Cultural Glasgow: 6 Free Museums for the Culture Vulture
When it comes to talking up Glasgow – which I am prone to – the plethora of brilliant museums continuously serves me with inexhaustible ammunition. As the former second city of the Empire, a powerful trading and manufacturing hub and with an influential and fascinating history, Glasgow has gathered in a story or two over the centuries. Fortunate then that its stories have such excellent storytellers in the form of these six top museums that lift the lid on this fine city.
What’s better, they are all free!
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
There is only one place to begin when talking about cultural Glasgow. A brilliant museum that can match up to any other that I have ever visited, Kelvingrove represents the Glasgow that I know and love. A stunning exterior matched by a diverse array of exhibits, it has been wowing visitors since it opened in 1901. Boasting 22 galleries, Kelvingrove’s layout is separated into Life (focussed on natural history) and Expression (a medley of artwork both local and international). The main generator of buzz is Dali’s famous Christ of St John of the Cross but we locals do also love the Floating Heads exhibit which hangs over the Expression wing. Over in Life, tributes to archaeologically loaded periods like the ancient Egyptians and the Vikings are interspersed with a virtual safari of exotic animals, an impressive armoury of weapons and a suspended spitfire aeroplane. See, told you it was diverse.
For a further look at my top museums around Scotland, including Kelvingrove, click here for a bit of a culture-fest.
Kelvingrove is a lot to mentally consume, it really is massive. For those looking for more than just a carefree wander round the 8000 or so exhibits, I thoroughly recommend having a word with Clare McLeod at Guide Me Tours. Encyclopaedically knowledgeable about every nook of the place, she will help you pick out the best bits and get the most out of your personalised guided tour. Afterwards, you are ideally located to further explore the city’s West End or – as is usually the case with myself – make a beeline for neighbouring Mother India and a curry extravaganza to remember.
Riverside Transport Museum
A favourite of mine since I was strapped into my pram dictating instructions to my parents, the Transport Museum has always triggered a sense of awe and excitement for me. Cars, bikes, trains, ships and more make up an engaging journey through the evolution of Glasgow’s transport past. Who’d have thought that sat proud as punch in an old tram could be so much fun!
Now located in the stylish new Riverside Museum on the banks of the Clyde, it makes for a fabulous spot to take the kids and is within walking distance of Glasgow’s West End. Be sure to also visit the majestic Glenlee Tall Ship out the back, the only one of its type still afloat in the UK.
Scotland’s oldest museum is a collection of and tribute to the work of 18th Century anatomist and physician William Hunter. Nice and gory, you’ll find everything from deformed animal specimens to human organs in a jar within the exhibit. The museum is also home to a Romans in Scotland collection, various stunning mineral samples and random archaeological bits and pieces from the Mediterranean. An impressive man with an obvious desire to understand more about the world.
The Hunterian Museum could not have a more enviable location – deep within the architecturally superb Glasgow University buildings. Be sure to take a wander around the cloisters at ground level and whisk yourself off to Hogwarts. The Hunterian Art Gallery is also within five minutes’ walk for an optional cultural addition.
The Burrell Collection
One of the city’s proudest offerings, the vast, varied and endlessly impressive collection of Sir William Burrell is a must for anyone coming to Glasgow for a cultural bender. The collection includes everything from Renaissance artwork to a beautiful stained glass display. My childlike fascination with ancient Egypt lends me to a love for the North African and Middle Eastern artefacts but European heavyweights including Rodin, Rembrandt and Cezanne have a presence. I’m also drawn every time to the bronze statue of The Thinker. Love a good think, me. Worldwide in its representation, Burrell donated his collection of more than 8000 objects to Glasgow in 1944.
Located about 3 miles south of the city centre, the Burrell Collection is located within Pollok Country Park. If the sun’s out make a whole day of it with a visit to Pollok House and a nosey around the grounds (360 acres of them). It’s easiest to reach by car but there are regular buses from the city centre. If you get there early you will avoid most of the crowds and I’ve often had the place virtually to myself, which is awful nice.
Scotland Street School Museum
Somewhere that will be hugely evocative to many, this place is a bit of an unknown gem. I’m a bit appalled at myself as this is my first visit to this old schoolhouse, but it definitely deserves a place on this cultural map of the city. A classic red sandstone structure with those interior old tiled walls that folk either love to recall with affection or just plain loathe, a tour includes nostalgic re-modelled classrooms telling the story of school life in mid-20th century Glasgow. With the School of Art still under repair, Macintosh fanatics can combat some of their disappointment with a visit here as it was the man himself that designed it between 1903 and 1906. It was to be his last major commission in Glasgow and his influence is clear, particularly on the main exterior windows.
A bit out of the way of the usual tourist circuit, just south of the Clyde, it does have handy immediate access to the Shields Road subway line.
Long having been amongst my favourite buildings, the People’s Palace is another great museum often only appreciated from the outside. Having lived in the vicinity for several years of my life, I can hold my hands up (again!) and say that I didn’t spend enough time here.
The Palace is all about telling the story of its city. Congested tenement life, holidays “doon the watter” – one of the ever-popular things to do in Ayrshire – and even alternative cultural Glasgow moments such as Billy Connolly’s Banana boots and the legendary trading hub known as the Barras. It’s a nice tribute to social development through the years.
The attached Winter Gardens are a bit of a mini-botanics and is worth a wander but more impressive still is the magnificent terracotta fountain (the largest of its type in the world) to be found just outside the main entrance. In a nod to the Empire, it contains characters from Australia, Canada, South Africa and India, as well as British troops from various regiments.
Found to the east of the city centre and within Glasgow Green it is reachable on foot (approx. 20 minutes) or by jumping on one of the city’s impossible-to-miss City Sightseeing tour buses.
This blog on cultural Glasgow has been created in support of our most recent Scotlanders campaign. A group of Scotland travel bloggers, we travel around our home country promoting the best bits wherever we can. On this occasion I was tasked with unearthing some of the top cultural attractions that my home city city has to offer. Where are your favourite spots in the city?