The Story of the UK’s Top Cultural City

It's official – Glasgow is the UK’s cultural powerhouse!

Scotland’s largest city has just been named the UK’s Top Cultural and Creative City as part of a landmark report by the European Commission. The report puts Glasgow ahead of London, Bristol, Brighton and Manchester which make up the rest of the top five in the UK. 

As befits the city brand ‘People Make Glasgow’, the report also ranked Glasgow as Europe’s leader for ‘openness, tolerance and trust’. The Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor 2019 report ranked 190 European cities on different aspects, including cultural vibrancy, creative economy and ability to attract creative talent and stimulate cultural engagement.

It is almost 40 years since Glasgow claimed the title of one of the first European Capitals of Culture in 1990. It was this prestigious accolade that propelled Glasgow into the global spotlight and set the city on its current trajectory.

So how did Glasgow transform from post-industrial city to creative and cultural centre of European importance in the space of a generation?

Charting Glasgow’s Astounding Cultural Rise

Once the second city of the Empire, Glasgow was a shipbuilding and engineering powerhouse at the turn of the 20th century. However, post-World War II, the city entered a post-industrial phase. 

The regeneration of Glasgow to the cultural powerhouse it is today kick started in earnest in the 1980s.

In 1983, Glasgow announced to the world its intention to transform itself through culture. The Burrell Collection, a world-class arts collection set within a purpose built A-Listed museum in the city's Pollok Country Park, opened the same year and gave the city a platform on which to build Glasgow’s case as a major arts and cultural destination.

Following this, the city won the bid be European City of Culture in 1990 - it was recognised that this would give a tremendous opportunity to enhance Glasgow’s standing as a post-industrial city that was pursuing an arts led strategy to re-position itself.

The 1990s and 2000s saw this cultural regeneration in the city gather apace, setting Glasgow on a new path of prosperity.


Key Moments in Glasgow's Cultural Timeline


Today Glasgow is one of Europe’s Leading Cultural Cities

Glasgow's internationally acclaimed trail in contemporary art, design and music continues while safeguarding its rich architectural heritage and world-class civic art collection.

"Glasgow is back. Once the second city of the British Empire, when its shipping, industry and commerce circled the globe, it has reinvented itself as a cultural powerhouse of music, creative arts, theatre, design and innovative cuisine. The transformation from a period of economic decline has been dramatic… The rusting shipyards faded into history, and in their place rose the striking futuristic architecture of award-winning museums and performance venues."

The Telegraph (2018)

Band on Barrowland Ballroom stage blurred by light show, with fans with their hands in the airBarrowland Ballroom

The city’s music offering is legendary, stretching across all genres and taking place in an array of venues seven nights a week, from city parks to tables tucked in the corner of traditional pubs. Whether bagpipes or beats, Glasgow is a city which is not afraid to make some noise. 

Embracing traditional and contemporary, Glasgow is home to one of Europe’s largest civic arts collection. More people visit Glasgow’s museums each year than in any other UK city outside of London, with the city’s nine city museums home to masterpieces by Dali, Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, Whistler and Monet. In terms of contemporary art, Glasgow punches well above its weight, with no fewer than eight Turner Prize winners and 12 nominees who have hailed from, trained in, or worked out of the city in recent years.

Row of Vincent Van Gogh paintings at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and MuseumDisplay at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

There is a huge variety and volume of live performances to see in Glasgow every day of the week, with a scene that attracts, nurtures and retains performers. The city is home to more than 100 cultural organisations and five of Scotland’s six internationally renowned national performing arts companies, namely the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; National Theatre of Scotland; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet.

Culture lovers are spoilt for choice with events and festivals on year-round, with everything from the Glasgow Film Festival (the UK's third biggest film festival) to Glasgow Jazz Festival (the longest running music festival in the city), from the UK’s biggest Mela (an outdoor multi-cultural spectacular) to Celtic Connections (Europe's largest winter music festival).

The Cultural Regeneration of Glasgow Continues…

The city is investing £66 million in a full refurbishment of The Burrell Collection, providing the museum with the opportunity to display and reinterpret the collection, revealing many wonderful and new stories about each object.

Artist Impression of refurbished Burrell Collection, due to reopen in 2021Artist Impression of the refurbished Burrell Collection, due to reopen in spring 2021

Set to open in spring 2021, The Burrell’s renaissance will make sure that this world-class Collection and its home is protected for future generations to enjoy.


For inspiration when planning your next cultural experience in the city visit our Cultural City pages.

Article last updated: December, 2019


Museums and Galleries

Glasgow is brimming with exceptional museums and galleries, many of which are free to visit.

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Contemporary Art

From international festivals to independent, artist-run galleries, there's plenty for contemporary art lovers.

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History and Heritage

Delve into the city's rich and fascinating history.

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Explore Glasgow's built heritage and learn more about the architects who have shaped the city's skyline.

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Performing Arts

As Scotland's creative powerhouse, the city is home to some of the finest performing arts organisations in the country.

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