When planning a visit to Scotland, many would-be travellers wonder if they should plan to spend time in Glasgow or Edinburgh if they’re interested in heading to one of the country’s vibrant cities.
Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by travellers in 2017 – and rightly so. While it is essential to make the trip up north to see Scotland’s outstanding beauty, Scotland’s cities should just as much be part of any itinerary.
Glasgow and Edinburgh are Scotland’s two major cities, and both attract many visitors each year. If you are facing the troublesome decision to choose either Glasgow or Edinburgh – it is vital to consider the different things both cities have to offer. There are less than fifty miles between the two and yet, both cities are very different.
Generally speaking, Edinburgh is a good choice for those interested in historic sites, traditional Scottish culture and Harry Potter fans. On the other hand, Glasgow is a great option for those after a modern, big-city vibe with great nightlife and live music.
Ask any local from each city, and they will give you a strong opinion on whether Edinburgh or Glasgow is the better city to live in. Unsurprisingly, this account will often underlie some bias depending on where the person questioned is from.
If you are struggling to choose Edinburgh or Glasgow to visit and are unsure which one fits your interests better, then you have come to the right place. Having lived in both cities, I have been able to discover both of these fantastic places in great detail and will hopefully be making the decision easier for you.
In the past, Glasgow was widely known as an industrial city due to its heavy focus on shipbuilding. Running through the city and serving as a divider between the north- and southside, the Clyde river used to be home to several dockyards.
In more recent years most of these ports are history and Glasgow has become more known for its adventurous nightlife and its witty, outgoing inhabitants. “People make Glasgow” was the city’s slogan during the 2014 Commonwealth games and it is true – Glasgow’s ‘banter’ is known across the globe and you will find it hard to find a city quite like it anywhere.
When choosing to visit either Edinburgh or Glasgow, accessibility needs to be considered. Both cities have international airports with incoming flights from across the globe and are both approximately a six-hour drive from London.
Both cities have centrally located train and bus stations with trains and buses running from London and other major UK cities frequently throughout the day – you can view train and bus timetables for your journey here.
Glasgow’s transport system is split up between several companies, and there are several different providers for buses, as well as a train and subway system. In terms of getting around the city centre, the easiest way is by foot. However, if you are planning to go out of the city centre — which you should consider to get the full experience — you need to plan in some form of public transport.
When wanting to go between areas, the subway is probably the fastest and easiest way to travel between the city centre, southside and west end. Glasgow’s subway system is often referred to as one of the easiest in the world as it is in the shape of a circle with one line running clockwise and the other counterclockwise throughout the city.
I would not recommend renting a car if you are just planning to visit the city as Glasgow’s one-way traffic system and the lack of parking in the city centre can cause frustration even for the hardened local. If you are arriving by car, consider parking it where you are staying during your visit and use public transport.
When choosing between Edinburgh and Glasgow in terms of accessibility, the difference really is only where you are planning to potentially go after visiting one of the two cities. Glasgow is in the west of the country and offers the perfect gateway to head out to Loch Lomond, islands like the Isle of Arran or the Isle of Bute and the West Highlands.
Looking at the costs associated with your visit when considering a trip to Glasgow vs Edinburgh is also something to consider. Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital and has been a popular tourist destination for many years.
Both these factors do add to the price tag associated with your visit. Glasgow, on the other hand, has less of these ‘tourist tax’ price raises and overall is still marginally cheaper for everything from public transport, accommodation and restaurants.
While some of the city centre hotels come with a more significant price tag, you can find a bed in one of Glasgow’s many hostels for as little as £20 a night.
Most bus providers offer day tickets for as little as £5 and a day ticket for the subway system costs about the same.
You can easily get a set lunchtime deal quite cheaply in establishments across the city, and most pubs will offer standard pub food at a low price all day. If you are on a budget, I would recommend staying away from knowingly expensive areas such as Merchant City or Finnieston.
However, if you don’t mind spending the extra pounds, then I do recommend visiting these areas as they have a great variety of funky, independent bars and restaurants.
When in the city centre, prices will differ, so best is to shop around. Also, Glasgow’s museums are all free unless you are planning to visit specific exhibitions.
