Glasgow: The Gorgeous Cultural Capital of Scotland

When you hear the words “Scotland”, most people will conjure up images of the Highlands, the rollings hills, countryside and of course, the gloomy weather. Others will ask if you’re visiting Edinburgh, Loch Ness, and maybe Inverness since those seem to be the only places that are mentioned in Pop Culture these days.

Edinburgh may be the capital of Scotland, but it is only the second largest city in Scotland. The metropolitan area of Glasgow is home to half a million people, and once you arrive you can quickly see why. Consistently overshadowed by its sister city and only a 45 minute train ride from Edinburgh, Glasgow somehow combines the Victorian architecture of its early Industrial era with modern buildings sprouting up on every corner.

Glasgow is a hidden gem to tourists, showcasing museums filled with art and enriched with the fascinating history of the Scottish people. It is the cultural center of Scotland as it hosts famous artists like Post Malone, Ed Sheeran and now boasts of the locally grown Lewis Capaldi. There is not a single day where live music is not being played somewhere in the city.

Besides music, Glasgow is known for its eccentric people – as their motto goes – “People Make Glasgow”. This is due to their friendly nature, and some of their eccentric behaviors that you may see at night.

West End

Ashton Lane

One of the first places you must visit is Ashton Lane, located in the West End near the Hillhead subway stop. This area is extremely ‘Gramable, as it is the most photographed place in Glasgow and you will easily see why. It is easy to miss since you have to walk down a small alley less than 100 meters from the subway station, right before you reach the Ubiquitous Chip pub. Soon after you will reach the Ashton alley and will understand why so many people venture to this spot to take a photo.

Not too far away is the Glasgow Botanical Gardens, one of the largest parks in the city. One of the first places to check out in the Gardens is the Kibble Palace, a Victorian era glass palace that feels like you have been transported to another time. Inside there is a small koi pond right when you walk in, and a small room to the left which houses poisonous plants. The center of the building showcases classic Victorian statues mixed in with tropical plants and trees. It is great for those interested in taking some artsy Insta pics or natural photography, as there is a lot of beautiful plant life throughout the garden.

Kibble Palace

If museums are your thing, not too far away is another popular location for locals – the Kelvingrove Museum and Park. This museum includes paintings from famous artists like Salvador Dali and pieces from famous Scottish designers like Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It also includes dinosaur bones and other natural history exhibits. It definitely has a more traditional museum feel, similar to that of the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. if you’ve ever been. Since this is a free museum it is recommended to donate £5 or more when you visit.

Kelvingrove Museum

Behind the museum is Kelvingrove Park, which has lots of lovely paths for those who like to take long walks or runs. Many locals will walk their dogs through the park, and don’t be worried if they are not on a leash, the majority of dogs are well trained where they follow closely to their owner. On a nice sunny day, you will see the lawn filled with locals laying on the grass getting as much sun as they can. You may even hear the locals say “Taps Aff” and see guys walking around shirtless whenever the sun is out, no matter the weather – the Scots definitely do not miss an opportunity to soak up the sun!

City Centre

Another popular museum is The Lighthouse, which has a breathtaking view of the city from the heart of Glasgow. Lots of architectural and contemporary art is showcased in the building, although the majority of people primarily go for the view of the city.

For general entertainment, a walk down Buchanan Street is always a good idea. You will see at least 3 different performances ranging from singers, drummers, a bagpiper or a random performance act at any time of day – even at 2am! Besides street entertainment, this is the main place people shop and hang out. It is typically busy after 4pm, and especially from Thurs – Sunday. Either way, Buchanan Street is an amazing place just to walk around and really get a sense of the culture of Glasgow.

Buchanan Street

Near St. Enoch’s Mall, there is a nice hidden bar called Sloan’s along Argyle Street. They claim that it is the oldest pub in Glasgow, but it is also one of the best local hot spots to visit. Inside has the old pub feel practically transporting you to early Industrial Glasgow, and solidifies it when you listen to a live performance of folk music if you’re lucky.

Merchant City

As part of the city centre, Merchant City offers lots of cool places to eat, drink and enjoy the amazing murals all over the city. The first place to check out is the Merchant Square building. It holds over 7 restaurants and regularly hosts craft markets on Saturday mornings. In terms of food and drinks, there are several great places to visit in Merchant Square.

Bar Soba is a chain in the UK, but has amazing Thai street food style cuisine and even better drinks. O’Neills has decent food and beers, but is best when a football match is on the big screens with fans cheering them on. Metropolitan has the best drink menu and is the go-to spot before a night out. I recommend heading to the upstairs during this time so you can hear your friend as the downstairs can get pretty loud.

