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The surprising things we love about Glasgow

Scotland’s biggest city is decorated with amazing art and handsome buildings, fed with top-notch food and filled with friendly locals

The surprising things we love about Glasgow
Glasgow is famous for live music.

English people like me hold plenty of prejudices about Glasgow. But Scotland’s biggest city is actually a cultural powerhouse – friendly, creative and sophisticated.

People Make Glasgow

‘Don’t you worry about the weather,’ the receptionist at my hotel told me as I checked in. ‘You’re set fair for today.’

Two hours later, I was wrestling with my umbrella as gail-force rains lashed over me. But he’d said it with a smile and Glaswegian enthusiasm is infectious.

The locals have a different attitude to the weather from the rest of us. The odd shower is inevitable. But although they can’t be trusted with forecasting, they are the absolute highlight of the city in every other way. They are direct, friendly and outspoken.

In that spirit, the tourist board changed their brand in 2013 to ‘People Make Glasgow’. You can’t argue with that.

The flourishing music scene

Glasgow is a UNESCO City of Music and boasts one of Britain’s best live music scenes. They say that you haven’t seen Glasgow until you’ve seen a gig there. And there’s plenty to choose from, with around 130 live music events a week. Whether you like classical, pop, jazz, electronica, indie or country, you’ll find it in Glasgow.

Touring the Tennent’s Wellspring Brewery

Brewers have been making beer on the site of the Tennent’s Wellspring Brewery for around 900 years. Initially they were monks who brewed a weak beer for themselves and the public, which was a safer bet than the water.

Then in 1740 the Tennent’s family took over. Their breakthrough came in 1885 when Hugh Tennent returned from Bavaria, bringing the recipe for lager to Britain for the first time. The Glasgow Herald predicted nobody would drink lager and said Tennent was pursuing a ‘madman’s dream’. You get the impression the brewery still holds a grudge with the Herald, but the important thing is they were proved right.

There are two other highlights all visitors remember from their tour. One is the collection of cans decorated with pictures of scantily clad women dubbed ‘the lager lovelies’. Well, at least that couldn’t happen today. The other, of course, is at the end of the tour when you do some tasting.

If you are more interested in liquor, the Glengoyne Distillery creates single malt whisky just out of the city, near the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Handsome architecture makes Glasgow a Hollywood stunt double

The great Victorian masters of industry and trade built Glasgow with grand, handsome buildings on a grid system. Their other great legacy is a stark industrial landscape that the modern city has found innovative and beautiful ways to show.

So the city has become a popular filming location. Moviegoers have seen its streets from World War Z, Cloud Atlas, Fast and Furious 6 or An Englishman Abroad.

It’s doubled for New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia. The University of Glasgow has stood in for Westminster Abbey, Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery has starred as New York’s Grand Central Station and the City Chambers has become both the Vatican and the Kremlin.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is Glasgow’s most famous architect and a leading influence on the Art Nouveau style. You can tour his most famous buildings around the city, enjoy the recreation of his home at The Mackintosh House and even have tea Mackintosh style at the Willow Tea Rooms.

Go TARDIS spotting

Sci-fi fans will immediately recognize the blue police boxes dotted around Glasgow as being Doctor Who’s TARDIS.

Glasgow has retained four of these former mini police stations, that’s more than any other city. You can tour them and maybe able to buy a cappuccino from one and an ice cream from another into the bargain.

The friendly LGBTI village

The gay scene is concentrated in a few streets in Merchant City – the heart of downtown Glasgow. There’s a decent mix of bars, ranging from the more pub-like (The Underground) to a club vibe (The Polo Lounge). There’s usually something going on from live music to quiz nights to karaoke. And a decent mix of women as well as men in many of the venues.

It being Glasgow, you’re bound to get talking to some of the locals. They will be happy to point you to the next bar to visit, or even take you there themselves. But if that fails, check out the listings here.

Glasgow Pride is Scotland’s biggest and the city has really started to embrace it. As well as a march there’s a park-based festival, spanning over two days. It is in August.

The irreverent attitude of the locals

Glasgow’s spirit of resistance has a deep history.

