Glasgow, Scotland, has always felt like the home I had never visited until 2022. My grandparents immigrated to Canada from Glasgow in the late 60s, and I often heard stories of their trips ‘back home’ or stories from visiting family.
We visited for the first time in the summer of 2022 and again in the autumn of 2023. On our 2022 visit, we were housesitting in Cathcart on the south side of Glasgow, so we had the responsibility of being with a dog and some cats while we were there, and in 2023, we stayed in a hotel downtown, so the experience was quite different, but on both trips, we found these free things to do with kids in Glasgow.
Yes, you can experience this amazing city cheap as chips!
Aside from the architecture, pubs, live music venues, historic landmarks, and buskers on Buchanan Street, the city has a lot of great child-friendly attractions that won’t cost you any money!
With the ease of public transportation, Glasgow is the perfect place for an educational experience – from its free museums, parks, and galleries – and plenty of friendly faces ready to strike up a conversation about the weather, ask for directions, or help with a pub recommendation.
A few quick tips for planning your family trip to Glasgow:
Tip 1: It’s going to rain in Glasgow
When is the rainy season in Glasgow? From January 1-December 31. That’s not to say it will rain every day, but it is to say it could rain every day.
Pack accordingly and dress for contingencies.
Of course, if it starts to rain and you’re without an umbrella, nearly every shop pulls out a stock of umbrellas from seemingly nowhere, like Mary Poppins’ purse. We found that the best way to cure rain is to buy an umbrella – it rains before you run into the store and is perfectly sunny after you’ve emptied your wallet.
Tip 2: There are two main train stations in Glasgow just a few blocks from each other
Most cities the size of Glasgow (population of 1.7 million) have a primary train station. Glaswegians like to throw their visitors for a loop by having two a few blocks from each other – and some destinations can only be reached by one or the other station.
Generally speaking, Glasgow Queen Street will take you to metro stops on the city’s north side and beyond, while Glasgow Central will take you to metro stops on the city’s south side and into England.
Of course, there’s overlap, so know which you must get to for your destination. The upside is that it’s like a big-city train station split in half, so as long as you’re at the right station, finding your track is quite easy, and if you’re at the wrong one, it’s only a 2-block walk in the rain to get to the right one.
Tip 3: Most hotel rooms are meant for two people
Search hotels in Glasgow, and then you’ll cut your search in half by looking for a room for you and your kids. The only hotel that we found for five people (2 adults and 3 boys) in Glasgow is King’s Park Hotel, which is clean, has a restaurant, and is in a safe area, but also about a 20-minute bus ride to the city center.
Alternatively, you might consider booking two hotel rooms to get something closer to downtown Glasgow (which is worth the effort to be right downtown). Aim to book a hotel close to either Glasgow Central Station or Glasgow Queen Street Station to be sure you’re in the heart of this fantastic city.
Tip 4: Stick out your hand to catch a bus
On our first visit to Glasgow, we found our proper bus stop and watched as, 10 minutes later, the bus we needed slowed down and drove right past us.
Because each bus stop can be for multiple bus lines, the bus will only stop if needed, so you’ll need to indicate to the driver that you want to catch their bus by holding out your hand – like hitchhiking.
This is less important in the city center where the bus usually stops anyway to let someone off, but as you move away from the city center (like standing outside our house sit on the south side in Cathcart), you’ll need to indicate.
Now that you’re caught up let’s talk about…
Free Things To Do in Glasgow with kids!
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum: A World of Discovery
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, in the West End of Glasgow city, is an absolute must-see for any family. Here you’ll find a vast collection of art and cultural exhibits, interactive displays, and “Mini Museums” from what seems like every corner of the earth.
It’s easy to reach from the city center – either a leisurely stroll through Glasgow’s amazing architecture and cobblestone streets or public transport (get off at Kelvinhall). The magnificent architecture makes the Kelvingrove Museum worth visiting – there’s even a pipe organ with regular live performances on Sunday afternoons.
We happened to visit on a Sunday afternoon, so our kids were mesmerized (temporarily) by the Kelvingrove pipe organ for 2 or 3 pieces, then enjoyed Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross, and the history (and controversy) of the museum purchasing the art piece for £8,200 (about $10,400 US) in 1952 to it being now valued at over £60 million (about $76 million US) according to this article.