Duke of Wellington statue in front of the Gallery of Modern Art

Another popular destination is the Gallery of Modern Art in the center of Merchant City. This museum has a new exhibition every few months, and is definitely a must see when you go to Glasgow. One of the highlights of this building is the Duke of Wellington statue in front of it which has a traffic cone on its head! The tradition started decades ago, where local Glaswegians thought it would be funny to place a traffic cone on its head. The city repeatedly took down the cone, but it would always end up back on until finally the city gave up as it cost too much to keep removing the cone. Now whenever there is a protest or a particular holiday coming up, you might see a different coloured traffic cone on its head or a second cone on the horse’s head.

Near the GoMA, The Social is a popular bar for locals to meet up or listen to live music. It is a little pricier than other places, but the drinks are really good and is open until 3am. This is definitely a good place to gain a young, local feel to Glasgow.

If you’re looking to relax, George’s Square is a popular place for locals to go and lay in the grass on a sunny day. During the summer and winter months, you will see the Square filled with business shops for a special event or the Christmas market. It is right next to the Queen Street Station, so pop on by on your way to/from the train!

View from the Necropolis at Sunset

Technically still in Merchant City, the Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis are must-sees in the city. The Cathedral is believed to have St. Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow, buried inside. The Necropolis has one of the best overall view of the city, capturing the sprawling city below with a backdrop of the rolling hillsides behind the city. It is the perfect place to be during either the sunrise or sunset (although technically it is illegal to be there while it is dark out).

Trongate

People’s Palace in Glasgow Green

If there is one thing that you must do in Glasgow, it is to go to Glasgow Green to walk along all the different paths and visit the People’s Palace. There is a lovely path along the Clyde River which circles back directly to the Palace. As is typical to any sunny day, you will see TONS of Glaswegians laying around or playing football in the park and likely with their shirts off. In terms of the People’s Palace, this is a free museum located in the center of the park and has a lovely set-up on the complex history of Glasgow and Scotland itself. While this is a free museum, it is highly recommended to donate £5 or more when you visit.

Obviously there are a lot of amazing things to see and do in Glasgow, so this list is just to gain a small insight and a local’s personal guide to the city. If you are interested in learning more about Glasgow, let me know what kind of stuff you want to know more about!

For more about where to go for a night out in Glasgow, check out my nightlife recommendations!

Best Things To Do In Dublin on a Budget

During the summer I went to Dublin twice; the first time alone and the second time with my flatmate. The first time was great as I could experience a new city as I pleased, and really take my time exploring because I didn’t have to worry about entertaining a travel partner as well and trying to fill my day to the last second. One of my favorite things to do is get lost in a city and just explore the different side streets, or stop by a tourist shop and see the different tours and museums to visit. The second trip with my friend was also enjoyable as we got to experience and make so many memories together while in a (relatively) new place! We visited some museums that’s our mutual friends recommended and other new areas that we stumbled upon.

Before you start planning your trip to Dublin, you need to know that Ireland, and Dublin in particular, are EXPENSIVE! This is something that my friends had not warned me about and I really wish they had told me before I went. While I greatly enjoyed Ireland and its lovely people and even lovelier scenery, the cost to stay there was just astounding. I learned that the cost of a pint of beer increases steadily throughout the night, especially in Temple Bar (the area, not just the tourist-trap bar itself). 

***Some of the links in this posts are affiliate links. If you purchase from them, I earn a small commission at no extra charge to you.

Museums, Tours and Sites to See

Book of Kells and Trinity College: If you visit Dublin you MUST visit Trinity College and see the Book of Kells! The price to see only the Book of Kells is €14, but for €15 there is an additional 30-minute tour of the campus which is really lovely. They offer this tour in 4 different languages; English, German, French and Italian. At the end of the tour you can stand in line to go into the Kells exhibit. The amount of time it takes to enter the exhibit depends on the time of day you go, but typically it is quicker from 12:30-2pm. There is a lot to see in the exhibit but if you don’t like to read a lot of signs then I recommend heading directly towards the Book of Kells. It is important to note that the Book of Kells is made up of 4 manuscripts, aka 4 separate books which comprise the Books of Kells. From what I could tell there were 2 manuscripts on the first floor of the exhibit, and one more on the second level which is also the old library! I definitely recommend staying for about 1-1.5 hours if possible. During summer time the exhibit does get very busy and congested, so try to plan accordingly and ensure to see the things you want to see in the building. There is a gift shop at the end which does have a book with all of the information mentioned in the exhibit that you can purchase. 

