Published in the November 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Edgy yet enthralling, the city-on-the-Clyde goes about its business with a confident swagger and a sense of humour. Whether you relish its booming music scene, are hungry for Scottish culture, or are happy to just take in the sights, it’s easy to get to grips with its down-to-earth nature
There’s a notorious rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh that’s encapsulated in the punchline: ‘So you’ll have had your tea’. It’s the end of a wee joke that begins with guests arriving at a home in Scotland’s capital, where the door is answered by a less-than-generous host. The way we Glaswegians tell it, our doors are flung wide open, the whisky is waiting and by the end of the night, we’ll all be dancing on the table. There’s no tightfistedness in Glasgow: ‘Come in and have your tea!’
Your average Glaswegian takes great pleasure in pointing out that the ‘Dear Green Place’ (Glasgow) is friendlier than ‘Auld Reekie’ (Edinburgh); that its people are warmer, with a better sense of humour and funnier ‘patter’ (banter). Often this patter is spoken in the broadest Weegie, a vernacular that can seem almost impenetrable to visitors. But if you ask a garrulous Glaswegian to speak slowly, you may discover a new pal for life.
Architecturally, Glasgow is one of Britain’s finest cities. Its streets are lined with red-and-honey-sandstone merchants’ mansions and tenements, all built on a grid system conceived long before that of Manhattan and Chicago. Its flourishing literary and artistic communities have given birth to the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ — that plethora of Turner Prize-winning artists and nominees who at one time or another resided here. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is the city’s main art draw, with a strong collection of Old Masters, Impressionists, Scottish Colourists and Glasgow School painters.
The main geographical blocks for visitors include the city centre, with its Victorian buildings, Georgian squares, on-trend shops and eateries, as well as the stunning Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Glasgow School of Art (which was fire-damaged in May).
Abutting the centre is the Merchant City — a reminder of what was once the second city of the Empire — comprising design stores, vintage boutiques, theatres and galleries. Down by the River Clyde is a redeveloped waterfront area, home to the Finnieston Crane — the symbol of the city’s lost industrial age — as well as Zaha Hadid’s breathtaking Riverside Museum and Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel.
Betwixt the riverside and the high-ceilinged tenements and boutiquey streets of the West End, you’ll find Finnieston, a once-down-at-heel stretch of the city’s famous Argyle Street, that has become the hippest part of town.
In 2008, UNESCO recognised Glasgow’s world-famous music scene and awarded it City of Music status. Homegrown band Deacon Blue called their debut album Raintown, and Wet, Wet, Wet may have been inspired by the climate, while The Blue Nile sang of Tinseltown in the Rain. Glasgow is a dear green place, but it takes a lot of water to make it so green. Don’t forget your brolly.
Glasgow is a city of show: of seeing and being seen, and the designer shops lining its streets are a fair reflection of its people who love getting dolled up to the nines — locals don’t call it ‘Glasvegas’ for nothing. With this penchant for labels comes a homogeneity of upmarket shops in the centre that’s been branded ‘The Style Mile’.
But fear not, Glasgow isn’t all ‘fur coat and nae knickers’ (an endearment aimed at the doyennes of the city who spend all their wages on the exterior while remaining impoverished in the undergarment department). Indigenous local design and off-piste labels can be found in quiet streets or cobbled lanes, tucked behind the main retail thoroughfares.
In the streets around Trongate you’ll find Monorail Music (12 King’s Court), a cult record store part-owned by Stephen McRobbie of Glasgow band The Pastels, as well as the nearby Glasgow Print Studio (Trongate 103), which spans three floors with a shop on the first offering etchings, screenprints and relief prints. The Glasgow School of Art Shop (167 Renfrew Street) sells work by the cream of the school’s design talent past, present and future, with affordable textiles, jewellery, ceramics, paper products, books, clothing and homeware on offer.
Seeking a bespoke titfer (hat) perhaps? Visit William Chambers Millinery at The Italian Centre (The Courtyard, The Italian Centre, 168 Ingram St), for designs by the man who has created headgear for the likes of Kelis, Roisin Murphy and Ana Matronic. For fancy dress costumes, magic tricks, masks and whoopee cushions, a trip to the wonder that is Tam Shepherd’s Trick Shop (33 Queen St) — which has been in the same family for more than 100 years — will see you leaving with a huge smile on your face.
Glasgow is, no doubt about it, a city that likes to drink and party — the song I Belong To Glasgow is all about going out and having a skinful. Long the home of Tennent Caledonian Breweries, the city has a nascent indie brew scene which began with West (Templeton Building), housed beside the stunning Old Templeton Carpet Factory building on the edge of Glasgow Green, and which offers outdoor drinking. A more traditional pub with a ‘Scottish’ theme is the Ben Nevis in Finnieston, clustered alongside other drinking dens with a sort of Highland bent, The Park Bar and The Lismore.
