Disarmingly blending sophistication and earthiness, Scotland's biggest city has evolved over the last couple of decades to become one of Britain's most intriguing metropolises.
Glasgow's principal architectural legacy is its impressive assemblage of stately Victorian mansions and public buildings, the product of wealth generated from manufacturing and trade. It gives the centre a solid, slightly staid dignity that is actually rather misleading. More svelte are the sublime designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, which dot the city; visiting a few of his buildings and interiors soon reveals his genius. The city – always proud of its working-class background – also innovatively displays its industrial heritage, while modern structures, many along the Clyde River, have quickly become local icons.
Museums and Galleries
Collecting was big in Victorian times, so it's no surprise that Glasgow's architectural legacy from the period is complemented by some wonderful museums and galleries. Kelvingrove combines natural history and diverse objects from around the world with a first-rate art collection, while nearby Kelvin Hall will hold, from 2020, the University of Glasgow's eclectic Hunterian museum exhibits, paintings and sumptuous Mackintosh interior. On the Clyde, the Riverside holds an excellent ensemble of historic vehicles; to the south, the Burrell Collection (due to reopen in 2020) is an extraordinary corpus of archaeological treasures, objets d'art from around the world and fine paintings.
Glaswegians definitely work to live, and the city comes into its own after five – not that people don't pop down for a cheeky lunchtime pint, too. The city's pubs are gloriously friendly places and you're sure to have some entertaining blethers (chats) with locals when you pop into one. Glasgow's live music scene is also legendary; big bands play at iconic venues, but a number of lower-key pubs have regular gigs that are excellent too. Clubbing is also popular, with a couple of famous dance floors, and the LGBT-focused Pink Triangle is a notably friendly scene.
Glasgow is where Scotland shops; the city packs out at weekends when highlanders, islanders, Edinburghers and more come in to cruise the malls. The downtown area has several major shopping centres and arcades fully stocked with global brands as well as more local offerings. On the fringes of this area and in the West End are the bohemian beats: record stores, vintage clothing markets and second-hand booksellers. In the East End, the weekend Barras market is quite an experience, blending modern concepts with cheap designer ripoffs, faded bric-a-brac and a dose of authentic working-class Glasgow.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Glasgow.
Glasgow Cathedral has a rare timelessness. The dark, imposing interior conjures up medieval might and can send a shiver down the spine. It's a shining example of Gothic architecture, and unlike nearly all of Scotland's cathedrals, it survived the turmoil of the Reformation mobs almost intact because the Protestants decided to repurpose it for their own worship. Most of the current building dates from the 15th century. Built on the supposed site of the tomb of St Kentigern (Mungo), Glasgow Cathedral has been closely entwined with the city's history. The necropolis behind it is one of Glasgow's best rambles. The exterior The fairly svelte 13th-century Gothic lines of the building are nicely offset by the elegant central tower. Fine tracery can be seen on the windows, particularly at the principal western entrance, used only on special occasions. The doorway is fairly unadorned, with just some blind arching above it. It's worth walking around to the cathedral's other end, where the protruding, heavily buttressed lower church gives the building a bulky asymmetry. The nave The nave makes an impact with its height – around 100 feet (30 meters) – and slender grace. There's some stunning stained glass, most of which is 20th century. Particularly fine is Francis Spear's The Creation (1958) above the western door, with Adam and Eve center stage. The aisles, separated by graceful arcades, are flanked with tombs and war memorials hung with regimental colors. Above the arcades are two further levels of elegant arching. The roof is 20th century but conserves some original timber. The eastern end The eastern end of the church is divided from the western nave by a harmonious late-15th-century stone choir screen, or pulpitum, with a central door topped by a balustrade. It's decorated with seven characterful pairs of figures that may represent the seven deadly sins. Going through it, you are confronted with a splendid vista of the choir stalls leading to the four narrow lancet windows of the eastern end. These are also evocative works by Francis Spear that depict the Apostles. In the northeastern corner of this area is the upper chapterhouse, a mostly 15th-century space used as a sacristy. The University of Glasgow was founded here in 1451; larger premises were soon built for it. The lower church This vaulted crypt is an atmospheric space with thick pillars. There's a modern altar over the supposed location of the tomb of St Kentigern/Mungo, a 6th-to-7th-century figure who is the city's patron. His legend grew in the 11th and 12th centuries and his tomb became a major medieval pilgrimage destination. This area was built in the mid-13th century to provide a more fitting setting for the saint's resting place. On display is some of the fine 19th-century stained glass from Munich that once adorned the windows but was removed in the 20th century, probably because it was fading. The sunken ambulatory at the eastern end has four square chapels separated by arches; this area featured as L'Hôpital des Anges in Paris in season two of Outlander. The tomb of Bishop Wishart, a key supporter of Robert the Bruce and an important figure in the cathedral's construction, is