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The best free things to do in Glasgow
Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and is renowned for its culture, style and its huge variety of tourist attractions. The city provides one of the best shopping experiences in Scotland and is home to famous attractions like the SECC and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
Glasgow also offers a diverse range of internationally acclaimed museums, beautiful architecture, vibrant nightlife, and a wide selection of restaurants and bars.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
- Address: Argyle St, Glasgow, G3 8AG
- Website: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
- Telephone: 0141 276 9599
Situated in the centre of Glasgow, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is the focal point of the beautiful Kelvingrove Park, the 84-acre green area that was created in 1852 as a place of recreation for the city’s residents.
The constantly changing exhibitions of the museum and art gallery are displayed across multiple different sections, and visitors can enjoy displays that cover themes from modern art, the animal kingdom, ancient Egypt, Scottish heritage, and lots, lots more.
This stunning building has been entrancing Glasgow’s visitors for over 118 years and from the very first moment that people step onto the marble floor of the central hall they’re captivated by the diversity of the exhibits on display. In fact, I think most visitors to Glasgow would say a visit to Kelvingrove has to be one of – if not the – best free things to do in Scotland.
Inside the museum there are over 9,000 artefacts and paintings which depict every aspect of human knowledge, from wildlife, art and literature, to Glasgow’s industrial past.
Designed to be informative as well as entertaining, Kelvingrove has gained a reputation for being one of the top places in Glasgow for family days out, with the bonus being that like most museums in the city there’s absolutely no fee to get in.
As part of a major restoration project the museum was extensively renovated over three years and was re-opened in 2006 with the exhibits organised into two halves; Life and Expression.
The Life galleries represent natural history, human history, and prehistory, while the Expression galleries include the fine art collections. Both themes are staged across 22 state-of-the-art galleries which are large enough to easily take up most of your day.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is second only to the museums of London for the number of visitors it draws annually, with many coming to view its great art collection which is arguably one of the best in Europe.
Here you’ll find masterpieces from Rembrandt, Renoir, Salvador Dali and others alongside antiquities from ancient Egypt and more modern works from the celebrated Glasgow designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
But it’s not just collections of antiquities that draw thousands of visitors to this attraction because it’s also one of the foremost centres of education in the UK thanks to the frequent free talks that are held there by some of the UK’s leading experts in the fields of art and science.
The talks and demonstrations that Kelvingrove host are excellent and are both fun and informative – something that’s not an easy mix to get right – but I guarantee you’ll have a great time if you attend any of them, especially if you take your kids to the ones that are aimed at children.
The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art
- Address: Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow, G1 3AH
- Website: The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art
- Telephone: 0141 287 3050
The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (or the GoMA as it’s often called) is Scotland’s most-visited art gallery, beating the national galleries of Edinburgh for annual footfall numbers, and once you’ve stepped foot inside this lovely building you’ll soon see why it’s so popular.
You’ll probably recognise the GoMA from the hundreds of photos on the internet where a Duke of Wellington statue stands proudly outside a very grand neoclassical building – with a traffic cone stuck on his head.
The cone has embedded itself into Glasgow culture over the last thirty years since it was first placed there and the council seems to have given up trying to remove it, mainly because as soon as they do it’s put back by more late-night revellers. I personally think it’s a great addition to the statue and further proof of Glasgow’s acclaimed sense of humour.
The museum is relatively new to the city (having opened as recently as 1996) but the building itself dates back to 1778 when it was built as a townhouse for a wealthy tobacco trader. Since then it’s been used as a bank and a library before being refurbished to house the city’s contemporary art collection, and today it’s one of the most popular visitor attractions in the city.
There’s a lot to see in this gallery, and not only are there permanent displays from local and international artists but there’s an ever-changing collection of temporary exhibitions loaned from other Glasgow city collections.
There’s even a display that goes into great depth about the history of the building – which is an interesting way to learn about this iconic piece of the city’s landscape – but if you really want to know more you can join one of the free guided building tours that run every Saturday and Sunday.
The gallery has been set up to display the artworks in a way that’s as educational as it is enjoyable and there are lots of information boards installed throughout the site to let visitors know the story behind each artwork as well as the artist that created it, which is a great way to introduce youngsters to the world of art.
Because the GoMA is so centrally located in the city centre it’s a good place to stop off at if you get fed up with shopping, and there are plenty of nearby bars and restaurants to hop into if you stay until last hours (particularly Thursday when it’s open till 8pm).
And if you’re a weary parent that’s tired of excitable children racing around the gallery at a hundred miles an hour you’ll be pleased to know there’s also a top-notch cafe on site as well as a decent shop and a quiet library.
The Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel
- Address: 100 Pointhouse Place, Glasgow, G3 8RS
- Website: The Riverside Museum
- Telephone: 0141 287 2720
I have to admit the Riverside Museum is probably my favourite free attraction in Glasgow, not just because I’m a bit of a transport geek but also because it’s a genuinely interesting place to visit.
The museum is home to a huge collection of cars, motorbikes, trains, and boats, and there are so many travel-related objects on display that you can spend an entire afternoon inside and barely scratch the surface of the collection.
I guess I’m not the only one who thinks this museum deserves a place in Scotland’s top ten best museums because it was given the European Museum of the Year award a few years ago and it regularly attracts over a million visitors annually, making it the fourth most popular attraction in Scotland.
Riverside is quite a new museum so many of the interactive displays are quite high-tech – perfect if you’re a science-loving nerd like me who loves tinkering with stuff.
Amazingly, the museum cost nearly £75 million to develop and since its opening day in June 2011 it’s amassed a slightly crazy 3,000 exhibits. I think it’s great that such a fun, educational, and interesting museum is completely and utterly free to enter, so well done to Glasgow City Council for making it all happen.
The museum sits on the banks of the River Clyde which is quite apt as the river has been integral to the city’s shipbuilding heritage since the first ships were built there in the 15th century.
Today, sadly, there’s not much that remains of the city’s industrial heyday of the 1900s, but the Riverside Museum of Transport goes a long way to keeping this important part of Scotland’s history alive.
Inside you’ll find examples of every conceivable form of transport from skateboards to racing cars with examples dating from their earliest days all the way until modern times.
There’s so much to explore at this museum that you’ll likely have to make a return visit just to see everything, with vintage motorbikes, old buses, even older trams, fire engines, steam trains, and interactive displays all telling the story of man’s fascination with getting from A to B.
There are a couple of other highlights that might surprise you about the Riverside Museum of Transport. First is the recreation of one of Glasgow’s yesteryear streets, complete with cobbled paving stones and shops dating from 1895 to the 1980s.
The street is a real blast from the past and parents are guaranteed to have fond memories of the products ‘for sale’ in the shop windows (you might have to explain what half the stuff is to your kids though).
The second highlight of a visit is actually located outside the museum on the River Clyde, where the Tall Ship (a sailing ship called the Glenlee) is moored up alongside.
The Glenlee first took to the water in 1896 and is one of only five ships built on the Clyde that’s still afloat today. She’s a fantastic old vessel and utterly fascinating, and visitors can pretty much explore every single nook and cranny from the gallery to the captains quarters.
The volunteer crew host a variety of maritime-themed events throughout the year and their enthusiasm for this old lady of the seas is immediately obvious as soon as you step onboard, which makes a visit to the Glenlee an absolute must if you’re visiting the Riverside Museum.
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