beautiful collections of gemstones, minerals, scientific instruments and ancient Egyptian artefacts.
Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel
Visiting the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel is almost like a trip back in time. The building itself was designed by the world-famous architect Zaha Hadid and to me resembles the shape of a sailship at sea.
The museum exhibits any kind of vehicle you could imagine – trains, trams, cars, bicycles, motorbikes – even a replica of the original Glasgow subway. My favourite exhibits are the old Glasgow tram cars and the videos that describe the trams’ last journey on the city’s tracks.
The Tall Ship
Docked right outside the Riverside Museum, the Glenlee Tall Ship is a former cargo ship that has also served as a sailing training ship for the Spanish Navy. Since 2011 it has been open as a museum ship. You can go down all the way into the Cargo hold, see the engine room and visit the captain’s cabin – and don’t forget to ring the ship’s bell!
Govan Old Parish Church & Govan Stones
Govan Old Parish Church is home to the famous Govan Stones, early medieval carved stones which are believed to have been created to honour the lost Kingdom of Strathclyde. Among the stones is a huge stone coffin – the Govan sarcophagus – depicting Norse and Pictish iconography.
The stones were discovered in 1855, however, some of them were mistaken for debris and destroyed along with a nearby shipyard in the 1980s. The remaining stones are on display at the church in Govan.
PS: To get here, take the ferry across from the Riverside Museum, or ride the subway to Govan station!
Fairfield Heritage Centre
Govan was the heart of the shipbuilding industry along the River Clyde. The Fairfield Heritage Centre tells the history of shipbuilding in the area through exhibitions and research facilities.
Scotland Street School Museum
Scotland Street School Museum tells the story of school education from the late 19th century to the late 20th century.
It is located in a building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and conveys what it was like to attend school in Victorian times, during World War II and in the 1950s and 60s. There are three reconstructed classroom and kids can even dress up like pupils of the time.
People’s Palace and Winter Gardens
The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens houses a museum and a glasshouse and is located at the edge of Glasgow Green park.
The museum traces the social history of the people of Glasgow and uncovers different experience of home, work and life through lively exhibits and displays. There is a cafe in the glasshouse and obviously lots of lush greenery to create an evergreen oasis in the city.
PS: This is by far my favourite museum in Glasgow!
St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life & Art
St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art exhibits displays about the major religions of the world and houses Britain’s first Zen garden.
Built on an understanding of respect between faiths, the museum also offers regular talks about culture and religion in Scotland. The museum is just across from Glasgow Cathedral and definitely worth a visit.
The oldest remaining house in Glasgow dates from 1471 and lies across the road from St Mungo’s Museum and Glasgow Cathedral. Provand’s Lordship is thought to have housed the clergy and staff of the Cathedral.
Today it is decorated with 17th-century furniture, but the low ceilings and dark walls still convey the atmosphere of medieval times.
Barrowlands Park is not a museum per se, but it features an exhibition of some sort. Commissioned for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and created in homage to the iconic Barrowlands music venue, Barrowlands Park is a rainbow-coloured street art installation, listing all bands that had ever played the venue up until the Games. It’s great for photos and I bet you’ll discover some of your favourites bands on that list too!
Glasgow Women’s Library
Glasgow Women’s Library is a public library, event space and museum, providing information and workshops about women’s history, culture and achievements. It is located in a beautifully restored building in Bridgeton nearby Glasgow Green and offers a warm and welcome space for anybody who is interested to learn, read or simply relax with a cup of tea.
Volunteers of the library also offer guided history walks through the city, and while these are not free of charge, they are worth it!
The Britannia Panopticon, also known as the Britannia Music Hall is the oldest surviving music hall in the world. Comic actor Stan Laurel made his first stage appearance here, but the Music Hall was also home to a freak show, waxworks and an indoor zoo.
Later on, the Panopticon was one of the first cinemas in Scotland. The Music Hall is open to the public from Tuesday-Saturday in the afternoons.
Free outdoor activities: Parks & Nature
Glasgow Green was the first public park to open in Glasgow and was established in the 15th century. The park was extended and improved during the 19th century and provided a whiff of fresh air in the overpopulated and polluted city.
Today the park is a popular green space in the city and regularly serves as a venue for events such as gigs, sporting events or the city’s fireworks on Bonfire Night.
Kelvingrove Park & Kelvin Walkway
Kelvingrove Park is the green lung of Glasgow’s West End. The large Victorian park offers amazing views of the University’s Bell Tower and the upscale townhouses at Park Circus.
The River Kelvin flows right through the park and if you’re up for a walk you can keep following the Kelvin Walkway towards the Botanic Gardens and towards the Maryhill Locks (from where you could continue to walk along the Forth & Clyde Canal to Speirs Wharf).
