Last updated on October 22, 2023 by Wandering our World
Scotland is a fabulous vacation destination, with spectacular scenery, a rich history, and a wonderful culture. And if you’re planning a trip to this part of the United Kingdom, you’ll most likely want to spend at least a little time in one of Scotland’s two biggest cities: Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Despite being only an hour apart by car or train, Glasgow and Edinburgh are remarkably different destinations. They differ in size, population, vibe, and so much more. Even the locals of Edinburgh and Glasgow have totally different accents to one another, and the two cities share a friendly rivalry which dates back many years.
So, which city should you visit? Well, that all depends on what kind of experience you’re searching for. Edinburgh often ranks as most travelers’ top choice, due to its typical touristic attractions, like its castle, museums, and whiskey tours. Unsurprisingly, it ranks as the second most-visited city in the whole of the UK.
Glasgow can’t quite boast the same high numbers of tourists, but still has a lot to offer. It’s a lively, energetic city, rich in personality and, in the opinion of its inhabitants, much more authentically Scottish than Edinburgh. It’s also famed for its lively arts and entertainment scene, with a jam-packed calendar of concerts and other events.
There’s much more to unpack about Glasgow and Edinburgh, and this guide will cover everything you need to know before making your decision. We’ll look at how the cities compare in terms of activities, attractions, shopping, restaurants, nightlife, and more. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
- A Quick Overview Of Glasgow vs Edinburgh
- Which Is Better For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Has The Best Hotels?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Glasgow vs Edinburgh: Which Is Better?
A Quick Overview Of Glasgow vs Edinburgh
Glasgow: A Quick Overview
Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland and the third-largest in the whole of the UK. It’s home to a little over 630,000 people, with more than 1.8 million in the full metropolitan area. The city is situated in the south central part of the country, around 50 miles west of Edinburgh, and it was built either side of the River Clyde.
Glesga, as the city is known to locals, began life as a small and simple rural settlement back in the 6th century, but experienced rapid growth as the centuries went by. It became the biggest seaport in all of Scotland and a major center of trade between Britain, North America, and Asia. It later emerged into one of the world’s leading shipbuilding centers.
These days, the shipbuilding trade has died down, but Glasgow continues to be a thriving, successful city, with the biggest economy in Scotland. It’s also considered a cultural and educational center, with leading institutions like the University of Glasgow, Glasgow School of Art, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
Vibe-wise, Glasgow is considered a very lively, energetic, and fun city to be in. It enjoys a vibrant nightlife scene, with lots of live entertainment, and there always seems to be something going on in Glasgow, from soccer matches – Glasgow is home to Scotland’s two leading teams – to exciting festivals dedicated to films, comedy, music, art, and more.
Edinburgh: A Quick Overview
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and its second-largest city. It’s the seventh-biggest city in the UK, with a population of a little over 500,000 people in the inner city and over 900,000 in the full metropolitan area. It sits on the coast in the southeast part of Scotland, looking out over the North Sea.
The exact origins of Edinburgh are unclear, but we know that it was founded back before the 7th century. For several centuries, the English and the Scottish clashed over ownership of the city, with England repeatedly trying to claim it as its own. However, in the 15th century, the dispute was settled once and for all, with Edinburgh becoming Scotland’s official capital and home of the Royal Court.
The seat of Scotland’s government and home to Holyrood Palace – the King of England’s official Scottish residence – Edinburgh is a very influential and important city. It’s a hub of education, culture, finance, and more, while also being known for its contributions to art and entertainment – its famous Fringe festival, for instance, is the biggest annual arts festival on the planet.
Despite having a smaller population than Glasgow, Edinburgh still feels like a busy, bustling place, as it draws in huge numbers of tourists. The historic center of the city, in particular, is always filled with visitors from around the world, eager to stop off at the local landmarks, like Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, and the buildings of the Scottish Parliament.
Which Is Best For Activities?
One of the main ways in which Glasgow and Edinburgh differ is in terms of their main activities and attractions. Edinburgh is by far the more typical touristic destination, with a charming “Old Town” area, multiple museums, and family-friendly landmarks, but Glasgow also has its own intriguing sights to see and experiences to enjoy. Here’s a quick rundown of the main activities for each city.