Things to do in Glasgow
This is probably one of the most significant differences when choosing between Edinburgh or Glasgow. Edinburgh is beautiful to walk around and soak in the beauty of the ancient, big city. Glasgow is more about culture and the vibe. It really has something for every niche.
The music scene in Glasgow is thriving and has been for years. Make your way to the venue where rock band Oasis got signed or walk along Buchanan Street to listen to the variety of local buskers – you can even do a walking tour of Glasgow’s famous music sites. There are so many bars, clubs and gig venues with daily shows and I am sure you will find something you love.
Glasgow is full of art – conventional and unconventional. Make the most of the free entry to museums and galleries. If galleries are not your thing, Glasgow is full of street art and murals can be found all across the city.
Be sure to visit the statue of the Duke of Wellington in front of the Gallery of Modern Art, and you will notice Glasgow’s wits. The statue has for years been parading a traffic cone on top of the duke’s head that keeps re-appearing despite the city council’s frequent attempts to remove it.
Of course, make sure to take in the imposing Glasgow Cathedral, as well, which is the oldest building in Glasgow and the oldest cathedral on mainland Scotland.
Edinburgh might be more known for its architecture, but Glasgow also has its fair share of beautiful buildings. Charles Rennie Mackintosh is a famous Glasgow architect, and you will find buildings designed by him across the city. Be sure to visit ‘The Lighthouse’ in the city centre in order to climb its tower and be rewarded with a 360-degree view of Glasgow.
Take a stroll through the city’s west end. Go shopping for some vintage clothes in Kelvinbridge – a neighbourhood featured in a list of the 50 coolest neighbourhoods in the world in 209 — or visit a converted church that now serves as a whisky bar and watch a play.
After a long day of walking, be sure to treat yourself to a cocktail (or two) in one of Finnieston’s trendy bars or visit Wellpark Brewery to taste a pint of Tennents – Glasgow’s own beer. If you do not fancy an alcoholic beverage, Glasgow’s ‘Tchai Ovna‘ teahouse in the west end serves around 80 different types of tea from across the globe until 11 pm.
When planning to visit Glasgow, my main recommendation would be not to make a list of places to go, but a list of things you like to do. The main thing is to soak in the cities’ charms doing precisely what it is you enjoy doing.
Glasgow’s food scene is thriving and is far more than just chip chops, haggis suppers and other mainstays of Scottish cuisine. This should in no way discourage you from trying either of these. Haggis is delicious!
There are always new restaurants popping up, and you can find anything from Greek, Korean, Mexican, Japanese, Indian and generally just many of the world’s delights. In fact, it is claimed that the popular Indian dish ‘Tikka Masala’ was invented in Glasgow.
If you are feeling adventurous, and are looking for something local, then you should try a deep-fried mars bar in the selected chip shops that offer it across the city. Be prepared: it is precisely how it sounds like – sticky, super sweet, but pretty delicious.
Back in 2013, PETA named Glasgow the ‘Most Vegan-Friendly City in the UK.‘ While vegan restaurants have become increasingly more popular across the country, including Edinburgh, it is safe to say that Glasgow’s vegan food scene is still above and beyond.
If you are trying to choose between Edinburgh or Glasgow based on the cities’ food scene itself, I would say they are on par, although overall Glasgow’s restaurants will be cheaper.
Where to Stay in Glasgow
Glasgow has a range of accommodation options available depending on your preferences and overall travel budget. If you’re wondering where to stay in Glasgow, have a look at these suggestions:
citizenM Glasgow — This trendy hotel is a great option if you’re looking for somewhere a bit more upmarket to stay in Glasgow. There are numerous rooms available, it’s centrally located within easy walking distance of all of the city’s main attractions, and a great breakfast is included in the nightly rate. Click here to check their availability
Apex City of Glasgow Hotel — This is a great choice if you’re looking for a luxury place to stay in Glasgow. Centrally located, there are myriad plush rooms available, numerous amenities, an on-site bar and restaurant, and a great breakfast included in the nightly rate. Click here to check their availability
Glasgow Youth Hostel — If you’re a solo or budget traveller, then this hostel is a great choice for you. Located in the West End, they have a range of dorm and private rooms available, good common areas to meet other travellers, and 24-hour reception. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Glasgow hotels!
