24 August 2023

How To Spend a Long Weekend in Glasgow

Once a year, my mum and I take a trip together, spending a long weekend in a new city or region. This year, it was the turn of Glasgow — a city we'd both wanted to visit for quite some time. With a population of around 635,000, 'dear green place' (as Glasgow is affectionately known), is the largest city in Scotland and the third largest in the UK. Its compact city centre is easy to explore on foot or by public transport and there is plenty to keep you occupied for a long weekend — and beyond — from murals and Mackintosh architecture to whisky, walks and waterside fun.


Exploring the city centre

As soon as we arrived in Glasgow we — like many other visitors before us — couldn't help but notice the architectural similarities to New York. There's even a street system. Walk along Sauchiehall Street (pronounced sucky-hall — named for the willow groves) from the centre to the West End and you'll encounter Victorian, Georgian and Art Nouveau styles, intermixed with rather more brutalist — and less well-preserved — buildings.

I like to take a walking tour when I'm visiting a new city and the 90-minute City Centre Highlights tour from Walking Tours In... was an excellent introduction to Glasgow's history and culture. We started near the University of Strathclyde, which has some interesting murals. There are a couple depicting St Mungo, Glasgow's patron saint, who often appears with a robin, a bell, a fish and a tree — symbols associated with miracles he is said to have performed and which are also seen throughout the city. 

We wandered up to the mediaeval cathedral and the hilltop Necropolis — my mum and I went back later for a longer visit and to enjoy the views — and then looped back through Merchant City, which is now home to rather more modern merchants (i.e. high-end shops). We had to make a few diversions to avoid the World Cycling Championships but this did mean that many of the roads were pleasantly traffic free.

I would also highly recommend taking a free guided tour of Glasgow City Chambers. The Victorian building is rather more impressive than your average council building with its stunning Escher-like marble staircases and beautiful domed roof. The tour is conducted by enthusiastic and knowledgeable council staff and takes about 45 minutes.

Maxing out on Mackintosh

Interested in modern architecture, art and design? You've come to the right place. Glasgow is rightly proud of its son Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a renowned architect and designer. In fact, you could probably spend the whole long weekend on the Mackintosh Trail. Our favourite stop was at Mackintosh at the Willow, a reconstruction of the original Willow Tea Rooms that were opened by formidable businesswoman Catherine Cranston in the late 19th century and featured the work of Mackintosh and his wife, artist Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. You can take afternoon tea there yourself but we just took an informative guided tour of the building.

Just around the corner, at 120 Blythswood Street, you can see one of Mackintosh's houses from the outside. There is a reconstruction of another of his houses at the Hunterian Art Gallery in the West End, which we enjoyed walking around. The clean designs and attention to detail made me wish there was a Mackintosh boutique hotel! We also paid a visit to the nearby Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum to look at the original of one of Margaret's works from the Willow. We also found out that Margaret was a Black Country lass, born in Tipton, and that the Mackintoshes were friends with a certain Glaswegian family of designers and artists...the Waltons!

Whisky on the waterside

Scotland is home to an ever-growing collection of over 130 whisky distilleries. We took a tour of one of the newest — Clydeside Distillery, which opened in 2017 on the site of the former Queen's Dock in Stobcross, on the banks of the River Clyde. No, the water they use isn't from the Clyde, our cheerful guide assured us, but from Loch Katrine, which also supplies the city's top-quality tap water. The tour was informative and I enjoyed the tastings at the end, although my mum would have preferred a wee dram of wine!

We walked to Clydeside along the river from the city centre, which took about 30 minutes. After our visit, we carried on a little further until we reached the Riverside Museum. The large, free museum is dedicated to the history of transport. There's plenty to occupy kids — and big kids — here and the building is housed in a striking Zaha Hadid building. While you're there, you can also pay a visit to the Tall Ship Glenlee, which has a rich maritime history.

Edging east
While we were in town, there was a completely sold-out Banksy exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art, so we couldn't visit but we did doff our caps (or cones) to the Duke of Wellington (AKA Cone Head) outside. It's then a 15-minute walk east past the historic Trongate to Barras Market, a sprawling collection of covered market stalls selling all manner of new and vintage goods. Afterwards, we headed down to Glasgow Green, the city's oldest park, and paid a visit to the People's Palace, an interesting free museum about life in Glasgow.

An afternoon on Loch Lomond

If the weather is kind and you fancy getting out of the city for a day or half-day, consider taking the train to Balloch. The town is the gateway to the Trossachs National Park, located at the southern end of Loch Lomond, some 20 miles northwest of Glasgow. It's an easy 45-minute train journey from Glasgow Central and the loch is a short walk from the station.

As the weather was OK ('not raining') rather than great, we decided to go for an afternoon. We took a boat trip on the loch with Sweeney's Cruises, enjoying the dramatic views of Great Britain's largest lake by area. Afterwards, we got ice creams in Balloch and went for a loch-side stroll before catching the train home. If you have more time and better weather, you can also consider taking a full-day tour from Glasgow, like this one, which also gives you a taste of the Highlands.


Looking for my Glasgow speciality coffee recommendations? There's a guide for that! As for the rest of our eating and drinking experiences, most of the places that made our shortlist are in the West End and Merchant City.

On our first night, we had an excellent seafood supper at The Finnieston, a bar and restaurant on a stretch of Argyle Street replete with fine eateries just south of Kelvingrove Park. With its cosy maritime decor and friendly staff, it's a great place for a drink or a bite. I had to order the Monster Munch Martini — with its picked onion garnish, it perfectly encapsulated the strong flavours of that favoured childhood snack — but I enjoyed the Tropical Old Fashioned (with grilled pineapple) even more. As for the food, my scallops were delicious — and the beer-battered haddock and chips was the best I'd had in a long time. 

Just around the corner on Sauchiehall Street is Ox and Finch, a wonderful neighbourhood restaurant that serves Mediterranean small plates. We managed to get a cancellation on Sunday night and it was late enough that I was in carb deficit and we ended up over-ordering. Well, we managed! My favourite dishes were the duck liver parfait with raspberry and harissa on a duck fat brioche, the confit chicken leg and the raspberry and olive oil millefeuille (I said that we managed!).

Named for the ever-present deep-fried potatoes in Glasgow, Ubiquitous Chip is a Hillehad institution that was run by the Clydesdale family for half a century until it was sold last year. We stopped for a drink at the whisky snug (a bigger bar and rooftop terrace) before heading to the main dining room, in a bright and leafy courtyard with a wonderful relaxed atmosphere. After starting with a creative cocktail (Pimm's x bubble gum), the friendly staff began to bring out the seven courses of our tasting menu. Our favourite dishes were the salmon tartare with peas and strawberry, the coddled hen's egg (with mini toasties for dunking) and the venison loin (I was thrilled that the chef made a mushroom-free version for me featuring red and golden beetroot). 

We also had fab meals at Paesano (industrial-chic Neapolitan pizzeria in Merchant City) and Dockyard Social (a large indoor street food market in the West End, where we loved the tacos from Chloe Cooks), and drinks at iasg (pronounced ee-usk, from the Gaelic for 'fish'), the beautiful sea-green bar at the Kimpton Hotel Blythswood Square.



Accommodation in Glasgow for summer weekends can get booked up quickly. We booked our trip five months in advance and hotel options were already limited and expensive. Unfortunately, the Kimpton was out of our budget, as was the Hotel du Vin, which is also a little further from the centre than I wanted for a short stay. Most of the usual chain hotels are located in the city centre within a few blocks of Glasgow Central Station. We had a pleasant stay at the Maldron, a clean, comfortable, quiet and modern hotel located on Renfrew Street, near the bus station and a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle of Buchanan Street and the surrounding pubs and bars. Across the road was a caff called Enzo's where we had a hot sausage bap for just £1.90 — bargain!

Arriving and getting around

If you are arriving by train, Glasgow Central will bring you right into the heart of things. The journey from London Euston takes 4h30 to 5h30. Book in advance to get the best fares — and note that it may not be cheaper than flying. If you fly, Glasgow Airport is about eight miles west of the city centre. An express bus (number 500) runs frequently into the city centre; the journey takes about 20 minutes and costs £10 one way or £16 return.

Central Glasgow is small enough that you can easily explore on foot, although there is also a good network of buses and a subway. Known as the 'clockwork orange', the subway has only one, circular line but can be useful getting from the city centre to Kelvinbridge or Partick (for the Riverside Museum). You can buy a single, return or day ticket and pay by credit card or contactless (or with cash at ticket offices).


English — with a Glaswegian accent. As our Walking Tours In... guide put it, those working in the tourism industry often put on their 'best BBC accent' for visitors.


The currency in Scotland is the British pound (GBP). Both English and Scottish banknotes are widely used — the latter aren't technically legal tender in England, but they are accepted in most places. Credit card and contactless payments are very widely accepted — I didn't have to use any cash on my trip. Which is lucky because the only Scottish banknote I have is a £1 note signed by Virginia Wade when we bumped into her at Gleneagles in the mid-1990s (true story)!


Like the rest of the UK, Scotland uses the 'type G' plug with three rectangular pins.

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