With its two airports (Glasgow International and Prestwick), Glasgow is the main gateway to Scotland for visitors arriving by air, and it is also Scotland’s most important rail centre. If you are arriving in Glasgow by rail, you can also pick up a hire car at Glasgow Central station.
So is there any need to get a hire car when visiting the city and the vast range of scenic destinations which can be reached from here?
- Glasgow is the gateway for western Scotland, including Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and the Scottish Highlands and Islands. This region has a relatively sparse public transport links, so you will have much more flexibility in a hire car.
- The greater Glasgow area has many interesting buildings to visit, including the Mackintosh Trail, and the stunning Burrell Collection in Pollok Park. A car will give you much more flexibility when travelling around these places.
- Although Glasgow has a comprehensive public transport network, this is essentially aimed at suburban commuters — to reach some of the interesting destinations in greater Glasgow, you may have to go by bus.
- Glasgow’s West End is well worth exploring, and car will give you more flexibility than waiting for buses. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery is another must-see attraction.
- A car is ideal for exploring the historic Clyde river bank, including for visiting the Glasgow Science Centre and the Armadillo.
- Glasgow may have an excellent suburban and regional rail network, but it is still disjointed. There is no rail link to Glasgow Airport, there are two stations which are only linked by shuttle bus, and the east-west lines alternate between serving Queen St and serving Glasgow Central, so you need to keep tab of the right times to end up where you want to be.
- The Glasgow subway only operates in one loop, and does not connect directly with the main Glasgow Central Station (connect via St Enoch). The subway is extremely cramped, and impossible to use for anyone with any kind of mobility impairment.
- Glasgow Central station car hire – you can hire a car from Enterprise in Oswald Street, which is directly adjacent to Glasgow Central station. Note there are no car rental facilities inside or directly adjacent to Glasgow Queen Street station.
- Compared to nearby Edinburgh (see our Edinburgh car hire guide), Glasgow has a much more substantial network of suburban rail services, so it is much easier to get around the Glasgow region by train, without needing to bother with the hassles of a hire car. This network wasn’t just built for commuting – it was also developed to give Glaswegians access to coastal resorts and other scenic areas.
- You can travel by train to Balloch, for Loch Lomond, where station is right next to the terminal for Loch Lomond pleasure cruisers.
- Glasgow is the start of the West Highland Line to Oban and Mallaig – this is one of the most scenic railway journeys in Europe. The stretch across Rannoch Moor is utterly stunning, and is one of several stretches of this journey which can only be reached by train, as there are no roads nearby.
- You can also take the train to destinations such as Wemyss Bay or Ardrossan to catch ferries to islands across the Firth of Clyde such as Arran and Bute.
- The Falkirk wheel is an excellent excursion from either Glasgow or Edinburgh. It is best appreciated by bike — this will be a fantastic day trip along the Forth and Clyde Canal from Glasgow or the Union Canal from Edinburgh. However, you will naturally get there much quicker my car, even if this means skipping out some of the good bits along the canal.
- Glasgow city centre has many superb buildings from its industrial heyday, and some interesting modern ones too. The best way to appreciate these by far is to be on foot.
- Amongst the impressive Victorian heritage of Glasgow are its two great stations — Glasgow Central, which is undoubtedly the finest station in Scotland, and the smaller Glasgow Queen Street with its vaulted roof.
- The main public transport hubs in Glasgow are directly adjacent to prominent city centre landmarks — when you exit from Glasgow Queen Street station, a vista of George Square and Glasgow City Chambers opens up on your left. Glasgow Central Station sits right on top of the Clyde riverbank, and takes you directly onto the main shopping streets.
- A visit to Glasgow should include a trip to the People’s Palace. Trips like these are best done as a leisurely stroll, and you may want to take public transport back in the opposite direction – the same applies to Glasgow Science Centre and the Armadillo.
- Glasgow is famous for its two legendary football clubs — Rangers who play at Ibrox and Celtic, who play at Parkhead (also known as Celtic Park). Both of these stadiums are within easy reach of the city centre by underground or bus. Trying to park at either these stadiums is an unnecessary nightmare.
- No visit to Glasgow is complete without a journey on its legendary Clockwork Orange Underground system (known officially as the Glasgow Subway), only the third in the world when it opened, after London and Budapest. Just make sure that you haven’t been indulging in too much whisky or Tennants Super before venturing down the steep steps to its narrow platforms. However, the system does close at 11 pm, and as early as 6pm on Sundays, long before chucking out time!
So ultimately, do you need a car in Glasgow? For the city itself and anywhere within the “SPT” network, ie most places within around a one hour train ride from Glasgow, there’s really no need for a car at all, as public transport isn’t just excellent, it’s vastly superior to what you will find in any other UK city outside London. Unlike many other cities, the Glasgow suburban train network is also really good for getting to the coast, or to other scenic places like Loch Lomond – it’s much more than just a scattering of commuter shuttles. Once you start getting well outside the city, there’s no doubt that a rental car is going to be useful for some itineraries, but it’s still far from essential. If you only ever make one trip outside Glasgow (other than to Edinburgh), then make it a journey on the legendary West Coast Mainline.