George Square is the main civic centre in Glasgow. The square hosts several major events throughout the year and is home to many historical monuments.
Glasgow’s main war memorial is sited at one end of the square in front of the Glasgow City Council Chamber and attractions including the city’s modern art gallery are within a short walking distance.
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Review of George Square
If you ever visit Glasgow by train the end of your line will more than likely be Queen Street station in the centre of the city. From there most people will either catch a bus to one of Glasgow’s many tourist attractions or walk around the square on their way to the shops, totally bypassing one of the most important historic sites in the city.
George Square offers a lot more than a quick selfie in front of its statues and if you stop to appreciate what’s on display you’ll find this sprawling urban space is home to one of the best collections of listed buildings and monuments in Scotland.
The main focal point of the square is the towering Scott Monument (it’s isn’t just Edinburgh that has one) in the centre that’s dedicated to Scotland’s greatest wordsmith, while the gleaming white Cenotaph and equally impressive City Chambers lie to the east.
On the western-side you’ll find statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on horseback with the perimeter of the square playing host to a collection of statues of some of the greatest Scots that have ever lived.
But there’s more to this historic site than monuments and old buildings.
As the beating heart of the city, George Square is the venue for many popular events and depending on what time of year you visit you might be lucky enough to attend two of the biggest festivals in the city’s calendar – Glasgow Loves Christmas and Piping Live!
The Christmas event is fantastic and 100% recommended thanks to the mixture of Christmas markets, street-food stalls and themed rides, while the Piping Live! event held annually in August is the destination for the World Pipe Band Championships.
Perhaps the best thing about George Square is that its location is right in the middle of the city’s renowned shops, bars and restaurants so it’s easy to find something to do after you’ve taken in the highlights.
The Gallery of Modern Art (which you can read about in my Complete Guide to the GOMA) can be found just around the corner on Queen Street less than a 5-minute walk away, while Glasgow Cathedral is less than 20-minutes away on foot. Both attractions are completely free and are well-worth visiting after you’ve explored George Square.
You can discover all you need to know about the cathedral with my Guide to Glasgow Cathedral, but if you want to know more about George Square continue reading.
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Things to do in George Square
At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking it won’t take you long to walk around this square (and in all honesty if you’re not interested in history it won’t) but stop and look at each monument and you’ll be surprised by what you find.
The square is surrounded on all sides by some of the finest examples of Victorian architecture in Britain, but it’s the enormous City Chambers building that will first catch your eye as it totally dominates the space.
This enormous building was designed in the Italian Renaissance style and has to be one of the most extravagant buildings in Glasgow.
Take a look inside and you’ll see it’s full of ornate plaster-work and mahogany fittings that might remind you of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Because it’s an active workplace it isn’t open to the public at all times but they do open it for viewing twice daily.
The first time I visited I just poked my head inside before strolling back out thinking I’d get in trouble – it’s a working civic building after all – but I eventually noticed that you can join tours around the building at 10.30 am and 2.30 pm Monday to Friday, totally free of charge.
I found the 45-minute tour genuinely interesting and I was blown away by how beautiful some of the rooms are inside – especially the grand banqueting hall which absolutely drips with atmosphere.
My advice is to get your ticket early as they only allow 25 people per tour but all you have to do is ask for a ticket from the reception desk 30-minutes beforehand (unfortunately they don’t let you pre-book them).
Heading back to the square you’ll find yourself facing The Cenotaph which is Glasgow’s monument to the soldiers who died in the First World War.
The centre of this imposing granite monument is a truncated obelisk around 10 metres tall flanked by two lion sculptures that have been keeping guard since being unveiled by Earl Haig in 1924.
The monument is somehow made even more impressive with the City Chambers providing a backdrop which is probably why so many tourists were taking photos of it when I visited, although just as many were clicking away at the other focal point in George square – The Scott Monument.
Turn 180 degrees from The Cenotaph and you’ll see the statue dedicated to one of Scotland’s greatest writers, Sir Walter Scott.
