To experience Glasgow’s rich history, walk around and look up to witness the lines of architecture change from medieval to modern and everything in-between. Sketched across the city, in grand detail, is a history through the ages, as buildings act as a canvas to tell the city’s story.
Glasgow has been shaped by very distinct historical periods – from the prosperity of the second city of the Empire to the industrial revolution to the cultural renaissance. The lasting legacy of these periods are still visible across the city, in the museums, art galleries, libraries and archives, architecture, parks and culture.
Glasgow’s rich history stretches back to when the city’s patron saint and founder St. Mungo established a church at a site, which he referred to as 'Glaschu' (Gaelic for Dear Green Place). This became Glasgow and the church developed into Glasgow Cathedral – nowadays one of the finest examples of medieval architecture remaining in Scotland. The city's coat of arms can be seen in ornate lamp posts in front of Glasgow Cathedral as well in numerous spots across the city – find out where by visiting the city's coat of arms' digital map.
Continuing on the medieval theme, take a stroll around the Trongate and Saltmarket areas, where a number of the city’s gothic buildings still stand proud, including The Tron Kirk Steeple at the Tron Theatre, the Tollbooth Steeple at Glasgow Cross and the Provand’s Lordship.
A short walk from Glasgow Cathedral is the 37-acre Victorian Necropolis. Not only is the historic cemetery home to wonderful architecture and sculptures but the view perfectly captures the city’s historical significance, architectural contrasts and just why Glasgow is known as the Dear Green Place.
As Glasgow is a compact city with varying styles of architecture side by side, the best way to take in the history and character is to simply wander around at your leisure.
Just a stone’s throw from the gothic, medieval epicentre is another area steeped in history – the Merchant City. In the 18th century, trading to and from America and the Caribbean resulted in huge wealth flooding into the city, with buildings and architecture constructed to reflect such prosperity. The Merchant City remains one of the most beautiful quarters of the city and includes the City Halls, Glasgow's oldest purpose built performance space, the Britannia Panopticon, the world’s oldest surviving music hall, and the Gallery of Modern Art, an elegant 18th-century neo-classical building, which now houses work by global, contemporary artists.
Strolling around this area, you’ll come across some of the city’s best boutiques, galleries, independent bars and restaurants now occupying former market & trading centres and grand mansions.
There are plenty of options for delving deeper into Glasgow's varied history and heritage. Many of the city’s museums and libraries are dedicated to the story of Glasgow and its people, with archives revealing fascinating histories.
The Riverside Museum is the place to visit to find out more about the city's maritime powerhouse and industrial revolution era in the mid-20th century. The award-winning museum, with its wave-like modernistic design, includes a reconstruction of a Victorian Street, locomotives and vintage cars.
For the history of Glasgow and its people visit the People's Palace, which tells the story of Glaswegians from 1750 to the end of the 20th century; and the Provand’s Lordship and Tenement House for recreations of how people lived in times gone by.
Whether you're from around the corner or around the globe, you will be warmly welcomed into the Glasgow Women’s Library to hear fascinating stories about the lives and histories of women through talks, events, exhibitions and archives. Discover more about your own ancestry by visiting Family History at the Mitchell Library – one of Europe’s largest public libraries and an iconic city landmark. Or watch amazingly preserved film footage of Glasgow and Scotland from throughout history at the National Library of Scotland at Kelvin Hall - a five-star venue as rated by VisitScotland.
Guided tours are also an excellent way to gain further knowledge into a specific area. Glasgow City Council has a range of self-guided heritage trails you can download. Check out our list of tours across the city, which includes everything from a Women’s Heritage Walk to Glasgow Central Station tours, which take you underground to explore the station's vaults and significant history, to Eat Walk Glasgow tours, for tastings in top restaurants while learning about the architecture and history around you.
To learn about Glasgow's most famous son, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, visit The Lighthouse and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, both of which have permanent exhibitions exploring the Art Nouveau architect's work and legacy. There are many of his buildings and designs to take in across the city from his impressive final major city commission, Scotland Street School Museum, which tells the story of education in Scotland in days gone by, to the hidden gem, Mackintosh Queen's Cross, which offers a vision of gothic beauty, with atmospheric abundance.
No matter what you have planned for your visit, it’s impossible to spend time in Glasgow without experiencing the history and heritage of the city, as it is all around us!
It is in the way you travel – Glasgow’s Subway is the world’s third oldest underground – take a spin around the circular 15 stop route and hop on and off to take in the city’s diverse neighbourhoods.
It’s in the places you choose to stay – many of Glasgow’s hotels and apartments are based within grand historic city buildings. There is the Grand Central Hotel at Central Station, which originally opened in 1883. Then there’s Hotel Du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens – a boutique hotel set within a tree-lined Victorian terrace.
It’s in the places you dine out in – many of Glasgow’s restaurants are based in stunning buildings which have had many former lives. There’s The Anchor Line, which occupies the building which used to be the booking office for Anchor Line cruise ships. Dating back to 1842, The Corinthian Club is based in the former High Court building. The meticulously restored Mackintosh at the Willow, which is recognised internationally for its importance as the only surviving tea room designed in its entirety by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. And not to be missed is Glasgow’s oldest restaurant, Rogano where the beautiful art deco interior is an exact replica of the state room of the RMS Queen Mary ocean liner, which was built on the River Clyde in the 1930s!
It's in the parks you walk around - Glasgow is home to over 90 parks and gardens, many of which include historic buildings, from the glass paneled dome roofed Kibble Palace in the Botanic Gardens to the old country manor, Pollok House in the expansive Pollok Country Park.
It’s in the people you talk to – another great way to learn more about Glasgow’s history and the people of the city is to get chatting to the locals, who are known for their friendly, witty and welcoming approach!
Article last updated: Nov 2019