The Mom's Guide to Glasgow
As a Glaswegian, I’m totally biased, of course, but I’m also not kidding when I say Glasgow is a great travel destination for children. As Scotland’s largest city (and its “other” capital — don’t deny it, Edinburgers), Glasgow is surprisingly compact and has great public transportation, which makes it easy to squeeze in a wide range of attractions even if you only have a day or two. But if you have longer... well, sit back and start planning. You (and your kids) have a lot of Weegie fun ahead.
Glasgow Science Centre
No trip to Glasgow is complete without a visit to Glasgow Science Centre. Kids of all ages love the planetarium show and the visual illusion rooms, while the themed Little Explorer days, aimed at 3- to 5-year-olds and free for under-3s, are packed with workshops, drop-ins and activities. Previous themes include “Up, Up and Away” (bubbles, rockets, things that fly) and “Dino Dig” (fossils, animals and prehistoric play). During the summer, the center's 127-meter-high Glasgow Tower (the tallest fully rotating freestanding structure in the world and the only structure on Earth capable of rotating 360 degrees into the prevailing wind) provides unrivaled views of the city, the River Clyde and surrounding landscapes. There’s a picnic area if you want to take your own food, and the café serves kids portions that are plenty big enough for adults.
The Children's Wood
The "last wild space" in the West End of Glasgow (records show there have never been any buildings on this land), The Children's Wood on North Kelvin Meadow is a community green space that exists thanks to years of local residents' peaceful protests, petitions and passion. The community's efforts have prevented plans to build on the land, and it remains a place for free fun and educational children's events, including regular den-building and tree-planting days and seasonal celebrations. All are welcome.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Visitors to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which opened in 1901, are greeted by a 1940s spitfire, Sir Roger the Asian elephant, the cast of a Ceratosaur, bees and bugs and free Toddler Time every Friday, with songs and stories for the under-2s (no need to book). Visit the website for details of child-friendly events and workshops, such as nest-box-building for house sparrows. Try to stop by just before 1 p.m. to hear the daily organ recital — the very one that went viral on Jan. 10, 2016, when organist Chris Nickol stunned visitors by playing "Life on Mars" as a tribute to David Bowie after hearing of the musician's death on the morning news.
Glasgow Botanic Gardens
In the heart of the city’s West End since 1842, the Botanic Gardens is the perfect green space for kids to let off steam and enjoy some bracing Glasgow air — and maybe even some sunshine if you're lucky. Sunshine or not, the grounds are stunning and packed full of colorful fauna from every corner of the world. There’s a great kids play area, delicious cakes in the café, a fishpond and plenty of squirrels to look for/chase/feed.
Slap-bang in the middle of Glasgow's main shopping thoroughfare, Buchanan Street, is Princes Square. Since it opened in 1988, it's been the most appealing lunch option for families with children, because you can let your kid run riot while you eat and drink! Seriously — it's practically expected of you. Eating spots on the ground floor (like PizzaExpress, Darcy's and Café Bombón) surround an open central space, aka the unofficial playground. So you can let your little ones burn off their energy while you "supervise closely"-slash-relax.
Fossil Grove at Victoria Park
In Victoria Park in the city's West End lies Fossil Grove, Glasgow's most ancient attraction. Fossilized tree stumps were discovered here when rocks were removed during a landscaping project in 1887, and the remains of this 330-million-year-old forest are still there today. Besides Fossil Grove, the 50-acre Victoria Park has beautiful floral displays, an orienteering course, a model yachting pond and children's play areas.
GoMA's Saturday Art Club
The Gallery of Modern Art's Saturday Art Club is a free drop-in kids art workshop for 3- to 12-year-olds held every Saturday morning in the studio space overlooking the city center rooftops surrounded by murals by Scottish figurative artist and "Glasgow Pup" Adrian Wiszniewski. Families create art responses using a different piece from the contemporary art collection every week, with all materials provided and staff and volunteers on hand to assist.
