“Because it’s close to the highlands”, is a common reply to the question why somebody would move to Glasgow. Or “because it’s cheaper than Edinburgh”. But Scotland’s biggest city has more to offer than just good connections to the breathtaking landscape of the North and affordable living space. It is also the up-and-coming hub for artistic Bohemians, a creative think tank for young businesses and increasingly attractive for visitors and locals alike.
From the 18th to the early 20th century Glasgow served as the capital of oversea trade, shipbuilding and steel industry. But the post-war depression hit the city full-on and hurled Glaswegians into recession, unemployment and violent social challenges. Luckily these days are numbered and the city recovered from its rough reputation. Home to the fourth-oldest university of the English-speaking world (University of Glasgow, founded in 1451) and host of this years Commonwealth Games and MTV European Music Awards, it is definitely high time for the city to step into the light.
Where to Stay
The beating heart of Glasgow is definitely the bohemian West End area, with its trendy restaurants, second hand shops, cozy coffee hangouts and student-friendly watering holes. Some of the most popular neighborhoods are Hillhead, Woodlands and Finnieston, all in walking distance to the impressive University of Glasgow main building. Hillhead lies west of the University of Glasgow and surrounds the vibrant main artery Byres Road. Woodlands, east of the university, is home to many students and shines with cheap eateries, cool cafés and a laid-back atmosphere. In Finnieston, south of the university, West End is as bohemian as it gets.
A great way to experience the Glaswegian flair is by renting a holiday apartment or stay with a private host via Couchsurfing or AirBnB. My personal pick would be a night at this beautiful townhouse in Hillhead, where hosts David and Syinyi spoil you with excellent recommendations for going out in the West End and loads of stories about Glasgow. If you prefer meeting fellow Travelettes in a hostel, I can recommend SYHA hostel on 8 Park Terrace. This address lies in one of Glasgow’s most wanted locations – on a hill behind the Woodlands area overlooking the lush green of Kelvingrove Park. As the hill faces south, the buildings along the terrace enjoy guaranteed sunshine – on sunny days only!
Once settled in, the adventure can start. The city centre attracts flocks of tourists with its majestic architecture (Tron Church, George Square) and shopping miles (Buchanan and Sauchiehall Street). The Clyde area waits with a mixture of historic landmarks, like the Finnieston Crane and the Tall Ship, and modern architecture, like the Clyde Auditorium and the Science Centre. Exploring the West End will lead you to the Gothic main building of the University of Glasgow – or is it Hogwarts? – and the massive Kelvingrove Art Gallery. But what makes the West End my favourite area in Glasgow are the surprises waiting at the end of every narrow lane and the relaxing stretches of green at the Kelvingrove Park, the Botanic Gardens and along the river Kelvin.
Coffee + Cake
My favourite café in Glasgow is Artisan Roast, a tiny place just around the corner of my department at university. You can choose between a bar seat facing the big windows out to Gibson Street or one of the tables in the back. The furniture is a conglomerate of random wooden and iron chairs and tables, which gives the place a rustic chic look. The cakes and tarts are to die for, and let you easily forget, that there is no WiFi available here.
Three doors to the right lies Offshore Cafe, a slightly bigger location, situated just on a corner facing the river Kelvin and Kelvingrove Park. Offshore may not be as cozy as Artisan Roast, but with its more open interior and free WiFi a good place to catch up on those emails from home.
Papercup is another amazing place along the very busy Great Western Road. They have delicious breakfast menu, but getting a table is hard from time to time. The density of small shops lining up on Great Western Road can be quite confusing, but you can’t miss Papercup and its joyful chalkboard messages on the footpath.
Food + Drinks
If there is one problem with the West End’s eateries, then it is the problem of choice. Especially Byres Road in Hillhead and Dumbarton Road/Argyle Street in Finnieston are home to numerous restaurants and cafés offering any kind of food you could wish for.
Mother India serves some of Glasgow’s best Indian food á la ‘Tapas style’. This means trying a little bit of everything and sharing dishes gets a lot easier without being a too big burden for your budget! The Hanoi Bike Shop uses a similar concept, only with Vietnamese food. It is tucked away in a lane going off Byres Road, that can otherwise be easily overlooked. But in fact this lane is also home to some great vintage stores, second-hand record stores and furniture shops. Ruthven Lane was one of my favourite places to explore!
