In my job as a trip leader for a small group tour operator that runs trips in Scotland, people often ask me which Scottish city is my favorite – Glasgow or Edinburgh? My answer is … complicated. I like them both for totally different reasons.
Glasgow and Edinburgh, the two biggest cities in Scotland, are like oil and water. They couldn’t be more different! Where Edinburgh is polished and refined, Glasgow is gritty and real. Where Edinburgh has history and charm, Glasgow has modern art and contemporary culture. The rivalry between the two cities is age old - locals definitely have a favorite and defend their choice fiercely. I think both cities warrant a visit on any first time trip to Scotland. The contrast alone is worth experiencing!
In this comprehensive city & travel guide, I will break down how to see the very best of Glasgow in just 2 days. Glasgow is a city of two sides – the East End and the West End. They are fairly different, so I would recommend dedicating one full day to each side of the city. I have organized this itinerary as such. You'll find specific suggestions on where to eat, what to see and how to plan your 48 hour Glasgow getaway.
How to See the Best of Glasgow, Scotland in 48 Hours
Day 1 - East Glasgow
The East End of Glasgow is characterized by a blend of an industrial history and urban regeneration. This area has undergone significant revitalization efforts in recent years, so you'll find a mix of traditional tenement buildings and modern developments. The East End is also known for its rich industrial heritage tied to shipbuilding and trade.
Morning: Street Art Tour
Glasgow has developed a reputation for its street art, graffiti and public art murals. The East End in particular is renowned for its vibrant street art scene with colorful murals adorning many buildings. I am personally a huge fan of street art because I think it tells the story of a city. Glasgow's thriving street art scene is a sight to behold, so what better way to kick off your 48-hour adventure than with a morning dedicated to exploring the city's ever-evolving outdoor gallery.
Having taken street art tours in other big cities like Berlin and London, I think a street art tour can be a fascinating and insightful way to explore the local creative culture. The best guided street art tours are run by Walking Tours in Glasgow with daily offerings. These tours provide an insider's look into the work of talented local and international artists who have transformed the city's walls into captivating canvases.
If you prefer a more DIY street art tour approach, I can recommend the City Centre Mural Trail. This independent group has created an interactive map highlighting the important murals and stories about the artists behind them. I find the map is current and regularly updated with new pieces, so it is easy to follow your own walking path.
Early Afternoon: Barras Market & People’s Palace
If you happen to be in Glasgow on the weekend, then you should definitely check out Barras Market. Established in the early 20th century, it has earned a reputation as Glasgow’s greatest vintage and antiques market. This is a place where you can find just about anything, from vintage treasures to quirky collectibles. What makes the Barras Market so cool is the eclectic and diverse array of stalls. As you wander through the market, you'll encounter a kaleidoscope of goods, including clothing, jewelry, vinyl records, secondhand books, and more.
Also nearby is the People's Palace. Located within Glasgow Green, this is a fascinating museum and cultural center that offers a glimpse into the social history of Glasgow and its people. Housed in a stunning 19th century red sandstone building, the museum presents exhibits, interactive displays, and artifacts that tell the story of Glasgow from its industrial roots to its vibrant contemporary culture. You can explore recreated streets, complete with shops, a pub, and a tearoom, all reflecting different periods in the city's history.
Late Afternoon: Necropolis & Cathedral
After a morning immersed in contemporary art and culture, head to Glasgow's unique and somewhat unexpected Necropolis. Located in the heart of the city, this graveyard and holy place has a fascinating blend of Greek and Roman styles built during the Victorian era. Fifty thousand individuals have been buried here throughout the years. You will hike up a small hill through the graveyard until you reach the top where you are greeted with a gorgeous view of central Glasgow.
Next, make your way to Glasgow Cathedral, a magnificent example of medieval Gothic architecture. The exterior is currently under renovation, so you can’t appreciate the magnificent steeple, but it is still very impressive. Step inside to admire the characteristic stone arches and stained glass windows that tell tales of Scotland's history. Ensure you check their opening hours before visiting, as they still have regularly daily mass when it is closed to the public.
Evening: Buchanan Street Debauchery
As the sun sets on your first day in Glasgow, it's time to experience the bustling nightlife of Buchanan Street. This iconic shopping thoroughfare transforms into an energetic hub of activity come evening, with street performers, musicians, and an array of dining and entertainment options to choose from. Glasgow has become a popular destination for partying, especially with bachelor & bachelorette parties. It can get a little sketchy at night, so make sure to keep your wits about you.
Day 2 - West Glasgow
Contrastingly to East Glasgow, West Glasgow exudes a more refined and affluent atmosphere. It's often associated with the University of Glasgow and features elegant Georgian and Victorian architecture, including grand townhouses and tree-lined avenues. This area is known for its cultural diversity, excellent restaurants, and a thriving music scene.
Morning: Kelvingrove Museum & Park
Start your second day in Glasgow with a visit to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, an iconic institution that showcases a vast collection of art, artifacts, and natural history exhibits. The museum's grand, red sandstone exterior is an architectural marvel in itself. Inside, you'll find a diverse range of exhibits, from paintings by renowned artists like Salvador Dalí to ancient Egyptian mummies and Scottish wildlife displays. What makes this experience cool is the sheer variety of exhibits that cater to all interests. Art enthusiasts, history buffs, and families alike will find something captivating here. Don't miss the famous Spitfire airplane suspended from the ceiling.
My favorite installation is the floating heads by Sophie Cave. There are over 50 plastic heads floating above the east atrium, displaying different emotions including laughter and despair.
After taking in the museum, be sure to explore the beautiful Kelvingrove Park surrounding the building. It is ideal for a leisurely stroll or a relaxing picnic. It is perennially popular with locals, so you’ll see people walking their dogs, cooking on a BBQ or going for a jog.
Early Afternoon: Glasgow Botanic Gardens
I am such a sucker for nice botanic gardens. From Kew Gardens in London to Cape Town’s gorgeous Kirstenbosch Gardens, I just love them! The Glasgow Botanic Gardens are a verdant oasis. Established in 1817, the gardens span approximately 27 acres and are home to an astounding array of plant life. From colorful seasonal blooms to towering tropical palms, the gardens provide a lush, year-round spectacle.
The gardens are divided into thematic sections. Explore the vibrant colors of the Rose Garden, the tranquility of the Japanese Garden, and the enchanting scents of the Herbaceous Border. A highlight is the Rhododendron Walk, a breathtaking display of these stunning flowering shrubs during the spring season. Stroll through the extensive glasshouses, including the Kibble Palace, which houses exotic plants from around the world, including towering tree ferns and beguiling orchids.
Late Afternoon: Glasgow University
In the afternoon, venture to the historic University of Glasgow, often described as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. Calling all Potterheards! Glasgow University will make you feel like you are walking through the magical halls of Hogwarts. If the campus looks like something out of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series to you, you’re not the only one. There are rumors that Hogwarts was inspired by Glasgow University, although the author has never confirmed it (similar to all the places in Edinburgh that are rumored to have inspired the series).
Founded in 1451, Glasgow University boasts stunning Gothic architecture, picturesque interior courtyards, and impressive buildings like the University Chapel and the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery. You can take a guided tour to learn about the university's famous alumni, including economist Adam Smith and physicist Lord Kelvin. Or you can simply wander around the campus to soak in the ambiance – it is totally open to the public! The stunning cloisters are my favorite place to take photos because of all the cool angles.
Evening: Ashton Lane
Conclude your 48-hour adventure in Glasgow with a visit to the charming and atmospheric Ashton Lane. Nestled in the heart of the West End, this cobbled lane is lined with picturesque, fairy-lit buildings and an array of restaurants, cafes, and pubs. Whether you're seeking a gourmet dinner, live music, or a quiet drink in a traditional Scottish pub, Ashton Lane offers a variety of options to suit your mood. On a weekend, it is rowdy with a noticeable fun vibe. Make dinner reservations if you plan to dine at a specific restaurant, as it can get busy during peak hours.
Where to Stay in Glasgow
Glasgow offers an array of accommodation options to suit every traveler's needs and preferences. If you’re only there for a short time, I would recommend choosing a hotel in the city center near a train stop, so that you can easily get around. It’s not quite as charming as the West End, but it’s easier for travel logistics. I particularly like the Clayton Hotel on the river. The rooms are spacious and the amenities are great. Plus the design is beautiful. Apex City Hotel is another solid option. The staff here is SO friendly and helpful.
How to Get Around Glasgow
Navigating Glasgow is a breeze thanks to its efficient and diverse transportation options. The city boasts a charming subway system, affectionately known as The Circle, because it quite literally only has one line and goes in a circle. There is an outer loop and inner loop and just a handful of stops -- I guarantee you can't get lost. Buses crisscross the city as well. For those who prefer to travel on foot, Glasgow's compact city center is pedestrian-friendly, and many attractions are within walking distance. Cycling enthusiasts will also find dedicated bike lanes and rental services throughout the city.
Where to Eat Glasgow
Glasgow's culinary scene is a delightful blend of traditional Scottish fare and international influences. I find the quality is great and the prices are reasonable. From cozy pubs serving haggis and Scotch pies to upscale restaurants offering gourmet cuisine, the city caters to all tastes. A few of my favorite spots include:
- Broken Clock Cafe: High quality French patisserie without the pretentious French attitude.
- Loveable Rogue: Locally owned neighborhood joint that specializes in classic Scottish dishes prepared with modern refinement. Their haggis balls are awesome! It is also renowned for its carefully crafted cocktails.
- Butchershop: Famous steakhouse, celebrated for its exceptional cuts of meat and sophisticated dining experience. This upscale restaurant showcases the finest Scottish produce, including some of the best scallops I’ve ever had.
- The Citizen: chic and bustling option in the heart of Glasgow. Scottish pub favorites, including a delightful shepherd's pie.
Have thoughts or questions about visiting Glasgow? Tell me in the comments below!
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