Scott’s statue stands on top of an 80-foot column in the centre of George Square that’s nowhere near as big as Edinburgh’s Scott Monument (which you can read about in my Guide to the Scott Monument) but is just as historically significant having been erected a full decade before the one in Prince’s Street was unveiled.
If you look around the perimeter of the square you’ll see several other statues of Scotland’s great and good, including the two biggest on its western edge that represent Queen Victoria and Prince Albert riding on horseback.
The other statues are dedicated to influential Scotts who left their mark in the arts, science, and the military, and if you follow the heritage trail you’ll be able to read the plaques under each statue to find out who they are.
But just in case you’re in a bit of a hurry and don’t want to stop to read each inscription I’ll list them below in order from the north-west of the square moving clockwise:
- Robert Peel – 1788-1850. Political figure who reformed British criminal law.
- William Gladstone – 1809-1898. Political figure who served as Prime Minister four times.
- James Oswald – 1779-1853. Politician who was a leading supporter of the Reform Act of 1832.
- Thomas Graham – 1805-1869. Pioneer in the field of chemistry.
- Thomas Campbell – 1777-1844. Scottish poet, historian and political commentator.
- Field Marshall Lord Clyde – 1792-1863. Military commander famed for his win at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.
- Sir John Moore – 1761-1809. British army officer regarded as the greatest trainer of infantrymen in history.
- Robert Burns – 1759-1796. Scotland’s national poet who penned Auld Lang Syne amongst others.
- James Watt – 1736-1819. Inventor and mechanical engineer who designed the first steam engine.
- There’s a lot of history here – make sure you check out all the monuments and statues.
- It’s also a great events venue. Come back at Christmas for the Glasgow Loves Christmas festival.
- George Square is located in the city centre so it’s easy to have a quick walk around before heading to other Glasgow attractions.
- Download the George Square Heritage Trail to your phone so you can read about the monuments as you walk around them.
- Combine your visit to George Square with the nearby Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art or explore the city centre by following the Glasgow Mural Trail.
- It’s only around a 15-minute walk from the city centre to Glasgow Cathedral so George Square makes a nice stopping-off point.
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Things to do near George Square
- Glasgow Cathedral. Castle St, Glasgow G4 0QZ. 14-minute walk. Founded in 1197, this is one of the largest Christian buildings in Scotland. Glasgow Cathedral is notable for its underground crypt and post-war stained-glass windows. Entry is free but donations are welcome.
- The Necropolis. Castle St, Glasgow G4 0UZ. 16-minute walk. The Necropolis is a large Victorian cemetery located behind Glasgow Cathedral. There are many footpaths winding their way around the 37-acre site and entry is completely free.
- The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art. 111 Queen St, Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow G1 3AH. 2-minute walk. Originally a large city mansion owned by a tobacco merchant, this ornate building is now the home of the GOMA. Visitors can view a collection of modern artworks in the permanent collection for free and there are paid temporary exhibitions throughout the year. The GOMA also has a café and gift shop.
- The Lighthouse. 11 Mitchell Ln, Glasgow G1 3NU. 6-minute walk. A 7-storey museum dedicated to art and design. The exhibition space is inspired by the Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. In addition to the exhibitions there are guided tours of the building, a shop and a café.
- St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life. 12-minute walk. Free to visit museum next to Glasgow Cathedral that displays religious artefacts and artworks from around the world. The museum has a café and gift shop on site.
More places to visit in Glasgow
- Glasgow Travel Information – Complete GuideGlasgow 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 destinations like the SECC and Kelvingrove Art Gallery.
- The Glasgow Scottish Event Campus Centre: Complete Visitor GuideThe Glasgow Scottish Event Campus Centre is Scotland’s largest exhibition arena and is home to some of the biggest artistic events in the entire Scottish calendar.
- The Glasgow City Centre Mural Trail: Complete Visitor GuideThese often thought-provoking pieces of public street art have been designed to transform the hidden corners of Glasgow into striking artworks, and a walk between each one allows visitors to see parts of the city that they probably wouldn’t otherwise find.
- The Complete Guide to Free Attractions in GlasgowFind a great selection of free attractions with my list of the best free attractions in Glasgow