here. The southernmost chapel has a well that was likely venerated before the cathedral was even built and perhaps even before Christianity came to the area. There's also a lower chapterhouse here, usually closed off by a grille. The Blackadder Aisle After the gloomy gravitas of the rest of the cathedral, the whiteness in the Blackadder Aisle (also spelled Blacader) feels like a dose of light. Though originally this aisle was designed as a crypt for a chapel to be built above, this was never constructed. The tierceron vaulting is spectacular, with ornate ceiling bosses. This was the last part of the cathedral to be built, in the late 15th century. The necropolis The hill behind the cathedral was converted from a park to a cemetery in the 1830s. It is interdenominational; indeed, the first burial was a Jewish man in 1832. It's a spectacular spot for a stroll; there are 50-odd thousand burials here and 3500 monuments, including some designed by Alexander Thomson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. You reach it via the "bridge of sighs" that separates the realms of the living and dead; just wander the paths and enjoy the city views and the ornateness of the tombs, built when Glasgow's wealthy captains of industry were at their apogee. At the very top is a monument to John Knox that predates the cemetery. Tickets and other practicalities Entry to Glasgow Cathedral is free but donations for upkeep are appreciated. To guarantee entry, book your timed tickets online in advance of your visit. There are helpful guides throughout the cathedral; don't hesitate to speak to them, as they can point out some interesting details. There's no toilet in the necropolis or the cathedral; pop into St Mungo's museum if you're caught short. Getting to Glasgow Cathedral It's a 15-minute uphill walk to the cathedral from George Square. Numerous buses pass by, including buses 38 and 57.
One of Glasgow's top attractions, this outstanding museum 3 miles out of town houses everything from Chinese porcelain and medieval furniture to paintings by Cézanne. The tapestry collection is a particular highlight. It's closed for refurbishment, and is due to reopen in 2020. The new building will have double the exhibition space as well as a cafe. Meanwhile, some items are on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum.
This visually impressive modern museum at Glasgow Harbour owes its striking curved forms to late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. A transport museum forms the main part of the collection, featuring a fascinating series of cars made in Scotland, plus assorted railway locos, trams, bikes (including the world's first pedal-powered bicycle from 1847) and model Clyde-built ships. An atmospheric recreation of a Glasgow shopping street from the early 20th century puts the vintage vehicles into a social context. There's also a cafe.
Attached to the Hunterian Art Gallery, this is a reconstruction of the first home that Charles Rennie Mackintosh bought with his wife, noted designer/artist Margaret Macdonald. It's fair to say that interior decoration was one of their strong points; Mackintosh House is startling even today. The quiet elegance of the hall and dining room on the ground floor give way to a stunning drawing room and bedroom upstairs. Visits are by guided tour in the morning and self guided in the afternoon.
A magnificent sandstone building, this grand Victorian cathedral of culture is a fascinating and unusual museum, with a bewildering variety of exhibits. You'll find fine art alongside stuffed animals, and Micronesian shark-tooth swords alongside a Spitfire plane, but it's not mix 'n' match: rooms are carefully and thoughtfully themed, and the collection is of a manageable size. It has an excellent room of Scottish art, a room of fine French impressionist works, and quality Renaissance paintings from Italy and Flanders.
This brilliant science museum will keep the kids entertained for hours (that's middle-aged kids, too!). It brings science and technology alive through hundreds of interactive exhibits on four floors: a bounty of discovery for inquisitive minds. There's also an IMAX theatre (see www.cineworld.com for current screenings), a rotating 127m-high observation tower, a planetarium and a Science Theatre, with live science demonstrations. To get here, take bus 89 or 90 from Union St.
In 2018, Charles Rennie Mackintosh's greatest building was gearing up for reopening after a devastating 2014 fire when, unbelievably, another blaze destroyed the painstakingly reconstructed interiors and severely damaged the building. The school has committed to reconstructing it, but it will be a lengthy process. At time of research the visitor centre, shop and exhibitions in the neighbouring Reid building were closed to visitors; check the website to see if visits and tours have resumed.
Opened in 2018, this reconstruction of the original Willow tearoom that Mackintosh designed and furnished in the early 20th century for restaurateur Kate Cranston offers authentic design splendour in its original location. You can admire the architect's distinctive touch in just about every element; he had free rein and even the teaspoons were given his attention. Alongside the tearoom is a visitor centre, with a two-level interactive exhibition about the historical context and Kate Cranston's collaboration with Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald.
This extraordinary mechanical theatre is located at the Trongate 103 arts centre. Russian sculptor and mechanic Eduard Bersudsky, now resident in Scotland, has created a series of large, wondrous figures sculpted from bits of scrap and elaborate carvings. Set to haunting music, each figure performs humorous and tragic stories of the human spirit. Great for kids and very moving for adults: inspirational one moment and macabre the next, but always colourful, clever and thought provoking.