Over the years of travelling, I’ve done a number of sightseeing bus tours. I think it’s one of the best ways of seeing a city and getting a feel for a place, especially on one’s first visit. I’ve done tours in New York, Madrid, Barcelona, London, Bath and most recently in Liverpool and Paris this year.
So when I knew I was coming back to Glasgow (after visiting last October for the World Championship Gymnastics, but not having chance to do the tour) I knew it was the first thing I wanted to do.
The best place to get on the bus is from its official starting point in George Square. The full tour takes approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, and has 21 stops at main tourist attractions and hotels which you can hop on and hop off at leisure.
It costs £14 for a day ticket or £16 for 2 consecutive days, so if you’re in Glasgow for that long, make the most of the good deal and you’ll be sorted for transport around the city.
On a single bus route like in Glasgow, I always like to get on the bus early and go all the way round without getting off, especially if you have a good live guide commentary as I had. I use this time to figure out what I want to fit in and how. I always have fixed ideas already of what I want to see and do, but often what I see on the route changes my plan. With Glasgow, I didn’t know anything about the Riverside museum (at stop 12) but after I’d passed it on the initial loop, I was so intrigued by the structure and the neighbouring Tall Ship, that it became my revised plan to get off there first to explore it.
So, where does the route take you?
From Georges Square, the tour heads to the east of the city with the first stop at Glasgow Cathedral, which is ideal for visiting the St Mungo Museum, Provand’s Lordship and The Necropolis.
The bus then winds its way down to Glasgow Green via Mercat Cross to stop at the People’s Palace and the Doulton Fountain in front. This is the largest terracotta fountain in the world and is impressive to see.
The tour then heads back to the city centre following the river Clyde for a short while, stopping at various shopping areas including Merchant City and St Enoch’s, with a further stop just off George Square (stop 7.) If you haven’t done them already this is the closest stop to visit GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art), The Lighthouse, the Willow tea rooms and of course the main shopping hub of Buchanan Street.
It’s also worth checking out many of the shops and restaurants housed in the grand buildings in this area. They’ve taken over the many banking and trading companies that no longer exist, however the fine building interiors have remained the same and are still there to see, just under such fashion labels as Reiss and Urban Outfitters, or eating establishments such as Wetherspoons. This tit-bit of information was gleaned from the tour bus guide.
From stop 7, the bus travels to the west side of the city, passing several hotel stops first, then taking you under and along the course of the M8 accompanied by what can only be described as a forceful wind tunnel.
Passing the ‘Squinty’ bridge and the Finnieston Crane you arrive at the SECC, the SSE Hydro and the Armadillo. From here you can see the Science Museum and the Glasgow Tower on the other side of the river.
Still travelling west, oddly past derelict and undeveloped land, it soon becomes clear the intent of the tour – to bring you to one of Glasgow’s newest attractions: the Riverside Museum of Transport which currently stands alone on the riverside with the Glenlee Tall Ship.
Zipping back along the road to the SECC, the bus turns north to the university area of the West End, passing the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Park. It loops round making stops at main university entrances where you can access the Hunterian Gallery, Mackintosh House and the Botanical Gardens.
After a 2nd stop for the Kelvingrove right outside its entrance (stop 16), the bus returns to the city centre along Sauchiehall and Renfrew Streets, making stops for Tenement House and Mitchell Library (stop 18) and the Glasgow School of Art (stop 19) which is mostly still closed due to fire damage in 2014.
After I’d gone round the full circuit of the tour which actually took nearer to an hour and a half, I got off at the starting point on George Square and walked to the Willow tea rooms on Buchanan Street for an early afternoon tea. If you like a traditional afternoon tea, I can recommend trying the Willow tea rooms on any trip to Glasgow! It’s as good as its reputation which definitely precedes it!
Afterwards, I got back on the bus at stop 7 and used it to get to the Riverside Museum at stop 12, where I alighted to explore the museum and the Glenlee Tall Ship. I spent about an hour in the museum, though I could easily have spent longer there; then took a walk around the exterior of the building which just fascinated me.
The architecture is fabulous and so aesthetically pleasing, my camera ached by the time I’d finished photographing the building from every conceivable angle. If you don’t have time to go on the Glenlee, then at least read the boards along its length that chart its history and detail how it ended up back on the Clyde.
I hopped back on the bus for it to take me up to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery (stop 13) where I spent the rest of the afternoon.
This was the one place I knew I wanted to get to long before I boarded my train to Glasgow, and it didn’t disappoint. I spent a long time in the Mackintosh rooms and those galleries dedicated to the Glasgow Boys, and spent a small fortune in the gift shop. Closing hours ended my experience of the Kelvingrove and I knew I wanted to get back here later in my trip if possible.
After walking around the grounds and park, I got back on the bus and hopped off for the last time in the day at stop 20, which was perfect as my hotel: ‘The Glasgow City Hotel’, was just around the corner.
On day 2, I used the bus to get out to the cathedral at stop 2, where I took in not just the cathedral, but all the other previously mentioned attractions – first the Necropolis where you get a superb view of the cathedral and across Glasgow. You can’t see it from the sightseeing bus, but if you take the path to the right of the cathedral as you approach it from the bus stop, it leads you to the Necropolis. It’s well worth the walk!
Back by the cathedral, the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art got my attention with another fantastic view of the cathedral from its top floor window.
Topped off with a visit to Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house still standing in Glasgow, I felt I’d really got to grips with the cathedral quarter, so then I hopped back on the bus down to Glasgow Green where I got off to visit the People’s Palace at stop 5.
Unfortunately the glass house attached to the People’s Palace known as Winter Garden is closed for renovation therefore there was no cafe available which I’d pinned my hopes on as I was a tad peckish, so I didn’t spend too long there. I did however enjoy the current exhibition: “Fizzers – 10 Years of Caricature”, before heading back to the city centre on the bus getting off at stop 7. I had just enough time to nip into GoMA before grabbing an early tea!
I can certainly recommend the sightseeing bus tour in Glasgow, but try and get on a bus with a live guide (which is most of them I found) and then you really find out some quirky tit-bits that aren’t in the taped commentaries. It was guide Donna who told me about the free tours that are held at the City Chambers twice a day on weekdays at 10.30 and 14.30, something she highly recommended doing, but I hadn’t known about or would have even considered. However, I decided to do this on my last day in Glasgow and was amazed – it was one of the best things I did in the city.
So, it just goes to show how these sightseeing tours can flavour your experience of a city, and in my experience always for the better!
Have you done any Sightseeing Bus Tours? If so, where can you recommend I do my next one?