Glasgow may not have Edinburgh’s stately good looks, but as the culture capital of Scotland, it has personality to spare, plus a singular charm that you’ll remember for far longer than your brief visit.
Start off your day in the East End at Glasgow Cathedral, a magnificent example of Gothic architecture and the only mainland Scottish cathedral to have survived the Reformation intact; the city’s patron saint, St Mungo, is entombed here. If the weather’s fine, take a stroll through the park-like Necropolis, where Glasgow’s wealthy industrialists were buried beneath elaborate memorials on a hill overlooking the city. Or hit the nearby St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life & Art, which presents the cultural and artistic history of all of the world’s major faiths in two large galleries, including an exhibit devoted to religion in Scotland.
Walk through the University of Strathclyde campus and central Glasgow to reach Merchant City, an area filled with 18th- and 19th-century mercantile buildings anchored by Merchant Square, once a busy indoor market and now home to a handful of bars and restaurants. Have lunch at Café Gandolfi, one of Glasgow’s best cafes, set in the offices of the city’s old cheese market. If their cosmopolitan take on Scottish and continental cuisine doesn’t do it for you, head two doors down to their expansion, Gandolfi Fish, for an exclusively fish and seafood menu.
After lunch, head west for a short visit to Tenement House, which offers a fascinating look at middle-class Glasgow life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with an entire flat and all of its former tenants’ possessions preserved as if in amber. Design fans won’t want to miss a spot of afternoon tea at the Willow Tearooms, authentically restored to Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s original plans. Afterwards, finish off your afternoon with a visit to either of two of Glasgow’s top museums, depending on your taste.
Architect Zaha Hadid’s new Riverside Museum, all flowing silver lines echoing the waves of the River Clyde lapping just outside, house an enormous collection of transport-related displays, with over a century’s worth of bikes, cars, trains, boats, buses, carriages and any other conveyance ever used to get people from A to B, as well as fully re-created shopping streets of Glasgow, each devoted to a particular historical period. Moored out back is the Tall Ship, a three-masted barque built in Glasgow in 1896, one of only five Clydebuilt ships still afloat (and the only one in the UK).
Or instead travel to Glasgow’s bohemian West End to finish off your afternoon at the immensely entertaining Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. Set in an imposing late-Victorian red-sandstone building, this free museum is chock-full of eclectic displays, including a massive collection of medieval weapons and armour; paintings and sculpture ranging from modern Scottish to French Impressionist and Renaissance Italy; anthropological exhibits of clothing and personal artefacts; and natural history displays of fauna and flora - only here can you see a giant stuffed elephant posed beneath a genuine Spitfire fighter plane in midflight.
In the evening, the main roads of the West End come alive with dining and entertainment options. Head north up Byres Rd for a wide selection of fine restaurants, especially down Ashton and Ruthven Lanes, including the modern Scottish fare found at Bothy, Stravaigin II, Oran Mor Brasserie and the Ubiquitous Chip. After dinner, stick around the fairy-light-bedecked Ashton Lane for a drink at Brel or Vodka Wodka, then finish your evening back in the city centre, catching a few sets of up-and-coming bands at King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut, one of Glasgow’s most celebrated live-music venues.