Glasgow has reinvented itself as one of the coolest destinations in Britain. In the early 1900s, a fifth of the world’s ships were built in the 'Second City of the Empire'. Since its rebirth as a cultural powerhouse in the 1980s, Scotland's largest city has blossomed into a place that's every bit as enthralling as its age-old rival, Edinburgh.
Think grand Victorian architecture, world-class art and music scenes, fantastic museums, parks, restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping and, above all, the warmest of welcomes. Not for nothing is Glasgow known as the friendly city. Which is just as well because it rains – a lot. Here are ten of the best things to do in town.
Cruise the Clyde
One of the most exhilarating yet rewarding Glasgow experiences can be enjoyed by hopping on a powerboat, cruising along the River Clyde, past the historic Govan shipyards and towards Scotland's stunning southwest coast. Powerboats Glasgow take trips to the likes of the charming village of Rhu while also running whisky tours which stop-off at the Clydeside Distillery.
Go to a gig
In any given week in this UNESCO City of Music, an average of 130 music events take place, from country to classical, electronica to mainstream pop. It’s the atmosphere that makes a Glasgow gig legendary, whether catching indie royalty at East End institution the Barrowland Ballroom or a random tiny (and deafening) gig at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, hailed as ‘quite possibly the finest small venue in the world’ by the NME. Basically if you haven’t been to a gig in Glasgow… you haven’t been to Glasgow.
Check out the contemporary art scene
Glasgow is home to a thriving community of artists and has a reputation for producing some of the most exciting contemporary art in Europe. Exploring some of the smaller and grungier galleries makes for an unbeatable day out. Check out the established Modern Institute, Transmission, and Trongate 103 in the Merchant City, while in north Glasgow the Glue Factory is a newer industrial venue producing work across art, design, architecture, and music. The West End is home to converted warehouse SW3G, renowned for its multi-disciplinary arts programme and hosting more than 120 artists and designers.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum
One of the most visited museums in the UK, beloved as much by locals as tourists, the Kelvingrove boasts a staggering 22 galleries displaying 8000 objects. Everything from the magnificent Kelvingrove Organ, built for the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition, to a stuffed elephant is here. It’s also home to the world’s largest permanent display on Scottish architect and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose elegant work and influence is seen all over Glasgow. It’s all housed in a magnificent Victorian red sandstone building, surrounded by the stately green expanses of Kelvingrove Park and the river Kelvin.
A jaw-dropping building designed by the late visionary architect Zaha Hadid on the site of a former shipyard, the Riverside Museum won European Museum of the Year in 2013 for its top-draw collection of 3000 cars, bicycles, buses, locomotives, prams, skateboards and much more. Berthed opposite this A-list free attraction is the Tall Ship, the only floating Clyde-built sailing ship in the UK.
One of the best walks in the city is around this deeply atmospheric and higgledy-piggledy Victorian cemetery on a modest hill above Glasgow Cathedral. Here, written in 3500 crumbling stone monuments to 50,000 people, is a strange and sombre reminder of the city’s faded grandeur. Wander the old grassy paths, seeking out the statue for John Knox on the summit, the Celtic cross designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and the views across Glasgow. If you’re lucky you might even spot a wild roe deer.
Eat out in Finnieston
Glasgow’s latest hotspot for eating and drinking, located in what was once deemed a forgotten corner of the city’s arty West End, has been rebranded as the hippest place in Britain. A long strip crowded with the city’s best eateries and bars, choose from top-notch restaurants Ox & Finch, the Gannet or Crabshakk, followed up with pints at the traditional Ben Nevis or Finnieston, and a retro cocktail at the Kelvingrove Cafe or Porter & Rye.
How many cities can boast a major arts venue located in an old tram shed? Tramway enjoys a world class reputation thanks to its two galleries, which hosted the 2015 Turner Prize, and two theatres with a programme of high quality, experimental international plays and dance. As well as being the home of Scotland’s national ballet company, it also boasts an excellent cafe and community garden. If big, bold industrial buildings showing big, bold contemporary art and performance is your thing, you’ll fall in love with Tramway.
Hang out in the West End
Home to the University of Glasgow, the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and a magnificent example of Gothic revival architecture, the West End is one of the coolest places to hang out in Glasgow. Walk the length of Byres Rd, the epicentre of bohemian student life, making pit stops at the legendary Ubiquitous Chip (or, if you can’t afford the restaurant, at least a drink in the snug Wee Pub) on Ashton Lane, dipping into the antiques and vintage shops on Ruthven Lane, and the independent shops and arcade on Cresswell Lane. Finish up with a stroll in the Botanic Gardens, home to a huge variety of plant collections, lovely riverside walks and Kibble Palace, a beautiful Victorian glasshouse dating back to 1873.
Pollok Country Park
Just three miles from the city centre, Pollok Country Park boasts more than 140 acres of woodlands, walled gardens, and three mountain bike circuits. In the middle of this historic rural idyll is one of the greatest art collections ever amassed by a single person: shipping magnate William Burrell. Although the Burrell Collection is closed for refurbishment until 2020 don’t be put off. The park is exceptional, as is Pollok House, an elegant Georgian stately pile owned by the National Trust for Scotland.