They have a world-wide appeal and before the pandemic, Glasgow's museums and collections drew more than four million visitors a year.

From its natural history collection to the Salvador Dali Christ of St John of the Cross painting, voted Scotland’s favourite painting in a Herald poll, there is something to suit all tastes at venues across the city.

Run by Glasgow Life, the arms-length council organisation, the city's culture and leisure services were hit by the pandemic with venues forced to close.

Glasgow Life has lost £38m during the pandemic and its estimated income for 2021/22 is just £6.4m.

An agreed council funding deal will see Glasgow Life receive a guaranteed £100m for the next four years to open 90 out of its 171 venues. Without further funding, they say they cannot reopen any more venues.

It is why The Herald is leading a campaign for A Fair Deal for Glasgow calling for the city’s venues and treasures to be funded appropriately and for both the Scottish and UK governments to come together to deliver a new funding plan for Glasgow’s culture and leisure services.

Here we feature some of the highlights in the Glasgow Museums venues and collections and some lesser known but equally awe-inspiring hidden gems.


Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was founded as the last great museum of the Victorian era. It was opened in 1901 for the Industrial Exhibition, and in 1902 opened as Glasgow’s civic art gallery and museum. By the time of its closure for restoration in 2003 it was established as the most visited Museum and Art Gallery outside of London, it reopened after refurbishment in 2006 and pre Covid 19 regularly welcomed in excess of 1.3 million visits a year.

The museum and art gallery house a staggering 8,000 objects in 22 themed galleries as well as hosting a variety of exciting temporary exhibitions. Highlights range from fine art to natural history, arms and armour, human history, Ancient Egypt, and even a real Spitfire.

Glasgow Museums has an extensive and internationally significant collection of art. It comprises over 60,000 objects from all parts of the world, which date from about 1100 to the present.

Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross painting, on display at Kelvingrove is arguably Glasgow’s most iconic artwork and was voted Scotland’s favourite painting in a Herald poll. Kelvingrove is a complete treasure chest of art, displaying works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh, alongside British painters such as JMW Turner and Scottish artists including many of The Glasgow Boys and Joan Eardley.


Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali

Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali



For many families the natural history collection in the West Court is the first place they head. Sir Roger the Elephant is synonymous with Glasgow’s most popular visitor attraction, but for many the recently displayed leopard, originally from a zoo in Glasgow is a highlight. It had been stored in the freezer at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre for many years, before a redisplay in 2015 provided an opportunity to conserve and display it. The leopard now ‘stalks’ the migrating animals in the Serengeti display.


Sir Roger the Asian elephant, one of the most popular exhibits with families and children in Kelvingrove.

Sir Roger the Asian elephant, one of the most popular exhibits with families and children in Kelvingrove.



The city’s natural history collection has over 585,000 specimens, which date from about 2,800 million years ago in the Precambrian to the present. If you look closely, you’ll also spot a haggis. Of course, this animal isn’t really an animal at all. It was ‘created’ from various parts of other natural history specimens stuck together. Its presence in the Scotland’s Wildlife gallery at Kelvingrove is a good-natured Scottish joke that can sometimes puzzle foreign visitors.

While many people might be familiar with the Avant Garde armour at Kelvingrove, which is one of the oldest complete sets of armour in the world from 1438, a suit of armour from Kiribati, Micronesia also on display in the Conflict and Consequence gallery is a perfect example of making the best of what you have around you.


Kelvingroves armour collection is widely viewed

Kelvingrove's armour collection is widely viewed



It is made from coconut fibre, with beautiful decorative elements made from feather and human hair. The helmet is fashioned from the inflated skin of a porcupine fish and the ‘blades’ of the sword from shark’s teeth that are intricately bound to the wooden shaft with a fine coconut fibre cord. The helmet was more for making the warrior look fierce rather than for protection.

Katie Webbe, a curator with Glasgow Life, remembers: “It was my favourite object during the Kelvingrove refurbishment project for the sheer innovation in using natural resources it represented. The curious shield that rises from the back of the armour was for protection, from their own side. Apparently, the women would stand behind the warriors and throw rocks at the opposition. Likewise, the sword is not simply for show and shark’s teeth were commonly used throughout the Pacific on weaponry. I can assure you they are still in fine shape - my knuckles bled on several occasions after nicking the teeth during cleaning.”

Riverside Museum

Riverside, Scotland’s award-winning transport and travel museum, houses Glasgow’s world-class transport collection displaying everything from cars and trains to skateboards and wheelchairs, telling the stories of the people behind the objects. It displays some 3,000 highlights from Glasgow Museums extensive collection of over 21,000 objects related to transport and technology.

One of the largest is the South African Railways locomotive. The project of finding it in South Africa, bringing it to Glasgow and then conserving it was a mammoth task. It travelled through the city on a lorry and had to be put in Riverside before they could complete the build. Since the museum opened it has generated lots of visitor comments. Many are amazed at its size, others its history in South Africa during the Apartheid era and others on the display about the men who built in in the mid-1940s.


South African Railways locomotive at the Riverside Museum

South African Railways locomotive at the Riverside Museum



Glasgow is renowned throughout the world as a centre for shipbuilding, reflected in the city’s internationally significant collection of ship models, cared for by Glasgow Museums. A project spanning ten years culminated in the publication of a fully illustrated book recording detailed provenance and exhibition histories of all 676 ship models.

One key model is of HMS Sefton 1918. This Clydebuilt-ship model, with its very distinctive pattern, provides an insight into a remarkable intervention in the First World War to protect Allied ships, which were being lost at a terrible rate due to enemy attack. Dazzle Painting was applied to thousands of ships with patterns of bold, contrasting stripes and shapes. These disruptive and deceptive markings confused enemy submarine officers who would be unable to determine the speed, direction or even the shape of a ship.

