With the summer holidays upon us we took the opportunity to do something we’d been promising our children for months – a trip to the Central Belt to explore the museums. Once we’d seen that one of the world’s best-preserved T-Rex fossils was in Glasgow this summer, that settled it; west was best for our visit!
But there’s so much more to see in the cultural powerhouse that is Glasgow, from its rich architectural heritage (think Charles Rennie Mackintosh) to modern art, music and film archives.
As we found on our visit to a city that we used to call home – in the days before children – Glasgow still has that friendly vibe and buzzing atmosphere that sets it apart. So much so that Time Out magazine ranked it in the world’s top 10 best cities for 2019, and number one for friendliness and affordability.
Staying at Glasgow’s beautiful four-star youth hostel perched above Kelvingrove Park – converted from a plush townhouse in the West End – gave us an affordable experience of how the great and the good of the city must live. The West End location is perfect for families, far enough away from the busy city centre but really close to some of Glasgow’s best attractions, including our friendly dinosaur!
Here’s how we made the most of a quick weekend visit to Glasgow...
Arriving by train meant we stepped out into the heart of the city. First, we made our way to George Square, a popular gathering spot overlooked by the grand City Chambers, built in 1888 and still home to the council to this day. Tours of the building are conducted twice daily.
Dotted in amongst the many statues in the square were some more down-to-earth sculptures that sparked the children’s interest. Oor Wullie is all over the place at the minute, so, jings, we ran aboot the square hunting oot the wee fella as much as we could!
Oor Wullie’s Big Bucket Trail is taking place across five Scottish cities until August 30th, and there are plenty to tick off in Glasgow while you’re here.
12.30pm - Time for lunch!
After the journey and some sculpture hunting, we headed to John Street and enjoyed a great lunch at the family and dog-friendly Singl-end restaurant. There are tables outside in the pedestrianised street as well as plenty of inside seating, and the bake-house serves ice cream and tempting cakes to take away as well as serving meals and more.
Even weighed down with buggy and luggage we were welcomed in after a short wait for a table. The youth hostel has space for you to drop your bags there before exploring the city but our plan for the day had us making our way to the West End after seeing the city centre first.
The children’s meals were perfect – simple, healthy food with no fuss, and it’s fair to say the girls enjoyed their ice cream afterwards too! Our food was lovely and we even went away with a doggy bag as we didn’t want to waste the leftovers.
The girls loved the fact dogs were allowed in, especially when the rules included one that stated: “Must be seriously cute!”
Jennifer with one of Glasgow's 58 Oor Wullie sculptures Matthew at Singl-end cafe & bakehouse
2pm – The bus is for us
We reckoned the best way to get around and see as many of the sites as we could was to take the open-top tour bus. A family ticket costs £35 for two days – bizarrely the same price as one day. So we went back to George Square to hop on and take a ride past Glasgow Cathedral and the People’s Palace.
From there the bus headed west along the river, giving us a bird’s eye view over the Squinty Bridge and across to the Science Centre before passing the Scottish Events Campus and reaching our next destination – the Riverside Museum.
This free attraction is home to some fascinating objects and a family quiz picked up just inside the door gives the young ones something to help guide them through the displays. My favourites were a four-seater bike in one of the old-style Glasgow shops, as well as the world’s oldest surviving bicycle.
Clara with her Museum Passport - you can get your passport stamped at Kelvingrove, Riverside, GoMA, People's Palace, St Mungo's/Provand's Lordship, Kelvin Hall and GMRC
There’s a whole street re-created inside the museum, complete with Subway station where you can climb inside one of the 19th-century carriages that ran on the same lines that the ‘Clockwork Orange’ still uses today. You can also climb aboard old trams, trains and buses, take a look at vintage cars and bikes, and even skateboards, mopeds and prams!
Clara steps back in time on an old subway carriage at the Riverside Museum
There were games to play and all sorts of interactive exhibits which the children enjoyed. We really could have stayed much longer than we did – and that’s before you venture outside, where you can board the tall ship docked in the River Clyde (and find another Oor Wullie sculpture).
On the way out, we were given a museum passport to get stamped at each of the city’s museums over the summer – and we got our first stamp here at the Riverside.
5.30pm – To the hostel
Taking the bus into the West End proper, we hopped off and walked through Kelvingrove Park to reach the youth hostel. The hostel itself is set in a fabulous Victorian townhouse overlooking the park and from our second-floor private room we had a spectacular view of the Glasgow skyline.
We opted for an easy self-catered meal for dinner, though the hostel also offers catered options and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants in the vicinity if you’d rather eat out. After a busy day, we were content to relax at the hostel, which has a communal lounge, TV room and games room, as well as the self-catering kitchen.
Sunday 8am – Breakfast made easy
To take the hassle out of breakfast time we’d pre-ordered a continental breakfast from the hostel. We filled up on the buffet – which included croissants, cereal, toast, yoghurt, meat, cheese, fruit juice, tea and coffee – which meant we could head out reasonably early (for a family of five!) to take in a couple more museums before our train was due to leave later in the day.
We strolled back through Kelvingrove Park – letting the kids stop for a play at the excellent play park on the way through. We eventually dragged them away, with the promise of dinosaurs and other fascinating things to see.
First we headed for Kelvin Hall and the T.Rex in Town exhibition, which is on until July 31st. After following the dino footsteps into the main hall, you enter to be greeted by the most famous of all dinosaurs in full attack pose.
Jennifer takes a turn at decorating her own dinosaur at the T-Rex exhibition
This fascinating prehistoric skeleton is the third most complete T-Rex ever found. Its 66-million-year-old fossilised bones are complemented by 3D-printed copies of a few missing bones and some casts from other T-Rex finds to make a complete creature, bringing to life the sheer scale of the dinosaur kingdom.
There is plenty to keep the children interested beyond the bones, too. We tried to cycle faster than the T-Rex while being chased through the jungle, dancing to attract a dino date, weighing ourselves to see how much food we could offer for a mighty T-Rex (nearly two days’ worth, in my case), searching for fossils in the sand and testing our knowledge with a fun interactive quiz. Then of course there was the dino gift shop…
See Trix the T-Rex at Kelvin Hall until July 31st
12.30pm – Hungry again and more to see
This one-off exhibition isn’t the only place you can spot a dinosaur skeleton, though. Across the road in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum there’s a smaller dino – but one that used to roam around what is now Scotland. Having just met the T-Rex it seemed like a miniature copy, but you still wouldn’t want one of these chasing you!
We headed to the Kelvingrove next, making a beeline for the café for a nice lunch before roaming through some of the museum’s exhibits. There is just so much to see here that you have to be selective, so we looked at the Spitfire hanging from the ceiling and the girls were taken by the stuffed creatures that tell the story of wildlife around the world.
Next we headed through to the Creatures of the Past room, home to the aforementioned Scottish dinosaur and even some fossilised dino poo – what child wouldn’t want to see that?!
Clara uncovers Creatures of the Past at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
You could walk around for hours and only see a fraction of the interesting stuff on show at Kelvingrove, from classic works of art to displays from Ancient Egypt. But after collecting our third museum stamp of the weekend (and luckily finding a lost toy we hadn’t even noticed had gone missing) it was time to head back to the bus for our last leg of the tour before returning to the city centre to catch our train.
The weekend really captured the kids’ imaginations and, now we’ve got our museum passport, we’ve got even more reason to return and discover even more of what’s on offer in the city this summer.
By John Davidson
John is a journalist from Inverness. He specialises in the great outdoors and has written two books about the best walking and cycling routes in the Highlands.
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