Glasgow, Scotland: the Best Pubs, Restaurants, and Places to See in This European City of Culture
For decades, Glasgow, Scotland had a reputation for being a down-on-its-luck former industrial hub. But the Glaswegians worked hard to turn their city into a world-class tourist destination with museums, opera, ballet, and more. In 1990, Glasgow was named the European City of Culture and since then travelers from around the world have visited to enjoy its cozy pubs, great restaurants — which include a lot of veg-friendly options, delicious food markets, designer shops, and, of course, cultural offerings.
On the Postcard Academy podcast, my guest Kathi Kamleitner and I share the best of Glasgow, plus some great off-the-beaten path places for you to discover in Scotland. Kathi is an Austrian expat who moved to Glasgow for grad school, and she loved it so much she stayed and now gives private tours of her adopted home.
Cathedral and the Necropolis. “The cathedral is the oldest building in the city and it's the only kind of medieval gothic-style cathedral in the U.K. Most of the buildings from that time were dismantled and the building material was used to build the city center where it is now.“
Merchant City. Around George Square, you will find Glasgow’s most impressive architecture, built for the city’s wealthy merchants in the 19th-century. Today, ‘Merchant City’ is the heart of Glasgow, designed on a U.S.-like grid system that has attracted filmmakers looking to shoot American-city scenes.
City Chambers. You can tour this beautiful and historic building for free a few times a week. “It's a good place to remember the history of the country and the British Empire and to think about where all that wealth and all this beauty came from.” Unfortunately, a lot of money coming into Glasgow in the 18th and 19th centuries came from trade with slave-owning plantations in the U.S.
City Center Mural Trail. Kathi loves showing visitors Glasgow’s street art, which is something most don’t expect to find in the city. You can download a map to follow the mural trail from the Glasgow City Council.
Center for Contemporary Art. “It’s a brilliant space. There’s a bar and a restaurant, a bookshop and a little design shop, lots of gallery spaces for exhibitions or cinema screenings, and a theater space.”
Glasgow Women’s Library. It is the only accredited museum in the U.K. dedicated to women’s lives, histories, and achievements. “They're open to everybody, men and women, and non-binary people but they focus on books and literature by women, and feminist literature, and they also do workshops and classes for the local community.”
Glasgow’s best museums
People’s Palace. Situated near the cathedral in the East End, this museum tells the social story of the city. “Learn about where women went to do their laundry in the city and how the first parks came about and where people went on their summer holidays from Glasgow and things like that.” There’s a winter garden attached to it, as well, making it a great place to visit and just hang out.
Gallery of Modern Art. This was formerly a townhouse built for a rich tobacco merchant. There’s a statue of Duke of Wellington in front, which is one of the city’s most iconic symbols. You will see him wearing a traffic cone on top of his head.
Riverside Museum (transport museum). “It's really beautiful. And inside it's just stuffed with old trains, trams, buses, cars...You can climb out onto some of them and there's motorcycles on the ceiling and bicycles...It picks up on the importance of the city as a shipbuilding industry and also the steel industry for all the trains.”
Best place to see live music in Glasgow
Glasgow has a very thriving live music scene. You can visit the Gig Guide website to look for pubs and venues that play your favorite music. It includes paid tickets and free events.
Barrowlands. “People in the ’50s and ’60s people used to go for dances there. So a lot of relationships were formed in the Barrowlands.” Also known as Barrowland Ballroom, today this iconic place is a major music venue in the city. It is known for its acoustics and its sprung dance floor. The front of the building is decorated by what is believed to be the biggest neon sign in the UK.
Must-try food in Scotland
Haggis is a very traditional Scottish dish, served with mashed potatoes or mashed neeps. Although not very appealing at first, containing sheep’s pluck mixed up with oats, and spices, it does have a very savory flavor.
If you’re not very keen on meat, you can try a veggie Haggis made from oats, mushrooms, and lentils. Glasgow is a great place for vegetarians, so it also offers a veg version of this Scottish dish. One of the best restaurants with a great vegan menu, with Scottish inspired dishes, is the Red Onion.
A very popular treat in Scotland is fish and chips which you can get in a fish and chips shops called chippies. Here you can also find a less healthy, deep-fried version of veggie haggis. There are some chippies which will deep-fry anything for you, even pizza!
Glasgow’s best bakery
V & V Cafe. A great vegan bakery and cafe with a variety of vegan cakes.
Glasgow’s best coffee shop
River Hill. Located in the center, it's a great place to pick up a cup of coffee. They also offer great cakes.