For lunch with a view grab a table in Ashton Lane – any of the restaurants there really, if you ask me. My favourite is the narrow terrace of Grosvenor Cafe, where you can enjoy tapas style dishes and a view on the bustling lane beneath you. Cafe JJ is just a stone’s throw away and offers mouth-watering and hearty Italian pasta dishes, and lunch deals for only a fiver! The Left Bank is a great choice for a fine dining experience. The chefs use seasonal products from local, independent suppliers – therefore the menu changes regularly and adapts to what is available. On the other side of the street Stravaigin is an excellent choice for high quality Scottish cuisine and supper in a pub.
Glasgow does not necessarily enjoy the bes reputation for being the UK’s most stylish city. However, if you are on the search for a wearable souvenir, the West End has just the right shops for you. Just like the rest of the UK, Glasgow is a paradise for vintage shopping. There are various shops spread all over the West End.
The £10 Thrift Store works with the popular concept ‘pay per kilogram’. Misleadingly one kilogram of clothing costs £15, but either way, this can be a great bargain! They have a great variety of women’s and men’s garment, sorted by color and material! They don’t accept, but there is a cash machine around the corner. Vintage Guru is a tiny shop on Byres Road, stacked to the top with pieces from every decade of the last century – leather purses, fur coats, cowboy boots and vintage luggage. Retro holds a good stack of old and new clothes – on entering the store it seems like not a lot, but once upon the discovery of the stairs leading into the basement, my eyes widened to a variety of colorful berets and evening gowns!
In addition to the vintage shops there are countless charity shops lined up on any bigger road – for example of Byres Road. They are run by local or nationwide charity organisation, like Cancer Research, the Red Cross, or Oxfam. They are great places for bargains – from leather gloves to woolen coats, they have something for everyone.
Regular high street shopping is available mainly in the city centre, along Sauchiehall Street, Buchanan Street and Argyle Street. There you find the usual suspects from H&M to Primark, but also malls like the Buchanan Galleries or Princes Square.
Pubs + Bars
Beer and whisky belong to Scotland, like wine and cheese to France or tulips and windmills to the Netherlands – you simply can’t leave without having tried them! Glasgow has a variety of watering holes, from traditional “old-men-pubs” (which sounds worse than it is) to stylish bars and hangouts.
There are plenty of touristy pubs around the city centre and the West End, but to get the real deal, I recommend The Belle on Great Western Road or The Doublet on Park Road. The Belle is very popular among the cool local crowd, and even though it is hard to find a seat after 7pm, it is worth the try! The Doublet attracts an eclectic mix of guests, from sub-crawling youngsters to original Glasgow natives.
Now, you might wonder what sub-crawling means? Glasgow’s subway is the third oldest underground train system in the world and counts 15 stops. A sub-crawl is an entertaining drinking tour, requiring you to get aboard the subway and visit a local pub at each station for a drink. Sub-crawls are usually done by students, and often organised through university societies and clubs. It is however an adventure that everybody can undertake. The net is full of suggested routes and pubs, like these ones. But beware, you only have time until midnight, as this is when most pubs close their doors.
Cool bars can be found anywhere across the city. The Hillhead Bookclub is a fancy-looking restaurant/bar located in a beautiful building just off Byres Road. It is a popular place to grab a bite or have a drink before heading to the clubs in the city centre. Another great location is Distill in Finnieston – also a low-key, but stylish blend of pub and bar. Closer to the clubs lie Broadcast on Sauchiehall Street and the hidden hipster basement The Flying Duck, where they also serve amazing vegan bites!
Glasgow is a cradle of great music – Chvrches, Belle& Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Glasvegas, and Travis are only some of the international superstars originating from this city. It suggests itself, that it might be of good advice to keep an eye on the local music scene.
A great place to find out about upcoming live shows are the two event-focused magazines The List and The Skinny. Both are available online and in print, and give a great overview over upcoming events and shows.
One of my favourite live venues in Glasgow is Nice’n’Sleazy, where they do everything from amazing burgers, over energetic club nights, to enjoyable live shows, often by local Glaswegian or Scottish musicians.
Once the bars and pubs close at midnight or 1am, it is common to head so somebody’s home for pre-drinks and then hit the clubs a little later. But nothing speaks against doing that straight away! Most clubs are in the city centre, especially around the vibrant Sauchiehall Street. At times it is more crowded at night than during the day.
Believe it or not, Glasgow’s Subclub is the world’s longest running underground club. They mainly play electronic music, but also host fantastic live shows. The Berkeley Suite calls itself a “late night bar and ballroom” and hosts monthly and weekly club nights. One of their most popular events is the reggae and dub party with the DJ team Mungos Hifi on Thursdays. The energy there is unbelievable!
Finally, there are many sights and attractions to visit, like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery or the Victorian necropolis cemetery behind the Glasgow Cathedral. But for now, I hope this guide will give you a good basis on how to get the most out of your trip to Glasgow!