EPIC Museum: The EPIC museum is by far my favorite museum that I have ever been to! It depicts the struggles and stories of Irish migrants through amazing technological imagery and interactive games. The exhibit itself flows similarly to an IKEA store, so you have to go through several rooms which tell a fascinating overall story. If you claim any Irish heritage then I highly recommend going to this museum (even if you don’t, it is really cool to see!). The tickets cost €16.50 Adults/€15 students and you can purchase tickets here. *Note: If you plan on going to other paying museums (e.g. Whiskey Museum), then you might want to purchase a package of both tickets to reduce the cost. This can be done at any Tourist store or with Sandeman’s during a tour.

National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology: I am a huge history nerd so when I found out that there was a history museum nearby, I made a beeline to it! What is nice about this museum is that it focuses primarily on the Neolithic up to the Medieval time period of Ireland, meaning that you can see what life was like in the early civilization era of Ireland to the more modern times that we associate with Ireland. If you are interested in Vikings and Medieval society, then this is the place to visit (Also, if you’re a fan of the Vikings series on History channel then you have to visit NMI). One thing that was really interesting and yet totally unnerving to see was the bog bodies. If you are very squeamish then I highly recommend NOT going into this area. The museum was FREE – which was perfect for my student budget – and is located next several other free museums if you are interested. More information about the museum can be found here

Sandeman’s New Dublin Tour: I have taken several Sandeman’s tours before and I will swear by them until I get a bad tour (so far all have been great!). This tour company offers 2.5 – 3 hour walking tours around Dublin, and is FREE! Yes, you read right. Now the way that this program goes is that the tour is free, but the tour guide requests a tip at the end. You determine the tip amount based on how well you enjoyed it. I always go for €5/person if it is decent, and then max €10 if I thought the guide was GREAT! I went on this tour twice (once on both trips), and had Ciaran as my tour guide. He was great and so entertaining; I would definitely go on another tour with him. He was very resourceful in terms of the overall history of the city and where to eat or visit while you are in town. All in all, I highly recommend taking this tour and any of the other ones they offer. If you’re interested in this, you can register for a tour here.

Sandeman’s Dublin Pub Crawl: I know I just mentioned Sandeman’s but I have to also note their Pub Crawls. Unlike the walking tour, this is one that you do have to pay for. It costs €12 for a wristband, but you can use it every night that you are in Dublin for up to a year! The tour starts at 7:30pm at Bad Bobs and then takes you to three other bars and ending at a club. Each location has their own discount drinks for the tour and offers a free shot to the group. The first time I went was when I was solo traveling, meaning that I was really pushing myself out of the comfort zone as I had never gone to a bar alone not knowing anyone. I was extremely fortunate to meet two extroverts from California who made me feel comfortable and got to know as the night went on. Since they are so friendly, our group slowly increased with two girls from Brazil! The pub crawl was a great way for everyone to meet people from different countries and learn new things which I don’t think I would have been able to if I hadn’t taken that leap to try something new and out of my comfort zone. If this sounds like something you would be interested in, you can sign up here

Day Tours

One of the best things to do in Dublin (let alone Ireland) if you are there for only a few days is to go on a day tour! This is one of the easiest (and funnest IMO) ways to see Ireland, as you can just sit on a bus and hear stories about Ireland’s history or their mythology until you reach your destination and can explore on your own. 

Wild Rover – Cliffs of Moher: This tour was recommended to me by the hostel I was staying at, and they did not let me down. I really enjoyed the tour itself, along with the guide. He was amazing as he told stories about Ireland and the mythology that the people still skeptically believe. The tour started really early (I had to be there at 6:50am), but I didn’t feel bored or too tired as the guide kept the group entertained which was greatly appreciated. Besides the Cliffs, we also stopped at Galway which was so cool to see! I’m such a huge fan of Ed Sheeran’s Divide album, and especially the “Galway Girl” song. Of course, I had to stop by the pub O’Connell’s Bar where they filmed most of the music video and had a pint, which felt awkward for me since I went on the tour alone and so I was at the pub alone having a pint. The pub has a large beer garden that looked lovely, but was busy when I was there as it was sunny in Galway at the time. The stay at Galway was very short, about 1.5 hours max. It was nice to see the city as it was very colorful and charming. If you want to go on this tour, you can sign up here. It is €55 adult/€45 student. 

Ireland Day Tours – Cliffs of Moher: My friend found this tour when we went to Dublin together. It also required getting up early at 6am and walking to the Molly Malone statue to meet with the tour company. The meeting point for this company was much closer to my hostel than the Wild Rover tour company, which I greatly appreciated (because I’m lazy and it was chilly lol). This was also a good tour, but I did prefer having a tour guide that was not the bus driver as they had with Wild Rover. The guide for this tour was good, but there were long silent periods of time where both my friend and I fell asleep. I really enjoy being constantly engaged with during a tour (if we’re not walking around) because I will get tired and will fall asleep. The guide did sing several lovely Irish folk songs that I think really encapsulates the Irish culture and their history. The nice thing about this tour was that they offered a stop at a restaurant. An issue arose when my friend looked at the menu and realized that only one item was within her price range since she was on a strict budget. If you are trying to stay within a budget then I DO NOT recommend this tour company. Honestly, this tour guide was almost identical with the other, but you can grab food at a McDonald’s or a local cafe in Galway if you get hungry or at a gas station whenever the bus stops during the other tour. The prices are roughly the same, €50 adult/€45 student. If this tour sounds interesting to you then you can book here

Food and Drinks

As I learned from my tour guide while sightseeing Dublin, Temple Bar was an area of the city long before some capitalized on it by naming a bar by the same name. This is the most expensive area to eat or drink, so if you are looking to save money then do not go to this area. 

