Ok people – what the damn hell? Over the years I’ve heard so many negative things about Glasgow. After visiting I am extremely happy to report that what I’d heard is about as clichéd and out of date as the people who think the UK only serves fish and chips, warm beer and doesn’t have ice cubes.
I originally had visions of a grimy city with uninspired architecture and angry, sullen residents. Edinburgh’s ugly step-sister. But then I started reading about Glasgow, how it’s a city that has been allowed to evolve and change, not being shackled by Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status. From that I inferred, wrongly, that Glasgow’s city centre wouldn’t necessarily blow my mind. I really didn’t do my research obviously. My friend was visiting from Canada, wanted to see a bit of Scotland along with London and some Yorkshire countryside and I chose Glasgow because I wanted to avoid the costs and crowds of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And then I spent 90% of my time planning our London itinerary and day trips in Yorkshire. I think the extent of my Glasgow planning involved picking a hotel and making note of a great whisky pub my friend recommended.
I will be the first to say that Edinburgh is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. You should go. I’ve already covered it in an earlier post and I was very happy to return for a second visit.
But Glasgow. Street after street of stunning Victorian and Mackintosh architecture, culminating in George Square. After wandering around the crazy streets of Leeds, York and London, the city centre’s right-angled grid of wide streets was reassuring and homey to this Torontonian. Glasgow has done a very nice job of juxtaposing its modern buildings into the mix. And the scale of the buildings made the streets feel more like the canyons of Manhattan (and oddly, Budapest) than any place in Europe I’ve yet been.
With all the tourists flocking to Edinburgh, we really felt like we had the place to ourselves. I saw one store selling plaids and kilts, and another selling knicky-knacky thingies, but otherwise, the shops and businesses had more to do with people’s everyday needs and wants.
It’s true enough that when I read Glasgow’s slogan on their official visitor’s site – People Make Glasgow I thought of all the warm and friendly people we spoke to during our visit and yeah, it’s a great, fitting slogan.
I think it’s photos like the one used on the front page of Lonely Planet’s Glasgow pages that might have had me expecting a very modern city centre. (Not that there’s anything wrong with modern architecture!)
EDIT: How could I have forgotten about researching Glasgow in Scotland Now? A true forehead-slapping oversight: 10 hidden gems you didn’t know were in Glasgow
Food and Drink
This is a short list as we really didn’t spend much time in the city itself. In order of how happy they made me:
The Pot Still – Whisky Bar
So great we went twice in the same day. Bartender was worried about my choice of such a peaty whisky (LAPHROAIG QUARTER CASK) and wondered if I’d like a taste first before he poured it, bless him.
Three words: Full Scottish Breakfast. Everything perfectly cooked, friendly service and my new litmus test for a breakfast joint – when I ask them to hold the eggs, I really like it when a server asks me what I’d like more of, instead.
Bread Meats Bread – gourmet hamburgers
Hungry travellers fresh off a train that contained an exuberant, heavily perfumed hen party, this place caught our eye on Yelp. Jeff and I both ordered burgers, but Ann really won this round with the Angry Bird Poutine. Happily it was so huge she needed help.
The Butterfly and the Pig – The Dining Room Downstairs
Shabby chic and a super quirky menu of comfort food classics. It was nice and cool in Glasgow after a hot week in London so I could dig into mac and cheese with bacon. Big portion, could only eat half. Really wished our hotel room had a kitchenette so I could have taken the second half with me.
Regretfully, we didn’t spot a single deep-fried Mars bar, deep-fried pizza or a munchy box. But then, I don’t think I was drunk enough to really want any of those things anyway.
Trust me there are tons more things to do than we managed owing to the whirlwind nature of our trip but we managed to fit these in:
Glasgow Botanic Gardens
I can imagine how nice it would be to enter the glass houses during a dull, wet day in January for a fresh transfusion of green, tropical plants.
Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis
Over 800 hundred years old, we went because I had an Outlander fan moment and they had used it as a location, but that soon turned into simple appreciation of its beauty. The nearby Necropolis is great for an uphill walk and good views of the city.
Discover Scotland – coach tours and day trips
We did the Jacobite Steam Train, Glenfinnan and Mallaig tour, which was spectacular. Great driver/tour guide, lots of great stories and anecdotes about the points of interest. It was about a 12-hour day (tour van leaves George Square at 8:00am sharp and returns at about 7:30 pm) but very relaxing to let someone else plan the day’s events and stops! Our feet thanked us for taking a day off.
I am going to finish my thoughts here today with the realisation that I – gasp – prefer Glasgow to Edinburgh and look forward to visiting again.