Ugly, industrial and gray are some of the adjectives that often appear in the Glasgow guides. And, to be honest, they are not far from the impression that the city produced the first time we visited.
The largest city in Scotland seems destined to lose its battle against Edinburgh, the nation’s capital, a more picturesque, compact and tourist-friendly neighbor. Glasgow is more scattered, its center is more like a big city, where everyone rushes to somewhere, and the tourist motto remembers that its pride is its inhabitants: ‘People make Glasgow’.
Since that first meeting, we have explored the streets of cosmopolitan Glasgow on many occasions, convincing ourselves more and more that comparisons are useless…And that the charms of the city, although not so apparent, are waiting to be discovered.
Since you are likely to arrive in Glasgow via the Glasgow Central train station or the Buchanan Bus Station, both in the heart of the city, we suggest starting your journey from the city center.
THE CENTER AND THE MERCHANT CITY
Buchanan Street, Argyle Street and Sauchiehall Street are the quintessential shopping streets of the city. The shops and shopping centers occupy the last square meter of Victorian buildings, and you’ll cross the street with clouds of shoppers, street performers and street vendors.
A little further east, you will enter Merchant City, an elegant and lively neighborhood where mansions, once owned by the tobacco business tycoons, are home to trendy restaurants and bars in the city. Do we start exploring the center of Glasgow?
- The Lighthouse (free entrance). An ideal first stop in Glasgow is The Lighthouse, a design and architecture center housed in an old building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. If you still do not know the name of this architect, son of the city and maximum exponent of Art Nouveau in Scotland, you will begin to familiarize yourself with his work here.
But, in addition to the exhibits, we love its spiral staircase, which will take you to a circular terrace with panoramic views of Glasgow.
- Route of urban art. Very close to The Lighthouse, you will begin to stumble upon urban works of art that fill the walls of Glasgow with vivid colors.
The Style Mile, between shops and shopping centers. Strolling around central Buchanan Street, you’ll understand why Glasgow delights shoppers: the street, and its surrounding streets (called Style Mile), are filled with shops and shopping centers. And, along the way, street vendors, bagpipers and musicians in search of some coins.
If you do not want to buy, but you want to see some of the shopping centers inside, you should check out Princes Square Shopping Center, with its elegant facade and stairs, and the Argyll Arcade galleries, with their jewelers and Its Parisian air.
The blue police booths. If you are a Dr. Who supporter, you may be surprised to find yourself face to face with the very TARDIS on the streets of Glasgow. Some of the old police cabins in the city, painted in blue, still survive in the center.
Gallery of Modern Art (free entry). You will recognize the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow by the neoclassical building…and by the equestrian statue with a traffic cone in the head. It is the Duke of Wellington, and, the cone, a joke that goes back years and nowadays has already become a typical image of Glasgow. If you only have one day, you can do without this museum (or take a quick walk).
George Square. The heart of Glasgow lies in George Square, the main square, which houses the City Hall (Glasgow City Chambers with free guided tours twice a day) and statues of celebrated Scots. In winter, they install the ice rink, and, during the rest of the year, there is almost always something in the square.
Merchant Square and the artisan flea market. Lunchtime is coming, and a good place is Merchant Square, a collection of restaurants and pubs that share a roof. The neighboring streets are also full of restaurants.
And if you like artisan markets and Glasgow visits on weekends then the stop at Merchant Square is a must, as there is a Craft & Design Fair with a lot of local artisan stalls.
THE EAST END
From the center of Glasgow, a short walk east will take you to the East End. This is a neighborhood of contrasts, where the vestiges of the medieval city coexist with the traditional buildings of the working class, the neighborhood shops and, in some corners, a certain air of abandonment.
And, at the same time, with the studies of art and design that in recent years have settled in the area and have earned it the nickname of ‘Creative Quarter’.
Glasgow Cathedral (free admission). Glasgow Cathedral dates back to the 12th century, and is said to rise right at the site where the patron saint of the city, St. Mungo, erected its church. Perhaps it doesn’t seem too imposing outside the Gothic building, but we recommend you go inside, much more evocative.
The Necropolis. From the cathedral, you’ll see the necropolis of Glasgow, a Victorian cemetery that populated the hill on which you will find fascinating funerary monuments. If you have time, go up to the top to see Glasgow from there; Is one of those Scottish cemeteries for which to walk is pleasant instead of strange.
Provand’s Lordship. If the cathedral is the oldest surviving building in Glasgow, the nearby Provand’s Lordship is the oldest home in the city. It was built in 1471 as part of a hospital, and today inside you can contemplate a collection of 17th century Scottish furniture. Our favorite corner is the St Nicholas Garden, in the back, designed as if a garden of the S XV would be.
St Mungo Museum (free admission). Another museum adjacent to the cathedral and the Provand’s Lordship is the one of St. Mungo, dedicated to the religions of the world.
The Barras Market (weekend). Glasgow’s most famous street market, which is set up on weekends, is one of the authentic vestiges of life in the East End. On the floor, in the interior, in the street or in shops, between your posts you will find any trinkets and bargain imaginable.
THE WEST END
Now that you know the heart of Glasgow and the East End, how about spending the afternoon at the west end of the city?
Return to the center for a walk and hop on the subway at Buchanan St or St Enoch station. Get off at the Hillhead stop…and get ready to discover one of Glasgow’s most charming neighborhoods with places like these:
The University of Glasgow and university streets (free admission). The University of Glasgow has double charm. On the one hand, its majestic Neo-Gothic buildings look out of a fairy tale, and hide gems such as the Hunterian Art Gallery and the Mackintosh House, the museum dedicated to the architect and his home. On the other hand, the different faculties flood the bohemian atmosphere of the surrounding neighborhood with red sandstone buildings divided by lanes, quiet alleys.
Ashton Lane. Adjacent to Byres Road, a main street with all kinds of shops, is hidden Ashton Lane, a picturesque alley crowded with pubs and restaurants that in good weather place their terraces on the cobblestones. It is one of our favorite spots in Glasgow, but do not confine yourself to this lane: in other lanes, such as Ruthven Lane or Dowanside Lane, you will also find independent and bohemian shops that will make you rethink the idea you had of the city of Clyde.
Kelvingrove Art Museum (free admission). From the University of Glasgow, a quiet stroll along the River Kelvin and through the park of Kelvingrove will take you to what we consider Glasgow’s most fascinating museum: the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. If you only have time to visit 1 museum in the city, we recommend you choose this one. The history of Scotland, the work of Mackintosh and works like the Christ of St. John of the Cross of Dalí live in a unique environment.
A PAINT IN A SCOTTISH PUB
And, to finish this journey through Glasgow, what better than to taste a pint in a Scottish pub? You are in a city with a music panorama difficult to overcome, from which have arisen groups like Belle and Sebastian, Travis, Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream, Texas or Amy MacDonald.
At the King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, they showcase new talent, and presume to have discovered bands like Oasis. For a beer in a typical pub, head for the famous Horseshoe Bar. And if you’re looking for ambiance, check out Sauchiehall St, Sauchiehall Lane and Bath Street.