Glasgow is a city made for walking, and a stroll through the streets, lanes, parks and river walkways will take you on a journey through amazing heritage and architecture. The past is ever-present within the beautiful and well preserved Victorian, Art Nouveau and Gothic architecture on display, whilst the city’s pioneering spirit can be seen in modern, and at times, futuristic structures, many of which sit proudly along the riverfront.
“There are so many beautiful buildings in Glasgow... Generally I think there's loads of architecture in Glasgow that's really quite incredible”
Sumayya Usmani - Chef and food writer
Built between the 13th and 15th centuries, Glasgow Cathedral is one of the best examples of medieval architecture remaining in Scotland. Its jaw-dropping beauty is matched by its history, as it was here that the city was first founded by St Mungo. The Cathedral is such a well preserved example of gothic architecture that it has been used as a location for the filming of various productions over the years, including the hugely popular US TV show, Outlander.
The neighbouring Glasgow Necropolis is one of Europe's most significant cemeteries, full of wonderful architecture, sculptures and fascinating stories. Modelled on the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, it’s a must-visit not least for the stunning views over the city.
Some other examples of the city’s medieval landscape still remain such as Provand’s Lordship, Trongate and Tolbooth Steeple which are all located within the Merchant City.
As a former Second City of the Empire, Glasgow’s wealthy past has left a legacy of the finest Victorian architecture in the UK with many of the stunning buildings now attractions for visitors to enjoy.
Masterpieces that can't go unmentioned include Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Opened in 1901, there are as many people that come to marvel at the stunning red sandstone building as they do at the 8,000 plus exhibits housed inside.
Meanwhile, the City Chambers, opened by Queen Victoria herself in 1888, with its striking marble interiors is so spectacular that it has doubled as world famous buildings –The Kremlin and The Vatican – for film productions. Free tours take place daily.
One of the defining features of the city is the red sandstone tenements, which have housed much of the city’s population since the Victorian era. San Francisco has the painted ladies, London has Georgian townhouses and Glasgow has tenements. The grand, high ceiling, bay windowed flats are popular with everyone from students to families to artists – with the best place to take these in, by wandering through the city’s neighbourhoods.
Follow up with a visit to The Tenement House to catch a rare glimpse of early 20th century Glasgow life in this frozen-in-time, four room tenement house.
Other Victorian buildings to discover include, The Briggait, Charing Cross Mansions, The Mitchell Library, City Halls and Old Fruitmarket.
Glasgow is a city that is continually reinventing itself and this can be seen within its incredibly modern architecture. Take a stroll along the River Clyde and you’ll find that the shipyards, which made the city so successful during the industrial revolution, have almost all been replaced with an array of striking modern buildings. The site of on-going major regeneration, Glasgow’s riverside is now home to some of Europe’s most impressive neo-futuristic architecture.
There’s the Zaha Hadid designed, award-winning Riverside Museum, with its wave-like design signifying the city’s dynamic relationship to the River Clyde. Then there’s the Scottish Event Campus, which is home to two buildings designed by Norman Foster – The Armadillo which draws comparisons to Sydney’s Opera House and the SSE Hydro, which draws comparisons to a flying saucer! Cross the river over one of the many iconic bridges and you’ll come to the Glasgow Science Centre and the Glasgow Tower, which is the tallest, fully rotating freestanding structure in the world.
Glasgow has produced many influential architects over the years, with their buildings and exhibits on display for people still to enjoy. The city’s forward thinking approach to design also means that many world famous architects have been invited to design commissions. Architects, like with musicians and contemporary artists, are drawn to Glasgow – creatives continue to converge, be inspired and flourish here.
Stirlingshire-born Alexander “Greek” Thompson took much of his inspiration from the Greeks, Egyptians and other ancient civilisations, with him putting this into practice in his many Glasgow buildings, which included blocks of tenements, suburban villas and three extraordinary Presbyterian churches.
The St Vincent Street Church is the only intact survivor of his churches, with its design offering great insight into his style.
Other important works still standing include Moray Place, Great Western Terrace, Egyptian Halls in Union Street, Grecian Buildings in Sauchiehall Street, and his villa, Holmwood House, at Cathcart, which is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is renowned for its intricately designed interiors and exterior. Check out Holmwood House website for seasonal opening times.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a pioneering Glaswegian architect and designer and is known as one of the most creative figures of the 20th century and as a leading figure in the European Art Nouveau movement. As an architect, designer and artist, Glasgow’s most famous son has left a magnificent legacy of buildings, drawings, designs and motifs stamped upon his home city. From the gothic splendour of the lesser-known Queen's Cross Church to the intricately restored tearoom and cultural heritage attraction, Mackintosh at the Willow, to his final city commission and one of his masterpieces, Scotland Street School - his distinctive style is apparent. Read more about how you can experience Mackintosh in Glasgow.
A great way to explore Glasgow’s diverse architectural heritage is on a walking tour of the city.
Article last updated: January 2020