That being said, I really enjoyed a food chain called Chopped that I found all over Dublin. It is a healthy chain that focuses on salads, wraps, and smoothies and they chop (no pun intended) your food in front of you. It was on the pricier side, but I’ve found that everything is expensive in Dublin but the food was pretty filling!

Another place that I enjoyed was WOK IN Noodle Bar, which has two locations in Dublin, and was the few places where I felt the food was very filling and affordable. They have a student discount so make sure you have your student ID card if you have one! Warning: their food can be fairly spicy so if you can’t handle heat then make sure you choose an alternative or go to a different restaurant. 

Traditional Irish pubs are a dime a dozen in Dublin, but O’Neill’s Pub has the additional perk of having two floors with three areas to order a pint from. They typically have classic Irish folk music and Irish dancers perform from 9pm-11pm every night, so make sure to visit then as well! Their schedule is listed here. Also, the pub does offer lunch and dinner but if you are interested in trying traditional Irish dishes then I recommend going to a restaurant for it. I was not that impressed with their food offerings, and neither was the person I was with. So, I highly recommend going for the music and dancing, but avoid the food. 

A girl that I met at my hostel invited me to go to a bar at the Arlington Hotel as she heard that they have good live music on Friday nights, and I can attest that the bands they have are pretty good! The price for a pint wasn’t too bad, compared to the prices to those in the Temple Bar area. There is plenty of space, but tables and seats do fill up quickly so I recommend getting there a little earlier – probably between 6pm to 7pm. Overall, I would come back here again to listen to music and have a pint with someone.  

If you prefer the more casual and younger vibe then The Grand Social is perfect for you! Downstairs they offer multiple areas where you can it and chat with friends, but offer a beer garden upstairs. The way to the beer garden looks kinda sketchy (aka creepy af) as you have to turned right into a dark painted hallway until you reach the stairs going up, and then walk up about 2 flights of stairs until there is a door on the left to the garden. I was in Dublin during the summer so it was perfect when the sun was out and it wasn’t raining (that VERY rare occasion). It was a really cool spot and I would definitely try to go visit again and recommend to all my friends. 

Accommodations 

Lastly, let’s discuss where to stay. I typically use Hostel World to book all my stays, as hostels tend to be 3-4x cheaper than an Airbnb or hotel room in Dublin. I do recommend looking at individual hostels’ websites as well since the price may be lower through their website instead of booking through Hostel World, who include a service fee.

If you’re a female traveler, and especially traveling solo, I highly recommend booking an all-female room. Usually these rooms cost a little bit more, but are definitely worthwhile if you want to meet other female travelers like yourself. In one of the hostels I stayed at, I booked an 18-person room for a few nights to save some money but that was probably the worst thing I could have done. Majority of the time I was the only girl in the room with 10-15+ guys, and sometimes it felt uneasy. Overall, it wasn’t the most comfortable experience but I did feel relatively safe. So, if you’re traveling solo and are somewhat introverted like myself, then I recommend staying in an all-female room if possible. 

I stayed at two hostels near the city center and Temple Bar area, Abigail’s Hostel and Ashfield Hostel. Out of either of them, I would recommend Ashfield Hostel a hundred times more than Abigail’s. When determining which hostel to stay at, make sure you read the bad reviews as well. This is important because if something goes wrong, you want to make sure the hostel you are staying at handles it appropriately and is helpful. I experienced two different issues during my stays at each hostel. I can honestly say that Ashfield Hostel handled my issue considerably and was very kind, while Abigail’s Hostel was more along the lines of a nightmare. The only nice thing I’ll say about Abigail’s is that the one woman who helped me was very kind and helpful, but the boys were the rudest and unaccommodating even though I made several complaints about the same issue arising. 

While Ashfield Hostel was much better overall, there were still some issues. Depending on how sensitive you are to noise, I wouldn’t recommend Ashfield due to its location next to a club where you can hear the music at 2am and the drunk party-goers outside.

Comment below if you have some other recommendations that I didn’t mention! I’m always looking for new things to do and see 🙂