Cracking Scotland's Largest City
72 Hours in Glasgow
The Coat of Arms of Glasgow includes two salmon bearing rings, a tree, and Saint Mungo preaching atop his pulpit. The city is just as disparate: Glass-and-steel postmodern architecture accentuates red stone Victorian hulks; wide pedestrian walkways and retail strips abound, as do small and twisty streets, posh neighborhoods and wide swathes of foliage turning with the cool of fall. City Centre is all crowded squares, lager taps and pubs; the West End is trendy, full of local fare of cozy spots to empty a glass; the East End is dingier and will, as one local told us, “shorten your lifespan”.
There’s room enough for the chaos. Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland with a population of nearly 600,000; along with its enormous suburban and small-town outliers, it’s home to 40 percent of Scotland’s entire populace. Once a major manufacturing center and the seat of important intellectual clubs during the Scottish Enlightenment, the city still holds an important place in shipbuilding, with major industry rising along the banks of the River Clyde; and there’s plenty of culture in the form of museums public and private, a thriving modern music scene, one of the most heated rivalries in sports (named “The Old Firm”, between the city’s two football teams, the Celtics and the Rangers), and several major concert venues. Perhaps more important are the people who fill those venues: dubbed “Glaswegians”, they are renowned for their gentle kindness and are. To put it shortly, they’re damn cool people. All of this goes to make Glasgow a quirky place balanced between simple pleasures and sophistication, where you can visit a 600-year-old university one moment and pound lagers at a blues bar the next. If you’re in search of a blooming Scottish urban scene, it’s here for the taking.
|Where to Stay
Glasgow’s convenient, homey subway loop (the train seats are upholstered in Merv Griffin colors) runs mainly between City Centre and the West End — and you should too. City Centre has plenty of big-name accommodations, but the best value option is Grasshoppers, situated nearly atop the city’s main train station, a five-minute walk from bustling Royal Exchange Square and two blocks from the subway station to the West End. Rooms are small, quaint and well put together; the staff is nearly too friendly and a French press of coffee in the tiny lounge is the perfect respite from a long day among the throngs. For a more posh stay, the Blythswood is one of the best hotels in the city and is also perfectly located on the northwest end of City Centre along Blythswood Square. Visit the spa, if you have the time; otherwise, enjoy the extensively marbled rooms and hunt out the bars on Bath Street before catching a cab to the nearby West End for the nightlife.
|Where to Eat
For a city as large as Glasgow, the fine dining scene is rough. Glaswegians seem content with good pub food, which is no huge rub; just settle into the working-class mood and don’t expect the French Laundry or a cache of Michelin Stars. DryGate Brewery, on the East End just past the city’s Necropolis, is a gastropub oasis with a worldly beer list; The Butterfly & The Pig in City Centre has traditional fare but is better used as a folk music venue or a place to watch a game of footie with the locals. Your best bet is the West End: start in Ashton Lane, a lively cobblestone alley lined with hip bars and upscale restaurants, like the Ubiquitous Chip, a Glasgow institution that’s been around 40 years and has rooms enough to get lost in, and Brel, a Belgian-inspired bar with a beautiful outdoor drinking area. Just a block away is The Curler’s Rest — a substantial bar with a mean chorizo-topped burger and a fish and chips with a fillet the size of your bicep. There’s plenty of good drinking to be had. Whisky lovers should get themselves to The Pot Still just north of Central Station, the city’s unchallenged Scotch bar. Once darkness falls, head to Ashton Lane or nearby Hillhead Bookclub and Booly Mardy’s for beers (and bloody marys) and lots of friends; Kelvingrove Cafe is a premier Prohibition-style cocktail spot; if you need to head back toward City Centre, stop at Nice n Sleazy, where there’s good booze, good food, and great live rock music on weekends.
|What to Do
There’s a reason the City Centre swarms with people: there are plenty of sights here. Shopping is a major draw, but skip it — hit the Gallery of Modern Art in Royal Exchange Square instead, outside of which sits the city’s iconic statue of the Duke of Wellington, whose head is ritualistically donned with a traffic cone (the removal of which costs the city some 10,000 pounds per year in removal costs; “People just like to have a bit of fun” with the British figure, a woman standing nearby explained). To the south, Glasgow Green is a great spot for a walk along the River Clyde; the nearby Glasgow Necropolis is eerily beautiful. For music, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut is known as one of the world’s best small music venues and is home to up-and-comers most every night — Oasis was “discovered” here when they barged onstage, irate that they were barred from playing after driving the whole way from Manchester — and The Howlin’ Wolf is a prime blues venue that just opened this year. Once you’ve had your fill, hop the subway loop to the West End and walk quieter streets. The University of Glasgow offers beautiful views, looks like Hogwarts and has been around since 1451; the moss on its walls pre-dates your grandfather. You can’t miss the enormous, regal Kelvingrove Art Museum, Scotland’s most popular free-to-enter institution, which houses Dali’s “Christ of Saint John of the Cross” and would take days to fully explore.
The first destination outside Glasgow is a big one: Edinburgh, Scotland’s culture-rich capitol, is just an hour’s drive away. (Glaswegians and Edinburgh residents keep up a friendly rivalry; it’s an accepted fact that though Edinburgh is a more beautiful city, Glaswegians are far more friendly.) Forty minutes to the north, Loch Lomond and the enormous Trossachs National Park offer great opportunities for hiking, cycling, climbing, boating and golfing. Those who need to stay closer by can visit the Burrell Collection, an eclectic range of art donated by Sir William Burrell to the city in 1944 and housed in Pollok Country Park just three miles south of City Centre.