Cities, towns and villages
- 1 Glasgow is the booming heart of this region, a great city in every sense, with lots to see, do, and eat & drink. Don't just rush through on the way to the Highlands - you need several days here to take it all in.
The industrial south & east: a series of small to medium towns, commuter-land for Glasgow, and long past their 19th C heyday. This, bluntly, is the least attractive and least interesting part of Scotland, and you wouldn't come just to see it. If however you found yourself here, there's actually a surprising amount to occupy you. Orbiting Glasgow anti-clockwise:
- 2 East Kilbride is a post-war planned New Town, with all that's wrong with that, yet its main attraction is the Museum of Rural Life.
- 3 Hamilton has a huge mausoleum and Chatelherault country park.
- 4 Motherwell has Strathclyde Country Park, a landscaped former mining area, and Scotland's only Theme Park.
- 5 Coatbridge has the Sumerlees Museum of Industrial Life.
- 6 Cumbernauld is a drab New Town with little reason to visit.
- 7 Kilsyth is a good base for exploring the Antonine Wall.
- 8 Kirkintilloch is also near the wall, and with a surprising history of ship-building: the "Clyde Puffers" sailed out along the canal.
- 9 Milngavie has Mugdock Country Park, and is the start of the West Highland Way to Fort William.
- 10 Bearsden has a Roman bath house, the best-preserved Roman structure in Scotland.
- 11 Paisley has a fine abbey.
Downriver: the view improves.
- 12 Dumbarton: pity about the ugly modern town, but castle rock marks the start of the Highlands, and the Firth of Clyde opens up to the west.
- 13 Balloch with Alexandria is on the shores of Loch Lomond: loch ferries and cruises run from here.
- 14 Greenock has a gallery and Fire Service museum.
- 15 Gourock, the start of the "Costa Clyde", is the ferry port for Dunoon on Cowal.
- 16 Inverkip has a large marina. A little way south is Wemyss Bay, ferry port for Rothesay on Bute.
1 Glasgow Airport (GLA IATA), 8 miles west of the city, has direct flights from many European countries as well as North America and Dubai. It has domestic flights to London Heathrow, City, Gatwick, Luton and Southend; to Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, East Midlands, Belfast, and the larger Hebridean islands plus Orkney and Shetland. Public transport from the airport to the rest of Clydeside usually involves taking the bus to Glasgow city centre then changing, but there's a direct bus to Paisley.
You might also fly in via Edinburgh or Manchester, both with good onward transport. You're unlikely to fly in via Prestwick as this only has flights to Med holiday destinations.
Railway routes converge on Glasgow's two mainline stations. The fastest trains from London Euston, Birmingham and Manchester run via Motherwell to Glasgow Central, as does the Caledonian Sleeper. Trains from London Kings Cross, York, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Edinburgh run to Glasgow Queen Street, as do trains from Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness. Suburban and branch lines fan out from Glasgow to all the main towns of Clydeside.
Long distance buses all run to Glasgow Buchanan bus station, 300 yards north of Queen Street railway station. They seldom stop elsewhere in this region, but some exceptions are:
- - Citylink buses to the western Highlands stop at the edge of Dumbarton and of Balloch then continue north along Loch Lomond.
- - Bus X74 to Moffat and Dumfries also stops at Hamilton.
- - Bus X24 runs from Glasgow Airport to Buchanan station then continues east to Cumbernauld, and across Fife via Dunfermline to St Andrews.
- Buses and trains run from Glasgow to all the main towns. The exceptions are Coatbridge and Airdrie which have lost their direct bus, take the train.
- Crossing the region usually means travelling into central Glasgow and out again, but one train makes a slow loop of the southern towns of Hamilton, Motherwell, Coatbridge and Cumbernauld.
- Transport usually runs 06:00-23:30. There are night buses after midnight on Friday and Saturday (ie the early hours of Saturday and Sunday) from central Glasgow to East Kilbride, Hamilton, Motherwell and Paisley. Otherwise you'll need a taxi.
- Glasgow's top sights include the cathedral and necropolis, Kelvingrove gallery, "People's Palace", and Rennie Mackintosh creations such as the Willow Tea Rooms.
- Churches and cemeteries: interesting examples beyond the city are Inverkip parish church, Greenock West Kirk, Hamilton Mausoleum, cemetery and old church, Motherwell cathedral and Paisley Abbey.
- Castles: several are tumbledown, but Newark Castle near Greenock and Dumbarton Castle are substantial. You can stay in a plush one at Castle Levan near Gourock.
- Museums beyond the city include the Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride, and Summerlee industrial museum in Coatbridge.
- Roman Scotland: they didn't stay long or build much, but the coast-to-coast Antonine Wall can be seen around Bearsden, Kirkintilloch and Kilsyth.
- Highland Games are held annually on a summer weekend in Gourock, Balloch, Bearsden jointly with Milngavie, and East Kilbride. Dumbarton hosts the Scottish piping championships, and the world pipe band competition is in Glasgow in August.
- Walk, cycle or boat along the Forth & Clyde Canal. It has a good firm towpath and is mostly navigable, although there's a long-standing block at Kirkintillloch - check Scottish Canals for current status of locks and facilities. It starts near Dumbarton, has a spur into central Glasgow, then ascends through Kirkintilloch and Kilsyth. It then descends into West Lothian, where the ingenious Falkirk Wheel lifts boats into the Union Canal to Edinburgh.
- Go "doon the water". The Clyde is industrial until Greenock, further west the view improves, and Gourock marks the northern end of the "Costa Clyde", the string of little resorts along the coast into Ayrshire. Ride one of the Gourock ferries even if you don't intend to set foot on the other side.
- Watch football (ie soccer): of course the famous names are Glasgow's Celtic and Rangers, and don't forget Partick Thistle. Other professional teams are Hamilton Academical, Motherwell, Airdrieonians and Albion Rovers in Coatbridge, Clyde in Cumbernauld, Dumbarton, and Morton in Greenock. Rugby Union isn't a big thing here compared to Edinburgh and the Borders, but Glasgow Warriors are a pro team.
- Walk the West Highland Way which starts at Milngavie. The first few miles north onto Loch Lomond are easy going, then it starts to get interesting.
- Glasgow's got the lot, for cosmopolitan choice and for quality across a range of budgets.
- Beyond the city, the only standout is Cameron House, on the shores of Loch Lomond near Balloch. This may also re-open as a hotel in 2020 but tbc.
- Every town has the usual strip of cheap and cheerful places, including pub food. There's always an Italian but those in Hamilton get better reviews than elsewhere.
- Auchentoshan is the only Scotch whisky distillery that you can visit in this region, near Dalmuir at the northwest edge of the city. Their single malt is widely stocked in supermarkets (including in England and Wales) and slides down every so nicely. There are some 120 whisky distilleries in Scotland so if you're wondering which to sample first, this one's a good bet.
- Most of the outlying towns have a JD Wetherspoon pub, open daily from breakfast till late. Sure, a chain, but they've a well-won reputation for beers, food, service and general environment.
The only significant risk is from aggressive drunks, but they're no more common around Glasgow than in other cities. Just exercise the usual caution.
- Glasgow and most of this region are within an hour by train of must-see Edinburgh. So it can be day-tripped, but you'll want longer.
- Ayrshire has Robert Burns' birthplace in Alloway just south of Ayr, and is the route to the charming Isle of Arran.
- The World Heritage site of New Lanark is an 19th C model community around a mill on the Clyde.