Glasgow is brimming with adrenaline this summer as the city prepares to host the Commonwealth Games (glasgow2014.com). But while cheers will ring out from Ibrox to Cathkin Braes, there are plenty of other reasons to explore Scotland’s largest and most spirited city. Here's how to match the best of Glasgow to your own travel style.
Glasgow Cathedral. Image by Getty / David Cation Photography
Glasgow for sports fans
If you’re planning a visit during the Commonwealth Games, which begins on 23 July, there’s still time to snap up tickets for athletics, rugby sevens, hockey and plenty more (glasgow2014.com/tickets). Hampden Park, Glasgow's 52,000-capacity stadium, is a-clatter with construction work in the lead-up to the Games, but behind-the-scenes tours of this world-famous football venue are continuing throughout (hampdenpark.co.uk/visitor-information).
Tours aren’t just for Scotland’s cheerfully fanatical fans, known as the ‘Tartan Army’. Curious visitors from around the globe pose in Hampden Park’s team changing rooms and boot goals in the warm-up area. You can enjoy your own moment of glory as you emerge from the warren-like backstage area into the stadium (you'll have to imagine the roar of the crowd).
Scottish Football Museum. Image by Anita Isalska / Lonely Planet
Even the sport-averse should make time for the adjoining Scottish Football Museum, which wends an illuminating path through Glasgow history. Yes, team badges from the 1870s and WWI footballs might be too niche for some tastes, but the museum breathes Glasgow history. Two World Wars, social upheaval and women's suffrage are all spot-lit through a sporting lens. Even sceptics will emerge with a new-found belief in sport’s power for positive change.
Glasgow for culture lovers
Skull feature, the Tron Theatre. Image by Bob Hall / CC BY-SA 2.0
2014 is an exciting year for this northerly nation: September’s referendum could see it vote for independence from the rest of the UK, Edinburgh’s famous festival features more shows than ever, and a grand retrospective of the past 25 years in art is taking place at more than 60 galleries. Visitors this year have to chance to experience art never before displayed in Scotland, and the works of a clutch of Turner Prize winners and nominees, among more than 100 artists featured in Generation (generationartscotland.org).
You can get to the heart of Glasgow’s arts scene at the Tron Theatre (tron.co.uk) in the historic Merchant City area. You’ll have your pick of visual arts, child-friendly theatre, and a bar-restaurant where you can mingle with performers after the shows (don't stare). The Home Nations Festival of British poetry is the one to watch this summer but catching a show here is just part of the pleasure. The theatre is a sight in itself: the steeple dates to a 16th-century rebuild after a fire devastated Glasgow. The building you see today is the reconstruction after a second fire in 1793, started by the Hellfire Club, notorious high-society hedonists who met in secret. Since then it’s housed the Glasgow police, fallen into disrepair, and then risen from the ashes once more as the Tron Theatre.
Looking south from Gilmorehill to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. Image by dun_deagh / CC BY-SA 2.0
The city’s architectural treasures also came under threat this year when a fire devastated the library in the Glasgow School of Art. A masterwork of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, celebrated Glasgow-born architect and artist, the building is undergoing repair. In the meantime you can see Mackintosh’s imprint on Glasgow from the Willow Tea Rooms to the airy House for an Art Lover.
For a classic gallery experience, Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum dazzles with sculptures, oil masterpieces and installations on every floor – most impressively Salvador Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross. More spiritual sights await at interfaith St Mungo's Museum of Religious Life & Art. The museum’s written explanations seem to target a younger audience but the building, designed in traditional Scottish baronial style and just by the dramatic Glasgow Cathedral, is well worth a visit.
For surroundings every bit as lovely as the artwork, jump on a train to Pollokshaws West (nine minutes from Glasgow Central) for the Burrell Collection. The gallery unites artwork and curios as diverse as ancient Egyptian death masks, medieval stained glass windows, Rodin sculptures and entire suits of armour. This treasure trove is a testament to the tastes (and brutal bargaining skills) of collector Sir William Burrell, and its setting in acres of fresh woodland is as much a reason to visit as the naturally lit galleries.
If this all sounds a bit serious, though, don’t forget that Glasgow does late and loud better than most of the planet, whether you’re rocking out at King Tut’s or the Barrowland or getting down at the Arches or the Sub Club.
Glasgow for gourmands
The haggis, chieftain of the pudding race. Image by Tess Watson / CC BY 2.0
If you’re here for whisky, beer, black pudding, deep-fried everything and (of course) haggis, neeps and tatties then you’ll find plenty to test your elastic waistband. But prepare for some culinary surprises too.
You can savour some of the finest Scottish fare at Cafe Gandolfi. Pull up one of their impressively throne-like wooden seat and slather some homemade pate onto an oatcake. Debate between wickedly plump scallops and melt-in-the-mouth lamb, agonise over the wine list, and pop an extra button for dessert.
Turkey pie, the Butterfly and the Pig. Image by Edinburgh Blog / CC BY 2.0
If you have a sweet tooth, dangle a vintage teacup from your fingertips at the Butterfly and the Pig (thebutterflyandthepig.com). Their tea rooms are the perfect place for a tray piled high with scones, cupcakes and miniature sandwiches, and they serve a fine range of chunkier brunch options. Certainly Glasgow has no shortage of bargain breakfasts and stomach-lining carbs (did someone say chip buttie?) Try Kinning Perk (kinningperk.co.uk) or Coai’s Cafe (coiascafe.co.uk) for brunch if you’ve had a heavy night.
Craving a little spice? Glasgow’s Indian food scene is among the best in Europe. The roads around Charing Cross are a hub for Glasgow’s most tongue-tingling cuisine; try Shenaz (shenaz.co.uk) or Punjabi Charing Cross (punjabicharingcross.co.uk). For a turmeric-tinged spoonful of history, head to Shish Mahal (shishmahal.co.uk). This 1960s-founded restaurant claims British-Indian favourite chicken tikka masala as its own invention – and it’s no idle boast. Another unmissable Indian is Dakhin (dakhin.com), a cheerful eatery on Candleriggs. You'll know you're close when you see punters hauling machine-gun-sized dosa (rolled lentil and rice pancakes – the house speciality) out of the door.
Plan your Glasgow trip
A car is handy for visiting sights outside the centre, like the Burrell Collection, but it's definitely not needed for a short break. With frequent buses and a metro system, Glasgow is an easy place to explore. Grab a FirstDay pass (£4) for a full day of travel on the city's First bus network (there are multiple bus operators so check which one you’re boarding).
For easy access to sights and nightlife, it's hard to beat a stay at futuristic CitizenM. But you can tighten your belt even further by bedding down in Blue Sky Hostel or Euro Hostel – both are in walking distance of Glasgow’s train stations should you need to wobble home after a wild weekend.
Anita Isalska is a writer and digital editor based in Lonely Planet’s London office. Follow Anita on Twitter.
Anita travelled to Glasgow with support from Visit Scotland (visitscotland.com). When Lonely Planet contributors receive assistance from travel providers such as tourist boards, airlines, and so on to conduct first-hand research, we retain our editorial independence at all times, and never accept anything in return for positive coverage.