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Things to do in Glasgow on a budget

28 September 2015

Once a stronghold of the Industrial Revolution, contemporary Glasgow still has its wharves and tenements but there is now a bright modern feel to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s home city.

The Glasgow Necropolis is a glimpse into the city's Victorian past
The Glasgow Necropolis is a glimpse into the city's Victorian past

The city of Glasgow has emerged from Edinburgh's shadow over the past couple of decades, evolving from an earthy, industrial location to become one of Scotland's most vibrant cities.

At first glance, the Victorian architecture of the city of Glasgow might evoke the sombre days of the past when the trade and manufacturing industries characterised the landscape, but look a little closer and you will discover a city dotted with picturesque green spaces, fantastic shopping and a thriving cultural scene begging to be explored.

What's more, a visit to Glasgow is surprisingly affordable – the city offers plenty for those travelling on a shoestring – here's our top pick of things to do in Glasgow that won't burn a hole in your pocket:

Explore the Gothic quarter

Proving that there are sights to see in Glasgow that pre-date the Industrial Revolution, the cathedral precinct located in the city's East End offers a fascinating glimpse into the past. Glasgow Cathedral and the nearby Necropolis (inspired by the famous Pere Lachaise in Paris) are achingly beautiful examples of Scottish Gothic architecture and the city's rich history.

Take a Mackintosh tour

The architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh is inextricably associated with Glasgow – his creative designs can be seen scattered throughout the city and make for an excellent walking tour as you tick them off your sight-seeing list.

Queen's Cross Church and the Willow Tea Rooms are some examples of his work – visit the Glasgow Information Centre for more on available tours of his buildings.

Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture is a go-to stop for anyone interested in Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  An interpretive section is organised around various narratives which pinpoint some of Mackintosh’s sources of inspiration, whereas for true architecture geeks there are detailed studies of four key buildings.

Become a culture vulture in the museums and galleries

One of the most popular of Glasgow's galleries and museums is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (pictured). Its vast collection, housed in a gorgeous Baroque building, includes a Salvador Dali masterpiece and Sir Roger the stuffed elephant.

Other great options include the Riverside Museum's transport and travel exhibits; the archeological world finds at the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery; the Centre for Contemporary Art; and the Gallery of Modern Art. All are free or offer concessionary rates, so the price is certainly right.

Watch a play with a pie and a pint

Theatre-goers on a budget might want to check what's on at arts venue Oran Mor.

Based in Glasgow's West End in an atmospheric Victorian church, the venue hosts a regular lunchtime slot where a ticket buys you a play with a pie and a pint, wine or soft drink. Writers range from well-known Scottish playwrights to newcomers.

Relax in Glasgow's green spaces

Take a break from the city streets and relax in a green Glaswegian oasis. Pollok Country Park (pictured) offers 146 hectares of parkland just a ten minute train ride from the city centre, with a grand 18th century home and the nearby Burrell art collection to enjoy.

Kelvingrove Park offers nature trails and a picturesque, riverside setting whilst the Botanic Gardens boasts an opulent Victorian greenhouse as well as dazzling Winter Gardens filled with exotic plants. Alternatively, just out of town, ramblers can enjoy miles of woodland walks along the River Avon.

Strole through the Glasgow Necropolis 

Take a spooky trip this site next to Glasgow Cathedral. Modelled on the elegant Père-Lachaise in Paris this 37-acre Victorian cemetery is adorned with some elaborate architecture. You can even go on a walking tour which is free of charge.

Step back in time at The Tenement House 

Experience a rare glimpse of life in Glasgow in the early 20th Century. Authentic gas lighting has been installed to recreate the atmosphere of the house, which didn’t have electric lighting until 1960.

Enjoy a drink at West Brewery 

West's thoroughly modern brewery is found within the imposing Templeton Building overlooking Glasgow Green and is the place to go to for German-style lagers and wheat beers. Take a tour and find out what goes into your perfect pint.

Visit Glasgow’s East End 

The East End begins at the city's ancient centre, at the brink of the High Street and Castle Street, which is sandwiched by the medieval Glasgow Cathedral and the Tron Steeple at Glasgow Cross. In between some quirky shopping look out for the Doulton Fountain, a decorative terracotta monument created to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Three places to eat

1.) The Willow Tea Rooms

This Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed café is still being used today for its original purpose.  Admire the elegant Art Nouveau décor and order from a menu that includes an afternoon tea complete with buttered shortbread.

2.) Ox and Finch 

Small plates are served here and the menu is stylish and inventive as well as being affordable. Try the squid, prawns and chorizo with smoked paprika on sourdough.  It’s currently attracting a lot of attention so make sure you book in advance.

3.) Ubiquitous Chip 

Wreathed in both flowers and fairy lights take in a spot of seasonal dining in one of Glasgow’s best-loved restaurants. Thought of a local larder it’s the best place to try some of the food that Scotland is famous for including the Shetland cod fillet and the Kingdom of Fife wood pigeon.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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