When most people think of Scottish cities, they think of Edinburgh first. It’s easy to understand why. Edinburgh has its castle and is generally more of a tourist city. It has a piper playing outside the train station and dramatic hills just past Holyrood, the seat of power in Scotland. But Glasgow has a lot to offer visitors that Edinburgh doesn’t. Glasgow has a distinctive character, a vibrant arts scene, and a lot of fun.
Scotland is a big country in comparison to the rest of the UK, but Edinburgh and Glasgow are fairly near to each other. It takes around an hour and 15 minutes to drive from one to the other, and no more than an hour and 30 minutes by train, depending on which train you get. This closeness means visitors can easily take in both cities in one trip.
Here are the main reasons why you should visit both cities, and what the differences are between them.
1. Types Of Attractions
Both of these cities have a lot to keep visitors busy, but the attractions and things to do are very different.
Edinburgh Caters To Tourists
Edinburgh is the second-most visited city in Britain, behind London, and it has a lot for visitors to sink their teeth into. There’s the castle, museums, art galleries, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, whisky experiences, and Arthur’s Seat — a grand city park with a hilltop climb that offers incredible views over the city. There’s also the Fringe festival and other smaller festivals taking place throughout the year.
Fewer Tourists In Glasgow
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, things are very different. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a must, as are other museums and galleries across the city, but Glasgow is a more modest city when it comes to attractions. There’s a flourishing music scene in the city and it’s fast becoming a place of pilgrimage for food lovers. Glasgow is more of an experience in terms of discovery than a tourist destination. It’s a big city, with a big-city feel to it, and it’s best experienced through bars and restaurants. You might walk a lot more in Glasgow than you do in Edinburgh, from restaurant to bar and from shop to shop, but you’ll be walking with locals rather than tourists, as you would in Edinburgh.
Both cities offer a unique history lesson.
Edinburgh Is More Medieval
Walking around Edinburgh is a bit of a history lesson. The castle is over 900 years old, while buildings in the new town are from the Georgian era. In the old town, medieval buildings sit alongside 17th- and 18th-century buildings, and the very streets of the old town offer a glimpse into what life was like almost 1,000 years ago.
There are some stunning examples of Gothic architecture and the “closes” within the streets date back to the 12th century, possibly even earlier. Closes are the narrow lanes you’ll see between the buildings all over the city. These lanes would once have been locked at night, meaning only people who lived in these buildings could enter. Now, most of them are open and anyone can wander through to view the incredible architecture within them.
Glasgow Is More Victorian
By comparison, Glasgow will first seem much more modern, and it is, but it has its own charm and its own history. Much of the city you see today dates back to the 19th century, meaning most of it is Victorian.
If you have the chance, go and see some of the old tenement buildings. These were built in the 19th century to house the vast amounts of people emigrating to the city for work during the Industrial Revolution. Today, they are mostly apartments still being used in the way they were built to be. If you have the chance, go inside and you’ll find grand staircases, high ceilings, and original polished tiles on the walls of the stairwells. The Tenement House is one such apartment that has been kept as it was when Miss Agnes Toward lived in it in 1892. It’s a fascinating glimpse into what life in Glasgow was like.
3. Getting There And Getting Around
For two major cities so close together, they both have an airport just a short distance from the city center. Both cities also have major train stations, making it easy to travel to both by train, and between them both.
Edinburgh By Foot Or Tram
Edinburgh has a tram system that basically runs from the airport to the city center and back again. Edinburgh is smaller than Glasgow and easy to explore on foot. It’s built on a series of hills and it can be tough going at times as the hills seem to be never ending. But the Edinburgh city center is compact and everything you want to see is within easy walking distance.
Glasgow By Foot Or Underground
Glasgow is a grid city and reminds me of New York City. It’s a series of long streets and tall buildings. Again, you can explore easily on foot, but it’s fun to check out the underground system, affectionately named “The Clockwork Orange.” It’s a very easy underground system to navigate and, in fact, it simply goes around the city in one loop, so you can’t get lost on it. You can drive through both cities, but if you want to do this, make sure you know ahead of time where to park your car.
Both cities get busy with traffic. Personally, I find Edinburgh easier to drive through than Glasgow and I’ve never had a problem parking there. Glasgow is more built-up and a little busier, but public transportation is very good. I prefer to drive to Edinburgh and take the bus to Glasgow.
4. Language And People
I know what you’re thinking, in Scotland they speak English, right? So, how can there be a difference in the language? Well, yes, they do speak English, but you wouldn’t have to be in either city for long to realize there’s a huge difference in how they speak.
Edinburgh Accent Sounds More English
You won’t have any trouble understanding the accent of a Scottish person in Edinburgh. In fact, you can wander the streets for quite some time without coming across a Scottish accent at all. Many of the people in Edinburgh are from affluent families and don’t have a Scottish accent at all, but instead sound English.
Glasgow Accent Is Thicker
In Glasgow, it’s a whole different story. Glasgow has its roots in industry and there’s no denying that the city has had its challenges in the past. Now regenerated, the city appears different, but the same people still live here. The people here are extremely friendly and they like to have fun. They’re a bit cheeky, witty, and very warm. But you might have some trouble understanding what they are saying!
The Glasgow accent is thick and some words are different from the words you’ll know in English. You’ll hear simple things, like “aye” instead of “yes,” all the time and they are easy to understand. But other things, like “away ye go” meaning “I don’t believe you,” might be a bit more difficult to grasp. You might struggle to keep up with Glasgow locals talking to each other and you might struggle to understand what they are saying when they speak to you. But Glasgow folk are very friendly and they won’t mind if you ask them to explain what they are saying.
5. Eating And Drinking
The food and drink scenes are very different in these two Scottish cities.
Popular, High-End Restaurants In Edinburgh
Edinburgh has some high-end restaurants, like The Number One restaurant in the Balmoral Hotel, and some interesting and unusual restaurants like Monteiths and Empires. To find out more about where to eat in Edinburgh, take a look at these 8 Must-Try Restaurants In Edinburgh.
The food scene in Edinburgh is sophisticated, but when it comes to drinking, you can choose between outlandish cocktail bars like Casablanca Club and traditional pubs like Doctors. Edinburgh has a lot of choices in where to eat and drink, but the city does get busy, especially in high season. It’s best to book ahead if you want to be guaranteed a table for dinner.
Gastro Pubs And Local Bands In Glasgow
In Glasgow, the food scene is more relaxed and you’re more likely to find gastro pubs serving great food while a local band plays in the corner. This is where the famous deep-fried mars bar is found, along with deep-fried pizza and deep-fried just about everything else you can think of. There are a lot more chain restaurants and takeaway spots in Glasgow than there are in Edinburgh, which means there’s still a very wide choice of where to eat. It’s just that the choice is different.
Be prepared for the weather. I stood in line for Edinburgh Castle in the pouring rain and got the biggest soaking of my life. I’ve also spent a January weekend in Glasgow and was the coldest I’ve ever been! Whichever city you visit, even if you visit in the summer, it rains. Make sure you are properly prepared for some good Scottish weather.
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