Glasgow: The Activities
Glasgow may not have the same touristic reputation as Edinburgh, but it’s still a great city for sightseeing and rich, cultural experiences. Visitors might like to start off by seeking out some of the city’s most famous landmarks, like the Finnieston Crane – an ever-present echo of the city’s shipbuilding past – or the unusually-shaped Armadillo auditorium
This city also has a veritable myriad of museums and galleries to explore. The Riverside Museum is one of the best. Not only does it look like a work of art from the outside, but once you step through the doors, you’ll find a treasure trove of transport-related items, like old ambulances, police cars, and even a grand Victorian ship.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is another must-see. Completely free to enter, it’s the city’s most-visited attraction, with a huge collection of artwork, natural history artifacts, and even military memorabilia. Meanwhile, the famed Burrell Collection boasts over 200 displays, with artworks and items from China, Egypt, Ancient Rome, and beyond.
Part of the fun of visiting Glasgow is engaging with the local culture, and there are lots of ways to go about that. Visitors could take a distillery tour and learn how local whiskey is made, for example, or catch a show at the legendary Barrowland Ballroom. Theaters, clubs, and cultural centers can all be found across the city too, and sports fans might like to grab a ticket for a soccer match of one of the great Glasgow teams: Celtic or Rangers.
Edinburgh: The Activities
Most visitors to Edinburgh will spend a lot of their time in the Old Town, where all the most beautiful buildings and fascinating historic sites can be found. You’ll most likely want to check out the famous 11th century Edinburgh Castle, for example, or walk along the medieval streets of the Royal Mile, admiring the likes of Holyrood Palace, St. Giles Cathedral or the Scottish Parliament Building as you go.
For history buffs, the adventure continues in Edinburgh’s many museums and galleries. The National Museum of Scotland, for instance, is the leading museum of natural history in the whole of Scotland, while the ever-popular Writers’ Museum pays homage to some of Scotland’s greatest wordsmiths, like R. L. Stevenson and Robert Burns.
Beyond the history, there’s much more to uncover in Edinburgh. Want a hike? Climb your way to the top of Arthur’s Seat for amazing views over the city. Seeking something romantic? Visit the Royal Botanic Garden. In town with kids? Edinburgh has numerous family attractions, like a zoo, dungeons, and parks.
The city is also famed for its Harry Potter associations, and fans of the franchise can visit the Elephant House Cafe, the very location where author J. K. Rowling began writing her famous books. Or, if you happen to be in the city at the right time, you might want to check out the world-renowned Fringe festival, with literally thousands of shows and performances to enjoy.
Overall, there’s clearly a notable difference in activities between these two cities. Glasgow is much more about cultural experiences and live events, like concerts, while Edinburgh has a much longer list of the usual touristic fare, such as castles, palaces, and quaint old streets.
Which Is Better For Shopping?
Before leaving Glasgow or Edinburgh, you might like to spend some time browsing the local stores, boutiques, and shopping centers to pick up a few souvenirs of your trip. Both cities have plenty of places to shop, with Glasgow offering lively markets and Edinburgh being home to lots of luxury stores, fancy boutiques, and vintage shops.
If you head to Glasgow, you won’t want to miss out on a visit to the famed Barras Market, with dozens of stalls and cheerful vendors selling everything from vintage clothing to one-of-a-kind treasures. For something more luxurious, Argyll Arcade is like an Aladdin’s Cave of jewelry, and shopaholics can also while away the hours on Buchanan Street, where all the big British and European chains can be found.
Over in Edinburgh, Princes Street is the premier place to shop. Not only is it a beautiful thoroughfare, but it’s also where you can find lots of popular, big brand stores and seasonal markets. The shopping fun continues along George Street, home of luxury goods, and Grassmarket, where you can find quirky, indie stores selling all sorts of unusual items, oddities, and delights.
Overall, both cities are excellent locations to shop. There’s no clear winner here, but you’ll find more souvenir stores in Edinburgh selling typical gifts like tartan scarves and shortbread, while Glasgow offers fewer tourist traps and more authentic stores.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
If you’re the kind of person that likes to stay out late, partying until the early hours and hitting up local bars and clubs, you’ll absolutely adore Glasgow. It’s got the best nightlife scene in all of Scotland, with so many terrific places to dance, party, and have a good time.
From techno raves to traditional Scottish pubs, the options go on and on in Glasgow. Visitors should head to the Market City or West End areas for the liveliest and widest range of nightclubs and bars. Whether you want a rock and roll club, a trendy wine bar, a live DJ performance, or a dance music warehouse, this city’s got you covered.
