Only an hour apart by train, Glasgow and Edinburgh feel far more distinct than the distance between them suggests. With different attitudes, accents, and almost unrecognisable looks, the cities represent two very separate faces of Scotland. Cliches abound about both – and are often perpetuated by the other – but the choice of Edinburgh vs Glasgow may well boil down to a matter of time. 

Edinburgh, the cultured capital, is a city ready made for tourists, with obvious attractions; Glasgow, the one-time industrial behemoth, requires more discovery but arguably offers greater rewards. So which should you visit? Here is how the two cities compare.

Hotels: Edinburgh blows Glasgow out the water

Despite being the smaller city, Edinburgh attracts three times more visitors each year than its old rival and blows Glasgow out the water when it comes to places to stay. To cope with this massive demand, brands from across the world have flocked to the Scottish capital, joining an array of domestic options. Properties like the outstanding Kimpton Charlotte Square sit on the edge of the main tourist drag and more suburban neighbourhoods, while long-established grand hotels like The Balmoral have been welcoming guests for over a century.

Glasgow’s accommodation scene is comparatively humble, with its offerings focussing more on capacity and location rather than looks. Many of the most popular hotels are simply those next to large event spaces. It’s not totally bereft of luxury, however – the city centre Dakota has many admirers, as does the Hotel Du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens. Ultimately, though, the choice is narrower and the high-end nowhere near as lofty.

Our pick: Edinburgh

Finnieston Bridge and Ship Building Crane, Glasgow
Modern museums and varied architecture are features of the Glasgow city experience © Getty Images

Things to do: Edinburgh puts on quite the itinerary, but Glasgow is an exciting treasure hunt

As the second-most visited city in Britain after London, Edinburgh puts on quite the itinerary. Home to the nation’s best museums, most important monuments, and one unignorable, famously unconquered castle, you need only step out of Waverley Station to see that you’re going to have a busy day ahead. On top of all this, there are some of Scotland’s rare Michelin-starred restaurants, the surprisingly charming seaside neighbourhood of Portobello, rapidly gentrifying Leith and, for good measure, Arthur’s Seat, an outstanding city park and hilltop climb offering grand views back towards Edinburgh Old Town.

Over in Glasgow, it’s something more of a treasure hunt. The Finnieston neighbourhood has established itself as perhaps the most exciting culinary artery in Scotland over the last decade, while gig venues like the iconic Barrowlands provide an atmosphere you simply cannot find in Edinburgh. The Kelvingrove Art Museum’s astonishing collection is remarkably free to the public and its adjoining park is perhaps the most handsome in the nation.

 Our pick: Edinburgh

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Nina Nesbitt performs on stage at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut on January 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns) Redferns
King Tut's Wah Wah Hut is one of many excellent venues and bars in Glasgow © Roberto Ricciuti / Redferns

Edinburgh is known for being pretty and Glasgow is famous for being fun

It might be a bit reductive but essentially Edinburgh is famous for being pretty and Glasgow is known for being fun. The same might be said of their people. Edinburgh’s heavily Unesco-endorsed centre is perhaps the most complete and photogenic anywhere in the UK, providing visitors a sense of time travel back to another, more prosperous age. To reinforce this, many of the shops and restaurants exist to cater for mass tourism rather than locals – you’ll see a lot more tartan and hear many more bagpipes here than you ever will in the west. This is never more true than during the annual Edinburgh Festival, the world’s largest arts and culture event, which runs through August.

Glasgow, meanwhile, is famous as a hard-drinking, hard-living city. As the major ship-building city for the British Navy in the WWII, it was bombed extensively by enemy air forces. Some of those wounds were scarred with ugly modern architecture, but in truth Glasgow was never as pretty as Edinburgh in the first place. Instead of seeing, it’s more a city for doing – every night of the week there are events on in Glasgow, a revolving cavalcade of gigs, comedy, performance and, of course, partying. You’ll actually meet locals too – and they’ll talk to you.

Our pick: Glasgow

Looking over Edinburgh Old Town to Arthurs Seat
Edinburgh has plenty of history to explore on walking tours of the city © Martin McCarthy / Getty Images

Attractions for families: Edinburgh has the history, Glasgow the parks and kid-friendly museums

Kids will need to have a serious interest in history to get the most out of Edinburgh, though joining one of the Harry Potter walking tours will likely make the mass of stone buildings more interesting. Young imaginations are usually triggered by Edinburgh Castle, too. The addition – and ongoing extension – of the tram service makes getting around the place less arduous for little legs, but expect to want to take breaks in Princes Street Gardens.

If the weather turns ugly – and it often does – Glasgow’s Science Centre and the Riverside Museum make for ideal days out with the kids. However, Glasgow translates as Dear Green Place, and the likes of Queen’s Park, Glasgow Green and Pollok Country Park are all fabulous when the sun is shining.

Our pick: A draw

Is Edinburgh or Glasgow expensive to visit? It’s marginal, but both are cheaper than London

Edinburgh is generally a little more expensive than Glasgow, but it’s mostly a marginal call and both are significantly cheaper than London. In Edinburgh, the sheer range of options means it’s easier to spend more money – it has posh wine bars and fancy restaurants catering to affluent crowds who tend not to visit Glasgow. Then there are all the attractions, meaning you’re more likely to have your hand in your pocket throughout the day. 

While Glasgow is slowly becoming more expensive too – in Cail Bruich it finally has a Michelin-starred restaurant again – in general the food is cheaper and the tourist traps almost non-existent. 

Our pick: Glasgow

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