Glasgow’s rich history stretches back to the Middle Ages when the city’s patron saint St. Mungo established a church at a site, which he referred to as 'Glasgu' (Gaelic for dear green place). This became Glasgow and the church, now Glasgow Cathedral, is today one of the finest examples of medieval architecture that remains in Scotland.
Since then the city 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 that can still be enjoyed today.
Sometimes the best way to take in the history and character of a city is to simply wander around at your leisure.
For the medieval buildings and architecture of the city, be sure to 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 at Cathedral Precinct.
A short walk from here will take you to the 37-acre Victorian Necropolis. Not only is it 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.
Just a stone’s throw from this gothic epicentre is another area steeped in history – the Merchant City. The 18th century trading to and from American 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.
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.
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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. The Riverside Museum is the place to visit to find out more about the city as a maritime powerhouse and the industrial revolution. The award-winning museum includes a reconstruction of a Victorian Street, locomotives and vintage cars.
If you are looking to delve deeper there are archive collections which reveal fascinating histories available to browse through at a number of stunning city museums and libraries.
Whether 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 at the Local Family History Centre in Glasgow's 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 recently opened 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.
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 was the booking office for Anchor Line cruise ships. Dating back to 1842, The Corinthian Club is based in the former High Court building. 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 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 and welcoming approach!