The City Chambers in Glasgow is a stunning example of grand Victorian architecture and impressive design. Located at the heart of the city, this beautiful building dominates George Square. And has recently become one of my favourite places to explore. It’s now my top recommendation for anyone visiting Scotland’s largest city.
I’ve passed by the City Chambers countless times, often with tour groups. But I had never ventured inside. Recently I had the chance to visit the City Chambers for myself. It gave me an opportunity to see firsthand how magnificent its interior truly is. Upon entering through the main entrance, I was immediately taken aback by the sheer size and beauty of the marbled foyer greeting me. Everything from the intricately carved pillars framing each doorway to the majestic staircase leading up from ground level seemed carefully crafted with precise attention to detail. It almost feels as if time had stood still within these walls!
Step inside for a free tour
I was taking the opportunity to take the twice-daily (on weekdays) free tour of the City Chambers accompanied by an expert guide. Each tour starts at 10.30 am or 2.30 pm. But you need to arrive half an hour beforehand to grab one of the limited tickets. The tickets are issued on a first-come first served basis.
Following a very warm Glaswegian welcome from our guide, I soon began discovering more about the building’s unique history. It was built between 1882-1888 by noted Scottish architect William Young to be the administrative hub for local government affairs within Glasgow. A role it still fulfils to this day. And it cost a staggering £578,000 to build – that’s over £96 million in today’s money.
Surrounded by marble as soon as you enter
Our tour started in the grand marble-adorned entrance hall. It’s said that the City Chambers contain more marble than the Vatican. Even though I had barely ventured into the building it was difficult to take every detail in. At my feet are carefully crafted mosaics of the City’s Coat of Arms – featuring the bird that never flew, the tree that never grew, the bell that never rang and the fish that never swam. Look out for representations of this across the city. You’ll find depictions of these four items throughout Glasgow because they feature in the story about the city’s creation.
Pausing we find the bust of Nelson Mandela and hear how the city councillors granted him the freedom of Glasgow, whilst still incarcerated in prison. We then head up the grand marble staircase. Following in the footsteps of the great man himself, who visited the city whilst South African President to thank the people of Glasgow for their support during the dark apartheid years.
The grand staircase leads up to a domed ceiling adorned with more intricate mosaics. My wife commented that it had a feeling of Hogwarts about it. It comes as no surprise that the building has been used in numerous films and TV series – although not Harry Potter. However, it did stand in as the Kremlin and the Vatican.
I’ve been in many council buildings across the world. Most are rather dull and functional. The councillors in Glasgow have a much grander home in which to work, as we discovered walking along the corridor which houses their offices. Former City Provosts carefully watched our progress gazing down from the portrait-lined walls.
Where debates and arguments unfold
Then we reached what felt like the climax -the Council Chamber – where the city’s 85 councillors come together. Meetings here determine the future of Glasgow for generations to come. Here we find ourselves surrounded by more elaborate detailing. There’s warm Spanish mahogany wooden panelling and windows made from Venetian stained glass. I make a note to come back and watch a meeting of the council and witness a debate unfold as the councillors tussle over a difficult decision.
One thing in particular that left me particularly impressed during my tour was how the building isn’t a museum piece. It’s still a working building used for the same purpose it was designed for over a century ago. I wonder how many Glaswegians never give the building a second thought and have never ventured inside. Yet they have a hidden treasure on their own doorstep.
Four reasons why you should visit Glasgow City Chambers
- Architecture and history: The building’s exterior and interior design is impressive and worth exploring. It boasts stunning stained-glass windows, intricate carvings, and a grand marble staircase that leads to the main hall. The building’s history is also fascinating, and visitors can learn about the city’s past and its role in shaping Glasgow’s development.
- Guided tours: The City Chambers offers free guided tours, which are a fantastic way to learn more about the building’s history and architecture. The tours are led by knowledgeable guides who share interesting stories and facts about the building and its significance to the city. Visitors can explore the building’s various rooms, including the stunning council chambers, where Glasgow’s city council meets.
- Cultural events: The City Chambers hosts various cultural events throughout the year, including concerts, exhibitions, and talks. Visitors can check the events calendar to see what’s on during their visit and plan their trip accordingly.
- Accessibility: The City Chambers is easily accessible, and there are no admission fees, making it an affordable option for visitors. The building is wheelchair accessible, and there is step-free access (via a lift) to access the upper floors visited during the tour.
In conclusion, a visit to Glasgow City Chambers is an excellent choice for visitors to Glasgow who are interested in architecture, history, and culture. With free guided tours, a fascinating history, and a variety of cultural events, there is something for everyone to enjoy.