Glasgow is Scotland’s biggest city with a population of just under 600,000. Even so, the city feels spacious, the wide streets and shopping thoroughfares rarely crammed full as in a city like London or Birmingham. Part of the reason lies in its history – the population has almost halved since its peak during the industrial revolution, of which the remnants are still faintly visible in the smoke-blackened Victorian-era buildings.
In comparison to Edinburgh, Glasgow feels more alive and real, a place where people live and work rather than the picture perfect postcard town Edinburgh can appear to be. Glasgow’s wide streets and chatty cabbies make for a personable welcome for visitors, but it’s a city you imagine hurries on whether tourists come or not.
Where to stay
The Park Inn: spacious and central, with optional Irn Bru
After a four-and-a-half-hour journey from London, staying in a hotel within walking distance of the station feels like a relief. No taxis, buses or trains; just a five-minute stroll through a bustling area of town to the Park Inn by Radisson Glasgow City Centre. Glasgow's not short on quality accommodation but location really swings it for this place. There are plenty of bars and a few clubs on the doorstep but happily none of them can be heard from the hotel. The rooms are clean and spacious and there's even a welcome package of a can of Irn Bru and a Tunnock’s caramel bar. Now that's a mini bar offering you don't get every day.
Cool lighting is the way forward at Wee Bar
Five of the best bars
- Waverley Tea Room. Shawlands on the Southside is a little off the beaten track for tourists, but a short taxi journey will take you to this cosily lit cocktail bar. Drinks are well priced (cocktails are around £5 each) and staff are happy to advise and mix drinks to taste.
- The Wee Bar in The Ubiquitous Chip is tucked down cobbled Ashton Lane, a little alleyway of bars on two levels. It’s certainly wee but is lively until at least midnight with a friendly crowd of young and old.
- The Butterfly and the Pig. This bar-cum-restaurant-cum tearoom spans three floors of a townhouse. Food is simple and homemade and live bands frequently feature in the evenings.
- Oran Mor is a sprawling venue with an auditorium (home to the popular ‘A play, a pie and a pint’ series), whisky bar, two restaurants and nightclub. The crowd is fairly diverse, with a mix of people out for a drink or a whole night in a place with a buzzing atmosphere.
- Moskito. This basement bar stays open late – until 3am on weekends and 2am during the week – so is a good bet if you want to continue your night without having to go to a club. The cosy booths make it a relaxed spot for one of their many cocktails.
Food and drink
Kember & Jones: our kind of place
When it comes to food and drink in Glasgow, there's something you might find yourself doing frequently on strolls around the centre: looking down. The tall townhouses of the city centre have often been converted into restaurants, including the lower ground floor accessed with steps from street level. Just below street level there are pubs, Italian restaurants, coffee shops and cocktail bars, including the extravagantly decorated Hummingbird, a bar that crosses four floors of a townhouse. There is also the Butterfly and Pig, with a tearoom above ground and a bar and restaurant below. Feast on treats such as a stacked mushroom and cheese burger with a seemingly never-ending pile of fat, skin-on chips.
Burgers look promising at the Butterfly and Pig
It’s well worth heading west, to the lively West End with its independent cafes and shops. Kember & Jones’s windows are siren-like, filled with loaves, homemade cakes and gigantic meringues and the interior is a cosy spot whether for a coffee or a glass of wine.
Anyone for a deep fried Mars bar?
Of course, this being Glasgow, there is one you should try, stereotypical or not: the deep-fried Mars bar. On a stroll to the Barras market I found mine in the oldest chip shop in the city. The verdict? Surprisingly delicious, warm and gooey. To be eaten in small doses.
Three ways to travel
- Take at least one taxi – the cabbies in Glasgow are all keen to chat and will have plenty of opinions and recommendations on where you’re off to.
- Go on the subway – the ring route will take you quickly from one side of town to the other (the whole circuit takes only 24 minutes). Even if you could walk it, it’s worth taking the subway for the wonderfully Seventies interiors.
- Walk the length of St Vincent Street and see a huge variety of architectural styles, from Victorian and Greek revival to recently built structures.
Things to see and do
Glasgow's Mackintosh house
It’s difficult not to miss the references to one of Glasgow's most famous sons, architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Dotted around Glasgow and its outskirts are several of the buildings he worked on, filling with furniture and art created by him and his wife. The Willow Tearoom is easy to spot on Sauchiehall Street, the main shopping thoroughfare, but to gain more insight into his work, visit the School of Art and take a tour led by a student. The building and its furniture are impressive but they are brought to life by the knowledge and passion of the student guides. Once you have a taste for it, head for the Mackintosh house for a free tour to see how Mackintosh and his wife lived in a showroom of their work.
The imperious Kelvingrove Art Gallery
Compared with the Mackintosh modernism, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery is a shock – the intricate building is worth a look and the decorative ceilings are free to view with the permanent exhibits. The Lighthouse gallery, tucked off Sauchiehall Street is a good one to head for – make your way to the top for views over the city from the rooftop viewing platform.
Head to Byres Road for vintage shops and unusual buys
Shopping in Glasgow is excellent; the space and range of shops on Sauchiehall Street are impressive, but even better is the West End; a hub of vintage stores, independent magazine and homeware shops and occasional markets in the Hillhead Bookclub. It’s worth taking the time to poke around the alleys off Byres Road for unusual shops; the tiny Dowanside Lane is home to Starry Starry Night, said to be one of the best vintage shops in the city,
The view from the top of the Lighthouse gallery
Glasgow: Know Before You Go
- Scotland may use sterling but Scottish banknotes often come out of cash machines. These notes are legally accepted in England and Wales but be aware it is at the discretion of the retailer.
- Glasgow city centre is fairly compact. Take a decent pair of shoes and you’ll be able to walk most places (and will barely notice the hills).
- The city is hosting the Commonwealth Games next year so much of the centre is being spruced up for the event.
The satisfyingly Seventies aura of the Glasgow subway
Getting there and away
Getting to Glasgow is easy from within the UK. Virgin trains run from London Euston to Glasgow central in four to five hours, costing £126.70 for standard class open off-peak return. At weekends and on less busy trains, upgrades to first class can cost as little as £10 each way. Edinburgh is about an hour away by train. For the time-short, easyJet operates cheap flights.
Bed and breakfast in standard room at the Park Inn by Radisson Glasgow Centre is £99 per night with complimentary Wi-Fi, based on two people sharing. To book, call 0141-221 1211 or go to parkinn.co.uk/hotel-glasgow.
Words: Siobhan Morrin, Photos: Rex Features and Siobhan Morrin