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Glasgow Like a Glasgwegian

RBC Travel

While Edinburgh is Scotland's scenic capital, Glasgow – just an hour west by train – is by far its biggest city. And while there are almost as many souvenir shops here, there's much more to this once-gritty former industrial metropolis than tartan T-shirts and haggis-themed fridge magnets.

Glasgow's port and shipbuilding heyday is long gone but the River Clyde community has since reinvented itself as a vibrant arts and design hub, leading live music capital and top-table foodie destination crammed with great indie restaurants, many in neighbourhoods that were once as tough as boat rivets.


Before you start your urban exploration, though, you'll need a place to unpack. 2014's Commonwealth Games triggered a raft of new city centre hotels, including standouts like the Z Hotel, with its compact but well-designed rooms on the edge of George Square, and Citizen M, with its quirky contemporary rooms and mod shared lounge. The best of the bunch? The handsome new Dakota Deluxe is a boutique charmer with moodlit rooms and super-friendly service.


The Dakota serves great breakfasts (Scottish smoked salmon and scrambled eggs recommended) but its central location also means proximity to some equally tasty options. Tucked beneath a handsome brownstone – Glasgow is lined with these hulking 19th-century townhouses – Singl-end Cafe serves heaping fuel-ups (including haggis with bacon and eggs) plus an irresistible array of baked goodies – caramel shortcake recommended.


Burn off the calories with an uphill walk to the landmark Glasgow School of Art. The university's Unesco-listed main building – designed by revered Scottish art nouveau architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the 1920s – is being restored after a devastating 2012 fire but the student-led walking tours here introduce the area's historic buildings and provide a lay-of-the-land city introduction.

It's not the only tour worth considering, through. Book ahead for the limited spaces on the fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of Glasgow Central – Scotland's busiest railway station – and you'll soon be descending into three levels below the station concourse to forgotten platforms and disused mail tunnels.

You'll hear stories of working class struggle as well as the immense wealth that once flowed through Glasgow -- take a free guided tour of the eye-poppingly ornate City Chambers – built in xxx and said to contain more marble than xxx – and you'll see just how rich the city once was. And don't forget to duck down smaller city centre streets — you're never far from some great street art.


On rainy days, staying inside like this is always a good idea. And while large Glasgow attractions like the huge transport-flavoured Riverside Museum and stately Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, with its amazing art collection (take the free daily tours), are must-sees, there are also smaller museums telling more intimate stories.

The Tenement Museum is a preserved home illuminating how ordinary Glaswegians lived in the 1920s; the Britannia Panopticon heritage site is the world's oldest surviving music hall theatre; and Scotland Street School Museum recreates cane-whacking 1920 teaching methods.


Since shopping can also keep you dry during inclement weather, consider opening your wallet and enjoying are currently-strong dollar. Glasgow is Scotland's retailing capital and it's main Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street (pronounced 'sok-ee-hall) thoroughfares are routinely lined with shoppers.

But if you want to avoid the chains, hunt down some stylish off-the-beaten-path gems. Instrmnt is famed for its self-assembly watches while Bluebellgray offers achingly beautiful floral-patterned adorn housewares – their local-designed mugs are perfect souvenirs. While you're in the city, be sure to also sip a can of Irn Bru – a sugary, orange-hued pop that's a Scottish icon – and nibble on a Tunnocks Teacake or three; they're marshmallow balls on a biscuit base covered in chocolate.


And despite its reputation for also inventing deep-fried Mars Bars, Glasgow also has one of the UK's most diverse and adventurous dining scenes. Named Britain's Curry Capital four times, drop into one of the city's two Wee Curry Shops for a great value East Indian lunch and don't miss the ultimate fusion dish at Mister Singh's India: bite-sized haggis pakoras.

There's also a haggis twist at Stereo, the kind of hearty vegetarian restaurant and live venue that non-veggies also love. Chilly day? Add a bowl of house-made soup to your Turkish-spiced vegan haggis wrap. Keen to join the hipsters, drop into apothecary-themed Drugstore Social for brunch or try Old Salty's for the best fish and chips in town. But for dinner, reserve ahead for the dangerously delicious dishes at Alchemilla – if the xx mackerel is available, be prepared to eat until you fall of your chair.


Great pub grub has also been mastered at long table-lined Drygate Brewing. But beer is the main reason to come here. Made on-site – many tables have peek-a-boo views of the shiny tanks – order a four-glass sampler and make sure you include the smooth porter in the mix.

Glasgow is dripping with other great pubs and bars. Tucked into an ornate former factory, West serves up a beer hall vibe and own-made beers; the Pot Still combines old-school pub ambiance with an extensive whisky selection; and Saramago is an atmospheric interior courtyard with a continental wine bar feel.


And while some bars offer live shows with their booze – the great-value lunchtime A Play, a Pie and a Pint at Òran Mór Theatre is a local favourite – you should also dedicate a night to some great music venues.

Check online listings at The Skinny and look out for local bands like singer songwriter RM Hubbert — known as Hubby by locals — and the rootsy Roddy Hart & the Lonesome Fire at revered venues like tiny King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, former church Saint Luke's  and Stereo – the restaurant that also has a great live calendar.


If you need clear your head with a little stroll the next day, join the locals (and their dogs) in tree-lined Kelvingrove Park. Or head over to Pollok Country Park. Tour the park's grand  house, then wander grounds. You'll find ornate gardens, twisty-limbed old trees and some shaggy Highland cows – call them “Highlin coos” and you might even sound like a local.

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