Milngavie is a commuter town, with much of its working population travelling to Glasgow to work or study. The town is served by Milngavie railway station on the North Clyde Line of the SPT rail network, which links it to Central Glasgow. The town is also a very popular retirement location, with an unusually high proportion of senior citizens. In the 2001 census the town had a recorded population of 12,795 in 5,256 households.
Currently the town is perhaps best known as the start of the West Highland Way long distance footpath which runs northwards for 95 miles to the town of Fort William. A granite obelisk in the town centre marks the official starting point of the footpath.
Although known today as a dormitory suburb of Glasgow, the town grew from a country village to a minor industrial centre in the nineteenth century with paper mills and bleach works on the Allander River to the north east of the town centre. Some remnants of this industry remain today on the Clober Industrial Estate.
The land surrounding the village comprised several estates with tenant farms, amongst them Barloch, Clober, Craigton, Craigdhu, Dougalston, Douglas Mains and South Mains.
Stone built villas and semi detached houses were constructed for wealthy citizens to the east of the town centre and around Tannoch Loch when commuting to Glasgow was made possible by the opening of the railway which reached the town in 1863. After World War II a local authority housing scheme was built to the west of the town centre, housing many people relocated from Clydebank which had been badly bombed. The town grew with the addition of private speculative housing developments of bungalows and semi-detached homes at South Mains to the south of the town centre and around Clober, to the west, in the 1950s and 1960s. The Fairways estate was built in the 1980s and the Mains estate increased the population in the 1990s.
In the early 1980s, the town centre was redeveloped to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety. The central commercial streets were pedestrianised and many buildings replaced. A superstore was opened on the fringes of the town centre in the 1990s.
Residents launched a "tongue in cheek" campaign to bring the Olympic games to Milngavie in 2020.
Milngavie is located to the north of the neighbouring town of Bearsden. Although the two are in close proximity, the social histories of these two towns differ significantly. Bearsden grew almost exclusively as a dormitory suburb of Glasgow for the wealthy and professional classes. In that sense both towns now fulfil a similar role. The two became a single local authority district in 1975, before Scottish Local Government reorganisation in the 1990s re-integrated them with Kirkintilloch and Bishopbriggs to form East Dunbartonshire, although transport and social networks link the town much more closely with Glasgow itself.
Certain properties in the locale can command some of the highest house prices in the greater Glasgow urban area. This has led to its reputation as an exclusive residential area and an aspirational destination for home buyers.
Local beauty spots include Tannoch Loch, Drumclog Moor and the Mugdock Reservoir that sit on high ground to the north of the town amid pleasant landscaping and offer views over the Glasgow region. The Milngavie waterworks, opened by Queen Victoria, were constructed in the nineteenth century to provide clean drinking water for the city of Glasgow and form the end point of an aqueduct that brings fresh water over twenty miles from Loch Katrine solely through gravitational force.
Mugdock Country Park is located a short drive north of the town.
Little remains of the pre-nineteenth century village other than the Corbie Ha' meeting hall, Cross Keys Public House and the Gavin's Mill water mill on the Allander River along with Barloch House and Barloch Farm.
There are a few good examples of nineteenth century stone villas along the Station Road as well as the well preserved nineteenth century railway station. Many interesting Victorian houses around the Tannoch Conservation Area show Scottish cottage, Scottish Baronial, Classical architecture and Gothic influences. The town centre and Strathblane Road have remaining Victorian shop/tenement buildings and a few Arts and crafts influenced commercial buildings. Craigmillar Avenue and the area around Baldernock Road have some large Arts and Crafts and Glasgow Style influenced houses.
The bulk of the housing stock is twentieth century, showing Scottish vernacular influences such as harling or rough-casting, and more traditionally English elements like black and white timber paneled dormer windows and gables.
The public sheltered housing projects of the 1970s and 1980s are interesting for their attempts to use traditional local materials like grey rough-cast and slate plus interesting rounded walls and pitched roofs.
The most recent development is characterised by some interesting one-off conversions and extensions to Victorian properties; new housing by developers that often follows designs based on the brick architecture of the South of England; and contemporary steel framed commercial and leisure buildings.
Originally Milngavie was in the Parish of New Kilpatrick, the church being that of New Kilpatrick in Bearsden, with no formal place of worship in the town until the eighteenth century. Milngavie has three stone built churches dating from the early twentieth century within 500 m of each other. Up until the 1970s these three were all Church of Scotland congregations: St.Paul's, Cairns, and St.Luke's. This came about due to the history of the Kirk (Church of Scotland) which saw a multitude of factions and congregations organise, each with varying forms of worship and constitutional arrangements, which subsequently re-integrated. St.Paul's was always in the fold of the Church of Scotland and is the parish church of Milngavie. It was originally housed in a simple grey stone church building above the Station Road beside the Milngavie Primary School before moving to a handsome red sandstone building on the Strathblane Road in 1906. The original building is now apartments. Since 1799 Cairns Church had been located in a building on Mugdock Road close to the 'preaching braes' on Barloch Moor where the congregation's first services had taken place. It moved to its present building on Buchanan Street in 1903 which displays elements of the Glasgow Style of architecture and design. St.Luke's had been built as the Milngavie United Free Church. In the 1970s it was decided that the concentration of churches in one area should be reviewed and a new St. Lukes was built on the western side of the town to serve the residents of Clober. The Roman Catholic Church bought the old St.Luke's Church and moved their congregation to the new premises from a chapel on Buchanan Street at Moor Road which was associated with the neighbouring Roman Catholic Convent of Ladywood which closed in the 1970s.
Rangers F.C. has its professional training facility at Auchenhowie Road in the east of the town.
Due to the town's suburban and residential profile it is home to many sporting clubs and facilities.