Explore Glasgow, Scotland
Explore Glasgow which is the biggest city in Scotland, with a population of about 600,000 in the city itself, or over 2 million if the surrounding towns of the Clydeside conurbation are taken into account. Located at the west end of Scotland’s Central Belt on the banks of the River Clyde, Glasgow’s historical importance as Scotland’s main industrial centre has been challenged by decades of change and various regeneration efforts. The third largest city in the entire United Kingdom (by population), it remains one of the nation’s key economic centers outside London.
In recent years, Glasgow has been awarded the European titles of City of Culture (1990), City of Architecture and Design (1999) and Capital of Sport (2003). In 2008, Glasgow became the second Scottish city to join the UNESCO Creative Cities initiative when it was named as a UNESCO City of Music (joining Bologna and Seville). In preparing its bid, Glasgow counted an average of 130 music events a week ranging from pop and rock to Celtic music and opera.
The city has transformed itself from being the once mighty powerhouse of industrial Britain to a centre for commerce, tourism, and culture. Glasgow was the host city for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Glasgow has become one of the most visited cities in the British Isles, and visitors will find a revitalized city centre, the best shopping outside London without a doubt, excellent parks and museums (most of which are free), and easy access to the Highlands and Islands.
The area around Glasgow has hosted communities for millennia, with the River Clyde providing a natural location for fishing. The Romans later built outposts in the area and, to keep Roman Britannia separate from the Gaelic and Pictish Caledonia, constructed the Antonine Wall, remains of which can still be seen in Glasgow today. Glasgow itself was founded by the Christian missionary Saint Mungo in the 6th century. He established a church on the Molendinar Burn, where the present Glasgow Cathedral stands, and in the following years Glasgow became a religious centre. Its name is derived from the Gaelic Glas chu which translates literally as “green hollow”; over the centuries this has become romanticized to mean “dear green place” which is often cited as a nickname for the city.
What to do in Glasgow, Scotland
There are many nightclubs, concerts and festivals in Glasgow.
Glasgow’s been famous for its music scene(s) for at least 20 years, with some top acts literally queuing to play at venues such as the Barrowlands or King’ Tuts. There’s plenty of venues where you’re likely to see a good band (and lots of bad bands too); on any day of the week there should be at least several shows to choose from throughout the city, with the number increasing to a even greater variety on Thursday, Friday & Saturday. In no particular order, here follows some pop/indie/rock-orientated venues:
Arts and Theatrical Venues
The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sauchiehall Street (nearest Subway: Buchanan Street). This is the home of The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, one of Europe’s leading symphony orchestras. It also produces the world famous Celtic Connections Festival every January.
The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD), 100 Renfrew Street, is primarily a teaching college but also puts on theatrical and musical performances. It puts on mainly contemporary music, modern dance and jazz.
The Theatre Royal, 282 Hope Street, was first opened in 1867. It puts on mainly ‘serious’ theatre, opera and ballet.
The Tron, 63 Trongate, specializes in contemporary works.
St Andrews in the Square, St Andrew’s Square, a restored 18th century church turned Arts venue. It puts on classical music and folk.
The Citizens Theatre, 119 Gorbals Street, is one of the most famous theatres in the world, and has launched the careers of many international movie and theatre stars. It specializes in contemporary and avant-garde work.
The King’s Theatre, 297 Bath Street, is Glasgow’s major ‘traditional’ theatre. It is over 100 years old, and in the midst of a major refurbishment.
The Pavilion, 121 Renfield Street, is the only privately run theatre in Scotland. It was founded in 1904 and has seen many of the greatest stars of music hall perform there: most famously Charlie Chaplin. Nowadays it features mainly ‘popular’ theatre, musicals and comedy.
The Panopticon Music Hall, off Argyle Street, Trongate, is the oldest surviving music hall in the world (it opened in 1857). It most famously held the debut performance of Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy fame) in 1906. It now shows mainly music hall orientated shows: e.g. magic, burlesque and comedy, but also occasionally puts on classical and world music.
Oran Mor 731 Great Western Road. Restaurant, pub, nightclub, theatrical and music venue. Due to its late opening hours, this venue now lies at the heart of the West End social scene.
The Glasgow International Jazz Festival is held every year in June. Other arts or music festivals of note include The West End Festival, the Merchant City Festival and numerous others. As always, consult the listings magazine The List for further details.
What to eat
The city has won the title “Curry Capital of Britain” two years running and has a huge and dynamic range of restaurants, Indian or otherwise. Despite Glasgow being the home town of culinary hero Gordon Ramsay, there are no Michelin-starred fine dining establishments in the city (Glasgow’s sole Michelin starred restaurant, Amaryllis – owned by Ramsay himself – embarrassingly folded in 2004), nevertheless there are scores of highly regarded eateries in the city. The restaurants below are some of the culinary highlights of Glasgow.
