Dating back to the medieval times, the city of Glasgow has a distinct architecture, while only 2 examples of medieval architecture remain, there is a remarkable mix of 19th century Victorian architecture and early 20th century ‘Glasgow Style’ Mackintosh-designed buildings
Here are the 12 most impressive buildings worth discovering in Scotland’s largest city… and they all just happen to be free to enter!
Glasgow City Chambers
In the centre of Glasgow is George Square, filled with fine buildings, statues and war memorials. At the Eastern end you will find the magnificent Victorian building of the Glasgow City Chambers and is the masterpiece of Scottish architect William Young. The building was opened in 1888 by Queen Victoria, and as well as being striking on the outside, the inside oozes opulence with elegant and stunning Italian marble staircases, mosaic ceilings, gold leaf accents, rich Spanish mahogany panelling, swathes of stained glass and pillars of granite. Glasgow City Chambers is one of the city’s most prestigious buildings.
Free- Open Monday- Friday with guided tours being conducted at 10.30am and 2.30am. If you cannot make the tour, you can wander freely around the entrance hall.
Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) is the most visited modern art gallery in Scotland, and sits as the pride and joy of Royal Exchange Square in the city centre. Constructed in 1778, this neoclassical building is the former townhouse of a wealthy tobacco lord. Having passed through many owners, the building underwent reconstruction from 1827 to 1832, resulting in the addition of the notable Corinthian pillars, cupola and substantial hall. Today the building is exquisite on the outside and filled with amazing art pieces inside.
Glasgow Cathedral is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture remaining in Scotland. The structure has origins from the 12th century, most of what is here today dates from the 15th century. Glasgow’s patron saint, St Mungo is believed to have hosted the original church, and indeed in the crypts beneath the cathedral you can find the tomb of St Mungo. Enormous ceilings, pointed arches, ribbed vaults and intricate stained glass exist in abundance. The best views of the cathedral are from the neighbouring Necropolis, which is also very worthy of visiting- there are over 50,000 souls buried in this Victorian cemetery.
Free- part of Historic Scotland
Neighbouring the Cathedral is this, the oldest house in Glasgow. Dating back to 1471. Thoughtfully maintained and preserved, the three storied house/museum is a wonderfully authentic look at simple medieval domestic life for city dwellers. It is believed to have served as temporary living quarters for Cathedral staff. The house owes its name to the Lord of the Prebend (or ‘Provand’) of Barlanark, who later occupied the house. Today the house is furnished with a collection of 17th century Scottish furniture donated by Sir William Burrell.
One of Glasgow’s most fascinating intersections is the Trongate, this junction has been central to the city for centuries. Trongate begins at Glasgow Cross, where the Tolbooth Steeple is situated, being the original centre of medieval Glasgow, and goes westward changing its name to Argyle Street at Glassford Street, look up and around as you wander here. Standing at the foot of High Street is the Tolbooth Steeple standing at 126-foot-tall and built in 1626 at what was the meeting point of the main streets of Glasgow at that time. The Steeple is all that remains of the original Tolbooth buildings which contained the town hall, court and jail. The Tolbooth housed the Glasgow Council Chambers until 1814, when the council sold the Tolbooth building (later demolished in 1921) and moved to Jail Square in the Saltmarket, before eventually moving to the current City Chambers in George Square. Along with the nearby Tron Theatre, formerly the Tron Kirk built in 1794 the Tolbooth Steeple is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Here you can picture days gone by with trade carts rolling past, however this area was also where the city hangings once took place.
People’s Palace And Winter Gardens
The People’s Palace And Winter Gardens had its grand opening in 1898 and is built with Locahrbriggs Red Sandstone, one of the most sought after of its kind, and is the work of Alexander B. McDonald, the city engineer. The Winter Gardens is a large magical conservatory filled with gorgeous and exquisite plants and trees. (Currently there are plans to close the Winter Gardens due to funding costs to repair deemed too high). Outside in the park Glasgow Green you will find the Doulton Fountain, built in 1888 it represents the four British Colonies Australia, South Africa, Canada and India, it is made from terracotta and at 14 metres high is the largest terracotta fountain in the world.
Free to enter – suggested donation of £5
Dating back to 1895, The Lighthouse was the first public commission by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Once housing The Glasgow Herald newspaper, The Lighthouse is now Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, with many exhibits. Be sure to climb the spiral staircase to soak up views of Glasgow’s cityscape from the Mackintosh Tower.
When the SECC (now SEC) started growing in numbers, a new building to the complex was to be added. The Clyde Auditorium may be the correct name, but during construction the unintentional resemblance of Sydney Opera House started to take shape and people of Glasgow being who they are (they like to rename things- such as the Arc Bridge as The Squinty Bridge) nicknamed The Clyde Auditorium as the affectionately named Armadillo, due to an armadillo’s characteristics, the design was in fact meant to represent a group of ship’s hulls, signifying the Clyde’s deep-rooted shipbuilding heritage and was designed by Sir Norman Foster. This modern alien-like edifice was designed by the highly acclaimed architects Foster And Partners and is an integral component of Glasgow’s eclectic architectural style.
Free to enter, although used for shows and events, best seen from outside.
The Riverside Museum is the location of the current award-winning Glasgow Museum of Transport. Opened in 2011, it won European Museum of the Year 2013. The Riverside Museum has made up of the most striking shapes and imposing angles, and is a stunning example of modern architecture, designed by the late prolific Dame Zaha Hadid, DBE. There are over 3,000 objects on display from Stormtroopers to Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s motorbikes from ‘Long Way Down’ to interactive displays and re-created Glasgow streets where you can climb aboard trains, tram and busses. Here you can also discover Glasgow's rich shipbuilding history and outside berthed on the river Clyde be sure to check out the Tall Ship, Glenlee, the UK's only floating Clyde-built sailing ship.
Both the Riverside Museum and Glenlee Tall Ship are free
University of Glasgow
Founded in 1451, The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. It has more listed buildings than any other university in the UK. The main building of the University of Glasgow was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott
Wander around the famous Cloisters for free
Location: University Avenue, West End, Glasgow
With its distinctive copper dome, The Mitchell Library is one of Glasgow’s most famous landmarks and is one of Europe’s most prestigious libraries. The Library on the current site opened in 1911 and it is not just the array of books that will leave you in another world, the architecture inside and out is incredible.
Location: Mitchell Library, North St, Glasgow
Kelvingrove Art Gallery And Museum
The beloved Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum stands out with its facade being constructed of Locharbriggs Red Sandstone. The building was designed by to E.J. Milner Allen and Sir John W. Simpson, who created this exquisite Spanish Baroque building in 1901. The interior is equally as interesting.
We visited these sights as part of the Glasgow City Sightseeing Bus Tour which stops at famous landmarks throughout the city, which also include Byres Road, Central Station and The Clydeside Distillery.
The architectural buildings above can be found at or near the following bus stop numbers-
#1 Glasgow City Chambers
#2 Glasgow Cathedral
#2 Provand's Lordship
#3 / #4 Glasgow Cross
#5 People’s Palace And Winter Gardens
#7 The Lighthouse
#11 The Armadillo
#12 Riverside Museum
#14 University of Glasgow
#18 Mitchell Library
#16 Kelvingrove Art Gallery And Museum
*Disclaimer: We were offered complimentary tickets for the Glasgow City Sightseeing Bus, which we warmly received. Our content is purely our own ideas, and our own opinions. We live in Scotland and work in Glasgow, so we are genuinely passionate about the city.