Edinburgh is an old city. It has been inhabited for thousands of years and has played a crucial role in Scotland’s history. Edinburgh Castle was home to Scottish royals in the past, and today the Scottish Parliament is still located in Edinburgh.
The city of Edinburgh is beautiful. I would even go as far as saying it is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. Walking through the hidden alleyways or along the colourful side streets, it is easy to feel like you are stepping back in time. It is not surprising that Edinburgh gets millions of visitors each year or that a lot of JK Rowling’s inspiration for the Harry Potter books came from Edinburgh locations.
If you are choosing between Edinburgh and Glasgow and are looking for a more picturesque experience and a more ‘compact’ city to walk around in, then a trip Edinburgh is for you.
Edinburgh has an international airport that gets serviced by many airlines. Just like Glasgow, it is approximately a six-hour drive from London. Both Edinburgh’s main train stations – Haymarket and Waverley – are conveniently located at each end of the inner city.
The same goes for the bus station which is only a 10-minute walk from Edinburgh’s High Street. You can view train and bus timetables for your journey here.
Within the city, the best way to get around is to walk. Edinburgh’s city centre really is so compact, and you will hardly ever have to walk more than 10 minutes between Edinburgh’s main sites. However, Edinburgh is quite a hilly place and often this will mean ascending a flight of stairs or a steep hill.
If you are planning on taking public transport, Edinburgh now has a tram network which conveniently also services Edinburgh airport. Better than the tram is Edinburgh’s bus system. While Glasgow’s bus system is serviced by several providers and can be a bit confusing, Edinburgh’s buses are all run by the city’s council. Services run across the whole town and are very frequent, even at night.
More recently Lothian buses have introduced a ‘tap-on’ system similar to London’s, meaning that you can just use a contactless bank card and prices will cap at the cost of a day ticket.
Edinburgh does offer parking within the city, but it can be quite pricey. If you are planning to park your car, the best way would be to pre-book your parking. Driving around the city centre, however, is something I would refrain from unless you are happy to share the road with flocks of people, many buses, trams and taxis.
When choosing between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and you are planning a trip to Cairngorms National Park, Inverness or anywhere along the East coast of Scotland, then Edinburgh will be the better starting point to do so.
Edinburgh is very popular with tourists, and when you are deciding to visit Edinburgh or Glasgow, you will have to take into consideration that prices in Edinburgh will be steeper than in Glasgow.
This especially applies if you are planning to visit Edinburgh during the yearly Edinburgh Fringe festival – a festival during which Edinburgh is host to a vast number of theatre, comedy, music and cultural acts from across the country.
Outside of Fringe season, it is possible to find accommodation in one of Edinburgh’s hostels of which there is plenty selection of within Edinburgh. During the Fringe this can change drastically, and prices can double – sometimes even triple. If you are planning to visit Edinburgh during this time, I would strongly advise you to plan ahead or also consider staying outside Edinburgh and travelling in.
Just like in Glasgow, it is advised to try and sway away from Edinburgh’s High Street or Royal Mile when on a budget and looking for something to eat. Edinburgh’s city centre is quite compact, and it is easy to walk around in. Even just walking up or down one of the alleyways to a side of a busy street will often bring with it a considerable drop in prices.
Often pubs will have a cheap selection of generic pub food at a more affordable rate. However, do not avoid the High Street and Royal Mile entirely even when on a budget as walking along there are fabulous bars and street performers not to be missed.
While taxis in the city can be pricey, Edinburgh does have a brilliant bus system and a day ticket for the bus is really something to consider as it will get you around the city all day for as little as £5.
Things to do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh and Glasgow are both cities that have a variety of things to do. While Glasgow has more events running daily, things to do there can also be harder to get to as they might be in a different part of the city.
When looking at things to do in Edinburgh or Glasgow, Edinburgh does have a lot more ‘standard’ tourist sites. Places like Edinburgh castle, Holyrood Castle and the Scottish Parliament, the Royal Mile and Edinburgh old town are all popular tourist destinations.
If you are looking for something more off the beaten track, the best thing to do is just to walk around without a set destination. Take a turn down an alleyway and see where it leads you. Make sure to stroll down towards Dean Village, which is a beautiful little spot in Edinburgh – you will find it hard to believe you are still in the city when you are there.
Discover the different places that may have inspired JK Rowling such as Victoria street – which is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley – or Greyfriars Kirkyard – a graveyard from which JK Rowling found some names she used in the books.
