"Twenty-one years ago, Glasgow was named European City of Culture and you could say this vibrant, forward-thinking city has come of age. The place now looks incredible."
Twenty-one years ago, Glasgow was named European City of Culture and you could say this vibrant, forward-thinking city has come of age. The place now looks incredible.
Where Barcelona has Antoni Gaudí and Chicago has Frank Lloyd Wright, Glasgow has Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the iconic architect of the Arts & Crafts movement, whose buildings anchor the city. Visit the Glasgow School of Art, consideredby many to be his architectural zenith, or the Scotland Street School that houses a museum of Glaswegian education - just one of the city's recently voted top 50 landmarks.
Also on that list are the likes of Barrowland, the legendary music venue where Glaswegian bands such as Franz Ferdinand, Snow Patrol and Teenage Fanclub have all plied their trade - and the shiny armadillo shell that is the Clyde Auditorium, a plush concert venue designed by Sir Norman Foster. There's the evocatively named Glasgow Necropolis cemetery and, bang up to date, Zaha Hadid's brand new Riverside Museum (pictured below) in the harbour. Due to open its doors in summer 2011, this futuristic flourish of a construction replaces the existing Museum of Transport and will showcase more than 3,000 objects - locomotives, trams, cars, motorbikes and more - that help tell the stories of erstwhile Glasgow individuals, from tram conductresses to shipyard workers.
Glasgow boasts an amazing array of listed buildings for such a small city. And that's another of its beauties: its compact nature means you can get around quickly and easily, on foot or via the underground train system. So there's no reason not to extend your tour of the cultural sites to take in some art galleries, too.
Since 1996, 10 artists with Glasgow connections have been nominated for the Turner Prize, and half of those have won - including the 2010 victor, Susan Philipsz, whose work has included sound installations played under the bridges of the River Clyde. The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), an 18th-century neo-classical building in the heart of the city, and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum are the best known on the circuit. Indeed, the Kelvingrove establishment is the UK's most visited museum outside of London and among its 8,000 objects, it boasts a full-size Spitfire aeroplane suspended from the roof and Dalí's masterpiece, Christ of Saint John of the Cross. Less well known are Transmission and Mary Mary galleries, both featuring contemporary art in the heart of the city centre, which are also well worth a look.
Music for all
In a city noted for its welcoming nature and world-class sense of humour - Billy Connolly was raised on the Glasgow shipyards, don't forget - it's no surprise there are plenty of opportunities to let your hair down. Come the cover of darkness, take in some stand-up at one of the comedy clubs - including The Stand and Jongleurs - or catch a live band. Besides Barrowland there's the equally legendary King Tut's Wah Wah Hut (which hosts comedy as well as music), or the O2 Academy, plus a plethora of smaller venues. And Glasgow keeps classical fans happy, too: the city is home to five of the six national companies, including the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, based at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and the Scottish Opera.
On average, the city hosts more than 100 music events every single week, from indie and urban to classical, hip-hop and Celtic. It's little wonder that Time Magazine dubbed Glasgow 'Europe's Secret Capital of Music'.
When it comes to somewhere to stay, there's something for every budget. At the upper end, consider the luxury of the Grand Central Hotel, located almost next door to Glasgow Central rail station and currently enjoying the spoils of a £20 million facelift.
The hipper option is CitizenM, a budget boutique hotel that opened in 2010. CitizenM Amsterdam was recently voted the Trendiest Hotel in the World; check into the Glasgow outpost, close to the Theatre Royal, and see what all the fuss is about.
And just as Glasgow itself is a melting pot of cultures, so are its restaurants. The world, as they say, is your oyster so let's start with the relatively new Crabshakk, which won New Restaurant of the Year at the Scottish Chef Awards in 2009.
The intimate restaurant offers fresh, unfussy seafood, such as whole brown crab and seared scallops, alongside everyone's favourite, fish and chips. Established in the 1930s and bearing the original Art Deco interiors, Rogano, too, serves fresh fish and seafood, sourced from Scottish waters.
The national cuisine, with its locally sourced ingredients, is increasingly fêted in culinary circles, and there are plenty of opportunities to sample Scottish fare. There's Urban Bar & Brasserie, awarded two AA rosettes within months of opening, Ingram Wynd, which focuses on traditional Scottish fare in Victorian surroundings and The Sisters, headed by Jacqueline and Pauline O'Donnell.
Glasgow also offers fabulous Indian food by the tandoor-load (KoolBa won Best Indian Restaurant at the 2009 Scottish Restaurant Awards), Italian (La Parmigiana has been serving the city for 33 years and Osteria Piero was voted Scotland's Best Italian Restaurant in 2010), Japanese (Sapporo Teppanyaki) - and we haven't even mentioned Jamie Oliver yet! (That would be Jamie's Italian in George Square.)
With the Magners Glasgow International Comedy Festival raising laughs in March and April and the British Art Show kicking off in May, there's never been a better time to discover why Glasgow's still got it.
For more info and great accommodation deals, visit: seeglasgow.com
From designer labels to vintage chic...
Something of a Tardis, this beautiful shopping centre is all but hidden from the outside. The building started out as a 19th-century four-storey merchant square and was converted nearly 30 years ago. Not that you'd guess. The combination of wrought iron and glass feels timeless, and the selection of brands inside remains hard to beat.
Home to the lively student quarter and just a couple of subway stops from the city centre, Byres Road is vintage shopping heaven. Explore great boutiques including We Love to Boogie, with its own in-store café, the trinket-filled shelves of Starry Starry Night, and Vintage Guru, which is open seven a days a week and offers late-night shopping on Saturday nights.
Close to GoMA, this is where to head for designer labels. Glaswegians take style very seriously and Mulberry, Ralph Lauren and Jaeger have all staked a claim on this unassuming thoroughfare. You'll also find Cruise here, a high fashion boutique whose roots lie in Scotland's two largest cities.