Unlike Edinburgh where many tourist attractions centre around the Royal Mile, Glasgow's attractions are a lot more spread out. As it is an expansive city, if you only have 1 or 2 days to explore I recommend using the 'Hop on Hop off' Bus Tours to make the most of your time. Many of the attractions are quite a distance apart so walking is not the best option if visiting some of them is on your agenda.
At first glance visitor's might think the city doesn't have much to offer on a sightseeing trip, however this couldn't be further from the truth. Glasgow is bursting with world class museums, galleries and historic sites which are not only some of the most visited attractions in Scotland, but also within the UK.
On top of that there are more than 90 parks and gardens, umpteen music venues (did you know Glasgow was a UNESCO City of Music?), fantastic architecture and many more unique places to visit. Did I also mention that it is a previous European Capital of Culture and was named the top cultural and creative centre in the UK in 2019?
As there are no obvious tourist areas, Glasgow has a more authentic feel than other cities but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty for tourists to see and do. You just have to work a little harder to find the sites and the City Sightseeing Bus is the perfect solution for those short on time.
The circular route takes you around various districts and recorded commentary is a great introduction to the history of the places that you pass through. It stops at most of the major attractions and takes away the stress of planning individual public transport journeys to get around. I've tried out the tour twice and even though I was born in Glasgow and lived in the city for over 30 years, I found it an enjoyable way to explore and even learned a few new things along the way!
If it is a dry day, then the open top buses offer a great perspective of the vibrant street art and architectural details of the grand buildings. You might choose just to sit back, relax and learn more about Glasgow as you tour the city or you might decide to get on and off at various stops to explore a bit more.
Whatever you decide to do this handy guide to the Glasgow Hop on Hop off Bus will help you plan your own visit. Below you will find -
A Guide to the Hop on Hop off Glasgow Bus Tour
Unlike the Edinburgh Hop on Hop off Tours which offer three bus route options, Glasgow only has the City Sightseeing Bus and all buses follow the same route. You can't miss them with their distinctive red branding.
What does the Glasgow Bus Tour include?
Glasgow Hop on Hop off Bus Ticket Options
While visitors head to the north of Scotland in their droves, I often feel the south of Scotland gets unfairly overlooked. I've lost count of the itineraries I've seen online that only venture north of Edinburgh and Glasgow despite the fantastic historic and scenic treasures that fill Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway.
I always think this is a shame, but on the plus side it does mean that the Mull of Galloway at the most southerly point of Scotland is a much quieter alternative to its counterpart in the north. However, that doesn't mean that it is any less rewarding to visit and I'd even go as far as saying it is more rewarding as it feels remoter, wilder and less commercialised.
It is also likely to remain that way as it is a destination rather than somewhere you pass through. Sitting at the end of a 5 mile long country road which heads south from the village of Drummore, it is often referred to as 'Scotland's Lands End'.
The Mull of Galloway is at the southern end of the Rhins of Galloway, a peninsula on the south-west corner of Scotland that is worth exploring over at least a couple of days. It also makes a worthwhile detour from Cairnryan for those travelling by ferry to or from Northern Ireland.
At the bottom of this post I've listed some of my other recommended things to do in the area if you do want to extend your stay.
Things to do in & around the Mull of Galloway
So what makes the Mull of Galloway so special and worth venturing so far south? I've listed some of the reasons why I love this part of the country below, and as usual, I hope it inspires you to consider a part of Scotland that might not have been on your radar until now,
Visit Drummore - Scotland's most southerly village
Drummore is the last village you pass heading south towards the Mull of Galloway. It is Scotland's most southerly village and you might be surprised to find out it is not only further south than the Scottish Borders but it is even further south than Newcastle!
If like me, you still enjoy sending mail the old fashioned way and not via virtual messaging then Scotland's first and last post office is situated here and makes a unique stop to send your postcards from. Across the road you can also stock up on supplies at Scotland's most southerly store.
Visit the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse Exhibition
As you continue south from Drummore, the scenery opens up and you are rewarded with a stunning view across to the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse in the distance, perched high on the clifftop.
Alva Glen is situated next to the village of Alva which is only about a 20 minute drive from Stirling. This makes it a great option for those looking to combine a day of history with an outdoor hike. The trail is very much a walk of two halves which is one of the reasons why this is another one of my favourite walks in Scotland.
Alva is one of several settlements at the bottom of the Ochil Hills which are collectively known as The Hillfoot Villages. There is a 21km walk that passes through the villages known as The Hillfoots Diamond Jubilee Way. It is also possible to do this longer trail and include diversions to the various glens along the way including Alva Glen. The route is based on the old King's Highway.
