The University of Glasgow was founded in 1451 and is the fourth-oldest university in the UK. It has more listed buildings inside the complex than any other university in Britain. A visit allows tourists to explore the superb Hunterian Museum and Hunterian Art Gallery as well as the university grounds.
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Review of the University of Glasgow
If you’re thinking about heading to Glasgow to explore its tourist attractions I wouldn’t blame you if the last place you have on your to-do list is the University of Glasgow. After all, who wants to walk around a boring university surrounded by a load of dusty old books and smelly students?
While I can’t comment too much on the hygiene levels of Glasgow’s teenagers I can tell you that a visit to the fantastic university buildings located north of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one of the highlights of the city, and there’s much more to see than you might think.
The university is easy to get to from pretty much anywhere in Glasgow thanks to the city’s excellent bus and subway networks, but if you’re in the vicinity of Kelvingrove Park you’ll find the university is just a 10-minute walk away so it’s easy to combine visits to both attractions in one day.
Your first port of call will more than likely be the Memorial Gate on University Avenue where you’ll see the grand Gilbert Scott Building in front of you. These gates were presented to the university in 1952 to commemorate the achievements of the university’s graduates over the course of 500 years.
That was my first surprise of visiting the University of Glasgow as I had no idea it was so old. It was actually founded in 1451 which makes it the 4th oldest in the UK – although the Gilbert Scott Building wasn’t completed until 1870.
This building complex is one of the finest in the city and it’s Gothic architecture is home to some of the finest stonework in Scotland, with The Cloisters being a firm favourite with visitors.
In fact, The Cloisters are so impressive they’ve been featured in several movies and TV shows over the years and viewers of Outlander will no doubt recognize it as the location of Harvard University in the show. No wonder over 26,000 students from more than 140 countries worldwide choose to study at Glasgow University.
Once you head inside the Gilbert Scott Building you’ll find the enormous East and West Quadrangles joined by the fluted columns and ribbed ceiling of The Cloisters, and I recommend taking the time to walk around the path circling both quadrangles to just soak up the atmosphere of the place.
Have you seen the Harry Potter movies when they’re at Hogwarts? Well that more or less sums up what the buildings surrounding The Quadrangles look like – looming towers, cathedral-like windows and dark archways that lead off into secretive nooks and crannies.
You’ve got quite a few options open to you for where to go from The Cloisters which I’ll detail in the next section.
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Things to do at the University of Glasgow
When you get to The Quadrangles don’t go thinking that’s all there is to see because there are several parts of the university that are open to the public and all are worth visiting in my humble opinion.
I’ve listed a few of the best places below but I recommend you see as much as you can fit into your day – just be aware that this is a working university so some areas will be off-limits to the general public.
The Chapel was built in 1929 as a memorial to the 733 university members who died in World Wars I and II and it’s still used today for ceremonies and religious services.
It’s one of the few locations in Scotland where both Protestants and Catholics can get married and the stained glass windows designed by Douglas Strachan are pretty incredible. To find it head to the East Quadrangle and follow the signs.
Bute Hall is possibly the most impressive part of the university and it’s here where the graduation ceremonies are held. The hall was built between 1878 and 1884 and it’s an incredibly atmospheric space with a huge arched wooden roof and majestic stained glass windows on each wall.
There are terraces where proud parents can sit during the ceremonies and upwards of a thousand people can comfortably fit inside. You’ll find the hall by walking through The Cloisters and heading up the stairs towards The Hunterian Museum.
The Hunterian Museum can be found opposite Bute Hall and to my mind it’s one of the best museums in Glasgow. I have to admit I knew nothing about it until I overheard someone talking while I was on the Glasgow Subway but I’m glad I made the effort to find it.
Founded in 1807 The Hunterian is Scotland’s oldest museum and although it’s not particularly big it features lots of fascinating displays from the fields of archaeology, palaeontology, and zoology, as well as several other ‘ologies’ you’re bound to find interesting. There are dinosaur bones, medical instruments, ancient tools, Roman artefacts from the Antonine Wall and much more to see during your visit.
It’s free to enter so if you’re visiting the university you really should try to fit it into your itinerary.
The Hunterian Art Gallery is located beside the university library and hosts one of the finest public art collections in Scotland. You’ll find works by Rembrandt as well as the single largest number of works by the celebrated Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
You’ll find The Mackintosh House in the art gallery which exhibits some of the interiors of Mackintosh’s home that was unfortunately demolished in the 1960s, and you’ll find that most of the contents in each room are actually from his old house.
It’s quite an interesting place but unlike the Hunterian Art Gallery which is free, The Mackintosh House has an entrance fee. See The Hunterian website for current prices.
In addition to these attractions the University of Glasgow has a superb souvenir shop under The Hunterian Museum that has loads of tartan-themed gifts and university merchandise and there are several cafés that are reasonably priced if you want to grab a bite to eat after your tour.
I have to say it was an unexpected surprise to find so much to see and do at this university and I’ll be back again the next time I visit the city.
As the university is so central it’s easy to use it as a reference point to explore the rest of the city so after your visit read my Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Glasgow for further inspiration.
- The university buildings are stunning. Don’t forget to visit The Quadrangles and The Cloisters.
- The facilities on-site are pretty good with cafés and a gift shop and the museums are excellent.
- Like all the best attractions in Glasgow, it’s free!
- If you really want to discover the history of the university book yourself onto a guided tour.
- Take a look at the university’s self-guided tour website page for an idea of what to view during your visit.
- If you need a breath of fresh air after visiting the campus you’ll find the Glasgow Botanic Gardens a half-hour walk to the north of the city.
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Things to do near The University of Glasgow.
- Kelvingrove Park. 6 Professors’ Square, Glasgow G3 6BY. 8-minute walk. One of the oldest public parks in Scotland. Kelvingrove Park features a collection of memorials, walking paths, sports areas, the River Kelvin and Kelvingrove Museum.
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Argyle St, Glasgow G3 8AG. 9-minute walk. One of Scotland’s most-visited museums, Kelvingrove offers a diverse range of exhibits from across the globe. The museum is situated near the west end of the 84-acre Kelvingrove Park. Entry is free.
- Glasgow Botanic Gardens. 730 Great Western Rd, Glasgow G12 0UE. 12-minute walk. 27-acre botanic garden in the heart of Glasgow. The gardens are acclaimed for the Victorian cast-iron glasshouse, Kibble Palace. Entry is free.
- The Riverside Museum of Transport. 100 Pointhouse Rd, Govan, Glasgow G3 8RS. 21-minute walk. A modern museum that explores the history of transport with interactive displays and one of the largest collections of rare cars, trains and motorbikes in Scotland. Entry is free.
- The Tall Ship. 150 Pointhouse Rd, Stobcross Rd, Govan, Glasgow G3 8RS. 24-minute walk. Located next to the Transport Museum on the bank of the River Clyde. The Tall Ship is a fully restored Victorian sailing ship that allows visitors to explore the historic vessel from bow to stern. There is a café and gift shop inside. Entry is free.
- The Hunterian Museum. University of Glasgow, 82 Hillhead St, Glasgow G12 8QQ. 1-minute walk. A free-to-enter museum located inside The University of Glasgow. The museum displays artefacts from many areas of study including zoology, medicine and history.
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