30 things to do for free in Glasgow

Like any city of its size, Glasgow has a vast range of things to see and do for free, from world-class galleries and museums to quirky historical sites, family attractions and parks (it is the ‘Dear Green Place’ after all).

If you’re planning a day out that doesn’t drain your bank balance, here are 30 things you can do for free in Glasgow.

Admire Charles Rennie Macintosh’s legacy in stone

glasgow school of art

Few architects have had such a singlular impact on a city as Charles Rennie Mackintosh has had on his native Glasgow. Scotland Street School Museum (Southside), House for an Art Lover (Bellahouston Park), The Lighthouse in the city centre and the Willow Tea Rooms reflect his talents, but none is more impressive than Glasgow School of Art, his pièce de résistance. (website)

• 25 things you won’t know about Glasgow unless you’ve lived there

Sit in the hull of a 19th century ship

An ancient vessel born in Scotland, transferred to Liverpool and then shipped out to Italy? We’re not talking about Graeme Souness; it is in fact the Glenlee, which is now anchored at the fantastically free Riverside museum. Now named the Tall Ship, you can man the decks and feel more of a pirate than if you owned 100gb of illegally-acquired data. (website)

Read the words of Edwin Morgan

When the position of the Makar (Scotland’s Poet Laureate) was established in 2004, there was one standout candidate for the title. One of the country’s greatest ever literary talents, Edwin Morgan held the role until his death six years later at the ripe old age of 90. Fortunately his words live on, and are inscribed deep into the pavement at the Candleriggs. (website)

Pay homage to the city’s founder at Glasgow Cathedral

glasgow cathedral

“I get knocked down, but I get up again / You’re never gonna keep me down,” sang Chumbuwumba in 1997. Just short of 1,400 years earlier, Glasgow’s founder St Mungo built a church. He died, was buried there, it got destroyed, then rebuilt, and here we are. Just don’t sing the lyrics at the altar of the cathedral; it’s tranquil and strictly Chumbuwumba-free. (Website)

Give away your time

For arty types, there are the Glasgow Film and West End festivals to volunteer for, but really, there are plenty of morally-rewarding lines of volunteering in Glasgow, from working in homeless shelters to supporting refugees and those with mental illness. Volunteer Glasgow‘s website has a huge list of opportunities.

Live among the dead at the Necropolis


If you tire of frequenting the lifeless, sombre atmosphere among the thousands of living dead, then leave the Buchanan Galleries to head over to the Necropolis to stroll among incredible architecture and 50,000 graves. A notable resident is Dr James Jeffray, who used electricity to ‘reanimate’ the dead. His attempts were unsuccessful, although a certain Mary Shelley was rumoured to have been an onlooker. Of course, she later wrote Frankenstein. (Website)

Rummage around Glasgow’s wildest car boot sale

“If you’re not first, your last”, the old axiom goes, and never is it more relevant than at Polmadie’s cut-throat and cut-price car boot sale. Vinyl, rare books, food , clothes, junk, tobacco accessories, almost everything in existence is available here. But arrive early, or risk leaving with nothing. (website)

Remember the Spanish Civil War at La Pasionara

la pasionara
[Picture: Robert Orr / Flickr / CC]

George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway famously fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War, and thousands of Scottish sympathizers also left home, some never coming back. This beautiful sculpture recognizes them with the moving epithet, ”it is better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees”. (Website)

See modern art up close at the GOMA


Open seven days a week, the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) features material from emerging and established modern artists, including recent works from Scottish poet and sculptor Ian Hamilton Finlay, and there’s a Saturday Art Club, with drop-in sessions for children. Directly across the road there’s a handy art store, just in case you feel inspired when you get home. (listing / website)

Feed the ducks at Kelvingrove Park

Recent studies showed that humans find ducks inescapably hilarious, more than any other living creature. So how better to spend a wool-gathering (and cost-free) Sunday afternoon than by feeding the ducks the leftovers from your bread bin? Just remember not to let the kids get too close to them. (website)

Visit one of Glasgow’s many markets

To warm up for the main event that is the Barras (even though few provide adequate preparation), there are a few markets dotted around the city. Blochairn flea market, Sloans in the city centre and Sunday’s sales soiree in Ashton Lane help make a dent in your sifting experience, though thankfully not in your wallet.

Climb the largest marble staircase in the world

While the Vatican may boast a two-layered marble staircase, Glasgow City Council has what may well be the largest marble staircase in the world. The magnificent white Carerra marble feature has featured in several films, and while it’s tempting to imagine that all those parking fines have been put to rather decadent effect, in reality the City Chambers in George Square date from the late 19th century. (website)

Have a dip in the oldest swimming baths in the world

cat swim

Strictly speaking, a swim at Arlington’s Baths Club will cost you, but it can be sampled for free before you decide to become a member. Shake off the cobwebs from the armbands, because a free tour and a swim awaits you, with ladies welcome on Tuesdays, and men on Wednesdays. (website)

Reconnect with nature (without using a smartphone)

Bored? Hooked on Angry Birds or Flappy Birds or Big Bird? Get out of your button-pushing monotony and head to one of the many parks in the Dear Green Place. You have Queens Park, Kelvingrove, Bellahouston, Glasgow Green, the Botanic Gardens and the massive Pollok Park to choose from. It’ll be a walk in the park. (website)

Have a browse at Monorail and Good Press

Like books? Check. Like music? Check. Though Sunday mornings would argue otherwise, you are in fact a human being. Inside Mono lies Monorail, where you can sift through a city of records, and next door is Good Press, where books, zines, prints and comics come together in independently-printed matrimony. Even if you don’t buy, it’s still an enjoyable way to pass the time.

