My complete guide to all the free museums in Glasgow
When I was growing up in Glasgow, I didn't always appreciate how privileged I was to have so many fantastic museums to visit on my doorstep. The fact that many of them cost nothing to enter made them accessible to working class families like mine and I spent many a happy hour learning about everything from dinosaurs to tram cars.
When I'm back in the city I still love popping in and out of these varied venues and I can't recommend them highly enough if you are visiting Glasgow. No matter what your interests, there is a museum for you.
I've put together this guide to the free museums in Glasgow which should give you plenty of indoor inspiration suitable for all ages and ideal for rainy days.
Although these attractions cost nothing to visit, many of them rely on financial support from the public to remain open, so consider leaving a donation if you can.
A HANDY MAP OF ALL THE FREE GLASGOW MUSEUM LOCATIONS
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum has long been a favourite with both Glaswegians and visitors to the city. It is not only the top attraction to visit in Glasgow, but one of the most popular in Scotland.
With 22 themed galleries you can expect to find a wide range of exhibits from dinosaurs to suits of armour. There are actually over 8000 eclectic objects on display, including items of local interest and international significance.
The art collection is said to be one of the greatest In Europe, with 'Christ of St John of the Cross' by Salvador Dali being one of the most famous paintings.
Although the galleries are the main appeal for visitors, the grand building is an attraction in its own right. Officially opened in 1901 it is a striking piece of architecture.
The museum is situated in the west end of Glasgow and can easily be reached by public transport from the city centre. Expect to easily lose a couple of hours wandering around the exhibits and gift shop.
If the weather is nice then a walk around the adjacent Kelvingrove Park makes for a pleasant way to finish off your visit or enjoy a cup of tea in the cafe.
The Riverside Museum of Transport
The Riverside Museum is home to a wide variety of modes of transport and is a great place to visit for all ages. Expect to see everything from prams and skateboards to vintage cars and buses, there is even a wall of motorbikes.
Over 3000 objects and 90 touch screen panels with films and stories will keep you entertained for hours. There is even the opportunity to climb on board some of the vehicles and walk down recreated cobbled Glasgow streets with period shops you can explore. It is this interactive element that makes the attraction lots of fun.
The Glasgow Museum of Transport has been my favourite museum since I was a wee girl. It first opened in 1964 and has actually moved location twice since then. My earliest memories date back to when it was originally housed in a former tram depot on the south side of the city. After that it moved to the Kelvin Hall in the west end of Glasgow before relocating again to its current home on the banks of the River Clyde.
The new statement building was designed by the renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, and the museum has won several awards since it reopened in 2011, including European Museum of the Year. It is situated next to The Tall Ship at the Riverside (see below) which is also free to visit and it makes sense to combine a trip to both attractions.
For a full day out in the city, you can also take the free Govan Ferry across the River Clyde during the summer months. On the opposite bank you can visit the Govan Stones and Fairfield Heritage Centre (see below). Another option for a longer day out is to visit the nearby Clydeside Distillery and join a whisky tour.
About the Clydeside Distillery
Last week I was lucky enough to be one of the first visitors at the new Clydeside Whisky Distillery which has just opened in Glasgow and offers tours, a shop, a cafe and of course a chance to sample a few drams. It is one of the first malt distilleries to be built in Glasgow for over a century.
Situated on the banks of the River Clyde just along from other popular city attractions including The Riverside Museum and the SSE Hydro, it forms part of an ongoing regeneration of the area. The Clydeside Distillery is housed in the characterful Old Pump House with a contemporary glass extension occupied by two giant copper stills. The building itself is a perfect representation of the old and new connections that tie the location, owners, production methods and Glasgow's whisky heritage together.
The distillery is able to produce up to 500,000 litres of spirit each year although you will have to wait several years until its first lowland malt will be ready for release. If you are in Glasgow and want to find out more about Scotch Whisky then this is a must visit. Whisky aficionados may be more interested in the history of Clydeside along with the growing revival of uisge beatha in the city.
Dating back to 1877, The Pump House with its distinctive clock tower that now houses Clydeside Distillery is situated at the historic Queen's Dock on the River Clyde. It is by no coincidence that this location was chosen as the latest venture in the very impressive Morrison family whisky portfolio,
The distillery chairman, Tim Morrison, is the great grandson of John Morrison who originally built the dock in 1836. John Morrison later partnered with Thomas Mason to form Morrison and Mason, a civil engineering and building firm that was responsible for building some of the most significant and notable structures in the city including Glasgow City Chambers.
The Pump House was originally designed to provide hydraulic power to operate the swing bridge servicing the commercial dock which witnessed the export of whisky with ships destined for all continents of the world.