In the city centre, the bar at Rogano (11 Exchange Place) boasts a lush 1935 interior modelled on the art deco cruise liner, the Clydebank-built Queen Mary. Look for the lobster motif on the vitrolite exterior before heading in to sip a glass of Champagne and throw back some oysters.
A more arty, hipster scene can be found at Stereo (22-28 Renfield Lane), occupying the basement and lower floors of a 1904 building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, formerly the offices of Scottish tabloid newspaper The Daily Record. The spartan space brings drinkers, as well as music lovers, to the gigs held downstairs.
And up by Charing Cross is hiphole Chinaski’s (239 North Street), a Charles Bukowski themed pub that attracts a mixture of barflies and beautiful loafers with its bourbons galore. At weekends, the Berkeley Suite next door is a late-night bar and ballroom with live music.
And since music is such a big part of Glasgow’s soul — think Franz Ferdinand, Belle and Sebastian, Primal Scream — live music venues, such as The Barrowlands (244 Gallowgate), are a must. For something more intimate, try King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (272a St Vincent Street), a sweaty space that likes to boast it was the place where local impressario Alan McGee discovered Oasis. The names of bands it has played host to are painted on the stairs.
Finally, for serious dancing, try The Arches (253 Argyle Street) — an experimental theatre venue which attracts DJs from all over the world and crowds of up to 2,500 — or The Sub Club (22 Jamaica Street), an underground groovespace that has held the crown of the city’s top club for more than a quarter of a century.
Where to eat
Glasgow has never had much luck with fine dining. Nor has she done much by way of courting the fanfare of Michelin. Big name chefs have blown in, bloused up a place and blown back out again leaving the city lacking in stars. Yet there are gems to be found. The Ubiquitous Chip (12 Ashton Lane) is one of the city’s foremost restaurants, but Stravaigin (28 Gibson Street) is a less stuffy, extravagant affair. The name comes from the old Scots word ‘stravaig’ meaning ‘to wander aimlessly with intent’ and encapsulates its ‘think global, eat local ethos’. At Café Gandolfi (64 Albion Street), stained-glass shoals of fish swim across the windows while you sit at sculpturesque tables. The food here often matches the art, such as the Rannoch Moor smoked venison with rowanberry jelly and gratin dauphinois.
In the newly regenerated Finnieston, a cluster of restaurants and cafes have begun to up the city’s food game. Crabshakk (1114 Argyle Street), a tiny seafood restaurant with cramped tables, led the area’s revival and is the go-to venue for Scottish fish and shellfish. Across the street at The Gannet(1155 Argyle Street) they smoke their salmon in-house, do their own butchery, make their own charcuterie and plate up some of the finest food the city has to offer — think Tarbert langoustines with herb butter, pan-fried scallops with confit chicken wing or tender Perthshire venison with game sauce.
Elsewhere, at the city’s oldest chippy, the Val d’Oro, near the Trongate, you’ll find an owner who bursts into opera arias while serving your haddock supper. And further along to the east, just out past the Necropolis, is the Drygate brewery (Drygate Brewing Co, 85 Drygate), a new venture that offers a restaurant — The Vintage @ Drygate — as well as a bar where you can watch your beer being brewed.
Top 10 local tips
01 Follow the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Trail mapping out buildings designed by the architect including the Glasgow School of Art. Buy from VisitScotland Information Centres.
02 Take a walk in a park. The ‘Dear Green Place’ and its parks — particularly the Botanic Gardens — are truly something.
03 Visit the City Chambers to see the frescoes, stained glass and wood panelling.
04 Eat curry. Curry in Glasgow is exceptional. Try pakora, a bhaji-like affair nicknamed ‘indescribables’.
05 Wander the cloisters of the Gilbert Scott-designed Glasgow University and look out across the city from its eyrie on Gilmorehill.
06 Take a ride on the dimunuitive Clockwork Orange, the city’s underground system.
07 Climb up to the top of Glasgow Necropolis for the spectacular views but also a sense of the city from a wealthy mercantile age.
08 Have your picture taken with the Duke of Wellington. Glaswegians just can’t resist climbing this statue and placing a traffic cone on the Duke’s head.
09 Ponder transport of a bygone era at the fabulous Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum.
10 Get out of the city and head for the bonnie banks of stunning Loch Lomond — just an hour away.
Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray. RRP: £10.99 (Canongate Classics)
How Late It Was How Late by James Kelman. RRP: £8.99 (Vintage Booker)
The Crow Road by Iain Banks. RRP: £9.99 (Abacus)
Collected Poems by Edwin Morgan. RRP: £16.99 (Carcanet Press Ltd)
Comfort and Joy, a Bill Forsyth comedy about war over ice cream in Glasgow, 1984.
The Angel’s Share, Ken Loach’s bittersweet comedy about second chances and whisky, 2012.
Under the Skin by Jonathan Glazer. A mysterious woman (Scarlett Johansson) seduces lonely men in the wee small hours in Glasgow, 2013.
Glasgow City Marketing Bureau: peoplemakeglasgow.com