Buchanan Street, image courtesy of VisitBritain
Scotland’s biggest city packs a punch as a short-break destination, says David Whitley
Glasgow has long outgrown the tedious comparisons with Edinburgh – it’s a city-break destination in its own right, packed with culture, attitude and humour.
This is a city, after all, where the council had to abandon plans to permanently remove the traffic cone from the Duke of Wellington statue in Royal Exchange Square due to public opposition. It’s very much a place that gives back what you put into it: throwing yourself into Glasgow’s bars, arts venues and design hubs with gusto will bring ample rewards.
It’s a city with a distinctive energy, sardonic yet boisterously unreserved. And with the centre and the West End having very different personalities, it can feel like two breaks wrapped into one.
10.00: Glasgow’s most exquisitely beautiful building is in otherwise dowdy Bellahouston Park. The House For An Art Lover has been built to designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the world-renowned architect whose highly distinctive style has its fingerprints all over his home city.
Mackintosh’s graceful, Japanese-influenced thin lines and artful floral motifs are at their most jaw-dropping in the music and dining rooms. The building plans were originally submitted as a competition entry, and they finally came to life long after Mackintosh’s death when devotees decided the house was too perfect to remain only on paper.
12.00: Head back into the city centre to continue the Mackintosh trail over lunch. The Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street was one of the masterpieces designed by the architect and built during his lifetime. It’s a dramatic contrast to the rest of the street, which has high street-style shopping during the day and rowdy nightlife later on.
From there, prepare to become laden with carrier bags on a walk through the ‘style mile’. The well heeled Buchanan Galleries is the most appealing of the maze of shopping malls, while the Merchant City area further east has plenty of independent fashion outlets.
15.00: The Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre has to be Glasgow’s most delightfully weird attraction. Scores of mechanical figures have been lovingly crafted from scrap metal – and they crank into dance-like action in time to deeply weird music. It’s heartwarmingly hypnotic, and the rest of the Trongate 103 building that houses it is worth a longer look too. There is also a cluster of arts projects, studios and galleries.
17.30: Hop in a cab to the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, the new indoor cycling arena built for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. In learner classes, budding Laura Trotts and Jason Kennys can take on the intimidatingly steep banks as they whizz round without brakes. The introductory sessions take place on Tuesday evenings and, due to popularity, booking well in advance is essential.
20.30: After a quick change at the hotel, try old Glasgow favourite Café Gandolfi for dinner. A theatre and arts crowd favourite, it does quality bistro food in a relaxed environment. For drinks afterwards, try the Boudoir wine bar for class, the spit-and-sawdusty Horseshoe pub for classic Glasgow character or King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut for music. The last, famously, was where Oasis were discovered by their record label.
09.00: Today is about the best of the more upmarket West End, so kick off with a stroll through the Botanic Gardens, before hitting the city’s top cultural attraction, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
The sheer variety – stuffed elephants, Spitfires hanging from the ceiling, Dali paintings and exquisite artwork furniture – inside this temple of Victorian grandeur is part of the appeal. The Glasgow Stories section, covering everything from tobacco trading and slavery to the city’s bizarre fondness for country music, is particularly gripping.
12.30: Continue the walk through newly hip Finnieston, where Mother India’s Café puts a noble twist on Glasgow’s esteemed curry houses with tapas-style south Asian dishes.
13.30: Keep going towards the once grim northern bank of the River Clyde. Grandstanding architectural projects have given it a new lease of life. These include the armadillo-shaped Clyde Auditorium and the sinuously designed Riverside Museum. The latter is the handiwork of Zaha Hadid and houses a mainly transport-themed collection.
16.30: On the way back through Finnieston, slake the thirst with Scotland’s finest craft beers at the Brewdog bar. The hoppy Punk IPA and 5am Saint amber ale are the best regulars, but it’s worth taking a look at limited release specials too.
18.30: Freshen up and make an evening of it in the West End. Cute-looking Ashton Lane has a plethora of bars and restaurants, with The Ubiquitous Chip being the best place to eat if you want Scottish produce. The courtyard is more fine dining, while the pub offers a cheaper brasserie-style menu.
Brel is the best of the bars here, with a focus on Belgian brews. For something more exotic, try the excellent Vietnamese pho and Indochinese decor at the Hanoi Bike Shop.
The Citizen M goes all guns blazing on the design front, with carpets made from Google maps of the city and a lobby/hostel-like common area full of brightly coloured, sculpture-esque furniture.
The rooms are effectively pods, but have super-king-sized beds and wall-to-wall windows with blackout blinds. It definitely aims for the younger, style-conscious traveller. From £69 a night.
The Malmaison mini-chain doesn’t do boring, and the Glasgow branch is no exception. It’s inside a converted church, but deliberately courts a sinful vibe. Massage oils in the rooms give that naughty weekend wink, and larger rooms have decadent roll-top baths.
Rooms are being refurbished, and there’s a new restaurant from Michelin-starred Martin Wishart. It is located a short stroll from the West End. From £99 a night.
The Blythswood Square is the best address in town, surrounded by the Georgian townhouses of the square it’s named after.
The in-house spa makes it a winner for the pampering-minded, while the ultra-comfy beds, sink-in Harris Tweed sofas and marble-clad bathrooms give that sense of luxurious comfort. This is also the spot for a refined afternoon tea. From £120 a night.
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