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Why this Scottish city is the ultimate destination for alternative travellers

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Kayleigh Dray
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Towers of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland

Planning a weekend in Scotland? Here’s why Glasgow – with its secluded cocktail bars and striking street art – should be your top choice.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, when you approach someone who’s never been to Glasgow and tell them you’re planning a trip there, you’ll be met with a grimace of concern. They’ll mime a shudder, start sounding off on how “rough” it is, and make a few (ever so slightly racist) jokes about how it’s impossible to understand what anyone there is saying.

These people should be alienated and ignored. Because Glasgow is, without a shadow of doubt, one of Europe’s hidden gems. And, if you mention your travel plans to someone who has, you know, actually been to Scotland’s city of culture, you’ll get nothing but enthusiastic recommendations, fond tales of their time there, and wistful sighs of how they wish they were going with you.

Accessible by plane or train (I took an overnight sleeper directly from London, and can thoroughly recommend it), Glasgow is a vibrant, creative city – one which is filled to the brim with museums, galleries, cocktail bars, cafes, restaurants, green spaces, comedy clubs, music venues, shopping districts and breath-taking architecture. 

Perhaps more importantly? Glasgow is also home to, in my opinion, some of the friendliest people to grace the United Kingdom. When I took a solo trip to the city earlier this year, I was worried – no doubt due to listening to ABBA’s Super Trouper (“I was sick and tired of everything, when I called you last night from Glasgow…”) on repeat – that I might be lonely. 

I needn’t have been. During my short time there, I found myself pressed to join a stranger for brunch, had a taxi driver insist on going out of his way (at no extra charge) to show me a secret architectural tribute to Margaret MacDonald, enjoyed drinks with a woman I met at a cocktail bar (we’re now ‘Instagram pals’), and had countless people come up to me and offer directions when they spotted me looking a little lost. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that I enjoyed more conversations with curious strangers than I ever have before in London or Edinburgh. No wonder, then, that the city’s slogan is “People Make Glasgow”.

But, with so much on offer, where’s the best place to start? Here, we’ve provided our ultimate guide to Glasgow, with tips on what to see, do, eat and drink in Scotland’s city of culture. 

You’re welcome.

Best places to stay in Glasgow

There are plenty of hotels to choose from, but here’s a small selection of the best places to rest your head in Glasgow…

Our pick: Radisson Red

If you’re looking for a hotel that embodies the spirit (and attitude) of Glasgow, then look no further than the Radisson Red – which is conveniently positioned next to the SSE Hydro, and just a short walk from Glasgow’s trendy West End.

From the outside, the Red may look like your bog-standard hotel. Inside, though, you’ll find an impossibly cool venue, with bold digital wallpaper created in collaboration with local artists Adrian B McMurchie and Frank Quitely (real name Vincent Deighan). This dog-friendly hotel (look out for the resident French Bulldog, who tends to chill out near the reception) is also home to Red Sky Bar, which offers you the chance to sip cocktails as you watch the sun set over the Clyde, come rain or shine.

Prices start at £79 for a special-standard room. 

Fraser Suites Glasgow

Sat smack-bang in the city centre, these eco-friendly apartments are just a 10-minute walk of Merchant City and the Gallery of Modern Art. 

Prices start at £50 per night for 2 guests. 

Grand Central Hotel

Another eco-friendly hotel, Grand Central is within a 10-minute walk of Lighthouse, Gallery of Modern Art, and George Square. 

Prices start at £58 per night for 2 guests.

Native Glasgow

This stylish aparthotel – steps away from George Square, and based in an Edwardian building formerly home to the Anchor Line Shipping Company’s headquarters – draws on the opulence of a 1920s ocean liner. 

Prices start at £54 per night for 2 guests.

Carlton George Hotel

Perfectly positioned for Buchanan Street and the Buchanan Galleries, this plush hotel boasts a rooftop restaurant (widely regarded as one of the best breakfast spots in the city) and offers up complimentary decanters of whisky, gin and vodka. Bottoms up! 

Prices start at £75 per night for 2 people.

Best things to do in Glasgow

Glasgow is leading the way as a rising destination for cultural experiences in the UK, as bookings for cultural tours in the city show a 148% increase so far in 2018, compared to 2017.