Glasgow has taken many different cultural foods and combined them into a unique dining experience. Most takeaways offer Indian dishes (pakora), pizzas and kebabs as well as the more traditional fish and chips or burgers. This has resulted in some takeaways offering a blend of dishes like chips with curry sauce, the donner kebab pizza, the battered and deep fried pizza to name but a few.
Fish & Chips (aka “Fish Supper”) is a perennial favorite, and there are a healthy number of fish and chip shops around the city. Given the Glaswegian’s famous fondness for anything deep fried – “bad” establishments don’t usually last long.
As befits a port town, Glasgow excels at seafood and fish.
What to drink
Pubs are arguably the meeting rooms of Scotland’s largest city and many a lively discussion can be heard in a Glasgow bar. There is nothing Glaswegians love more than “putting the world right” over a pint (or three), whether it’s the Old Firm, religion, weather, politics or how this year’s holidays went. You are guaranteed a warm welcome from the locals, who will soon strike up a conversation.
There are three (or arguably, four) basic drinking areas: these are also good for restaurants. First, there is the West End (the area around Byres Road and Ashton Lane), second there is the stretch of Sauchiehall Street between the end of the pedestrianised area (near Queen Street Station) and Charing Cross (and the various streets off this area). Thirdly there is the Merchant City, which is near Strathclyde University’s campus. This is the most ‘upmarket’ area to drink and eat in, although it still has numerous student dives: start at the University of Strathclyde and wander down towards the Trongate (the West part of this part of town is the gay area). Staying in the city centre, there are also several hidden gems in and around the Blythswood Square area and the streets between Hope Street and Charing Cross: this being the city’s office district however it can feel quite deserted on evenings and weekends. Finally, and up and coming, is the South Side (i.e. South of the Clyde). This used to be very much ‘behind the times’ socially speaking, but the relocation of the BBC to the South Side and the whole area generally moving ‘upmarket’ has improved things greatly. Try the area round Shawlands Cross for restaurants, bars, and The Shed nightclub.
Be warned though about dress codes, particularly in some of the more upmarket establishments in the city centre and West End: sportswear and trainers (sneakers) are often banned, and some door staff are notoriously “selective” about who is allowed in, with arcane “sorry, regulars only mate” entry policies which they will never explain. If confronted with this, take your custom elsewhere. The general “boozer” type pubs have no dress codes, but football shirts (regardless of team) are almost universally banned in all: particularly on weekends. One rule to be aware of is that some clubs and upmarket pubs enforce an unwritten policy of not allowing all-male groups of more than about four people. For this reason, it may be advisable to split into groups of two or three. Some pubs in Glasgow are also exclusively the haunt of Old Firm football fans: again, these will be very crowded on football days, can get very rowdy, and should be avoided. Fortunately they are easy to spot; for example, a large cluster of Celtic-oriented pubs exist in the Barrowlands area, while one or two bars on or near Paisley Road West are favorite haunts of Rangers fans.
Glasgow has many options for whisky, though many may not be immediately be obvious for the passing tourist.
Bath Street has a constantly shifting array of “style bars”, which become more numerous as you walk up towards the financial district on Blythswood Hill. The quality varies wildly depending on your taste and tolerance.
Culture and music
If you would like a taste the real Glasgow and experience a part of the culture few outsiders are privy to, try one of the many unofficial national drinks favored and savored by the Scots. This is probably the second (Whisky being the first) most influential, but no less important, drink that has graced the fine lands that comprise Glasgow and in fact, the whole of Scotland. This is the one and only Buckfast Tonic Wine. Known by many pseudonyms Bucky, Tonic, Sauce or Wreck the Hoose Juice. The most traditional manner of consuming this beverage is by gathering in a park and pouring it down your neck before the ‘Polis’ come or by amassing a group of likeminded individuals and wandering down a quiet cycle path in the dark, preferably when it’s raining. There are a few regional variations of consumption as well; some groups mix their Buckfast with Milk creating an otherworldly concoction known as a “Buck-shake” or sometimes “Buck-kakke”. Some add caffeinated soft drinks, further adding to the caffeine content of the wine. Though these are some of the traditional ways to consume “The Tonic” by far the most common way people choose to consume their wine is to sit in a flat or garden on a rare nice day, with their pals, with a bottle each (at least) and drink it straight from the bottle.
As the city centre and West End’s bars become ever more sanitized, off-the-peg and tourist-oriented, finding a traditional “boozer” in Glasgow is getting harder. For the tourist who wants to make the effort, they can be great places to discover what many would call the “real” Glasgow, the Glasgow where Glaswegians hang out. The other advantage is that the cost of a drink is often a lot cheaper. Common sense should tell you which ones to try out, and which to avoid!
If you are travelling with a laptop then you will find broadband internet access in the rooms of most, but not all, medium to high end hotels. If this is important to you, check before booking. Alternatively, there are many Wi-Fi hot spots in and around Glasgow and WiFinder provides a register.
Official tourism websites of Glasgow
For more information please visit the official government website: