Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland (in terms of size, population and economy) and is one of the most vibrant and exciting destinations in the United Kingdom. Situated in the country’s western lowlands, Glasgow is a major port city that is known for its rich culture and history, its stunning Victorian architecture and its overall artistic vibe.
As one of the biggest and most renowned cities in Scotland, it’s safe to assume that Glasgow can be quite an expensive destination. While this is slightly true, travelers will be surprised to know that there are plenty of free things to do in Glasgow. In fact, Glaswegians (moniker for the locals) pride themselves in having an “open city”, which means that an array of attractions are completely free to visit.
If you have an upcoming trip to Glasgow, there are numerous things to do in the city that won’t cost you a single dime! We’ve put together this list of all the places that you can visit for free when in Glasgow – ranging from museums and galleries to public parks. Before visiting these spots, however, you may want to head over to a Glasgow storage locker and secure your luggage beforehand. In doing so, you won’t have to drag your heavy bags around, allowing you to visit as many sites as possible!
Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA)
The Gallery of Modern Art, also known simply as GoMA, is one of the top cultural attractions in Glasgow. As the most visited art gallery in Scotland, it is a surprise that anyone can visit the museum for free! GoMA is frequented by both locals and tourists looking to admire some of the finest modern masterpieces.
Sitting right in the heart of the Royal Exchange Square, GoMA is housed inside a neoclassical building and made up of four galleries. GoMA hosts rotating exhibitions featuring the works of artists such as David Hockney and Andy Warhol. Additionally, the museum regularly conducts activities and workshops for visitors of all ages, such as their Saturday Art Club for kids.
While you’re in the area, don’t forget to check out the iconic Duke of Wellington statue, which can be found right outside the gallery. The quirky statue is unique because of the traffic cone placed on the statue’s head by some drunken pranksters and has become a symbol of the fun spirit and humor of Glaswegians.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum
The city of Glasgow boasts one of the biggest collections of civic art in all of Europe, which can be found in the world-renowned Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The attraction, which is among the most popular free places to visit in the city, is home to over 8,000 works spread across 22 state-of-the-art themed galleries, featuring both international and Scottish art.
At Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, there are a variety of artworks and objects on display – ranging from fine art masterpieces, archaeological treasures and ancient artifacts to natural history exhibits and armor collections. Some of the highlights at the Kelvingrove gallery include the Portrait of Alexander Reid by Vincent van Gogh and Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali. Another noteworthy section in the museum is the dedicated gallery that honors the works of Glasgow legend Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Glasgow has no shortage of lovely public spaces that can be accessed for free, including Kelvingrove Park. The park is within walking distance from the city center, situated just behind the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum and right next to the University of Glasgow campus.
Although the park is a favorite of university students, it’s becoming more and more popular among tourists and families who want to take advantage of the park’s amenities. Kelvingrove Park features a skate park, riverside trails that can be used for cycling or trekking, a play area for children and a grassy area for picnics.
The medieval Glasgow Cathedral is one of the most majestic buildings in the city and a fine example of Scottish Gothic architecture. Built in the 13th century, this cathedral is the only one that survived and is still intact after the Protestant Reformation Act in 1560. While the cathedral still actively holds church services, the site has become a major tourist draw and one of the top free things to do in Glasgow.
Aside from its striking appearance, which is more than enough reason to visit, the Glasgow Cathedral also happens to be chock full of history. For one, the church’s lower crypt is home to the tomb of St. Mungo, the patron saint and founder of the city.
Another landmark worth visiting not too far from the Glasgow Cathedral is the Necropolis, a Victorian-style graveyard inspired by the famous Pere Lachaise in Paris. Home to over 50,000 burials and more than 3,000 tombs, the Necropolis also happens to be a popular viewpoint that offers an excellent look of Glasgow from above.
Glasgow Botanic Gardens
Scotland is well known for its lush greenery and in Glasgow, you can enjoy a lovely oasis without leaving the city at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Located a short ride from Glasgow Queen Street Station, the gardens boast a wide array of flora and fauna, including a beautiful rose garden, herb patches, a garden of exotic orchids and a massive collection of Australian tree ferns.
While you’re in the area, don’t forget to stop by the crown jewel of the Glasgow Botanic Gardens - the Kibble Palace. This Victorian glass house is filled with tropical plants curated from different parts of the world and also houses eight magnificent sculptures. Additionally, the Botanic Gardens also features a play area for children, a picnic area and some riverside walking paths.
Riverside Museum of Transport
Even though it was only recently established in 2011, the Riverside Museum of Transport has quickly become one of the most popular Glasgow museums and one that caters to visitors of all ages. Sitting on the banks of the Clyde River, the museum is housed inside a remarkable building that was designed by world-famous architect Zaha Hadid.
As its name suggests, the Riverside Museum focuses on all things related to transportation; the museum's permanent collection is composed of more than 3,000 items that date back to the 1890s - from vintage automobiles, trains, buses and airplanes to prams, skateboards and even the world's oldest bicycle.
One of the museum’s highlights is the Tall Ship, a ship that sailed for over a century and traveled from Seville to Glasgow for its final voyage in 1990. Apart from its impressive collection, the museum also features some 150 interactive exhibitions that children and the young at heart will enjoy. After a fun day of learning and wandering, head outside to the riverside and enjoy the lovely views by the water.
Widely regarded as the focal point of Glasgow, George Square is a top gathering place for Glaswegians and tourists alike. The famous public square is also a huge part of the city’s history and features several statues that celebrate some of the most prominent figures in Scotland, including playwright Sir Walter Scott and poet Robert Burns.
Also found within George Square is one of Glasgow’s most iconic buildings – the City Chambers. Found on the eastern side of the square, the Victorian-style architecture serves as the headquarters for the Glasgow City Council that doubles as a tourist attraction. Free guided tours are offered here regularly, although the coverage of the tour depends on which rooms are free since it is a working building.
While in the Glasgow City Chambers, it is a must to check out the building’s masterpiece – the stunning Carrara marble staircase, which is the largest of its kind in the world. Other cool sections include the Banqueting Hall and the Council Chamber, where the City Council holds their official meetings.
The People’s Palace
If you want to learn all about Glasgow’s rich and colorful history, the People’s Palace is the top place to go to. Available to visit for free, the attraction is located in a 19th century building within the lush Glasgow Green – the oldest public space in the city – and tells the history of the city and its people from 1750 up until the present day by means of interactive exhibitions.
Some of the fun exhibitions you can find at the People’s Palace include a recreation of a dairy store, a “steamie” that demonstrates how clothes were washed during the 1950s and a one-room tenement flat. Additionally, the attraction also has a collection of historic artifacts, such as paintings, films and photographs. All the exhibits and objects showcase Glasgow's culture and provide guests with an insight into how Glaswegians worked and lived over the years.
While its name may suggest otherwise, The Lighthouse is not an actual lighthouse; rather, it is Scotland’s Centre of Design and Architecture and one of Glasgow’s most significant arts institutions. Found along the buzzing Buchanan Street, the city’s main shopping district, The Lighthouse has exhibitions that feature contemporary art and design projects.
The Lighthouse has a permanent collection that primarily consists of the work of Scottish architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. In addition, the facility also hosts several temporary exhibitions throughout the year that highlight the best in modern Scottish design, architecture and art. Don’t forget to make your way up the spiral showcase, which leads to an observation deck where you can get panoramic views of Glasgow.
The Hunterian Museum
You simply cannot visit Glasgow without checking out the Hunterian Museum. It is the oldest museum in Glasgow and one of the city’s most visited museums. Located in various locations within the campus of Glasgow University, it features the Hunterian Museum, the Hunterian Art Gallery, the Zoology Museum and the Mackintosh House. As a whole, the Hunterian houses an incredible collection of objects, including fossils, Roman artifacts, meteorites, Egyptian mummies and more.
Some of the highlights of the Hunterian Art Gallery are the works of artists like James McNeill Whistler and Charles Rennie Mackintosh which are showcased; and the Anatomy Museum, where you can find various body parts that were collected by anatomist William Hunter, whom the museum was named after.
City Centre Mural Trail
If you want to see some hip works of art out on the streets, then you’d definitely appreciate a tour of the City Centre Mural Trail. Over the years, the run-down areas of the city have undergone a major transformation and have been adorned with lively and colorful murals. This can be attributed to the city’s budding street art scene and the works of both local and international artists, including the likes of Smug and Rogue One.
Because of the popularity of these spots, Glasgow’s City Centre Mural Trail was born; this self-guided walking tour takes you to 25 different spots, each of which feature bright murals that tell the story of Glasgow and its people. The tour allows you to appreciate the kind of works that you won’t find in the city’s art galleries. The map is quite easy to follow and can be downloaded online from the trail’s website.
Pollok Country Park
Whether you’re traveling with friends, family or even solo, you will surely enjoy spending time at Pollok Country Park. Once named the best park in Europe in 2008, this green space is a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and allows you to enjoy the lovely countryside.
At Pollok Country Park, visitors can wander through woodlands, appreciate the park’s stunning waterfall, stroll through the riverside and visit Highland cattle and horses. The park is also home to Pollok House, a small museum that houses a collection of period furniture and Spanish art.
Glasgow on a budget
Glasgow may be one of the biggest cities in Scotland (and the United Kingdom) but it does not mean that you need to spend a fortune when you visit. In fact, with all of the free attractions in the city, you can keep yourself occupied for several days without breaking the bank. From free tours to public parks, Glasgow is full of fun!