Anthony Bourdain controversially characterised Glasgow as somewhere to go ‘’for a beer and a beating” in his TV show Parts Unknown. Bourdain poked good-natured fun at the city’s notoriety, where the drinking culture looms large and the language is colourful; it’s a rep that Glasgow has battled with for decades. However, Bourdain also represented its lesser-known highlights: its charms and culinary delights. This is the side of the city you need to discover – Claire Boyle shares her insider's guide.
Why should I visit now?
Fresh from a year dominating the news cycle for hosting the Commonwealth Games, experiencing a historical political referendum and witnessing the devastating fire in one of its architectural feats, the Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow is as much the “dear green place” as it has ever been.
Go for the West-End Festival. Stay in the bohemian West End and picnic in the Botanic Gardens, sourcing treats from one of several delis on Byres Road (Kember & Jones , Peckham’s), then follow it up with Shakespeare al fresco or A Play, A Pie and A Pint.
What should I see?
Easily walkable from a West End base are the Victorian architecture, tenements, Gothic Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis. Visit The People’s Palace, the museum for Glaswegians, and the Gallery of Modern Art; where New York has MOMA, Glasgow has GOMA, and the infamous statue outside of Wellington with a traffic cone atop his head.
Go to the new Zaha Hadid designed Riverside Museum to discover more about Glasgow’s industrial history. Follow it up with a trip to nearby Crabshakk in revitalised Finnieston – seafood on the west coast of Scotland should not be missed. Finish the day with drinks at Chinaski’s, named for Charles Bukowski’s popular protagonist.
Don’t miss Salvador Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross at Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum and the Art Nouveau legacies by Charles Rennie Mackintosh throughout the city (the Hunterian Museum on the Glasgow University campus has reassembled The Mackintosh House; House for an Art Lover is worth the suburban trip; take afternoon tea in the renowned Willow Tea Rooms; receive a student-led tour of the Glasgow School of Art while it undergoes restoration).
Where do only the locals know about?
Venture to the South Side of the city (5–10 minutes by train from Glasgow Central) and go to bakery47 for incredible homemade cakes before a performance at the Tramway or Citizens theatres.
For non-theatre lovers, Glasgow has a popular and diverse music scene, with live bands at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut every night. Go for laughs at The Stand, Glasgow’s popular comedy club, or have a quieter evening at the arthouse cinema.
Wander the cobblestone lanes of Hillhead for boutiques and quirky restaurants and bars, as well as nearby Otago Lane for the curious institutions, Tchai Ovna tea house and Voltaire and Rousseau secondhand bookshop.
Where are the best places to stay and eat?
Glasgow has a range of hotels and hostels to suit every budget. Staying central or in the West End provides easy access to attractions and to the Glasgow Subway , or “Clockwork Orange” – a circuit of which takes only 24 minutes.
Brunch at Tribeca, The Hyndland Fox, or Cafe Gandolfi and dine at The Ubiquitous Chip, Rogano, or Stravaigin; these restaurants will dispel the stereotype that Glasgow only caters deep fried pizzas and Irn Bru (although these can be sourced, if desired). One of the best things to eat in Glasgow is curry; try Mother India ’s Cafe, Koolba, or The Wee Curry Shop.
Top image: The Riverside transport museum and tall ship on the River Clyde, Glasgow © Targn Pleiades/Shutterstock