I simply adore taking weekend trips. Wherever and whenever. This time around, we went to Scotland. To be more precise we spent 72 hours in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, a well-known city for its culture, style, and the friendliness of its people. It is a friendly, heartwarming place… It is just like they say: “People make Glasgow.” Welcome to Glasgow!
Soaked in Mackintosh
So… what does this city offer? Simple: everything and anything a person may want! There is a blend of internationally acclaimed museums and galleries, stunning architecture, vibrant nightlife, fantastic shopping, and a diverse array of restaurants and bars.
In 1999, Glasgow became the UK’s City of Architecture and Design. The city center has countless impressive Victorian structures and then there are the unique masterpieces of one of the city’s most celebrated sons, the legendary architect, and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
And, Mackintosh is one of the basic and best reasons to visit. Experiencing this gem through his eyes, through his body of work is an experience in itself.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (7 June 1868 – 10 December 1928) was a Scottish architect, designer, watercolorist, and artist. He was a designer in the post-impressionist movement and also the best-known representative of art nouveau in the UK. Mackintosh lived most of his life in the city of Glasgow.
Asian style and emerging modernist influenced Mackintosh’s designs. Needless to say that Glasgow’s link with the eastern country became particularly close and this style was admired by Mackintosh because of its restraint and economy of means rather than ostentatious accumulation.
Perfect for a city break
But, going back to the city itself. As I experienced Glasgow is the perfect city break destination. It has great restaurants, shopping, arts and culture, and a vast selection of bars and clubs as cool as any in Britain.
Ok, one downside, at last for us… the weather, it rained so much. But everything couldn’t be perfect! From spring (March-May) Glasgow enjoys mild temperatures with the city’s parks and gardens filled with spring flowers. The summer months (June to September) can vary between mild and warm and sunny, with the advantage of up to 16 hours of daylight for visitors throughout the summer. Winter months are colder, with a January average of 4.0°C and occasional snow.
As I found out, it is pulsating and enthusiastic, there is a year-round buzz with an arts scene that regularly produces cutting-edge productions.
We decided to walk all around the city. It is after all small and completely doable. The best way to appreciate Glasgow and in particular its stunning and varied architecture is to walk. I found out that Argyle Street is pretty important and at the end of the park in its Victorian red sandstone.
Glaswegians have always heartily embraced cafe culture. It wasn’t always this way, but Glasgow now has the most complete restaurant scene outside London.
A bit of Music
Another amazing discovery… Glasgow is a vibrant city with a legendary music scene that stretches across the whole spectrum from contemporary and classical, to Celtic and Country. Its venues are equally varied and the city hosts an average of 130 music events each week, which is more than any other Scottish city.
In August 2008 Glasgow was named a UNESCO City of Music and is now one of nine Music Cities in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network alongside Brazzaville, Mannheim, Seville, Bologna, Ghent, Hannover, and Hamamatsu.
And, the city offers lots of exciting experiences, sometimes it’s hard to decide where to begin.
One very good option is to start with the city’s iconic buildings, first taking a walk through the city’s museums and galleries to find everything from Dinosaurs to Dali. Then we visited the city chambers. The city chambers are the focal point of George Square is one of the city’s most iconic and imposing buildings. It tells the story of the wealth and industrial prosperity of the Second City of the Empire. It’s one of the most beautiful civic buildings in the UK and a huge favorite amongst locals and tourists.
Then it was time to see the Glasgow Cathedral. The cathedral was only a 10-minute walk from the city center; it’s the only medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland to have survived the 1560 Reformation. This magnificent example of Scottish Gothic architecture was built between the 13th & 15th centuries and is widely regarded as the high point of cathedral building in Europe.
As I explained before the city has a ghost and his last name is Mackintosh. So, visiting the Willow Tea Rooms, the lighthouse, and the Glasgow School of Art are mandatory.
It was amazing to see Mackintosh’s work. But, for me, one of the best moments was going to the Mackintosh Tower. Although I am no heights fan this was a must. Up there you get to have an uninterrupted view over Glasgow’s cityscape. As I explained before the city has a ghost and his last name is Mackintosh. So, visiting the Willow Tea Rooms, the lighthouse, and the Glasgow School of Art are mandatory.
Culture is free
Now, this is something that blew my mind completely open: all the city’s main museums and galleries are free. With free gardens, parks, historic buildings, and events too, the city is bursting with things to do that won’t leave you short of change. We decided that free museums don’t come up to often and we visited a few of them. The City of Glasgow owns one of the richest collections in Europe, displayed in 8 museums and galleries across the city.
One of the first things we did was visit the necropolis. I know it sounds creepy but is breathtaking. So let me explain… it’s a Victorian cemetery. It is on a low but very prominent hill to the east of Glasgow Cathedral (St. Mungo’s Cathedral). Fifty thousand individuals have been buried here.