See ancient artefacts at the Burrell Collection

burrell collection

Recent hangovers may leave you feeling like a 3,000 year old stone, but at the famous Burrell Collection in Pollok Park you can actually stand before some from the Ancient Egyptian era. There’s also Islamic art, artifacts from China’s T’ang Dynasty and much more up-to-date art (relatively speaking) from the likes of Edgar Degas and Paul Cézanne too. (website)

Run along the River Kelvin

This river winds its way through Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, snaking a picturesque journey through both the Botanic Gardens and Kelvingrove Park. Keep fit and happy by running alongside it, but make sure to stop when it hits the Clyde, otherwise you’ll get a very different form of exercise than jogging.

Visit the site where one of the world’s biggest football rivalries began

hamilton crescent

Two footballing enemies battling their way through what’s become one of the biggest rivalries in sporting history. But it’s not Rangers v Celtic… No, it’s Scotland vs the ‘Auld Enemy’, in Hamilton Crescent Park in Partick in 1872, the world’s very first foray into international football. The outcome? 0-0. Soon after the SFA upped sticks to Hampden, but the park is now home to the West of Scotland Cricket Club, and often hosts Scotland’s Saltires team. (Wikipedia page)

Visit the church where one of the Bard’s muses tied the knot

St Andrew’s in the Square is steeped in history; the army of a pre-fugitive Bonnie Prince Charlie camped here on the way back from their disastrous invasion of England. But it’s less fighting and Glasgow kiss and more ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, as the woman who caught Burns’ heart – Agnes Maclehose, better known as Clarinda – was married here 30 years after Charlie got the runaround. (website)

Ogle body parts at the Hunterian Museum

If aliens descended on a post-apocalyptic, deserted Earth, they’d think humans were a warped species who liked to keep body parts in little jars just for show. And they’d be absolutely right, thanks to the Hunterian’s Anatomy Museum. There’s also the world’s largest permanent display of the work of James McNeill Whistler… They’ve gone out on a limb. (website)

(Don’t) put a cone on the Duke of Wellington’s head


Don’t. No really, don’t. It gets removed, and then some local fully feels the horror of its absence and daringly (and often drunkenly) replaces it. Now even the council can’t remove it, for the fear of an uprising. Arab Spring? More likely a Rab springing up to deliver swift cone-shaped justice. (Wikipedia page)

Pay homage to Burns in George Square

Ah the Bard. Rabbie Burns’ impact on culture resonates around the world. Of course, it’s only fitting that such a cultural titan has his own statue in George Square. He’s the one with the dodgy sideburns. (Wikipedia page)

See the Big Yin’s Banana Boots at the People’s Palace

After a centenary refurbishment in 1998, this Glasgow Green building is a strikingly beautiful and expansive setting which hosts a collection of snapshots of historic Glaswegian images… And more importantly, it’s got Billy Connolly’s notorious Banana Boots for you to gawk at. (website)

See a Dali painting at Kelvingrove Art Gallery

dali painting

In 1952 Glasgow Art Director Tom Honeyman snapped up one of surrealist painter Salvador Dali’s less bizarre, but no less stunning, works, Christ of St. John of the Cross. Even at £8,500 it was a controversial purchase at the time, but a drop in the ocean compared to the £80 million the Spanish government tried to buy it for not too long ago. (Venue page)

Visit the buildings of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson

Many creatives see little critical return for their efforts during their lifetimes. Vermeer, Bach, Dickinson, Van Gogh, Kafka, the list goes on. Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson was another; his distinctive sustainable buildings only having major impact long after his demise. St Vincent Street Church (West), Caledonia Road Church and Holmwood House (South), and the Grecian Chambers on Sauchiehall Street (it homes the CCA) are among his best. (Wikipedia page)

Plough through an epic page-turner at the Mitchell Library

Been laid off work? Broken your back? Have about as much coin as an abandoned arcade? Spend your months tackling a spot of War and Peace or Infinite Jest. Just thank your lucky stars the Mitchell doesn’t have French book Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus, which comes in at a back-breaking 2.1 million words and is thought to be the longest novel ever written. (Website)

Let off steam with a walk to James Watt’s statue

Unless you live in a sea-cave with a diet only featuring the molluscs and barnacles scraped off its roof, you’re in debt to James Watt. His invention triggered the Industrial Revolution, which is the reason you are currently sprawled in a heated house reading this on a tiny metal box whilst eating a dinner of Angel Delight. He’s encased in stone at Bridgeton and George Square. Say thanks. (Wikipedia page)

Browse Glasgow’s galaxy of charity shops

Believe it or not, thrift stores were there long before Macklemore declared his love for them. The West End has slightly more expensive and fashion-conscious alternatives, and the Southside has the Glad Rags and the treasure trove of Rutherglen, while Partick and Dennistoun are a little more no-nonsense at yes yes yes prices, if you put your bargain specs on that day. Disclaimer: again, only free for browsing of course…

Visit the oldest house in Glasgow

provands lordship

This might come as quite a surprise if you’ve been thinking your crumbling tenement is the oldest home straddling the Clyde… At over 500 years old, Provand’s Lordship trounces all homes, and it hasn’t got awful ’70s wallpaper and a ‘retro’ sofa. (website)

Visit the most polluted street in Scotland (or maybe don’t)

Climate change eh? Why has it not been debunked yet? Oh yes, because it’s actually happening. If you don’t believe us, there’s Hope Street, which happens to be the most polluted street in Scotland and sees more nitrogen than Heston Blumenthal’s dishes. And if you’re a smoker, head over there to catch a breath of fresh air (Please don’t, we’re joking)

Like this? Try this:

• 25 things you won’t know about Glasgow unless you’ve lived there
Neighbourhood guide: The West End, Glasgow
10 of the best bars in Glasgow
Glasgow Restaurants Guide – read the reviews, book tables
An introduction to the Glasgow music scene

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