Guide to Glasgow
Glasgow was European City of Culture in 1990, an accolade that cemented its reputation as an edgy, arty city that knows how to enjoy itself. It is only 46 miles from Edinburgh, but Glasgow has its own vibrant identity and is worth a visit any time of year.
The main building of the University of Glasgow. Photo: The University of Glasgow
Did you know
1. Glasgow isn’t Scotland’s capital, but it is the country’s biggest city with a population of about 600,000.
2. Stan Laurel, the comedian who would find global fame as one half of Laurel and Hardy, made his stage debut in Glasgow. Laurel first trod the boards – a British expression meaning ‘appear on stage’ – at the Britannia Panopticon, a music hall at 117 Trongate.
3. The first official football match was played in Glasgow in 1872. Scotland took on England at the West of Scotland Cricket Club and the result was a nil-nil draw.
4. Glasgow is on the only city in Scotland that has an underground train service and it is the third oldest in the world. It used to be called the ‘Clockwork Orange’ by locals because of the unusual colour of the carriages.
5. One of the most intense rivalries in British sport is that between the two Glasgow football clubs Celtic and Rangers. They have played each other more than 400 times in major competitions. The collective name for the two clubs is ‘The Old Firm’.
6. There are trees in Fossil Grove in Glasgow’s Victoria Park that are twice as old as the dinosaurs. The 11 fossilised trees date back 330 million years to a time when the area’s climate was warm and humid.
7. The Glasgow Tower was built in 2001 and is the only structure on the planet that can rotate 360 degrees into prevailing wind. It holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest fully rotating freestanding structure in the world.
8. Glasgow is home to the longest continuous bar in Europe. The Horseshoe Bar at 17-19 Drury Street is 104 feet long and has been serving drinks since 1884.
9. The City Chambers – home to Glasgow City Council – is a grand structure in George Square that was built using more marble than the Vatican.
10. Parts of the University of Glasgow – notably the famous Lion and Unicorn Staircase and Pearce Lodge - were originally located on High Street. In 1870 they were moved right across the city to become part of the new university campus in the West End.
“Having lived in Glasgow for years I can highly recommend this lively, vibrant city. The friendly Scottish people create an open and welcoming atmosphere that embraces you upon arrival. Whether it’s night life or a chilled walk in the Botanic Gardens, there’s always something going on.”
Bruno Borbely, 22, a Hungarian student studying theoretical physics at the University of Glasgow.
Places to visit
No visit to Glasgow is complete until you’ve checked out the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. There is a popular myth that the impressive Spanish Baroque building was accidentally built back-to-front and the architect jumped from one of its towers in despair. The great thing about Kelvingrove is the diversity of its collection – everything from dinosaurs to a stuffed elephant and mediaeval armour. Make sure you see Christ of Saint John of the Cross, an amazing painting by Salvador Dali.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Photo: Kenny Lam/Visit Scotland
The Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre is another must-see Glasgow attraction. The brainchild of Russian-born artist Eduard Bersudsky, it’s a dance work (or “Robotic ballet” as The Times newspaper called it) featuring hundreds of carved figures and pieces of scrap moving in time to music.
If you want to escape the frenetic pace of central Glasgow take a trip to the city’s beautiful Botanic Gardens. Established in 1841, the centerpiece is Kibble Palace, an eccentric domed glasshouse full of exotic plant life.
Speaking of amazing glasshouses, don’t miss The People’s Palace. This free museum tells the story of Glasgow from the 19th century onwards using exhibits ranging from prints to interactive displays.
Another great attraction is the Riverside Museum. Built on the site of a former shipyard, the radical glass and metal structure was designed by one of the UK’s most famous architects, Zaha Hadid. Make sure you see the museum’s recreation of an old cobbled street.
The Riverside Museum in Glasgow. Photo: Kenny Lam/Visit Scotland
What and where to eat
Feeling adventurous? One of the delicacies you’ll want to sample in Glasgow is a fried Mars Bar. Yep, that’s right: a fried Mars Bar. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. There are plenty of places to give this sweet treat it a go, but we suggest the Blue Lagoon fish and chip shop at 299 Sauchiehall Street.
For something a bit more substantial grab a chicken tikka masala at one of the city’s many curry houses. Glasgow claims to have invented the British favourite, a dish made up of chunks of chicken marinated in spices and yoghurt and baked in a tandoor oven. The distinctive orange colour comes from turmeric or paprika.
Another favourite Glasgow food stop is the Willow Tea Rooms at 97 Buchanan Street. The rooms were designed by one of the city’s most famous sons, the artist, designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. You can sit in one of Mackintosh’s distinctive high-backed chairs and sample Scottish delicacies such as haggis with Neeps and Tatties (turnips or swede with mashed potato). Another great place to try haggis is Arisaig, a smart restaurant that boasts a choice of 100 malt whiskies.
Haggis dish from Arisaig Bar & Restaurant, Glasgow. Photo: Kenny Lam/Visit Scotland
Things to do
Glasgow has produced some of the UK’s best bands including Simple Minds, Travis, Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand and Belle and Sebastian. It is also one of the UK’s live music hotspots and you’ll want to see at least one gig while you’re there. There are music venues right across the city, but one of the best known is the Barrowland Ballroom, east of the city centre. It holds over 2000 people and has hosted legendary gigs by the likes of Oasis, U2, the Stranglers and the Clash.
To really soak up the Glasgow atmosphere you need to visit a pub or a bar. The choices are endless, but we’d recommend The Belle at 617 Great Western Road. You’ll find a good mix of students and locals here as well as great selection of American and European beers. Another favourite is Waxy O’Connor’s at 44 West George Street. Set over three floors and boasting a curious wooden décor that’s been compared to a “sprawling forest”, it’s a great place to watch football on the big screen or just catch up with friends.
If you want to keep the party going, there are plenty of late night spots in Glasgow. Nice ‘N’ Sleazy lives up to its name, pumping out house, garage, grime and dubstep into the wee hours. Another raucous venue is Viper where a big dark room and plenty of drink promos combine to keep things interesting.
Where to shop
Safe to say you can shop till you drop in Glasgow. The epicentre of the city’s retail experience is an area dubbed ‘The Style Mile’ focused on Buchanan street in the city centre. You’ll find all the big British brands here as well as some more quirky independent stores.
The view down Buchanan Street, Glasgow. Photo: Kenny Lam/Visit Scotland
One place not to miss in the Style Mile is the Buchanan Galleries, a big, modern collection of 80 shops at the junction of Sauchiehall and Buchanan streets. For a very different shopping experience head to the Barras Market, a mixture of open-air and covered stalls selling everything from antiques to computer games.
Those who want to splash some cash on fashion should check out Cruise, where garments by Young British designers share the racks with big names like Saint Laurent and Balenciaga.
If you’re looking for quirky items – new and old – visit the art and craft boutiques in Ashton Lane and Cresswell Lane.