You can even visit the café where it all began. JK Rowling apparently wrote many of her original Harry Potter transcripts on napkins in ‘The Elephant House‘ – a small restaurant near the Grassmarket. While there be sure to also walk down the Grassmarket to find some great bars and quirky shops. Near there you will also find the Edinburgh museum which is free to enter all year round.
For some great views, head up to Calton Hill and marvel at the city below and the great architecture on top of the hill.
If you are a fan of spooky or dark tourism, be sure to attend one of the many night tours taking you to the catacombs below the city.
Edinburgh’s nightlife might not be as well-known as Glasgow’s, but there are still some really great bars. For some great live music, be sure to visit a Jazz bar and for something more relaxed, head to the Drum and Monkey and lean back into one of their couches sipping a delicious cocktail.
As mentioned, the choice of cuisine in both cities is impressive, and when choosing between Edinburgh or Glasgow based on the options of cuisine, there is not much of a difference apart from Edinburgh’s prices being higher overall.
Edinburgh has several award-winning restaurants and a vast amount of other international choices. What I always loved about Edinburgh are the hidden, quirky restaurants I have stumbled upon. My favourite restaurant to this day remains a chicken wing place down the side of High Street that also has SEGA game consoles and funky neon lights. But really, there is something for everyone in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh might not have ever snapped up the official award of being the ‘most vegan-friendly city’, but if you are looking for vegan options, then there are plenty to choose from there, too.
I mentioned haggis earlier, but if you are feeling committed to trying Scotland’s trademark dish, then it is worth noting that one of the nation’s biggest haggis suppliers was actually started from a small butcher shop in Edinburgh, and many restaurants will offer haggis in various forms. One of my personal favourites are ‘Haggis fritters’, which is deep-fried haggis in batter.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is an incredibly popular tourist destination and, therefore, there are a myriad of accommodation options available out there. If you’re struggling to choose where to stay in Edinburgh, have a look at these recommendations:
Cityroomz Edinburgh— This central hotel is a fantastic choice for mid-range travellers in Edinburgh. Located within easy walking distance of all of the Scottish capital’s main attractions, there are numerous clean and comfortable rooms available and an option to include breakfast on your nightly rate. Click here to check their availability
Apex Waterloo Place Hotel — This luxury hotel is an excellent option for those whose budget is a bit higher. There are numerous chic and comfortable rooms available, great amenities, an on-site restaurant, and its central location will ensure that you can walk to most of Edinburgh’s best attractions. Click here to check their availability
Castle Rock Hostel — This hostel is a great option for both budget and solo travellers alike. Centrally located at the foot of the Edinburgh Castle, there are a range of beds available and they have great common areas, making it easy to meet other travellers. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Edinburgh hotels
Glasgow or Edinburgh: The Verdict
So, the verdict: Both cities have a lot of great things going for them and you certainly will not have a bad time no matter which city you do decide to go for.
If you are looking to submerge yourself in Scottish history and are looking for a city with a medieval feel and more traditional Scottish culture, then Edinburgh is the right city for you. If you are a big Harry Potter fan, you will also have found the right place with Edinburgh.
However, if you are someone who loves a busy, vibrant city with great nightlife and want to learn more about modern-day Scottish culture, then Glasgow is the city for you. While Edinburgh has all the historic beauty, Glasgow is more of a city that never sleeps and still has a lot of great other cultural things to indulge in whenever you do want to do some sightseeing.
It is possible to visit both cities during your trip to Scotland. They are both only a 45-minute train ride apart. However, when you find yourself choosing whether to spend more time in Glasgow or in Edinburgh, I would definitely recommend setting more time aside for Glasgow.
Due to Edinburgh’s layout, it is easier to see more of it within a day, where in Glasgow you could easily spend more than a day exploring the west end alone.
Deciding between Edinburgh and Glasgow can be a tough choice to make, especially when considering the different great things both cities have to offer. However, weighing all the various aspects both cities could bring towards your travel experience against your own preferences, you should be able to make the best decision for you.
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Are you planning on visiting Edinburgh or Glasgow? Which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below!
Thank you for the details between the two cities, it will be helpful when planning our itinerary. I look forward to reading some of your other articles.