The Lowdown on Glasgow

by Keith Savage · 4 comments

Glasgow's Merchant City

Even though I’ve visited Glasgow on four separate occasions, I hesitate to write this post. Edinburgh gets all the love, even from me. I spent three weeks in the city to the east last year. Glasgow got just three days. I flew into and out of Glasgow on my trip last April/May, but effectively spent no time in the city (apart from a night at an airport hotel Sarah and I spent on our way home). I capped my last trip to Scotland with a three-day stint in town and used it as a good excuse to get together with Yorkie and travel jester Mike Sowden of Fevered Mutterings.

Three days and an airport hotel night? It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s downright ignorant.

I agree on all accounts, and I had such a great time on this last trip that I mean to show some dedicated love to the dear green place in the future. Since I’ve admittedly just scratched the surface of this sprawling Clydeside metropolis, I’ll simply serve up my experiences and observations unabashedly.

The Lowdown

The knock on Glasgow is that it’s an industrial city, which is a not-so-subtle shorthand way of saying it’s dirty, polluted, and filled with undesirables. This may have been true at one time – industrialism certainly turned this small town on the river into a megalopolis – but these days Glasgow is more complicated than that. There are beautiful green spaces throughout the city and modern buildings popping up next to preserved ancient ones. It must be hard for Glasgow being so close to the fantastic museum-like quality of Edinburgh. Then again, Edinburgh doesn’t feel like a real city; Glasgow does, and that’s a boon. This is an important point for city-lovers.

Glasgow has everything you expect from a major city, from excellent restaurants to live music and theatre to cultural and sporting events, but with a Scottish twist. In fact, the Glaswegian accent might be the hardest to discern in all of Scotland. All of these elements add up to a unique destination worthy of a visit.


Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city at 2.5 million people, and it’s a common point of entry for anyone flying into the country. The grid-based heart of the city is cupped by the M8 motorway and the River Clyde, and it radiates significant suburban sprawl. Everything starts from George Square and the Queen Street rail station. The shopping and theatre district are in the center and west along Argyle, Sauchiehall, and Buchanan streets, while the Merchant City takes up the east section of downtown with restaurants, bars, and clubs.

The East End is the haunt of lager-lovers, punters, and the city of the dead – Glasgow’s Necropolis. This side of Glasgow leans towards its old industrial image, but thank goodness Tennent’s Brewery is here. Glasgow’s West End, on the other hand, centers around the gorgeous green Kelvingrove Park and the University of Glasgow. Residential neighborhoods spread south of the Clyde and north of the M8.

The University in Glasgow's West End

Sights & Activities

Glasgow is a good place to do an open-top bus tour. It really helped me wrap my arms around the place and see sides of the city that often go unremarked, like the pavilions south of the river. Amble through the University of Glasgow and Kelvingrove Park for some sunshine, architecture, and greenery. Don’t miss St. Mungo’s Cathedral and the Necropolis in the East End, and stop at The Willow Tea Rooms for some Charles Rennie MacKintosh appreciation on the way. You could do worse than people watch over lunch at George Square.

Glasgow is renowned for its live music scene, so check out venues like King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, and The Barrowland Ballroom. The Royal Concert Hall puts on loads of shows and if you’re in Glasgow at the right time you might be able to catch the expansive Celtic Connections folk festival. Just outside of town is the Auchentoshan Distillery. Finally, consider checking out a Rangers or Celtic game (or a Rangers vs. Celtic game if you’re really brave).

Eating & Drinking

Glasgow has a higher concentration of excellent restaurants than any place in Scotland. You can get excellent seafood at Gamba, traditional Scottish fare at The Ubiquitous Chip, and mind-blowing Indian at Mother of India Café. If you’re looking for Chinese, mainland European, Italian, or Vegetarian/Vegan, you won’t disappointed either. I enjoyed an incredible salad at The Left Bank in the West End. Believe me, a good salad is hard to find in Scotland. The Trans-Europe Café is a nice spot for brunch and conversation, and if you’re in the mood for afternoon tea check out The Willow Tea Rooms.

Drinking is dangerous in Glasgow. There are simply too many incredible options. Brewdog’s proprietary pub across from the Kelvingrove Art Museum serves outrageous beers like their Tokyo beer-wine (18.2% ABV). Babbity Bowster and Blackfriars are a couple of CAMRA-championed pubs in the Merchant City known for their excellent real ales. The Horseshoe Bar is perfect for quaffing some real ale during a football match with rowdy patrons. Whisky enthusiasts can’t miss Ben Nevis or The Bon Accord, two pubs with immense selections.

Notes from the Field

I love Glasgow’s West End. It’s beautiful, laid back, and full of youthful energy. It has an excellent selection of pubs and restaurants and is close enough to downtown to make it the perfect base for any time spent in Glasgow. The truth is I’ve only ever stayed in the West End, and I’m OK with that. Must remember: don’t travel through Kelvingrove Park at night. I know it looks like a convenient route between two points, but it gets skeevy when the sun goes down. Paul at The Bon Accord is one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever met on the subject of real ales and whisky. Check out the whisky list on the bar’s iPad.

MikeachimNo Gravatar January 15, 2012 at 6:52 PM

*capers in jester’s outfit, bells a-jangling*

I’ll admit, I loved my first sight of Glasgow (I’d never visited it before I met you that day). As you say, it feels…complicated. And well-used. Well-used things often aren’t terribly pleasant on the eyes. But I loved that feel of the place.

My home city of York is very much like Edinburgh in some ways. It’s gorgeous, but some of that gorgeousness is for show, artifice, hokey for-the-tourists charm. Get past that and York becomes as gnarly as you’d hope, but it’s taken me years to get to that point. Not having had years in Edinburgh, the place still feels a bit…put-on.

Glasgow, on the other hand, instantly felt like it didn’t give a damn I was there. 🙂

Must go back, and explore. Yes.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 15, 2012 at 9:42 PM

Oh, I don’t know. Edinburgh is such a fantastic city – I don’t mean to pit the two against each other in this article. I suppose I meant that the heart of Edinburgh has less of a lived-in feel than Glasgow. Both are great cities.

holiday scotlandNo Gravatar January 11, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Great article Keith, lots of good information on there and it gives a good impression of what Glasgow is really like

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 15, 2012 at 9:36 PM

Thanks Greg!

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