From its quaint Victorian city centre to its futuristic riverside architecture, Scotland’s largest city effortlessly combines new and old. Joe Zadeh enjoys its unique cultural landscape
If anywhere is a tale of two cities, then it is Glasgow. Once known as the “second city of the British empire”, Scotland’s biggest settlement was famous for its shipbuilding heritage and the art nouveau designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Wander through the towering Victorian city centre and it can feel like 19th-century New York. But then there is the other side of Glasgow: a modern hub for education and culture, a riverside brimming with modern architecture from the likes of Zaha Hadid, and a wealth of contemporary art lurking in galleries, such as the CCA and Trongate 103. This is, after all, a city that has produced no fewer than seven Turner prize winners and 11 nominees.
Begin your adventure at The Lighthouse, a perfect place to get a feel for both the past and present of Glasgow. Designed by Mackintosh in 1895, this building was used as the premises for the Glasgow Herald newspaper. But in the past two decades it has been transformed into a centre for design and architecture, packed with exhibitions, events and workshops. Climb the helical staircase all the way to the top and you’ll be rewarded with uninterrupted views of the Glaswegian cityscape.
A quick train journey from Central Station will put you in the trendy West End, an epicentre for live music, art and nightlife. Walk down to the banks of the River Clyde and you’ll find the Riverside Museum, a former title holder of European Museum of the Year. Don’t be fooled by the futuristic, Hadid-designed building because the exhibition inside is like a wormhole into Scottish history. Life in 20th-century Glasgow is recreated through an old cobbled street you can wander down that includes old shops and cafés to explore, horse-drawn carriages and vintage cars. If you need to rest your feet after that, then why not take a quick stroll to the The Clydeside Distillery, where you can taste some of Scotland’s finest single malt whiskies.
Thanks to the abundance of high-end restaurants, choosing dinner in the West End can be a difficult decision, but it’s a good problem to have. For a true but innovative taste of Scottish cuisine, there is Cail Bruich, a family-run restaurant that was included in last year’s Michelin Guide. Interior-wise, expect natural wood decor, stripped-back brick walls, and fresh floral arrangements. When it comes to food, there is an intense and rewarding focus on local produce, including shellfish from Skye, venison from the highlands and poultry from an idyllic farm in Strathaven.
It’s difficult to feel lost in Glasgow, even if you venture from plans and recommendations: simply wander into a “cosy wee pub” like The Belle or The Doublet and you’ll be sure to find a welcoming atmosphere. You might even enjoy a blether with the locals. This is a city of sophistication and style, but also one with a down-to-earth feel and a heartwarming wit. As the local saying goes: “Glaswegians have more fun at a funeral than people of Edinburgh have at a wedding.”