Glasgow Necropolis - Exploring the City of the Dead Header

Glasgow Necropolis – Exploring the City of the Dead

Victorian Graves in black shadows as the sun sets behind with an orange glow and a dark blue sky in the Glasgow Necropolis




As darkness falls, and as the sparkling lights of the city appear in the distance, I’m encapsulated by a stunning silhouette of Victorian tombs, monuments, and mausoleums in the Glasgow Necropolis. A crisp winter breeze keeps me company as I quietly make my way through the “City of the Dead.” The entire necropolis is mine for the evening, and I embrace the peaceful silence it has to offer.

History of the Glasgow Necropolis

Officially opened in 1833, Glasgow Necropolis was modeled after the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Originally, the necropolis was planned to have a tiered level of catacombs under the hill to combat body snatchers, or “resurrection men”, who would steal bodies for anatomists who were willing to offer a generous sum for fresh corpses.

During this time, surgeons and medical students had to rely on one executed criminal’s body per year, so the act of grave robbing was prevalent across Britain and became a grizzly profession for many who would provide much-needed bodies/body parts to their customers.

In 1832, Scotland created the Anatomy Act which provided a legitimate supply of corpses for medical studies. This ensured that the resurrection men would no longer be a worry and the catacombs were not built.

Six aged, mossy and weathered Victorian style grave stones and tombs with the Glasgow skyline in the back ground as the sun sets casting a dark shadow glow on the graves.

The historic Cathedral House Hotel, where I stay, overlooks the Glasgow Necropolis. It emanates a distinct sense of spookiness – once functioning as a hostel for inmates released by the nearby (now closed and demolished)  Duke Street Prison. Some have said that an active ghost will brush up against you in the winding stairwell. 

Moving chairs have been heard and, perhaps most hauntingly of all, the sounds of giggling children! The only ghostly experience I hear is the rustling of keys as a nearby hotel patron struggles to enter their room. Since I don’t actually see any other guests for the duration of my stay – it could be the “White Woman”, who is renowned for her presence in the Necropolis!

Walking through the Glasgow Necropolis

After checking into the hotel, I immediately cross the street to visit the Necropolis and get a sense of the calming atmosphere. As I slowly climb up the stone paths, my eyes wander to each epitaph as I enjoy the history of the place. With 3500 tombs, there are many architectural variations of gravestones. Some gravestones have draped urns which are associated with cremation.

In Victorian times, people were normally buried, so the urn was used as a reference to the ancient Greeks who chose to cremate their dead. This, for the Victorians, symbolized that the deceased were cultured and educated. Gravestones with columns were also used to represent the head of the household. Some of the gravestones have images of skulls, clasped hands, scrolls, doves and even images of the deceased themselves!

A green hill lined with several graves, cemetery stones and tombstones with a deciduous tree with no leaves sits behind the graves. The sun is setting and a red glow lights up the gravestones in the Glasgow Necropolis

Victorian Gravestones Symbolism

Seeing all of this symbolism leads me to think about the lives of the people buried beneath. When I look at the epitaphs on each gravestone I pass, I always take note of how old they were when they died.

My mind skips over the people who lived full, long lives – but my thought lingers with the children or people who died early in life. I try to think about what historical events would’ve happened around their time of death.

Was it some horrible epidemic that spread illness through the land? Were they unfortunate enough to suffer from something that could so easily be cured today? Did they fall victim to a grotesque murder? It’s like taking a step back into history and bringing these people back to life, if only just briefly!

Glasgow Necropolis at night

As night approaches, the last remaining visitors slowly descend the hill towards the exit of the necropolis. The mausoleums, tombs, and gravestones I pass are weathered and overgrown with moss, revealing just how long they’ve been there,  I stand in solace, taking in the silence and stillness.

The cemetery was just as beautiful and peaceful in the shade of the night as it was when the last light peeked through the clouds. Not wanting to get lost in the labyrinthine 37 acres, I make my way back to my hotel, excitedly anticipating my visit to the cemetery again in the morning.

Two mossy graves that are weathered, aged and hard to read in Glasgow Necropolis. Overcast sky with more graves and tombstones and autumn trees with no leaves behind the two graves that sit next to each other.

Glasgow Necropolis – Morning Walk

I wake up before the sun rises and hurry toward the necropolis. As I approach the main gates, rays of golden sun wash over the tombs. The necropolis comes alive with the sounds of birds and squirrels who have made their home among the dead.

I snap as many pictures as I can before entering the enchanting cemetery. As I make my way up to the memorial of John Knox which towers over the entire necropolis, I hear, off in the distance, the faint sounds of a pipe band complete with bagpipes and drums.

I am in a quiet, peaceful haven, far away from the bustling city that is just waking up and coming to life.

