Long overshadowed by refined, tourist-clogged Edinburgh, Scotland's second city has been quietly proving that it's far from second best. Glasgow's cultural plaudits are hefty, from Rennie Mackintosh's architectural triumphs (beyond the sadly fire-damaged School of Art) to the street-art-splashed east end. Culture aside, Glasgow's food scene is one of the most vibrant in Scotland – a far cry from tales of deep-fried Mar Bars paired with Irn Bru, this is a city that really knows how to feed you. Add to that a buzzing nightlife scene and a growing crop of great places to stay, and you'll find everything you need in Glasgow for a weekend break. Keen to give Scotland’s coolest city a try? We’re not surprised. Here’s everything you need to know before your trip:
Far from images of gritty urban sprawl, Glasgow in Gaelic actually means “Dear Green Place”. And surprisingly green it is indeed. More than 90 parks and gardens are woven throughout the city’s fabric – Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens are home to one of the UK’s greatest plant collections – and the city centre’s grand squares infuse the place with a sense of space.
Glasgow’s a city of various personalities: through its middle runs the history-infused Clyde River; to its north the cityscape crumples into crooked hills, while the city centre is lined with rows of grand architecture and the gleaming “Style Mile” – the city’s upscale shopping district. West of the city centre, desirable and hip Finnieston is the city’s undisputed foodie quarter, while the edgier – and newly regenerated – east end is enlivened with street art.
This is an easy city to get around. Its districts have a compact and walkable feel while the metro – the third oldest underground train network in the world – speedily whisks you from end to end. Just as well when there’s so much to do: from ticking off key Rennie Mackintosh sites, to sampling the urban whisky scene, this is a city that will keep you on your toes.
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Glasgow’s poster child, Rennie Macknitosh’s legacy is woven throughout the city – so much so that you could fill a whole trip just following a pilgrimage trail of his masterpieces. The much-loved Glasgow School of Art may still be recovering from a sequence of devastating fires but there’s plenty of other Mackintosh treasures still to see. Take tea at Mackintosh at the Willow, explore the House for an Art Lover, or head to The Lighthouse where the Mackintosh Interpretation Centre celebrates the architect’s life and work. While at The Lighthouse, don’t miss the chance to take in the panoramic city views from the top of the Water Tower. The tower originally held a working dovecot where carrier pigeons used to deliver the afternoon’s sports results to the building’s Glasgow Herald journalists.
Also firmly on the Mackintosh trail should be the
Break away from Mackintosh’s grip and there’s still plenty of other cultural boxes to tick. The Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) has work by Andy Warhol and David Hockney housed behind an impressive neo-classical façade – don’t miss the statue of the Duke of Wellington outside the front, posing with an orange traffic cone jauntily loped on his head. For a grittier take on art, follow the mural trail through the east end where vast artworks peer down from office blocks and lurk around street corners.
Also in Glasgow’s east is the Necropolis, a strikingly sited, elegantly crumbling graveyard. Stacked up on a city-centre hill, behind the ancient cathedral, paths zigzags between an assortment of tall-spired mausoleums and time-worn grave stones; reach the top of the path and you’ll be greeted with impressive views out over the city.
Far from rumours of a deep-fried batter-drenched cuisine, Glasgow is a city that really knows its food – after all, the city has claimed the titles of Curry Capital of Britain and UK’s most Vegan Friendly City. In fact, good food is a source of local pride and a never-ending talking point with the city’s loquacious locals – ask a Glaswegian where’s good to eat and you’ll never get a word in edgeways.
One thing you’ll repeatedly hear though is that Finnieston – the district voted the hippest place to live in the UK – is the city’s foodie hub. Amongst all the choice, Crabshakk is certainly unmissable. Centred around superb Scottish seafood, this fantastic little place serves up an ever-changing line-up of specials, as well as some knockout stalwarts – don’t go without trying the sizzling pan of scallops in a caramelised anchovy sauce. Also championing Scottish cuisine, The West End’s ever-popular Ubiquitous Chip has been leading the way in headlining high-end modern Scottish cuisine since 1971.
Also in Finnieston is one of Glasgow’s most exciting foodie ventures, Dockyard Social, a street food market housed a vast industrial warehouse with an inspiring, three-pronged ambition to showcase best of Glasgow’s food scene, give a leg-up to start-up food businesses, and support the local community through a professional culinary training school for the city’s most disadvantaged people.
Venture beyond Finnieston and there's still a whole city-worth of food to be tried. To the east, BAaD (Barras Art and Design) – a cool urban space at the heart of the Barras Market – is home to A'Challtainn. Focused on sustainable Scottish seafood, this gorgeous restaurant’s already scooped up a couple of awards in its short life, including best newcomer to the Glasgow food scene.
Meanwhile in the centre don’t miss Paesano, whose pizzas – tossed with the best Italian ingredients and expertly charred in wood-fired ovens made in Naples – are a standout.
The Highlands may be the Scotland that's synonymous with whisky today, but until the Prohibition Era , Glasgow was also home to hundreds of distilleries. Now, the city seems to be recovering these lost roots – and leading the way is the Glasgow Distillery Company, a small-batch, urban distiller that’s made itself home in an old pump house that can be visited on daily tours.
Beer-lovers can get their fix at the West Brewing Company, which has a Bavarian-style beer hall housed in the beautiful Templeton building, and the Drygate, a small but progressive brewery set in a converted box factory that nods to Glasgow’s industrial past.
Fancy a slice of entertainment with your booze? At lunchtime head to Òran Mór, a converted-church-turned-bar that hosts “A Play, A Pie, and A Pint” an ever-popular fixture in the Glaswegian calendar that’s become one of the UK’s most successful lunchtime theatres.
Top image:Kibble Palace, Glasgow Botanic Gardens © matthi/Shutterstock