To keep your kid entertained for hours, just pop them in the maze while you marvel at the brilliance of Pollok House in the very scenic Pollok Country Park. Downton Abbey has nothing on this place. One of the National Trust for Scotland's grandest properties, it was built in the mid-18th century and houses an impressive collection of art as well as a library designed to hold 7,000 books. The park also has an adventure playground, riverside and woodland walks and plenty of spots for a picnic.
The White Elephant
It's not easy to find a grown-up restaurant that's child-friendly, especially in a city center. Sure, many places have offerings for kids, but parents know a miniscule pack of crayons and connect-the-dots on the back of the menu doesn't work for more than about five minutes. The White Elephant in Cathcart (the south side of the city), on the other hand, has an entire conservatory full of kids toys (and awesome toys at that — including a bouncy castle). The pub's website even invites "kids to run wild," so there you go. The menu is equally impressive, with fresh local produce and a midweek special offer (£10.95, a little over $15 USD, for two courses) running all day, Monday to Friday.
Tollcross Park Children's Farm
The East End's Tollcross Park may be most famous for its unique rose garden, but for its younger visitors, it's all about the animals. The children's farm has shire horses, Shetland ponies, an aviary, rabbits, sheep, pigs, chicken, lovebirds, Highland cattle and maybe even a llama or two. There's also a secret garden, a play area for under-12s, an orienteering course and the likelihood of spotting wildlife such as bats, foxes and woodpeckers.
Tucked away in Battlefield, a Glasgow district south of the River Clyde, is Whitespace Kids. This is no regular toy shop. If you want to pick up a beautiful memento of your trip to Glasgow, give the big toy chains a swerve and head to Whitespace Kids, where you'll find brands not stocked anywhere else in the city. Make sure you have plenty of time, though, because the selection of books, creative toys, clothes and games is incredible.
Scotland Street School Museum
Anyone who grew up on the south side of Glasgow in the early mid-1900s probably went to Scotland Street School — and anyone who grew up anywhere in southwest Scotland post-1990 has probably paid it a visit. The school, which was designed by renowned Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, closed in 1979 but reopened in 1990 as the Scotland Street School Museum. The Horrible Heedie Tour is what the museum calls "fun, fear-filled and informative" for all ages, but don't be late or you'll face the wrath of the heedie — that's head teacher to non-Scots. (When this here leftie went there as a kid, I was even made to write with my right hand, which was equal parts terrifying and fascinating.)
It's a little off the beaten track, but Kilmardinny Loch in Bearsden (about 5 miles from the city center) is worth a visit for any fans of The Gruffalo (and his child). Incredible wooden carvings all around the loch feature a huge gruffalo and his gang (snake, fox, owl, etc.). The walk around the loch is stroller-friendly and can easily be done in 20 minutes or less depending on how little your kid's legs are. And there are plenty of ducks, swans and other birds to spot along the way, plus a good play park directly adjacent — perfect if you're staying in the city center but want a taste of the countryside.
Situated at Intu Braehead, a huge shopping/entertainment center just a few miles outside downtown, Snow Factor is Scotland’s only year-round snow sports resort and boasts the longest indoor real snow slope in the U.K. There's a dedicated teaching/instruction slope as well as the main ski slope, four ski lifts and an ice wall. If you have several kids of different ages who are into different things (and if you also have another adult to accompany them), split up at Intu to try out mini golf, bowling, climbing a movie theater and lots of restaurants — all indoors.
Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre
If you'd relish the chance to show your kids amazing things can be done with their hands aside from just swiping and scrolling, head to Glasgow's West End for the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre. Founded in 1981 by professional puppeteer and mask-maker Malcolm Yates Knight, throughout the week, the center hosts regular family shows that run 45 minutes to one hour — and are generally suitable for ages 3-plus.
As a mom, I really can't say enough good things about Glasgow. Even just walking around town is an amazing experience for kids. You might see a man (or several men) in a kilt. You might see the statue of the Duke of Wellington with a traffic cone on his head. And you'll definitely see some incredible murals; they're so good in Glasgow, there's even an official city center mural trail. Do come visit.