There’s no doubt that Edinburgh, Scotland is a fantastic city to visit. It’s a city made for tourists, with the castle on the hill, whisky attractions, museums, art galleries, and streets full of bars and restaurants. However, being a city made for tourists, it also gets very busy. You’re likely to encounter bad weather in the winter, but the city is taken over by the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the whole of August, when the weather is better. So, it’s hard to beat the crowds without facing the cold and the rain.
There is an alternative, though. Just an hour away from Edinburgh, Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow, offers a choice that’s more authentically Scottish, less touristy, and more gritty but also modern and cool. Glasgow might not have the castle or the sounds of bagpipes emerging from souvenir shops on the Royal Mile, but what it does have is a blooming arts and food scene and a small town character in a big city atmosphere. Here’s why you should go to Glasgow instead of Edinburgh.
1. ‘The People Make Glasgow’
There’s a saying “the people make Glasgow,” and that’s easy to see after only one visit to the city. Glaswegians are friendly, warm, and welcoming. You might have a little trouble understanding what they’re saying sometimes as their accent is thick, but no one minds if you don’t quite catch their meaning.
Waiters in bars and restaurants will chat with you and recommend other places to go, without expecting anything in return, and you can always find a friendly local in the streets to give you directions. People in Edinburgh are friendly too, of course, but in Glasgow you’ll encounter more locals and fewer tourists, and you’ll feel like you’re experiencing a city as the locals do, alongside them.
2. There Are Fantastic Galleries and Museums
While it’s true that Edinburgh does have some fantastic galleries and museums, in Glasgow you’ll find more than 20 museums and galleries, enough to keep you busy for a week. Because Glasgow is a much bigger city than Edinburgh, attractions are more spread out, and you’ll do quite a bit of walking to get to some of them. Personally, I find exploring a city on foot is the best way to get to know a place, but if you can’t face the walk, Glasgow does have a great underground system.
The jewel in Glasgow’s museum and galleries crown is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, an impressive red sandstone building in the west end of town. It’s also worth checking out the Riverside Museum and the St Mungo Museum of Life and Art, plus the Gallery of Modern Art and the Hunterian Art Gallery.
3. It Has a Great Food Scene
Glasgow’s food scene is buzzing, and you can go from deep-fried pizza to Michelin-starred Italian and up-market taster menus. There’s more choice in Glasgow when it comes to eating out, and it’s fun to seek out all the small independent cafes, restaurants, and takeaways constantly popping up all over the city.
I love Halloumi, a small Greek restaurant near the train station, as much as the Michelin-starred The Gannet. They are completely different but equally enjoyable in different ways. The great thing about Glasgow is you can visit again and again and never eat at the same place twice. And there are some fantastic Indian restaurants in the city, too.
4. It’s Great for Retail Therapy
When it comes to shopping, Glasgow beats Edinburgh hands down. Edinburgh, as a tourist city, has souvenir shops and some high-street shops, but it doesn’t have a big mall or the designer outlets you’ll find in Glasgow. There are 10 shopping centers in and around Glasgow, so you’re never far away from a mall for some retail therapy.
Along the streets in the center of town, there are boutiques and specialist shops. On Buchanan Street, there are high street stores you’ll find in most city centers in the U.K., but away from this busy high street, you’ll come across independent homeware shops, hat shops, watch shops, stores selling only sneakers or just cashmere, and, of course, whisky shops.
5. There’s Wonderful Architecture
At first glance, you’d think there’s no way Glasgow can live up to the historic architecture on show in Edinburgh. It’s true that Edinburgh does have stunning ancient and Georgian architecture that gives the city its moody feel, but Glasgow isn’t Edinburgh, and it has its own style.
Glasgow is a Victorian city, so its streets are bursting with fine examples of Victorian architecture. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born in Glasgow and lived most of his life there, and you can see many examples of his designs as you walk around town. For great examples of Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings in Glasgow, look for The Lighthouse, Scotland Street School Museum, and the charming Willow Tea Rooms. It’s also worth taking a look at the tenement buildings built in the 19th century for the growing workforce and their families. Many of these are still in lovely condition and feature beautiful tiled staircases and high ceilings.
6. There Are More Bars
As with the shops, Glasgow has many more bars than Edinburgh, and if you like a good night out, Glasgow is the city to head to. Edinburgh has some lovely tucked-away bars and old pubs, but Glasgow has streets full of them.
The nightlife scene is very different in Glasgow compared to Edinburgh. In Glasgow, you’ll find local bands playing in bars all over town, old traditional pubs, and brewery tap rooms with a wide selection of local ales. Basically, whatever you like your night out to look like, Glasgow has it. You’ll also find a lot of local life going on in the bars in Glasgow, rather than the pubs full of tourists. Head to Bon Accord for a traditional pub, to Gin71 for a specialist gin bar, and catch a live band at the city’s famous King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut.
7. Neat Attractions
Yes, Edinburgh does have the castle on the hill, and it is pretty hard to compete with that, but the castle gets extremely busy with tourists and there’s always a long line to get in. In Glasgow, you can visit Glasgow Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in Scotland, for free. The cathedral is set up on a hill and looks spectacular from the outside as you approach. Built in the 11th century, it’s the oldest building in Glasgow and features some historic carvings and stained glass.
The accompanying Necropolis, a 37-acre cemetery rivals Edinburgh’s haunted Greyfriars, and you can take a guided tour for stories of those who are buried there. In Edinburgh, you can take a gin tour, but in Glasgow, brewery tours at the Tennents Story suit beer lovers better. Both cities have botanical gardens, but I’d argue the one in Glasgow is better than Edinburgh’s, and, as with all attractions, there are fewer crowds to battle with in Glasgow.