The first section of the Alva Glen trail takes you through a shaded waterfall-filled wooded gorge, with a designated path that follows the Alva Burn upstream. In many ways this is also a heritage trail as you pass various structures dating back to the period when Alva was at the heart of the textile industry.
This area is now a haven for nature thanks to the hard work of the Alva Glen Heritage Trust which was set up in 2003. Their aim is to restore and regenerate the glen which was once an industrial centre. However, the dams, weirs and sluice gates that were built to ensure a year round water supply to the numerous mills still remain. You can also see the pipe that fed the water to the mills in order to drive the machines.
The second section of the walk opens up and involves some proper hill-walking. From here you can visit the viewpoint at Smuggler's Cave and access the surrounding Ochil Hills which feel a million miles away from the bustle of Stirling and even the shady gorge below.
Along the way you can read about the history of the glen on various interpretation boards. I love the stark contrast on this route despite it covering a fairly short distance. It definitely ticks my box of a walk where the reward outweighs the effort.
Alva Glen Walk Details
DISTANCE - Approx 2 miles return journey from the designated free car park, although there is the option to reduce the distance or continue further if you wish
TIME - The walk takes on average 1 1/2 hours depending on how often you stop to admire the scenery!
TERRAIN - A mixture of designated pathways, bridges and rough, rocky terrain. Walking shoes or boots are advised.
DIFFICULTY - Most of the walks I feature on my blog are easy to moderate as I want to include options that most people can manage. I would say that the first half part of this walk is suitable for most levels of fitness. However, the second part involves some steep and rough hill-walking in places so falls more in to the moderate category.
If you enjoy the outdoors, be sure to check out my other recommended Scottish walks.
DISCOVER THE TEXTILE HERITAGE OF ALVA
As you walk from the car park to the start of the Alva Glen walk, look up and you might spy a curious figure of a prehistoric man. Textile mills were not the only industry in the glen, rock and gravel were quarried from here and silver was also mined along with other minerals.
The figure commemorates a prehistoric human skeleton that was discovered in the quarry that you walk past. Uncovered by one of the workers, James Murdoch, examinations concluded that the person was placed there after death. A few days later James Murdoch was killed at the same spot after a stone slab fell on him leading to conspiracies that he had been cursed for disturbing the burial!
The trail continues past a series of waterfalls with obvious man-made features. This water supply was vital in powering the textile mills in Alva Glen. The first mill was opened in 1798 and by 1830 nine mills relied on the water. Controlling the flow of the Alva Burn was necessary to ensure that water was available all year.
Royal Deeside in Aberdeenshire is an ideal area of Scotland to base yourself if you are a lover of castles and the outdoors - I'm definitely a fan of both. I spent a few days in the region and split my time between scenic walks and historical ruins, with a few great restaurants and cafes thrown in for good measure.
One of my favourite local walks was to Burn O'Vat, an amazing bowl-shaped geological feature which was carved out by glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age. I visited early in the morning as it apparently gets quite busy later in the day. I was lucky to have it all to myself although I did pass lots of people headed that way on my walk back to the car park.
The walk is situated in the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve which has many more trail options. I didn't have time to explore any more of them on my visit, however you could easily spend a good part of the day there.
Burn O'Vat Walk Details
DISTANCE - Approx 1 mile return walk from the designated car park, You could also add on the Culblean Circuit to make it a 4 mile walk
TERRAIN - A designated pathway at the start, although climbing over streams and rocks is required to gain entry
DIFFICULTY - Most of the walks I feature on my blog are easy to moderate as I want to include options that most people can manage. Overall this is an easy walk, however you do need some mobility and confidence to climb over the rocks. Waterproof footwear is also recommended as you need to cross a couple of streams. If the rocks are particularly wet and slippy or if the water is high, extra care needs to be taken.
FOLLOWING THE WALK
The route is well signposted and crosses a green wooden bridge before carrying on past a second bridge and then coming to an abrupt stop at a rock face - or so you think!
If you look closely, you will spot the narrow entrance-way which leads to the natural amphitheatre beyond. The next section to reach the gap does require a bit of agility to get over the boulders and across the stream, but isn't too strenuous and is actually quite fun!
Arriving at the entrance feels a bit like an Indiana Jones moment, with the possibility of ancient treasures or a forgotten civilisation hidden beyond the giant moss covered boulders. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic but its hard not to let your imagination run wild in a place like this, especially when there's no-one else about.
Crossing the stepping stones, negotiating the well placed tree trunk and the glimpses of a waterfall just add to the feeling of adventure although I should probably add that waterproof footwear will come in handy if the water levels are high or your balancing skills are lacking!
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