Glasgow Arts Trail: Mackintosh to murals

Glasgow has long been a city with a thriving arts community, from the late 19th century Glasgow Boys and most notably Charles Rennie Mackintosh, designer of the beautiful Kelvingrove Museum and Glasgow School of Art.

On my first visit to Scotland in over 20 years, I was excited to revisit Mackintosh, excited about showing the kids a bit of my heritage, and even more excited to find the city’s art scene thriving, still.

Glasgow Kelvingrove exterior

I remember studying Mackintosh at school, and my granny telling me stories about Scottish artists. Granny was herself once a young art student at Edinburgh College of Art and part of the arts community in that city. By the time I came into her world she was an elderly art teacher who took me along to class and let me sit at the back, draw pictures and absorb the creativity around me.

As we turn off the highway towards the River Clyde and our hotel, the first thing we notice on the banks of the river is a huge mural of people swimming. We’re here in the middle of winter, with about 7 hours of daylight and positively icy streets, so it’s difficult to imagine ANYBODY swimming.

Glasgow Street Art Swimmer

But I’m intrigued, so as soon as we’ve checked in we get rugged up and go exploring. The streets really are icy so the going is a bit precarious (all the more fun for the kids) and even though it’s only about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it’s well and truly night.

We go and take a closer look at the swimmers (it’s called “The Swimmer”) and turn left down the banks of the Clyde in search of more. Under the Caledonian Railway Bridge we find the next, “The Five Faces”; portraits sharing a yoyo.

Glasgow Street Art 5 Faces

Further down Clyde Street just past St Andrews Cathedral, we find a masterpiece of imagination; “A View of the Clyde” features a couple of scuba divers, a swimming elephant and a giant Dalek.

Glasgow Street Art View of the Clyde Scuba diver

On the other side of the road at Custom House Quay, “Tiger Lucky Eight”, a bright orange tiger sponsored by Tiger Beer.

Glasgow Street Art tiger

We head in towards the main shopping precinct and along the way find a toucan on Howard Street and on Mitchell St we find “The World’s Most Economical Taxi”; a man hailing a floating taxi…

Glasgow Street Art taxi

…and a giant girl with a magnifying glass attempting to pick up tiny passers by; “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”.

Glasgow Street Art Honey I Shrunk the Kids

Taking a different route home we walk an entire block along Argyll Street that is adorned with recreated masterpieces, Van Gogh’s self portrait, the Mona Lisa, and Hokusai’s Great Wave.

Glasgow Street Art Argyll St

The Mural Trail is an ongoing initiative managed by Glasgow City Council, designed to rejuvenate streets and revitalize buildings and vacant sites that look a bit tired.

Glasgow Street Art Hokusai

The first artwork was produced in 2008 and it’s still expanding with artists encourage by council to get involved. A map of the Mural Trail is available to download, to help you find each work of art, all within easy walking distance from each other.

Glasgow Street Art Van Gogh

It’s a fitting introduction to Glasgow and gets the kids a little more interested in learning and discovering more about the Glasgow art scene.

We head the next day to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to learn a bit more about Glasgow’s artistic roots and have a bit of fun along the way in this very hands-on museum.

Glasgow Kelvingrove interior

As we walk from one room to the next we’re taken on a journey through the creative process and introduced to Scottish Art, with galleries dedicated to the Glasgow Boys, the Scottish Colourists and a gallery dedicated to the city’s most famous son, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style, the UK’s contribution to Art Nouveau.

Glasgow Kelvingrove Macintosh exhibit

The museum also has a few significant artworks from around the world, including Dutch Old Masters, French Impressionists and Salvador Dali’s St John of the Cross.

Glasgow Botanic Gardens

We then move through to anthropological and historical exhibits before heading over to the Botanic Gardens for a wander in the crisp cold air and then back into the city centre for a spot of afternoon tea at Willow Tea Rooms on Buchanan Street, recreated in the style of Mackintosh’s original art nouveau designs.

Glasgow Kelvingrove interior

Having fueled up on scones and sandwiches, we head to The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, which is housed in the old Glasgow Herald Building – one of Mackintosh’s first public commissions.

Here you’ll find a permanent Mackintosh Interpretation Centre (or ‘Mack Centre’), which takes you on an interpretive tour of his life and work.

As we wander through the city the spirit of the Scottish art scene is with us constantly, either with the discovery of another mural, or one of the many buildings dotted throughout the city that were designed by Mackintosh.

Glasgow Street Art  panda

It’s great fun – finding a new discovery around each corner, some that we’re searching for, maybe one of Mackintosh’s creations, and some that surprise us, like a mural found by accident while taking a short cut down a lane way.

Glasgow Street Art Toucan

The writer was a guest of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau. For more information on Glasgow visit:

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Mother, travel blogger, social media diva, scuba girl and passionate eco-warrior, on a mission to remove plastic from my life. I also blog here about diving:


  1. Oh I would so love to follow this trail. Living in Glasgow for five years was a joy, so much going on there. I used to go to the student exhibitions at the School of Art and see wonderful things, plus all the theatre and comedy. Sigh! But those winter short days are short… would enjoy this art trail a great deal.

    • Deborah Reply

      It was kind of other-worldly exploring Glasgow in winter – a good deal of exploring was done after dark (the teens are not early risers). I managed to photograph a gorgeous sunrise on this trip – at about 930am 🙂

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