Botanic Gardens & Kibble Palace
The Botanic Gardens lie just a 10-minute walk away from the University of Glasgow and are a great place to visit, whether it rains or shines. The Gardens are home to a variety of local and exotic plants, but the highlight of the park is the round Victorian glasshouse Kibble Palace. Inside, the plants are split up in geographical regions and if you want to learn more, take a look at the signposts in between them.
Fossil Grove at Victoria Park
Victoria Park is located in the far west end of Glasgow and looks pretty much like any other Victorian park in Glasgow – there is a little pond, lots of space for picnics and leisure activities and lush flower beds.
That changed however, when shortly after the park was opened in 1886, the fossilised stumps of eleven extinct Lepidodendron trees were discovered. The trees had stood here over 325 million years ago, which makes this the most ancient visitor attraction in Glasgow.
Pollok Country Park
Pollok Country Park is a huge green space in the Southside of Glasgow. It offers a wide network of paths and trails, and a resident herd of Highland Cows.
It is definitely the closest to a forest you will get so close to the city centre. In the centre of the park, you can find Pollok House a beautiful historic mansion which is maintained by the National Trust for Scotland.
Queen’s Park boasts a mix of Victorian landscaping and beautiful wilderness. Generous avenues criss-cross the park, and there is a rose garden and a boating pond; but there are also unspoiled wildlife zones where local animals get the environment they need to live and breed in the inner city.
For a nice little work out, I recommend climbing the central hill towards the flag pole from where you can see all the way to Ben Lomond.
Rouken Glen Park
Rouken Glen Park also lies in the Southside and is formed around the natural glen of Auldhouse Burn river. It might not be as big as other parks of its kind, but the Glen Walk really turns it into a brilliant park for an easy walk nearby the city.
The Hidden Gardens are a public community green space on the compound of Tramway Theatre. Here you can enjoy relaxing surrounded by nature or participate in one of the many community activities and learning opportunities.
The Gardens are filled with a variety of plant collections, for example, flowers that attract bees, a wildlife area, a big meadow and even a bed of medicinal and culinary plants.
Free Tours in Glasgow
City Centre Mural Trail (self-guided)
You can’t compare the street art in Glasgow to the likes of Berlin, London or New York, but the City Centre Mural Trail is nevertheless one of the city’s most attractive features.
The trail crisscrosses Glasgow and comes across a variety of large-scale murals, many commissioned by the city council and painted by local artists. You can download an up-to-date brochure with a map and descriptions of the mural here.
City Chambers guided tours
One of the few free guided tours in Glasgow leads you into the Glasgow City Chambers. Because it is a working building, meaning that parts of it are used by the city government, the tour’s radius depends a little bit on which rooms are free at the moment, but the guides will make sure to show you as much as possible.
One of the main features of the building is the elaborate marble staircase, decked out entirely with Carrara marble from Italy. Another highlight is the Council Chamber, which is where the Council holds its formal meetings. If it’s free, you even get to sit in the Lord Provost’s Chair for a photo!
The tour is offered twice a day from Monday to Friday; no need to book.
Mackintosh Building Tour (self-guided)
Sir Charles Rennie Mackintosh is without a doubt the most famous architect to hail from Glasgow and his buildings are spread out across the entire city. Unless you want to join a guided Mackintosh walking tour with students from the Glasgow School of Arts (not free of charge; currently on hold after the June 2018 fire at the Art School), you can simply choose one of the self-guided walking trails developed by the Mackintosh Heritage Group.
There are three different routes and you can download the leaflets containing maps, photos and descriptions here.
Glasgow Gurdwara tour
The Glasgow Gurdwara is the first purpose-built Gurdwara in Scotland and serves as a cultural, religious and educational centre for the Sikh community in Glasgow.
If you would like to learn more about the Sikh faith and what happens at a Gurdwara, you can join a free guided tour!
Markets & Shopping
If you want to experience the authentic Glaswegian culture, there is only one place to go: The Barras. The Barras is a market in the East End of Glasgow, which has been taking place since the 1920s.
There is a mix of market halls, street vendors, pubs cafes and courtyard shops offering anything from second-hand rummage to books, board games, and vintage fashion. On-site of the market there is also a new arts centre with studio spaces and small boutiques.
The market is open every Saturday.
There are two farmers markets in Glasgow taking place on alternating Saturdays in the West End and in the Southside of the city. This is your opportunity to connect with local producers and processors, and pick up fresh, seasonal and local produce for a nice meal – admittedly this is not entirely free, but I’m sure you’ll be able to grab some free tasters here or there.
This is an ideal activity if you stay in self-catering accommodation, like an AirBnB!
Hidden Lane Saturdays
The Hidden Lane is a quirky lane tucked away in the trendy neighbourhood of Finnieston which has become the home for artists, designers and curators to produce and exhibit their work. Inside the lane, you can find a great number of artist studios, showrooms, workshops and boutique shops.