A trip to Riverside shows us how far the humble bicycle has come. The infinite velodrome at Riverside attracts many visitors, as does the opportunity to see the world’s oldest pedal bike, but bike enthusiasts are often buoyed to see the Howe Spider Roadster of 1885.

An example of a high-wheel bicycle, or penny farthing, produced in Glasgow's east end by the Howe Machine Company of Avenue Street, Calton, the location they called 'the largest cycle factory in the world'. These high bicycles featured at many international exhibitions, including the Paris Expositions of 1878 and 1889 where they received Gold Medals and the Diploma of Honour. The company had branches in London, Bristol and Paris but their Glasgow base was the HQ.


A long-term project is underway at Glasgow Life focussing on the legacies of slavery and empire and continuing to tell the story of the impact the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and the British Empire has had on Glasgow.

As Scotland’s most popular modern art gallery and one of the country’s top ten visitor attractions, the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) has a display charting significant dates in the development of the site, together with important milestones in the cultural development of Glasgow. Stones Steeped in History tells the story from 1777, when the original building was commissioned as a mansion for tobacco merchant, William Cunninghame. It tells visitors the history of the building and is also part of the city’s ambition to aid a deeper understanding of the role slavery played in the narrative of Glasgow.

Growing Up as a Boy, 2000 - Grayson Perry


Grayson Perry vase at GoMA

Grayson Perry vase at GoMA


Glasgow Museums acquired three early works by the experimental potter in 2000, three years before he won The Turner Prize. He encrusts the surfaces of these pots with scores and transfers printed pictorial vignettes to tell stories laced with social commentary and humour. I Dunno and Mr Shitsex, on display at Kelvingrove, explore ideas of mortality and male inadequacies in relationships, whilst Growing Up As A Boy, on display at GoMA, replay some of the emotional traumas of his childhood. Perry explain his detailed creative processes in these programmes, which enables people to appreciate how much thought and skill he puts into every work.


People's Palace

The People’s Palace tells the story of Glasgow and its people from 1750 to the end of the 20th century through paintings, prints and photographs, and a wealth of historic artefacts, film and interactives. It is Glasgow’s popular social history museum and charts the way we used to live.

The displays look at different aspects of ordinary life in Glasgow, including a recreation of a Single End, a mock-up of a Glasgow ‘steamie’ where 1950s housewives washed their families’ clothes and a display of unique banners related to Glasgow’s political history.

The museum is set in historic Glasgow Green, by far the city’s oldest park. Outside the museum stands the Daulton Fountain, first unveiled at Glasgow’s Empire Exhibition in 1888.

Sir Billy Connolly’s banana boots are guaranteed to put a smile on your face, the Big Yin's banana footwear was designed and made by Glasgow pop artist Edmund Smith back in 1974 for Connolly's new stage show. The boots became Connolly's trademark.


Five-yearold twin brothers Elil, left and Llewyn McGreevy-McCann looking at Billy Connollys banana boots that were designed and made by the artist Edmund Smith in 1975.. Photograph by Colin Mearns.

Five-yearold twin brothers Elil, left and Llewyn McGreevy-McCann looking at Billy Connolly's banana boots that were designed and made by the artist Edmund Smith in 1975.. Photograph by Colin Mearns.



A Tale from the Trenches - When Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, most people believed it would be over by Christmas. The reality of what followed could not be more different. Between 1914 and 1918 over half a million Scots enlisted or were conscripted to fight in the war and over 125,000 were killed in some of the bloodiest battles ever fought in modern history. One young man who volunteered only weeks after war was declared was James Riley, a twenty-five-year-old driller who lived in the Gallowgate. He enlisted with the Cameronians and a unique collection of objects in Peoples Palace tells the amazing story of how he narrowly escaped death when shot by a German solider.

In his tunic pocket he carried a small electroplated shaving mirror and a German Soldiers drill book. The bullet passed through the book was prevented from entering his chest by the shaving mirror. Private Riley had probably picked up the drill book from the battlefield as a souvenir of the war; they were given to all German soldiers by the Kaiser and contained practical information and prayers. Private Riley recovered before returning to the trenches. In Glasgow’s collection are letters and cards exchanged between Private Riley and his wife, Jeanne offering a unique insight into life in wartime Glasgow.


The Single End at the Peoples Palace

The Single End at the People's Palace



The Single End display really brings to life how many Glasgow families of the 1930s struggled to make ends meet in the cramped and uncomfortable conditions of a one-room tenement flat.

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, Peter Paul Rubens, about 1625

It was Pippa Stephenson, Curator of European Art, who said museums can sometimes hold secrets waiting to be revealed. This portrait of the handsome, 17th century English courier George Villiers hid behind layers of overpaint and discoloured varnish for decades. Obscuring what lay underneath, it hung at Pollok House as an anonymous portrait for many years. In 2017, during a nail-biting episode of the BBC4 program, Lost Masterpieces, an artist was suggested and confirmed by experts. It was revealed that the painting is in fact by Peter Paul Rubens, one of the greatest Flemish painters of all time.


George Villiers portrait turned out to be a Peter Paul Reubens

George Villiers portrait turned out to be a Peter Paul Reubens


Learning and Access Curator Laura Bauld, said: “This portrait has helped to stimulate the development of the new LGBT history tours of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. George Villiers was a favourite courtier of King James I of England and VI of Scots (1566-1625). Letters written between James and George reveal a deeply loving and physical relationship between the two men for nearly a decade, until James died.”