At the tender age of 17, I left my home town and headed for the bright city lights of Glasgow to study. It’s now nine years on and I’m still here – and now one of Glasgow’s biggest cheerleaders, too.
Scotland has always been a popular tourist destination, for those who don’t mind the rain. We have heaps of green spaces, filled with hills and lochs and walks. You’re never more than 124km (or 77 miles) from the sea. The Scottish people are known for being a friendly bunch, happy chat to strangers as if they’re old pals.
Those who wish to visit a city will often venture to Edinburgh, or maybe St Andrews. Both cities are idealised, romantic visions of Scotland at its finest. Edinburgh is home to the royal family’s second home, Holyrood Palace; as well as the city’s protector and home of the Crown Jewels, Edinburgh Castle. St Andrews is another favorite of the royals, as the study-place of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
But due to their beauty and history, both cities have become tourist hotspots in Scotland, as well as popular university cities among our English and European neighbours. There are parts of Edinburgh where you often can’t walk on the pavement for tourists – much to the locals’ annoyance. Despite the plentiful tartan-filled tourist shops, you might struggle to find a Scottish accent.
Glasgow is a welcome contrast to the tartan-decked tourist hubs. Sure, we have our tartan-tat shops full of “I love Scotland” tote bags (definitely made in China, by the way). But the city is just … different. It has its own unique feel.
Glasgow hasn’t yet been overwhelmed with tourists, which means most locals will be super friendly. We are also very aware of our position as underdog when it comes to the battle of the Scottish cities, so we’ll go out of our way to tell you why Glasgow is great, and point you in the direction of some local favorites.
Glasgow’s signature Victorian architecture is made from sandstone in yellow and red, making the city stand out aesthetically from its grey neighbours. We’re also home to the notorious Subway – the easiest underground rail system to traverse in the world.
Our lovely circular Subway makes it easy for even the most sheltered tourist to escape the bustling city centre and discover more of Glasgow. The West End of the city is a local favorite among students and the wealthy. On Byres Road – the heart of the West End – Waitrose sits shoulder to shoulder with charity and vintage shops. And the surrounding lanes are draped with fairy lights all year round and filled with pubs, coffee shops and boutiques.
Amble to the bottom of Byres Road and left towards “town” (the city center) and you’ll come across the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The museum is free to enjoy, and has been a favorite in Glasgow since opening in 1901. The building itself is worth a walk around – the Spanish-Baroque building is one of the most impressive pieces of architecture in Glasgow. There’s an urban myth that it was built back-to-front (the back is indeed as impressive as the front), provoking the architect to jump from the roof to his death. According to the museum website itself, though, that isn’t true!
Inside the museum, Sir Roger the Asian Elephant is a sight to behold, holding court over his taxidermied pals in the Life Gallery of the museum. Cross over to the art gallery to behold Christ of St John of the Cross – by far one of the most popular exhibitions since its purchase in 1952. I can’t count how many times I’ve been to the gallery, and I still love to sit under Dali’s magnificent work and ruminate.
On the south side of the river – and still on the Subway circle (hop off at Cessnock) – the sandstone falls away to make room for a massive regeneration project on Pacific Quay. The BBC moved their Scottish headquarters from the wealthy West End to here in 2006, next to the established Glasgow Science Centre. You can take a tour of the new BBC building, and learn about the architecture influenced by the traditional Glasgow Tenements. Or catch a show! They’re always looking for studio audiences.
Speaking of shows, Pacific Quay is an excellent place to make base for any shows at the new Hydro in Finnieston. A personal favorite of mine is the Village Hotel Club, thanks to their Starbucks – ideal for combatting a post-gig hangover. From there, you can take a footbridge over the river and to the Hydro, SECC and Armadillo (Armadillo: local name for the Clyde Auditorium because of its unique shape).
And what’s a show without a pre-theatre dinner? Thanks to three of the biggest venues in Glasgow being within one square mile, the local area of Finnieston has become a hub of delectable dining and exciting drinks to suit every palate and purse. You just need to traverse the SECC walkway and you’ll arrive at the recently dubbed “hippest place in the UK”. I can’t recommend Porter & Rye enough for a taste of local produce, prepared to perfection. And see if you can find the Hidden Lane Tearooms if you need an afternoon treat!
It’s not all new fandangled restaurants here – although you will find the crème de la crème in that regard. Finnieston was historically a shipbuilding community, and still has plenty of traditional pubs to show for it. Colloquially dubbed the “Gaelic Triangle” are three pubs: the Park Bar, the Ben Nevis and the Islay Inn. If you’re asking for the pubs, remember in Scotland we say “Gah-lick” – “Gay-lick” is for the Irish!
Gaelic Triangle, Armadillo – we like to give things their own names in Glasgow. The road bridge connecting the north and south banks is officially called the “Clyde Arc”. But, since being opened in 2006, it’s only ever been known as the “Squinty Bridge”. And a Google search for “Glasgow Smartie tube” returns pictures of the SECC walkway! (For non-brits, Smarties are a sugar coated chocolate, not dissimilar to M&Ms, which traditionally come in a tube.)
And this Glaswegian approach to life and landmarks is a huge part of what makes Glasgow so unique among Scottish cities. While Edinburgh has its castle, and St Andrews its golf courses, it’s the people of Glasgow that make it a joy to visit. And that’s something that you can’t really put across in a guidebook – so you’ll just have to come and see for yourself.
Guest post written by Stacy Marie, a travel and lifestyle writer at Every Kind of Happy. Settled in Glasgow, she’s always looking for a short-term fix for her wanderlust, and is currently working on exploring the UK and Ireland.