Jim Clarkson, VisitScotland Regional Leadership Director, said: “Glasgow has long had a reputation as a major cultural centre thanks to our Charles Rennie Mackintosh heritage, UNESCO City of Music credentials, contemporary art talent and world-class public art collections – many in free museums in galleries – so I’m delighted to see us recognised as among the fastest growing cultural destinations in Europe.

“Glasgow’s cultural offering is central to the city’s Tourism and Visitor Plan to 2023, which sets out a clear direction for building the city’s global profile as a successful tourism destination. This recognition is a great sign that the strategy is working for Glasgow and that our cultural experiences really are wowing visitors.”

Here’s our pick of the city’s best attractions and activities:

Glasgow Cathedral & Necropolis

Glasgow Cathedral, consecrated in 1197, is a seriously impressive example of Scottish architecture, and well worth a visit while you’re in town. And, if gothic glamour is your thing, it’s also well worth popping into the nearby Necropolis, Glasgow’s gloriously atmospheric cemetery inspired by Père Lachaise in Paris and dating back to 1833.

Address: Castle St, Glasgow G4 0QZ

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (as pictured in main image)

Built in 1901, the Kelvingrove is home to all sorts of treasures and trinkets, including Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross (it’s finally back in Scotland, and well worth a visit). And, with a whopping 22 galleries to work your way through, you’re bound to stumble across something that piques your interest, whether that be Ancient Scottish history, the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and so much more.

Address: Argyle St, Glasgow G3 8AG

The Riverside Museum

Riverside Museum is Glasgow’s award-winning transport museum, and no wonder. With over 3,000 objects on display, you can find pretty much anything in there, whether that be skateboards, locomotives, paintings, prams, or even (as this die-hard Star Wars fan discovered to her delight) a Stormtrooper. Happy trawling.

Address: Pointhouse Place, Glasgow G3 8RS

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse in Glasgow is Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, and was opened as part of Glasgow’s status as UK City of Architecture and Design in 1999. Perhaps the best part of it, though, is on the outside. 

While Charles Rennie Mackintosh is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s most famous architects, designers, water colourists and artists, he collaborated often with his wife Margaret MacDonald, and her design work became one of the defining features of the “Glasgow Style” during the 1890s. To pay homage to her, the metal gates (made by Andy Scott of Scott Associates) at the entrance to The Lighthouse reveal Margaret’s face when placed in front of each other, with individual plant and pollen shapes visible when the panels are extended. Be sure to check them out when you’re in town.

Address: 11 Mitchell Ln, Glasgow G1 3NU

City Centre Mural Trail

If you’re out and about in Glasgow City Centre, then you’ll most likely have come across some huge pieces of art adorning some of the city’s buildings. This is part of a new initiative to rejuvenate streets and revitalise buildings that look a bit tired, reincarnating them as beautiful pieces of public street art – and highlighting the work of local Glaswegian artists, too. Maps can be downloaded here to help you get planning that walk – or, if you’d prefer, you can book one of those bright pink Glasgow Taxis to take you on a chauffeured tour of the city’s murals (price available on application).

Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery

The University of Glasgow’s Hunterian houses the oldest museum in Scotland. More important, though, is the fact that this castle-like architecture is the very same that inspired J.K. Rowling to write the Harry Potter series. Inside, you’ll find the Hunterian Museum, the Hunterian Art Gallery, the Mackintosh House, the Zoology Museum and the Anatomy Museum, not to mention plenty of picturesque photo opportunities for Instagram. Happy snapping.

Address: University of Glasgow, 82 Hillhead St, Glasgow G12 8QQ

Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens are a beautiful (and free) way to get your daily dose of fresh air. And, with glasshouses dotted all over the place (the most famous of which is Kibble Palace), there are plenty of places to take shelter if the weather takes a turn, too.

Address: 730 Great Western Rd, Glasgow G12 0UE

The Mitchell Library

I asked Susan Devaney, Stylist’s digital writer and resident Glaswegian, to tell me her favourite place in the entire city. She told me, without hesitation, that it’s Glasgow’s Mitchell Library. 

