Glasgow is often overlooked for a city trip in favour of that other Scottish city, Edinburgh. However, as Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow has a lot to offer, too. More than you might expect, in fact. Before visiting Glasgow last summer, I had imagined it to be a grey, industrial city. And although Glasgow does indeed have its share of rundown and forgotten areas, there’s also a completely different side to the city that I had never expected. It’s a side that’s characterised by grand, classical architecture, leafy parks and beautiful hilltop views. Here’s what I think the perfect introduction to Glasgow looks like:
Explore the grand streets and squares of Merchant City
After your morning caffeine at Laboratorio Espresso, it’s time to check out central Glasgow. It’s Merchant City where it’s at. This area was developed by the wealthy local merchants who made their fortunes during the 1700s and 1800s as Glasgow became one of the key centres of the global trade in tobacco, sugar, tea but also slavery. They built lavish residences, public buildings and warehouses in this area. Some of the most iconic buildings here include the City Chambers, Trades Hall, Hutcheson’s Hall and the Tobacco Exchange.
Today, Merchant City lives up to its name as it continues to be at the heart of Glasgow’s commercial scene. One of the most famous shopping streets of the UK is located here. Buchanan Street, named after a Glaswegian tobacco lord, is one of the prettier shopping streets out there. It’s pedestrianised and behind its classical facades are over 80 shops – a feast for any shop-aholic
Visit Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis
Although Merchant City is one of Glasgow’s most vibrant parts today, the origins of the city lie a bit further eastward. Medieval Glasgow stretched from the river Clyde along the High Street (not to be confused with Buchanan Street) up to the city’s main cathedral. Many buildings of this period are no longer there, but one of the key structures – the Cathedral – still is. Construction of the Cathedral started around 1119, making it the oldest building in the city, as well as the oldest cathedral in mainland Scotland.
Just behind the Cathedral, on the other end of a neoclassical viaduct, lies one of Glasgow’s most intriguing sights: the Necropolis. This beautiful Victorian cemetery sits on a hill overlooking the city. More than 50,000 people are buried here, including some of Glasgow’s most prominent figures. The 3,500 tomb stones make for quite a sight. Dominating the hill is a statue of John Knox, who led the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century.
After you’ve taken in the views, head down for a Scottish drink and bite at Cathedral House, a charming B&B with a wonderful bar and terrace. Up for a beer? Check out the nearby Drygate and Tennent’s breweries, which both offer guided tours and tastings
Chill out at Kelvingrove Park
As Glasgow continued to grow in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the city expanded westwards. To cater for the needs of the new middle- and upper-class families that moved here, a public park was created around the small river Kelvin. Today, Kelvingrove Park is a tranquil leafy oasis in the heart of the city. It’s full of grand statues, fountains as well as wildlife. One of the highlights of the park is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. It opened in 1901 as part of the International Exhibition in Glasgow and is now one of Scotland’s most popular museums, famous for its fine art collection. The permanent exhibitions are free of charge, so do pop in!
On the northern side, Kelvingrove Park is flanked by the University of Glasgow. Its historical campus on Gilmorehill comprises a selection of beautiful neoclassical buildings as well as the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery and the Zoology Museum.
Go for dinner and drinks in the West End
With the proximity of Kelvingrove Park and the city centre, Glasgow’s West End became a highly desirable residential area. In the 1800s, attractive Georgian-style apartments arose around Park Circus and Claremont Terrace. However, in the second half of the 20th century the area fell out of fashion. But as of late, students and young entrepreneurs have been breathing new life into the neighbourhood.
The area of Hillhead has been one of the frontrunners in the revival process. It’s now at the heart of Glasgow’s West End nightlife scene. There are plenty of independent bars, cafés and restaurants here, particularly on Great George Lane and Great Western Road. I had a brilliant meal at the Ubiquitous Chip!
Glasgow’s West End is well connected by metro (or Subway, like they say in Scotland). And for metro geeks like me, taking the underground in Glasgow is an experience in its own right. The trains and stations are like miniature versions of the London Underground – get ready for a unique ride!
That’s Glasgow in a day for you. It really is a perfect destination for a Scottish day trip. And given its proximity to the Highlands, Glasgow forms a great base from which to discover some of the rest of Scotland.