Edinburgh can’t quite match Glasgow in terms of nightlife options or intensity. However, it’s still not a bad city for people who like to party. There are plenty of good bars and pubs dotted around the historic center, and if you explore some of the student-oriented areas, like Cowgate and Grassmarket, you’ll find more than enough clubs to keep you entertained.
Which Is Better For Food?
The dining scenes in Edinburgh and Glasgow are also quite different. Depending on your culinary preferences and budget, one city may appeal to you more than the other.
Edinburgh is a great place to try all of the traditional Scottish classics, from haggis to whiskey. The capital also has quite a high-end restaurant scene, with multiple upscale eateries and a much greater number of Michelin starred restaurants compared to Glasgow. You may have to book in advance at some of the fancier spots, and there are lots of cocktail bars and pubs, too.
Over in Glasgow, the culinary scene is more oriented around trendy gastro pubs, family-friendly eateries, and places with live band performances to entertain you while you eat. From chilled-out pizzerias to Thai, Indian, and Chinese restaurants galore, Glasgow has more than enough to tantalize your taste buds.
Overall, both cities have very solid dining scenes. If you prefer fancier food, Edinburgh is the place to be, while Glasgow may appeal to those who want to spend a little less, while still enjoying a diverse array of menus and flavors.
Which Has The Best Hotels?
If you intend to spend more than a single day in Glasgow or Edinburgh, you’ll need to find a place to stay. Both cities have a wide, varied selection of accommodation options, but when it comes to the quality and comfort of local hotels, Edinburgh is by far the better city to visit.
This is understandable, as Edinburgh is much more touristic compared to Glasgow. It draws in visitors in much bigger numbers, so has a wider selection of places to rest your head. The options range from humble, backpacker-friendly hostels to big chain hotels, boutique guesthouses, private rentals dotted around the city center, and luxurious old properties.
In contrast, Glasgow’s accommodation scene is a little simpler. Most of the hotels in this city are simple chains, with relatively basic rooms and essential amenities. They’re perfectly fine places to sleep and stash your luggage, but they’re not quite as special or elaborate as some of Edinburgh’s top hotels.
Which Is Best For Families?
Heading to Scotland with the kids? In that case, you’ll need to choose carefully between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Both cities offer fun family attractions, but one definitely has much more of a family vibe than the other.
And it’s Edinburgh that stands out as the better family destination of the two, with a much longer list of things to do with kids. Little ones and teens alike can have the time of their lives touring Edinburgh Castle or getting up close and personal with wild animals at Edinburgh Zoo, for example.
Those who don’t mind a fright can head to the Edinburgh Dungeons to learn about the darker side of the city’s past, and Harry Potter fans will adore visiting key locations where J. K. Rowling wrote the books and found her inspiration for locations like Diagon Alley. There’s also the cute Greyfriars Bobby statue, the Botanical Gardens, and multiple museums with interactive exhibits.
Compared to all that, Glasgow isn’t such a dream destination for families. However, it still has several fun places to spend time with kids, especially older ones. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, for example, has some awesome artifacts and artwork to admire, while the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens in Glasgow Green are pleasant to explore on a sunny day.
Overall, Edinburgh is definitely the city to pick if you’re traveling as a family. Glasgow is much more suited to adults-only trips.
Which Is Best For Couples?
For couples, the choice between Glasgow and Edinburgh is a little trickier than it would be for families. Both cities can appeal to couples of all ages, with plenty of fun and interesting ways to spend your days.
If you want romance and beauty, Edinburgh is the better option. Its Old Town is simply magical, with cute cobblestone streets, secret alleys, charming little shops, and lots of medieval buildings to admire. Then, there are also the castles and palaces, government buildings, museums, intriguing night tours, and high-end restaurants, as well as better, more luxurious hotels.
Glasgow, meanwhile, can offer a few things to couples that Edinburgh can’t. It might not be as scenic or spectacular from a traditional sense, but it’s a city with a lot of heart and personality. It’s free of the tourist traps that can be found around Edinburgh, and has better quality live entertainment and nightlife for couples who enjoy that kind of thing.
Overall, if you want a typical, romantic city break, Edinburgh is the one to choose. It’s also better for couples who like history and fine dining, but Glasgow can appeal to couples looking for a rawer, more authentic experience, as well as those who want to enjoy lots of good quality live entertainment.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
Backpackers from around the world often head to Edinburgh and Glasgow to find out more about Scottish culture and history, mingle with the locals, and enjoy some authentically Scottish experiences. But which city is best for the average backpacker?
Well, Edinburgh is the more accessible. It’s easier to get around, has a wider range of hostels, and is more walkable. It also has a longer list of key touristic sites to visit, and backpackers who love history or Harry Potter can have a fabulous time exploring this city. Plus, with so many other tourists from around the world, you may find it easier to mingle and make friends.
Glasgow has the benefit of being slightly cheaper than Edinburgh, and it has less of a touristic vibe. So, if you’re the kind of backpacker who likes to get off the beaten path and have more authentic experiences, you might prefer Glasgow. It’s also great for live entertainment and nightlife lovers, although it’s trickier to navigate and has fewer things to do.
It’s also worth noting that the locals in both cities have very different accents. Many people in Edinburgh almost sound more English than Scottish, while Glasgow is famed for its thick accent and dialect which can be a little tricky to understand. For solo backpackers who aren’t familiar with the area, Glasgow can therefore feel a bit more overwhelming.
Overall, Edinburgh is the better choice for most backpackers.
Which Is Cheaper?
Cost is yet another factor that many travelers need to take into account when trying to decide between two destinations, like Edinburgh and Glasgow. Price-wise, there isn’t a huge difference between these cities, but you’ll probably spend slightly less in Glasgow compared to the Scottish capital.
Accommodation tends to be a little cheaper in Glasgow, and so does the food. Glasgow also has quite a lot of free things to do, like Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Riverside Museum, and the Burrell Collection. Meanwhile, attractions in Edinburgh tend to come with price tags, so the average week in the capital will cost a bit more.
So, if you’re traveling on a strict budget and want to make it last, Glasgow is the better city to choose.
Where to Stay According to your Budget
Budget: YOTEL Glasgow, located in the heart of Glasgow, offers air-conditioned rooms, a fitness center, and complimentary WiFi. With a 24-hour front desk, this 4-star hotel provides a convenient and modern experience. Enjoy a drink at the bar and wake up to a delightful breakfast. It’s the perfect base for exploring Glasgow’s attractions. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Kimpton – Blythswood Square Hotel, nestled in the heart of Glasgow, offers luxury rooms with free Wi-Fi and captivating architecture. This 5-star hotel, once the home of the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, features a relaxed yet elegant restaurant and bar, as well as The Salon for scenic afternoon tea. Each room boasts modern amenities and bathrobes. The Spa at Blythswood Square is currently undergoing enhancements to provide an even more exceptional experience, with complimentary access times for guests. See photos and rates!
Budget: Aparthotel Adagio Edinburgh Royal Mile, in the heart of Edinburgh, offers free WiFi and well-equipped apartments. A 10-minute walk from Waverley station, each apartment features a kitchenette and a private bathroom. Some include a cozy seating area. A Continental breakfast is offered, and the 24-hour reception ensures a convenient stay. The hotel is close to major attractions, including Edinburgh Playhouse and the iconic Edinburgh Castle. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Virgin Hotels Edinburgh, a 5-star haven in the heart of Edinburgh, offers air-conditioned rooms, a fitness center, and free WiFi. The hotel’s restaurant and bar provide a stylish setting for guests. Each room is well-equipped with modern amenities, offering comfort and convenience. Discover nearby attractions, including The Real Mary King’s Close, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, and the National Museum of Scotland. Edinburgh Airport is conveniently close, just 5.6 miles away. See photos and rates!
Glasgow vs Edinburgh: Which Is Better?
Overall, Glasgow and Edinburgh are both fantastic cities in their own right, and it’s best to visit both, if you get the time. Since they’re only an hour apart on the train, it’s not too tricky for most travelers to hop between them. But what if you only have the time or budget to see just one of them?
Well, if we look back over this guide, a clear winner stands out: Edinburgh. It wins in a lot of the key categories, like family attractions, romantic vibes for couples, and range of activities. There’s just so much to do in this city, you’re guaranteed to never get bored, and it generally feels more welcoming and pleasant to wander around, with hidden gems round every corner.
At the same time, Glasgow shouldn’t be overlooked or ignored. It’s a fabulous city, perfect for those who prefer to evade the typical touristic spots and see something different. Lively, fast-paced, and dynamic, this city’s got a lot to offer for those who are willing to explore it, and if you want a rich, authentic Scottish adventure you’ll never forget, this is the place to be.