Glasgow’s best lunch spot
Mala Carne. The best place in the city for vegan food. “Their vegan options are just to die for and really healthy.” Kathi recommends their smoked carrot bagels.
Glasgow’s best dinner spot
The Hanoi Bike Shop. This Vietnamese restaurant in the West End is tucked away in one of the tiny lanes. “It's tucked away in one of the tiny lanes and you can go in and order, or you can also just say ‘feed me’ and then they bring out a selection of their best dishes for you.”
Glasgow’s best food market
Platform This Friday to Sunday street food market is pet friendly and has plenty of veg-friendly options.
Glasgow’s best pubs
The Belle. “My favorite pub in Glasgow is called The Belle. I used to work there, actually. It's in the West End of Glasgow and it has a fireplace, which is maybe why I love it so much, especially in the winter. And it's also very dog-friendly, so it's great to make new friends”
Glasgow’s best designer markets
SuperMarket Glasgow. “It's a mix between vintage and secondhand antiques, but also new design. You'll find plants next to nice jewelry and then prints and vintage clothing. It's a perfect combination and it's indoors, so you never get wet, which is very important in Glasgow.”
Urban Market. This is a great, monthly market which switches between different themes, such as food, home, or design. Don’t miss this market during Christmas season. “It is the best place to buy Christmas gifts.”
Glasgow’s best independent shop
Check out a newly opened shop by Libbie Walker, an illustrator who draws beautiful images of streets of Glasgow. If you have a favorite Glasgow neighborhood, you will likely find it in her shop.
Sunshine No. 1 is an independent gift shop in Glasgow, showcasing the best contemporary handcrafted gifts and art from all across Scotland.
Braw Wee Emporium is a Scottish gift and music shop based in the heart of the Barras Market.
Ideal itinerary for visiting Scotland
If you have seven to 10 days at your disposal, the best option would be to start with Edinburgh, the capital city. From there, rent a car (Auto Europe has good deals, according to Kathi) and drive up over the magnificent Forth Rail Bridge, considered the symbol of Scotland and a UNESCO site. Your next stop can be Dundee where you can check out the V&A Dundee Museum, one of the hidden gems of Scotland.
From there, drive to Aberdeen and explore the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail. If you base yourself in Aberdeen, you can take day trips to visit some of the whiskey distilleries. If you are a fan of castles, don’t miss the Scottish Castle trail in Aberdeenshire.
After that, you can head over to Glasgow or drive up north to see the Highlands. If you have more time, you could drive to Inverness or even Fort William to see some of the more popular postcard Highland scenery.
How is Glasgow’s public transportation?
Glasgow is a walkable city and you can explore the entire city center without public transport.
If you decide to leave the center and go to the West End, then the subway could be a good option. Keep in mind that this is the third oldest subway in Europe. It’s not the most efficient one to get around places quickly, but it is a good way to move from the West End to the center.
You can try to use the local buses, but these are a bit difficult to navigate since they are owned by different companies and have different schedules and rules. The best option of public transport is the local train which is quite frequent.
What culture tips should we know about Scotland before we go?
Don’t mistake Scotland for England! Even though Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom, it is its own country.
Glaswegians are incredibly friendly and chatty. Don’t be intimidated by their accent. Just ask them politely to speak slower if you can’t understand them. They won’t mind.
How much should we tip?
If you are seated and served in a restaurant, 10% is the average tip. If you go to a bar where you have to pick up your drink, tipping is usually not required. Same counts for the taxies. If you feel the taxi driver did a good job, you can leave him a pound, although it is not necessary.
What neighborhood should we stay in if we’re visiting Glasgow?
If you only have a day to explore the city, it would be best to stay in the city center. If you can stay for the weekend, be sure to check out some of the local areas where a lot of artists live – Hillhead, Finieston, the area around Queens Park or Mount Florida.
Best time to visit Scotland?
If you’re not a big fan of rain, the best time to visit Glasgow is in May. May is usually dry and there’s a feeling of summer in the air.
However, if you are a fan of fall colors, September to November is the time to visit because the fall colors are in full blast and you can experience crisp early winter, sunny days.
If you found this article useful, please share it, and subscribe to the Postcard Academy podcast. Each week, expats and adventurers share their insider travel tips on the best food, nightlife, and cultural experiences in the most interesting places around the globe. I’m your host, Sarah Mikutel, an American who's spent the last 8 years living in, and traveling around, Europe.