“As a student you’d often find me cooried in somewhere in the Mitchell Library – even on Christmas Eve,” she says. “But it’s not just its rows, floors and shelves brimming with books that I find instantly calming – its aesthetics are simply magical, especially when it glows at midnight.”

Address: North St, Glasgow G3 7DN

The Style Mile

Some people don’t go on a city break for the culture: they go for the shopping. Thankfully, Glasgow doesn’t scrimp on that front: the ‘Style Mile’ (which is made up of Argyle Street, Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street), is home to some of the world’s biggest and best brands, all in close vicinity. And the whole area is pedestrianised, which means it feels a lot less cramped than London’s Oxford Street, and the pace is much more relaxed, too. All in all, great for shopping, bad for the bank balance.

Best coffee shops and cafes in Glasgow

Say hello to some of the best independent coffee shops and cafes in Glasgow. 

Tinderbox

Glaswegian locals are huge fans of this family-owned coffee shop, which now has three locations throughout the city – all of which are comfy and thoroughly unpretentious. Plus, you know, genuinely mouth-watering coffee. What’s not to love, eh?

Address: 118 Ingram St, Glasgow G1 1EJ

The Glad Café

The clue is in the name with this one: think great coffee, delicious food, beer on tap, frequent film screenings, plays, and performances by local musical guests.

Address: 1006A Pollokshaws Rd, Glasgow G41 2HG

Jelly Hill

This quirky and cosy café doesn’t just serve up delicious coffee: it also offers free jelly beans to every customer, too! Plus that heated patio makes this the ideal place to pause your city-trawling adventures, pull up a pew and watch the world go by.

Address: 195 Hyndland Rd, Glasgow G12 9HT

Offshore

Fancy plonking yourself down in a spacious, bohemian and deliciously unpretentious coffeehouse for some quality coffee and downtime? Offshore – with its view of the River Kelvin and bustling atmosphere – is definitely the place for you.

Address: 3 Gibson St, Glasgow G12 8NU

Tchai-Ovna

Fine, this isn’t a coffee shop per se, but Scotland’s original speciality teahouse boasts a range of over 80 kinds of “alternative” tea as well as delicious vegetarian and vegan food. Better still, though, is the fact that it features regular music, poetry readings and dramatic performances from talented local artists, making it the ideal place to get a taste for the real Glasgow.

Address: 42 Otago Ln, Glasgow G12 8PB

Best places to eat brunch and breakfast in Glasgow

From a light pastry to a full Scottish breakfast, try these brunch spots out for size.

Coia’s Café

The Coia family opened their first café in Dennistoun in 1928 and it’s since been dubbed the “stuff of legends”, thanks in part to its delicious breakfast food and generous portion sizes. We imagine the homemade Italian ice cream also helps, though!

Address: 473 Duke St, Glasgow G31 1RD

Riverhill Café

This low-key café promises amazing breakfast food (locals are huge fans of the ‘black pudding in a roll’), hot specials, and homemade pastries, cakes and coffees from the Dear Green Glasgow company. Just be prepared to wait: this place is cosy (read: small) and incredibly popular!

Address: 24 Gordon St, Glasgow G1 3PU

Rawlings – Love To Eat

Another family-run bistro, the menu at Rawlings is influenced by Scottish and European produce with a modern twist on classic dishes (think chilli eggs and curly kale on sourdough, for example, or farmhouse or buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup). Those in the mood for something lighter, though, can drop by for fresh scones, iced gingerbread, glazed fruit loaf and the café’s signature ‘Love to Eat’ empire biscuits. Yum.

Address: 583 Mosspark Blvd, Glasgow G52 1SB

The Wilson Street Pantry

Established in 2014 by husband-and-wife duo Neil and Laura, Wilson Street Pantry offers a laid back atmosphere in the heart of Merchant city. Plus it’s vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free friendly.

Address: 6 Wilson St, Glasgow G1 1SS

Café Wander

This impossibly cheery cafe is tucked in to the heart of Glasgow’s city centre in West George Street, just a stones throw away from Queen Street Station. Inside, though, awaits everything from a full Scottish breakfast, to crunchy granola, to sweet waffles, to veggie and vegan brunch platters. Well, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, we guess…

Address: 110 W George St, Glasgow G2 1QJ

Best bars in Glasgow

Stuck for somewhere to sip cocktails and Irn-Bru? Try some of these Glaswegian pubs and cocktail bars out for size. 

The Botany

Located in a largely undiscovered, but up and coming area of Glasgow, The Botany is a short walk from the historic Glasgow Botanical Gardens – where (as previously mentioned) you can explore the peaceful, flourishing grounds, home to a collection of plants and the famous Kibble Place.

Following your walk, head along to The Botany for a selection of botanical cocktails, which can be enjoyed in the bright and airy glasshouse. Designed using only the freshest, seasonal ingredients and made with lashes of passion the extensive menu ranges from the classic cocktails to the Botany’s very own concoctions conceived through expertise and experience.

My personal favourite? A beautifully boozy (and outrageously moreish) drink known as the Thyme Will Tell. Thank goodness that my hotel was just a short stumble away… 

Address: 795 Maryhill Rd, Glasgow G20 7TL

The Pot Still

One of the best whisky bars in Glasgow, the Pot Still has a full 560 whiskies to choose from. So be sure to get there early and give yourself time to work through that menu…

Address: 154 Hope St, Glasgow G2 2TH

Òran Mór 

Òran Mór is Gaelic for ‘great melody of life’, and this Byres Road institution (formerly Kelvinside Parish Church) definitely lives by that philosophy. Expect buzzing live music, a great range of craft beers, good food and a sociable crowd.

Address: Top of Byres Road, Glasgow G12 8QX

Ubiquitous Chip

Located in the buzzing Ashton Lane in the West End, the Ubiquitous Chip boasts a well stocked bar, a fantastic menu, plenty of nooks and crannies for intimate conversations, and a lush leafy space decked out with fairy lights for al fresco fun.

Address: 12 Ashton Ln, Glasgow G12 8SJ 

WEST

WEST’s quirky wee brewery in the iconic Templeton Building is well-known in Glasgow, and has been producing German-style lagers and wheat beers since 2006. A great spot for a peaceful drink.

Address: Templeton Building, Glasgow Green, Glasgow G40 1AW

Best places to eat out in Glasgow

We#ve picked out some of the best restaurants for lunch and dinner in Glasgow.

Six By Nico

Six by Nico is your classic neighbourhood bistro in the heart of the city, with a twist. Every six weeks, Nico and his team serve up a new six-course tasting menu – each one themed upon a different place or memory. This keeps things fresh, fun and thoroughly delicious – what’s not to love?

Address: 1132 Argyle St, Finnieston, Glasgow G3 8TD

The Big Feed

The Big Feed Feed is Scotland’s biggest indoor street food market, featuring flavours from all over the world all under one roof. Throw in the live music and good craft ale selection, and you have a recipe for success. 

Address: 249-325 Govan Rd, Cessnock, Glasgow G51 2SE

Ox and Finch

Ox & Finch is an impossibly trendy venue, and offers creative, contemporary tapas-style dishes, all of which taste bloody fantastic. I can thoroughly recommend the halloumi with bulgar wheat, apricots, raisins, almonds and chermoula. Oh, and a side of triple-cooked chips and aioli to mop it all up.

Address: 920 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow G3 7TF

Paesano

This one is simple: big, bubbling, cheesy Napoletana-style pizzas, all served up in the west end. 

Address: 471 Great Western Rd, Glasgow G12 8HL

Stravaigin

Sometimes, all you want is a heaving plate of delicious pub grub. On days like this, you want to make your way to Stravaigin (taken from an old Gaelic word that means ‘to wander aimlessly with intent’) and check out their delicious café-bar menu. Might we suggest the pan-seared cod?

Address: 28 Gibson St, Glasgow G12 8NX

The Hanoi Bike Shop

This canteen-style establishment is Glasgow’s first Vietnamese restaurant – and it’s proving seriously popular with its buzzing atmosphere, delicious food and formidable cocktail list.

Address: 8 Ruthven Ln, Glasgow G12 9BG

Image: Getty

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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