At the start of World War I, thousands of workers flooded the city to work in its thriving shipyards and munitions factories. With men away at war, women entered the industrial workforce like never before.

But greedy landlords saw their chance to raise rents for the city’s poorly-maintained tenement apartments. Women organized and stood up to them, and their 1915 rent strike forced the government to set fair rents for the duration of the war.

Nowadays the well-built sandstone tenements have been transformed into popular, and often very luxurious flats.

Glasgow’s most famous monument symbolizes the Glaswegians’ healthy irreverence towards authority.

The Duke of Wellington sits proudly astride his horse in Royal Exchange Square – with a traffic cone on his head. Every time the council removes the cone, the locals climb back up and put a new one on. The council apparently spends £10,000 a year taking the cones off.

In 2011, Lonely Planet named it one of their ‘top 10 most bizarre monuments on Earth’. And this year, as we went past at Pride, we saw he was wearing a rainbow cone.

The exciting food options

I’m sure you’ve heard the stereotypes about Glasgow’s cuisine specialising in deep-fried Mars bars and pizzas.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Glasgow boasts many fantastic restaurants.

This trip we tried out The Gannet in the fashionable area of Finnieston in Glasgow’s West End. It’s trendy but not pretentious, showcasing the best ingredients from Scotland’s scallop divers, oyster growers, fishermen, smokers, farmers and game producers. And it serves them with flair, but not too much fuss.

Another favorite of ours is The Mussel Inn. This airy and relaxed restaurant serves the mussels, scallops and oysters that grow particularly tasty in Scotland’s cold waters. They also offer a changing fish of the day, based on whatever is sustainable.

My new go-to burger place is Bread Meats Bread. They sell award-winning burgers without the compromises you tend to get in bigger chains. They’ve also decided that fries are even better when topped with crispy bacon and served with beefy mayo. Genius.

Or you could go to the Ubiquitous Chip, the must-visit champion of Scottish ingredients and Scottish Cuisine for more than 45 years. The restaurant and brasserie is famous for delicious food, good service and the pleasure of eating in their magical courtyard.

The ornate Glasgow Necropolis

If you enjoy the macabre, you have to check out the Glasgow Necropolis. An incredible 50,000 of the city’s deceased lie in this atmospheric Victorian city of the dead. You can tour 3,500 ornate stone monuments and family tombs.

It led Glasgow’s most famous comic, Billy Connolly to joke: ‘Glasgow’s a bit like Nashville, Tennessee: it doesn’t care much for the living, but it really looks after the dead.’

The magnificent jumbled graveyard sits on a hill next to one of the city’s other big sights, Glasgow Cathedral.

Fantastic shopping

Glasgow is the biggest and best UK shopping destination outside of London.

Most people start in the ‘Style Mile’, the area around Buchanan St, Argyle St and Merchant City. This area, in the center of the city, offers the big international chains and a good selection of unique shops.

But it’s worth heading out to the West End for more bohemian alternatives. And in the East End, you’ll find The Barras. This indoor flea market is the place to find vintage bargains, antiques and some cool places to eat and drink. It’s open Saturdays and Sundays.

Discover Glasgow

We stayed at The Apex Hotel, right in the heart of the city on Bath Street. It had all the contemporary comforts in newly renovated rooms and at a great price.

The stylish muted greys and luxurious king-sized bed immediately made us feel relaxed. All rooms come with a flatscreen TV loaded with Sky Sports and Movies and offer free wifi. The modern bathrooms have a powerful walk-in shower. And you’ll feel well pampered thanks to the Elemis toiletries.

You can enjoy breakfast in the comfortable contemporary lounge. The cooked breakfast was just what we needed to set us up for a big day of sightseeing.

And, needless to say, the welcome from the staff was exactly as warm and helpful as you’d expect from Glasgow.

Find out more and book rooms at the Apex here.

For general tourist information, start at the People Make Glasgow homepage.

Glasgow Airport is just outside the city. Busses run from there to downtown about every 10 minutes. Taxis take about 15 minutes.

Glasgow is pretty easy to access by train from all around the UK. Trains from London Euston to Glasgow Central take about five hours.

With thanks to – for more information visit the official website by clicking here.

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