Glasgow is a reflection of Scottish exuberance. Even the frequently seen rain clouds can't dampen Glaswegian enthusiasm, friendliness and civic pride. No other Scottish city has quite the same endearing grittiness, in spite of its sophistication.
Drawing on a long tradition of support for the performing arts, Glasgow fills its theaters with music, comedy and drama and flaunts the fact that it—not Edinburgh—is home to Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
Well known as Scotland's center for architecture and design, Glasgow was named the U.K. City of Architecture and Design in 1999 and it is an increasingly popular European tourist and conference venue, as exemplified by the universally acknowledged success of the 20th Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the preparations for hosting the highly coveted Turner Prize in 2015. Glasgow is also a bustling business and manufacturing center.
After visitors have experienced the depth of sophistication and diversity Glasgow has to offer as a European travel destination, they'll likely agree with the many conventioneers, business travelers and tourists who have departed singing the city's praises.
Located in the west of Scotland, with the Campsie Fells to the north and the Clyde Valley to the south, Glasgow serves as a link between the Highlands and the Lowlands. The River Clyde, which flows in from the rugged Lanarkshire countryside to the west, cuts through the city. The city center is located on the Clyde's north bank; that's where you'll find George Square, the main shopping centers and the city's two main railway stations, Glasgow Central and Glasgow Queen Street.
Surrounding the city center are diverse and cosmopolitan suburbs. South of the river are Pollokshields, a bustling Asian community, and the vibrant Shawlands district. The West End is home to Glasgow's student population, and it's also where stylish Byres Road is located. Gorbals, once notorious for its slums but now noted for gentrification, is southeast of the city center, and the old shipyards of Govan are to the southwest. To the east, Dennistoun is undergoing a renaissance, thanks to an influx of young professionals and the subsequent arrivals of new cafes, delis and restaurants.
Stone Age settlers first established a fishing village on the banks of the River Clyde. Celtic tribes were later drawn to the area, which became known as Glas cu (meaning "dear green place"), and the Romans spent time there in their struggle to maintain a military foothold. By the sixth century, it was part of the British Kingdom of Strathclyde, and St. Kentigern (also known as St. Mungo) was invited there to establish a Christian church. St. Mungo was buried there, and the town soon became a magnet for pilgrims. Mungo is now considered the city's founder; his original church was later replaced by Glasgow Cathedral, which is named in his honor.
Glasgow flourished as a business center, and it was trading with the Americas by the end of the 18th century. Its role as a European hub for imports of tobacco and sugar produced the city's first millionaires, although the darker side of the trade included links to slavery. Throughout the 1800s, Irish immigrants provided an abundance of unskilled labor for the city's industries, which built ships, locomotives and other heavy industrial equipment. As these industries prospered, Glasgow became one of the richest cities in Europe.
Although Glasgow's shipbuilding industry survived the recession of the early 1900s with orders for Royal Navy vessels and liners such as the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary, demand for well-built ships was evaporating. By the 1960s, Glasgow was in serious industrial decline. But toward the end of the 20th century, the city reinvented itself by expanding retail space in the city center, attracting new businesses and developing tourism.
The 21st century holds a bright future filled with construction and a campaign to promote Glasgow as a cosmopolitan city with panache. The River Clyde Waterfront Regeneration is transforming the center of Glasgow into an upscale area. Development at Pacific Quay provides state-of-the-art accommodations for Scotland's media industry and other businesses. Scottish Media Group and the headquarters for BBC Scotland operate from there.
The Clyde Arc, which links Pacific Quay with Finnieston and was the first new Clyde bridge in 30 years, opened in 2006. The City Council kept the name a closely guarded secret until the day of the launch, but by then they were too late as all of Glasgow was calling it the "Squinty Bridge" because it runs diagonally across the river, rather than straight.
A bit farther along the river, another new bridge was opened in 2009 for pedestrians and cyclists. While it's officially called the Tradeston Bridge, Glaswegians in their inimitable style have named it the "Squigly Bridge" because of its lazy-S shape.
Blessed with some of Europe's finest Victorian architecture and the distinctive work of famed architects Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Alexander "Greek" Thomson, Glasgow has become a design mecca. Mackintosh's greatest achievement, the Glasgow School of Art on Renfrew Street, was damaged by a fire in 2014, but renovation is under way thanks to a huge, spontaneous fund raised by graduates and the general public, as well as the government. The Gallery of Modern Art and the City Chambers, both in the city center, are must-sees for fans of art and architecture. For a more medieval perspective, visit Provand's Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow, dating back to 1417. The magnificent Glasgow Necropolis, which was modeled after the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, overlooks Glasgow Cathedral, a rare example of Scottish Gothic architecture that predates the Reformation.
With more than 2,000 years of history and culture, Glasgow has an abundance of galleries and museums that will absorb the attention of even the most seasoned travelers. The Burrell Collection, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, and the world-famous Kelvingrove have collections of extraordinary depth and quality. The new, purpose-built Riverside Museum of Transport houses the city's impressive collection of trams, ships and much more.
A visit to one of Glasgow's many parks and gardens provides an ideal escape from the bustle of the city. Some of the more scenic include the Botanic Gardens on Great Western Road and Pollok Country Park on the south side of the city. The park is home to Pollok House, The Burrell Collection, several picturesque walking trails and a herd of Highland cattle. Another relaxing jaunt during summer is an excursion down the Clyde on the world's last seagoing paddle steamer, Waverley.
Glaswegian nightlife includes a combination of restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs, each with its own blend of culture and style. From the traditional surroundings of the Horse Shoe Bar to the chic decor of Arta, Glasgow obliges those who don't want to sleep. City licensing laws mean that pubs close at 11 pm or midnight, even on weekends, unless they have a Late Hours Catering License. Clubs, on the other hand, often remain open until 3 am. Some have a cover charge on Friday and Saturday.
In the early part of the evening, you could head for Byres Road and its late-night cafes and brasseries or make for Shawlands, which has lively pubs and bars. But as the night progresses, be sure to try one of the many clubs in the city center. Sub Club is literally full of underground music, The Cathouse features good rock 'n' roll and heavy metal, and if funk is more your style, go back to the West End and choose Club O at Oran Mor on a Friday.
Given Glasgow's success at blending culture and tradition, it's no surprise that the city offers a diverse choice of eateries that extends far beyond the city center. Indeed, in districts such as Byres Road, Shawlands, Giffnock and Merchant City, Glaswegians are spoiled with quality cuisine at prices that are notably cheaper than in other major cities in the U.K.
Districts don't specialize in any particular ethnic cuisines, so locals and visitors are able to enjoy a range of alternatives without venturing too far from home.
Although Glasgow is home to the bizarre concoction of deep-fried Mars bars and chips (french fries), you'll have to look hard to find that particular delicacy within the city's dining culture, but some old-fashioned chips shops will do it if you ask . Traditional dishes such as haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) are still served with pride, but eating out in Glasgow has progressed to such a degree that you'll find specialties that were previously available only to cosmopolitan palates. Expect to see a nouvelle side dish accompanying traditional Aberdeen Angus beef and bisques in place of broth. If you're partial to smoked fish, try finnan haddie (cold smoked split haddock) and cullen skink (soup made from smoked haddock, potato, onion and cream).
A hearty breakfast is a Glasgow institution, with many cafes and restaurants offering the meal all day. The traditional high-calorie breakfast includes sausages, bacon, tomatoes, eggs, black pudding and tattie (potato) scones. Lunch is generally noon-2 pm, and dinner begins around 6 pm.
Note that it is illegal to smoke in enclosed public places. This effectively means that all pubs, restaurants, clubs, shops, cafes, hotels, offices, bus shelters, telephone kiosks and public transport are smoke-free zones. Contravention of this law can lead to a fine of £50.
Here is a sampling of restaurants in town. Expect to pay within these general guidelines for a two-course dinner for one, excluding tip or drinks: $ = less than £15; $$ = £16-£25; $$$ = £26-£35; and $$$$ = more than £35.
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