The sun rises with a calm yellow and blue cloud filled sky with the silhouette of several gravestones lined up next to each other in front of the Sunrise at Glasgow Necropolis




Glasgow Necropolis Tours

Visiting Glasgow Necropolis was such an amazing experience, and it will forever hold a place in my memories as one of the best mornings I’ve had in Scotland.

Although I opted to explore the necropolis on my own, the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis offer many guided walking tours which may be beneficial for those who don’t know too much about the history of the site. You can learn more about the guided tours by visiting the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis website.

Getting to Glasgow Necropolis:

The Necropolis is located on Castle Street, which is on the eastern edge of Glasgow City Centre and on the second highest hill in Glasgow. The main gates sit behind St Mungo’s Museum and are adjacent to Glasgow Cathedral. Walking from the Glasgow Cross, follow the high street until you reach St. Mungo’s Museum. You can find more information about this route on the Glasgow Necropolis website.

You can also get maps of the Necropolis from the Glasgow City Council’s Necropolis Heritage Trail site.

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Comments 12

  1. If you do visit Père Lachaise Cemetery, I recommend staying or eating at Hotel Mama Shelter. It is a bit wacky but kinda cool!

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      Thank you! I will definitely visit Père Lachaise in the future. I do like a wacky hotel, so I’ll be sure to check it out.

  2. Awesome post! Definitely adding this to my “must visit” list! 😊

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  3. I stay in the city but haven’t visited the Glasgow Necropolis in a while. It’s a beautiful, serene place that fills me with an overwhelming sense of calm. I do the same thing you do and try to envision their lives before they died and imagine what type of people they were. There’s one part of the place that gave me the creeps – it’s a cylindrical sandstone tomb or crypt atop the hill. Ever get something that just gives off bad vibes? It’s probably just me being superstitious but I didn’t want to be anywhere near it. Still, I’ll need to revisit soon and take the camera with me and hope I don’t bump into any ghosts! I imagine it’d be such a sight under the lilac gloaming sky.

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      I don’t remember the cylindrical sandstone tomb on the hill – I 100% have to look for it next time I’m in Glasgow an see if I get bad vibes from it too. Yeah, I find that the necropolis is the most beautiful at dawn and dusk. Perfect time for a lilac sky!

  4. Have you heard of Burke & Hare? The beginning of your post made me think of them, as they started out as entrepreneurial grave robbers operating out of Edinburgh. But when it wasn’t bringing in enough money fast enough, they began murdering people to keep up with demand. Nowadays, you can still see Burke’s skeleton Edinburgh Medical School, where it was donated… so that he could do his part for science… as he’d clearly wanted so dearly in life…

    I love exploring beautiful cemeteries, although I haven’t been to the one in Glasgow. I always wonder what sort of fate befell people, as well. When we were in Zagreb, we visited the Mirogoj cemetery, and one thing I started to look for was how many people died during the war, and I wondered if some of of them died of other reasons, and it was coincidental, or if they were all war-related (even if not murder, was it due to starvation, exposure, old age & no facilities to care for them, etc). Although interestingly, while there were quite a few gravestone in the cemetery with war dates on them, the vast majority were not from them… so of course I then started to wonder where they were buried, and how many had wound up in unmarked graves…

    Anyway, this is a lovely piece and looks right up our alley whenever we’re next in Glasgow 🙂

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      I have heard of them! I have also seen the death mask of Burke at the Surgeons Hall Museum in Edinburgh. I wonder if there is a way I could go see his skeleton on my next visit. Should of taken the opportunity to do that when I had friends going there. You know, in the Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh – it’s super hilly due to having so many unmarked graves beneath it. I wonder if it was similar in the Mirogoj cemetery (which I haven’t actually heard of so I will need to google it!). So sad that so many people end up in unmarked graves, but I do guess that as so many people have passed it is difficult using so much land for the dead. Hope you enjoy your time at the necropolis next time you are in Glasgow!

  5. Hello! I found your blog accidentaly, scrolling down my pinterest wall and I fell in love with places you described (also from the whole article ‘Historic Edinburgh Cemeteries to Explore’), although I’ve never been there. If you ever travel to the middle and Eastern Europe I highly recommend you to visit Lychakiv Cemetery and Cemetery of The Defenders of Lwów (called The Cemetery of Eaglets). What you can find there is a huge amount of beautifully handcrafted tombstones with sculptures (angels or dead themselves, crafted according to tombstone art from former centuries). You can also find there a lot of resting places of some famous Poles and Ukrainians. Remarkable experience.

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      Thank you so much! I really do love old graveyards – all of the carved imagery on each tombstone representing different meanings is so intriguing. I have not yet travelled too far east (only as far as Romania) but I am eager to visit Ukraine! I will be sure to visit both the Lychakiv Cemetery and Cemetery of The Defenders of Lwów. The way you describe the tombstones makes them sound utterly beautiful and historic.

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