The main entrance is approached by a bridge over what was then the Molendinar Burn. The bridge was finished in 1836. It became known as the “Bridge of Sighs” because it was part of the route of funeral processions.
Three modern memorials lie between the gates and the bridge: a memorial to still-born children; a memorial to the Korean War; and a memorial to Glaswegian recipients of the Victoria Cross.
The cemetery is laid out as an informal park. This layout is further enhanced by the complex topography. I understand that a graveyard is perhaps not the obvious suggestion for a picnic place, but for many, the Necropolis is another park. Besides, there’s a fantastic view of Glasgow from the summit.
Then of course the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one of Scotland’s most popular free attractions. This architectural masterpiece opened its doors in 1901 and many spend as much time appreciating the building as they do on one of Europe’s great art collections.
Here is a fact that I found interesting because it struck me as a little bit weird. It appears to have been built backward, with the main entrance facing the River Kelvin and the nearby University of Glasgow. However, it was conceived like that so who am I to judge such an overwhelming structure… no one.
The Hunterian Museum Art Gallery was amazing. It was founded in 1807. The Hunterian is Scotland’s oldest public museum and home to one of the largest collections outside the National Museums.
Additionally, it is one of the leading university museums in the world.
It was named after anatomist William Hunter, the man who bestowed his prized collection to the University, it features a series of artifacts: fossils and an Egyptian coin from the rule of Cleopatra, just to name a few.
Food and Drinks
But going to the free museums and soaking in the amazing buildings were not the only things we did. We had the opportunity to eat delicious meals. The eating and drinking scene is exciting, with food and drink available to suit all tastes and pockets.
It became clear to us that the city’s food and drink are about experience and authenticity: keeping it real, serving it well. The range of choice is breathtaking, with new restaurants popping up all the time.
During my visit, I learned that locals refer to the city center as “the toon”. This is the area where most visitors will start, and the most notable elements are the grid plan of streets and the lavish Victorian and Edwardian buildings and civic squares which give the area much of its character. The main arteries of the City Centre are Argyle Street and Sauchiehall Street. On the other hand, the eastern side of the City Center is a sub-district known as Merchant City, which contains Glasgow’s original medieval core. Merchant City extends up to George Square, with many ornate buildings that date back to Glasgow’s emergence as an industrial city.
As a matter of fact, this area (Merchant City) was developed from the 1750s onwards. Residences and warehouses of the wealthy merchant tobacco lords were built in the area. As Glasgow expanded in the 19th century the area became a working district of warehouses and home to the city’s central fruit, vegetable, and cheese markets.
It was such an adventure for me, a dream come true. Then, the unexpected: the blue police box popped in front of my eyes. It was actually in almost every corner. I had seen it in the movies, in Dr.Who’s episodes but never face to face.
So, I asked around and this is what they told me. At one point the city of Glasgow had over 300 police boxes. But as time passed by this diminished and by 1994 there were still 10 remainings, a mix of the traditional blue and the odd Glasgow-specific red boxes. However, by 2008, only four remained in the city, out of the 11 in total throughout the United Kingdom.
Clockwork Orange and Flowers
An amazing discovery for me was the Glasgow Subway. I was so tired and the weather was not the best, it was grey, coldish and rain was pouring. So we decided that was the best option. I loved it! It is small, I felt inside a Lego scenario, it’s orange and people refer to it as Clockwork Orange.
The Subway was small, cozy, and clean. People were always nice and silent. The train sort of shakes and its orange tones are vivid. At this moment I could only think about the movie “Clockwork Orange”.
It was getting late and I did not expect to find such wonders at the last minute, this usually happens. I am talking about the Botanical Gardens. A distinguished Glasgow botanist, Mr. Thomas Hopkirk, was the founder of the Botanic Gardens, and with the support of several local dignitaries and the University of Glasgow, the Gardens were set up in 1817.
The gardens have an array of glasshouses, but the most impressive is Kibble Palace. The 19th Century greenhouse was initially conceived by John Kibble for his home in Coulport.
Obviously, these are the botanical gardens, meaning that at any time of the year there are pleasant riverside walks, peaceful woodland copses, and exotic tropical places to explore, just minutes from the heart of the city. It is totally worth it!
Our trip was slowly coming to an end. It was a 72-hour extravaganza and cultural feast we did not expect at all. I can only recommend it. The food was amazing; the breakfast sausage and the tea. The beer and whiskey. The friendly people.
All I have to say is that I will retrace my steps in Glasgow. One of the beauties is its compact size, you can see a lot of the city in a remarkably short space of time. Ancient castles, picture-postcard distilleries, and miles of unspoiled coastline are all there. I didn’t expect much and after a few hours, the city was a part of my heart. I didn’t want to leave! Glasgow has been transformed from an industrial city to the country’s cultural center. I will never forget that its Gaelic name means “lovely green place”. Today, Glasgow is a city of culture. Education, history, culture, religion, food, and drink can all be found within this great Scottish city.