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  • Writer's pictureKrista the Explorer

A Guide To the Best Free Things To Do in Glasgow For History Lovers

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

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Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland but it’s often overlooked by tourists who choose to focus their attention on Edinburgh or more rural areas of the country. It has a long standing industrial history and today it offers visitors a very vibrant art scene, lots of world-class restaurants and quirky cafes, and pretty decent nightlife if that’s of interest to you. There really is something for everyone in this bustling Scottish city and with an abundance of free things to do in Glasgow it’s a very budget friendly city to visit as well.

Whether you’re interested in visiting museums in Glasgow (there are a lot) or you want to explore the city on foot and take in the many historic buildings and murals that are dotted around the city, you definitely won’t run out of things to do in Glasgow. I would recommend spending 2 days in Glasgow or more so that you can visit the different parts of the city and find some of its many hidden gems along the way.

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Free Things To Do in Glasgow

If you’re stuck on what to do in Glasgow then you’re in luck because there are plenty of things to do here - especially if you’re a history lover like me. Glasgow is an industrial city and it looks very different to Edinburgh so you’ll see a stark contrast between these two Scottish cities. Here are some of my favourite free things to do in Glasgow from a history perspective.

Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis

View of Glasgow Cathedral from the top of the Necropolis.
Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral has a history dating back to the 12th century and it’s completely free to enter. It’s considered to be one of Scotland’s most impressive medieval religious buildings and it survived almost fully intact following the Protestant Reformation. Inside, visitors can also climb down to the 13th century crypt for no additional charge. Before leaving this area I would recommend climbing up to the Necropolis which is a Victorian cemetery with incredible views over Glasgow.

Visit the many free museums in Glasgow

Inside the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

The weather isn’t always great in Scotland but luckily there are a lot of free museums in Glasgow that you can visit! One of the most popular museums in Scotland is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum but others such as the People’s Palace, Hunterian Museum, and the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art are definitely worth adding to your Glasgow itinerary if you’re interested in history. These are all great options for indoor activities in Glasgow when it's raining.

Explore Merchant City

Street in Glasgow with tall church at the end.
Merchant City

Many of the free walking tours in Glasgow will take you through the heart of Merchant City - and for good reason. This is one of the oldest areas of Glasgow and today it’s very well known for its cafes, shops, and quite a few art centres and street art. As you walk around Merchant City you’ll find some remnants of Glasgow’s medieval past blending in with later buildings as well. If you’re looking for a unique activity to do in Glasgow I would recommend getting a ticket for the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre too.

Find some street art

Large mural of aboriginal people on wall in Glasgow.
Mural in Merchant City

Glasgow is often referred to as the cultural capital of Scotland and it’s very well known for its incredible street art. One of the best ways to see the most popular murals in Glasgow is to follow the City Centre Mural Trail which is a self guided tour around the city. If you prefer, there are also guided walking tours that you can join. This is one of the best free things to do in Glasgow if the weather is cooperating.

Walk through Glasgow Green

Long path through a park in Glasgow during autumn.
Glasgow Green

Glasgow Green is the oldest park in the city with a history dating back to the mid-15th century. It’s a beautiful, tranquil park to walk through if you have some spare time on your hands. This is where you’ll find the popular museum known as the People’s Palace which is another free thing to do in Glasgow, as well as the world’s largest terracotta fountain located across from the main entrance to the palace.

City Chambers guided tour

Inside the Glasgow City Chambers with Italian Renaissance marble design.
City Chambers

One of the best free things to do in Glasgow is to take a free guided tour of the City Chambers, located in George Square. It’s considered to be one of the city’s most beautiful buildings and it officially opened at the end of the 19th century. While the outside is impressive it’s the inside that people come to look at. It’s said to boast more marble inside than the Vatican! It really is a special sight to behold and you can join one of the free guided tours that run twice a day from Monday to Friday on a first come first served basis.

University of Glasgow

University of Glasgow large open space in between buildings.
University of Glasgow

You can’t visit Glasgow without stopping at the University of Glasgow. It was founded in 1451 making it the second oldest university in Scotland, behind the University of St Andrews, and it has one of the oldest libraries in Europe. The grounds are beautiful to walk around and a lot of visitors say it reminds them of Hogwarts even though none of the filming for the Harry Potter movies took place here. The Hunterian Museum is also located in the university grounds which is the oldest museum in Glasgow and is worth visiting if you have the time.

Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Glasgow Botanic Gardens inside one of the large greenhouses.
Glasgow Botanic Gardens

One of the most popular things to do in Glasgow’s West End is to walk around the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. The gardens were founded in 1817 by a Glaswegian Botanist and today the biggest attraction is Kibble Palace which opened to the public in 1873 after being purchased from a wealthy entrepreneur. There’s a lot to see inside the palace and it was by far my favourite area of the gardens.

Explore Glasgow's West End

Historic back lane in the west end of Glasgow with bars and restaurants.
Ashton Lane

Explaining what to do in Glasgow’s West End needs its own blog post so I’ll just name a few of my highlights here for now. The West End is very popular thanks to its beautiful Victorian architecture and today it’s a hub of activity with the University of Glasgow, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, and many other of the city’s key attractions located here. On top of that the West End is known for its shops, restaurants, and cafes so you can easily spend an entire day exploring the area.

Ashton Lane is my favourite part of Glasgow’s West End. It’s a cobbled backstreet behind Byres Road that was once used as Victorian stables and workshops but now boasts an amazing collection of bars and restaurants. I would also recommend heading over to The Hidden Lane where you can find some unique shops and places to eat that are a bit off the beaten path compared to Ashton Lane.

Where To Eat in Glasgow

The great thing about Glasgow is that it isn’t short on places to eat. Regardless of what type of food you’re into, you’ll have no problems finding a restaurant or cafe that resonates with you, whether that be in the city centre or further afield. Having spent a week in Glasgow we ate at some incredible places but here are a few that stood out and offer different types of cuisines.

Santa Lucia Pasta

Located in the heart of Glasgow’s West End is one of the city’s newest restaurants - Santa Lucia Pasta. You may have heard of the award-winning Santa Lucia Merchant City, well this is its sister restaurant with a menu focusing predominantly on fresh pasta dishes. We absolutely loved this Italian restaurant in Glasgow. Everything from the decor to the authentic freshly prepared dishes was perfect.

In terms of food I would recommend ordering a couple of their cocktails and starting your lunch or dinner off with either their arancine or the fried lasagne. Of course the main attraction here is the pasta and I have to say that the Tagliatelle Funghi e Tartufo will blow you away. If you have some extra room you can never go wrong with a dessert! This is one restaurant in Glasgow that we’ll be putting on our list when we return.

Soul Food Kitchen

If you’re on the hunt for the best vegan restaurant in Glasgow then look no further than Soul Food Kitchen. It’s located a short walk from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum making it the perfect place to stop for lunch in Glasgow’s West End - especially if you want something healthy to eat. We couldn’t fault any of the dishes here which were all beautifully crafted and served piping hot. I was also really pleased to finally have found somewhere that does freshly squeezed juices in Glasgow.

On the food side of things the seasonal soup is a great option for the colder weather and the arancini are a great choice for sharing. They have a beautiful vegan burger here served with chips and a tasty dip or if you’re feeling a little hungrier the risotto was very tasty. It was a summer risotto though so I’m not sure how much longer it’ll be on the menu!

The Real Greek

If you’ve been to London you may have eaten at The Real Greek before like we have. I was surprised to find that they have a location in Glasgow’s Silverburn Shopping Centre so we had to try it out. It takes around 25 minutes to get to by bus from Glasgow’s city centre but if you like traditional Greek food then it’s worth the trip.

We sampled a number of their small plates which are perfect for sharing. The highlights for me were the Spicy Feta Dip, the Spinach Tiropitakia, and the Chicken Skewers and with such a huge menu there’s definitely something for everyone. If you’re heading down to Pollok Country Park the shopping centre is on the way so you can easily add The Real Greek to your schedule.

Where To Stay in Glasgow

Glasgow’s city centre is filled with accommodation options but if you want to stay somewhere that has a lot of history attached to it then voco Grand Central Glasgow will blow you away. It sits inside one of Glasgow’s most historic buildings and directly adjoins Glasgow Central Station. The hotel is currently celebrating its 140th year anniversary and over the years it’s played host to a number of celebrities and historical figures - like Sir Winston Churchill!

voco Grand Central Glasgow

voco Grand Central is more than just a place to rest your head for the evening. We took some time to explore the interior of the hotel and take in the impressive decor and architecture of the building. Both guests and locals like to sit back and enjoy a drink or afternoon tea in the Champagne Central bar which overlooks the inside of the train station - people watching at its finest. We found the lobby area to be extremely cozy and inviting as well, and at check-in guests can expect a little Scottish treat to take up to their room.

The hotel has both rooms and suites available. For this trip we were more than happy with the stunning Queen Bed Standard Loft that featured a large comfortable bed with slippers and bathrobes placed on it when we entered, a spacious bathroom with a Victorian-style tub, plenty of floor and seating space, and one of the most unique TV’s I’ve ever seen that was built into the mirror. We were also greeted with chocolates and champagne upon arrival which was a lovely personal touch.

There’s no better hotel in Glasgow to stay at if you like being surrounded by history than at voco Grand Central Glasgow. From the moment we checked in the staff were all very courteous and the opulence and historic charm of the hotel is more than impressive to look at. I would suggest booking the buffet breakfast as well so you can head out and enjoy your time in Glasgow without worrying about where to eat in the morning.

>> Click here for the most up to date prices at voco Grand Central Glasgow <<

There are a lot of activities in Glasgow to take part in and plenty of free things to do in Glasgow as well which is always good for any travel budget. From a history perspective, Glasgow is an incredible city to explore with an interesting industrial background that’s worth learning more about through its architecture and many museums. It’s very different from other cities in Scotland, like Edinburgh, but I have no doubt that by the time you leave you’ll be wondering why you haven’t visited Glasgow earlier.

If you have any questions about planning a trip to Glasgow, where to eat in Glasgow, or want to enquire about where we stayed in Glasgow please feel free to reach out to me through Instagram or by email and I’d be happy to help point you in the right direction.


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