You can observe artists while their creating, chat to them about their work and buy souvenirs directly from the producers – support small businesses! The opening times of the shops vary, but most are open during Hidden Lane Saturdays.
Polmadie Car Boot Sale
Polmadie Car Boot Sale is Scotland’s only full undercover car boot sale with stalls selling anything from fruit and veg to DVDs and bric-a-brac. The market is open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
Pretty Shopping Centres
Glasgow is a real shopping paradise – but of course, that comes with a price tag… Still, there are a couple of beautiful shopping centres that are worth to check out even if you don’t plan to spend any money:
- Argyll Arcade is Glasgow’s golden mile, lined by shops offering jewellery, diamonds and luxury watches.
- House of Fraser is a premium department store with shops across the UK and Ireland; the Glasgow branch’s interior is particularly beautiful.
- The nearby Princes Square Shopping Centre was originally built around an open courtyard, which is now enclosed by a glass dome, allowing natural daylight to flood in and brighten up the space.
Budget-friendly Live Music & Nightlife
Buskers of the Style Mile
Glasgow is a musical city – in fact, it is a UNESCO City of Music and is home to a vast number of internationally acclaimed bands and artists. Before they hit the international stages though, local musicians win over the crowds in Glasgow’s streets. The buskers around the shopping mils in the city centre are some of the best you’ll find in the UK.
Playing arcade games at Super Bario
Super Bario is a laid back arcade bar that allows you to travel back in time. Admittedly you might want to purchase a couple of drinks, but some of the arcade machines are actually free to play. Fancy a round of Pacman?
Free live music
Many pubs and bars in Glasgow have local resident bands and it is free to come and see them play. Some of my favourites are The Butterfly & The Pig, Maggie May’s, Macsorleys, Slouch, bloc+, The 78 and Ben Nevis, for more traditional music.
Free club nights
Some of Glasgow’s most iconic clubbing venues – like the Subclub – can cost quite a bit to get in, but luckily there are several free clubs and club nights for the budget-conscious traveller. Some are just free to enter, like Flat 0/1 or The Garage, while others have PR teams in the streets handing out free passes. Have fun!
Bonus: Things that are not free, but worth the expense
Not all things in Glasgow are free, but some of them are definitely worth the money! Now, that you’ve saved so much money exploring Glasgow on the cheap, here are a few attractions and activities that you’ll have to pay for:
City Sightseeing Bus
A tour with the red City Sightseeing Bus is a great way to get an overview of Glasgow. I suggest getting aboard in the beginning of your trip, take note of the things you want to see along the route and then spend the rest of your time exploring those areas. £15 / one day ticket
Find out why I think it’s worth taking the City Sightseeing Bus.
Watch Me See Glasgow Tour
Another tour I can highly recommend is my very own Watch Me See Glasgow Tour! I can take you to my favourite places and show you some hidden gems in the city, but I can also tailor the tour entirely to your interests and needs. In the past I’ve shown visitors the main attractions of Glasgow, taken them on a Harry Potter / craft beer walking tour and guided them through the less touristy East End of Glasgow.
Get in touch! £60 / 3 hours
The Glasgow Tower is a free-standing structure by the River Clyde and is part of the Science Centre. It is 127m tall and during the summer months you can go all the way to the top for an excellent 360 view across the city. £6.50
Glasgow Science Centre
The Glasgow Science Centre is one of the few museums in Glasgow that is not free, but the exhibits and displays are a great way to let our your inner child and learn something new.
During the day, the museums is a great family-friendly activity, but if you’d rather not fight with a 6-yr-old over who gets to try the wind channel, join one of the adult-only events. From £9.70
Thematic guided tours
There are a variety of thematic guided tours and if you’re interested in any of these topics, I suggest you invest in one of them.
- Glasgow Women’s Library offers Women’s History Tours through various neighbourhoods, telling stories of local Glasgow women. £10
- The Glasgow Music City Tours visit some of Glasgow’s most iconic music venues and cover the musical history of the city. £15
- Central Station Tours takes you underground – underneath one of the UK’s busiest train stations and onto the old Victorian platforms several levels down. £13
Find out about more unique Glasgow tours.
Dance at a Sloan’s Ceilidh
You can’t leave Scotland without having tried your luck at Ceilidh dancing. Lucky for you, one of my favourite Glasgow pubs, Sloan’s hosts a Ceilidh night every week – and don’t worry, beginners are welcome! From £10
Ride the Glasgow Subway
While Glasgow is an incredibly walkable city – especially if you have a few days to explore, you should not miss out on the chance to ride the world’s 3rd oldest subway! Also called Clockwork Orange, because the trains are orange and it’s going in a circle, it is a quirky way to get around town. £3.30 for an all-day ticket.
Have you explored any of these free things to do in Glasgow? What did you do with all the money you saved?
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All photos by Kathi & Thomas Kamleitner.