Our youngest loves crafts and being hands-on, so there was a craft section with activities for all ages, and our other boys enjoyed the taxidermied animals grouped by continent from all over the world.
Overall, Kelvingrove promises an unforgettable experience with something new around every corner. A perfect destination for everyone, no matter their age!
Riverside Museum of Travel and Transport
The Riverside Museum is a great place for kids of all ages but has many hands-on elements perfect for younger children to explore the history of transport. Situated alongside the River Clyde in central Glasgow, admission to this interactive museum is free, offering visitors plenty of insight into how life used to be in Scotland.
The collection boasts bikes, cars, trains, and other transportation models from years gone by, many of which you can go in and see the interior.
With much of Glasgow’s industry historically built as a shipping port on the River Clyde, explore Glasgow’s shipping industry through ships, locomotives, and delivery vehicles of all kinds. View the Riverside Museum’s opening hours here.
The Tall Ship Experience outside the Riverside Museum
Glasgow is home to The Tall Ship Glenlee, an incredible maritime attraction with a history of over 125 years.
Constructed at Anderson Rodger Yard in Port Glasgow as the only sailing vessel from Clyde still afloat out of 120 built between 1891-1909. While the ship looks massive from the outside, once you walk into the hull and see the intricacies of the tall ship. You’ll get to imagine what life was like for the sailors that called the Glenlee home.
People’s Palace and Winter Gardens: Explore Glasgow’s History
Explore the culture, people and history of Glasgow with a visit to the People’s Palace. Inside you will find an interactive museum that provides insights into life in Scotland’s largest city, as well as tranquil Winter Gardens which are situated within an enchanting Victorian glasshouse. Getting there is convenient thanks to several bus routes nearby or free parking at Glasgow Green (the largest green space park in Glasgow).
Our boys enjoyed reading the WWII exhibit and understanding what life was like for their Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa (my Grandparents) during that era. We couldn’t help but imagine that one of the small children in the black and white photos could have been my Grandparents.
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We learned about the housing developments (including a mock apartment you can walk through which would have been home to a family of 4) in Glasgow during the population boom between the start of WWII to 1950 when Glasgow nearly tripled in size in a few decades and saw pictures of the dance halls my Grandparents visited on a Saturday night, and ‘The Steamie’ where pre-washing machine cleaning technology was explained – some of the earlier laundromats.
Glasgow Green: Outdoor Family Fun
Located in the east part of the city near the River Clyde, Glasgow Green (the largest park in Glasgow and ‘backyard of the People’s Palace’) offers plenty of space for families looking to spend time outdoors or make the most of a few hours of sun with playgrounds, walking paths, and the occasional festival.
With the People’s Palace right there, a trip to Glasgow Green is a great way for the kids to burn energy while having an indoor backup plan when the weather turns.
City Centre Mural Trail: Street Art Exploration
In 2008, the Glasgow City Council initiated a fun way for people to discover and appreciate street art in their city: The City Centre Mural Trail. Presenting thirty works of public art spread across different places around town, this cultural journey is intended to be an enjoyable experience for locals and tourists alike.
It might be a bit challenging for younger kids to make the full walk, but we planned out where we would be walking anyway (from our downtown hotel to the Glasgow Cathedral) and chose some murals to look for along that path. You could also split up the murals across a few days and experience different sections of the city for a few days in a row.
Botanic Gardens: Nature and Playtime
We didn’t make it to the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow during our trips there (which also included many visits with extended family), but it’s on our list for our next visit.
Here’s what we found out: Entrance is free and there are several things to see like the Victorian glasshouse, tropical greenhouse, café area, a maze of paths, and a special kids’ garden.
The Hunterian: Scotland’s Oldest Public Museum
The Hunterian Museum, situated in Glasgow’s University of Glasgow, is Scotland’s oldest public museum and boasts an impressive range ranging from scientific instruments to Roman relics. With their extensive collection including Egyptian mummies, animal bones, and even dinosaur fossils, this is the perfect way for children to learn about Scottish history and see exhibits featuring specimens from around the world.
While there are expert talks for families and some hands-on exhibits, many are intended for looking and reading, so by the time we visited the Hunterian, our boys were at the end of their “museum” rope and ready for something a bit more hands-on.
This museum is worth the visit (the architecture alone is worth going out of the way to see), so we would recommend taking your kids in the morning when everyone is fresh from breakfast and then following with some outdoor time at a playground (weather permitting) or spring for a round of bowling downtown or something a bit more active.
Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis
Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis (Graveyard) make for a great family outing, with informative guided tours plus an app to navigate the 19th-century cemetery. It is special as it’s the only cathedral that endured Scotland’s Reformation of 1560 making it a significant part of Glasgow’s history. There are free tours specially tailored for older kids and teens where they can learn more about its importance in Scottish heritage.
St Mungo’s tomb and shrine also reside within this glorious crypt – he is both the founder & patron saint of Glasgow city! Put this place on your must-visit list when exploring Glaswegian culture and history (weather permitting, as always!)
The Burrell Collection, located in picturesque Pollok Country Park, boasts an impressive number of over 9,000 artworks and artifacts collected by Sir William Burrell.
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Our assessment of William Burrell (whose inheritance was built by his father’s shipping company in Glasgow) is that he was a bit of an eccentric pack rat collecting one of these and a couple of those, including ancient carvings, an impressive sword collection, tapestries and chunks of castle ruins.
Make a day of your visit by discovering Pollok Country Park.
Enjoy trails, woodlands, and kids’ playpark, perfect for some fun time outdoors, and look for highland cows (or coos as they’re called locally).
Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) Glasgow City Centre
The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), situated in Glasgow’s Royal Exchange Square, is a celebrated art gallery and museum which exhibits works from both global and local artists. Its permanent display contains records tracing GoMA’s history with masterpieces by Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Victor Brauner, and Joan Miró, among others.
Open daily, the Gallery of Modern Art offers many opportunities for families to experience modern artwork and a variety of cultural events depending on when you visit.
While we missed this on our past trips, it’s on the list for next time, and you can’t miss the statue of the Duke of Wellington riding his horse out front adorned with a traffic cone (pylon). Ask any local about how the pylon gets there each time the council removes it, and 40 years later, it’s become a staple of the city (and a perfect opportunity for a selfie with the duke).
Glasgow Police Museum
Situated in the downtown area, the Glasgow Police Museum provides an interesting insight into this city’s policing past. Run by volunteers, the museum is open only certain days of the week, so call ahead.
At the museum, there are displays, interactive activities, and exhibits to explore for children of all ages, such as dressing up in police uniforms or taking part in competitions like Lego Manhunt (for 8 years old and under) and a quiz game (9+). Our boys earn their Junior Detective Award by diving into the quiz game (to keep them busy while we read about the history of policing in Glasgow, and some of the most famous crimes and cases solved).
At this historical institution, you’ll be able to find out about various duties undertaken by officers on the police force, which was created way back in the 1800s, making it the first professional law enforcement organization within the UK. Discover true stories behind crimes solved on Glasgow, and read historical accounts of the events.
Glasgow is an enthralling city that has countless exciting and cost-free sights to explore for families. Whether it’s discovering modern art, exploring historical artifacts, meandering through gardens, catching a concert, or enjoying outdoor activities, the vibrant city of Glasgow offers a range of experiences that are cheap as chips.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Glasgow worth visiting with kids?
Glasgow is a great destination to bring your children, with activities ranging from parks and street performers to museums and outdoor fun. Kids can have an amazing time exploring the city.
Are museums free in Scotland?
Many museums are free in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and throughout Scotland, and we’ve also found that it’s worth spending the admission to experience monumental locations like Stirling Castle or Edinburgh Castle.
Where can I take my kids on a rainy day in Glasgow?
On a rainy day, we recommend the People’s Palace in Glasgow which is right next to Glasgow Green (the largest park in the city). When the rain lets up, you can get some outdoor time at Glasgow Green.
Alternatively, enjoy these free indoor Glasgow attractions:
- Kelvin Grove Museum
- Gallery of Modern Art
- Burrell Collection
- The Hunterian
- The Museum of Transportation
Are there any free guided tours available at Glasgow Cathedral?
Guided tours at Glasgow Cathedral, led by volunteers, are available free of charge for visitors. Call ahead for details on specific hours and availability.
Where is Glasgow, Scotland?
Glasgow is near the West coast of Scotland on the River Clyde. We found that the train was the easiest way to travel between cities in the UK. Here’s why we prefer trains to planes in Europe.
BONUS: If you’re considering a trip to Europe to discover as many new countries as possible, here’s how we snuck in 3 “bonus” countries during our first trip to Europe.