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The Out About Scotland complete guide to the University of Glasgow
Category: Historic building
Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 8 out of 10
About the University of Glasgow
If you’re thinking about heading to Glasgow to explore it’s tourist attractions I wouldn’t blame you if the last place you’ve got 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 slightly north of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one of the highlights of the city, and there’s much more to see there 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 current viewers of Outlander will no doubt recognise 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 Uni.
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 and if you’d like to know more you can read the section below to find out.
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 the best hidden gem 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, this 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 schedule.
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.
It’s in the art gallery where you’ll find The Mackintosh House that 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 really good gift shop under The Hunterian Museum that has loads of tartan-themed gifts and university merchandise on sale as well as several cafes 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. I reckon it has to be one of the best attractions in Glasgow.
What I liked about this attraction
- The university buildings are stunning. Don’t forget to visit The Quadrangles and The Cloisters
- The facilities on-site are pretty good with cafes and a gift shop
- Like all the best attractions in Glasgow, it’s free!
My top tips
- 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
- Food in the campus cafe is reasonably priced so get your lunch in there instead of the more expensive city cafes
Photos and video
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Address and directions map
Prices and opening times
There is no fee to visit the University of Glasgow on a self guided tour. Group guided tours are available from the Eventbrite website.
Getting there: Bus stop nearby, Train station nearby
Getting around: Disabled access, Easy-access paths, Pushchair access, Stairs
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Restaurant or cafe, Snacks, Toilets