Glasgow was once significantly involved in the production of whisky in Scotland and home to countless whisky distilleries with associated blending houses, bonded warehouses, bottling plants and cooperages, although very little evidence of this remains.
The history of the production and export of whisky in the city is told through a short film and self guided tour at the Clydeside Distillery.
Being a Glaswegian I often get asked about things to do in the city and one question I get a lot is for my recommendation of the best Glasgow tours. Until recently I hadn't been on that many tours in Glasgow so I decided to rectify that and have spent the last few months on a mission to discover the top unique tours in the city. After walking countless streets, climbing umpteen stairs, having a peek behind the scenes of several city landmarks and even exploring a few graveyards (all in the name of research!), I'm finally ready to share my findings.
Recommending the best tours in the city is pretty subjective as it really depends on personal interests, so I have decided to include a range of unique tours that in my opinion are 6 of the best in Glasgow...
Glasgow Central Station Tour
If you think a tour of a railway station might be dull, think again, this is actually my top recommended unique Glasgow tour overall, guaranteed to educate and entertain, just remember your hankies!
Paul Lyons is the mastermind behind the 90 minute tours that take you on a journey below the station platforms through forgotten Victorian tunnels and hidden rooms. It is his vision and passion that has made these tours a success and his plans to restore historic parts of the 135 year old station with money raised from ticket sales are commendable. Paul's ability to bring the human stories of the station to life is powerful, when he tells you at the beginning he will have you "Greetin' before the tour is over", he isn't kidding, although pan faced Glaswegian humour is also something he does very well.
It's no surprise that this is also the number one Glasgow tour on TripAdvisor, a well deserved accolade.
Glasgow City Chambers Tour
I've explored Glasgow City Chambers quite a few times over the years and I'm always surprised how few people realise that free guided tours take place every weekday providing a look behind the scenes of this grand Victorian building filled with mahogany, mosaics and marble.
As the seat of political power in Glasgow, the City Chambers was designed to impress and not surprisingly the interior is just as ornate as the exterior. As it is a working building and the headquarters of Glasgow City Council, access to some areas may be restricted at certain times although tours generally take in the opulent banqueting hall, the grand marble staircase which is reputed to be the largest in the world, the portrait gallery and even the opportunity to sit in the Lord Provost's chair, an ideal photo opportunity! I've yet to find a better free tour in the city.
The Friends of Glasgow Necropolis Walking Tour
As part of my research I did a few history based Glasgow walking tours and the only one I felt really stood out as being unique was the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis Tour around the city's most famous graveyard. This might not be everyone's idea of a fun day out but in my experience graveyard's offer one of the best insights into the history of a place and the volunteer guides really bring this city of the dead to life with their knowledge about monuments of interest and anecdotes about people that are buried here.
The Glasgow Necropolis is a 37 acre cemetery which has seen 50,000 burials and is home to 3,500 tombs, some of which are works of art in themselves designed by major architects and sculptors of the time. It also boasts impressive views over Glasgow from the top of the hill and joining a walking tour will really enhance your visit and knowledge about the city.
Having grown up and lived in Glasgow most of my life, I have watched it transform from a rather unattractive post industrial weed into a colourful bloom, worthy of its place in the cultural garden of Europe. As part of its reinvention, this 'Dear Green Place' on Scotland's west coast is gradually learning to capitalise on the talented art and design scene that has always been present in the city but not always marketed as one of its major assets. Creative studios have been reclaiming historical buildings, world class museums now attract visitors from every part of the globe and public art has appeared all over the city.
I moved out of Glasgow almost 3 years ago and each time I return I notice more changes, some subtle and some designed to make a bolder statement. The street art scene in the city has exploded over the last few years and this artistic development made such an impact on me it was the very first topic I wrote about on this blog!
With my blog turning 2 next month I decided it was time to revisit the street art of Glasgow that first inspired me to put finger to keyboard to find out how it has been progressing and I'm glad to report that almost 2 years on, we are both flourishing!
These days, Glasgow's street art has spread its graffiti tentacles all over the city, however a walk around the centre provides a good introduction to the diverse range of murals that have been commissioned since 2008 to brighten up neglected spaces. The nature of street art means that new pieces appear while other pieces disappear; it is an every changing open air gallery which can be enjoyed for free by anyone at anytime. I'm a huge fan of the murals and judging by the amount of people that were clicking away on cameras and phones next to me, I'm not alone.
If you want to find out more about the Glasgow city centre street art murals, here is an introduction to some of the main artists and venues.
Street Artist - Smug
Smug One (aka Sam Bates) is an Australian born street artist based in Glasgow and as you walk the streets of the city it is hard to miss his enormous works of art that often adorn entire gable end walls. His pieces are completed freehand using aerosol cans and in my humble opinion he is one of the most talented street artists in the world. Here are a few of his most prominent works in the city centre.
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