Second City of the British Empire
A very long pending city for returning. With this, it’s the third time and once more I have to say how much I loved it. How beautiful and elegant, and so much to see and do that a weekend comes even short. It was also about time for a proper revisit and therefore, creating this well deserved guide for the city in the blog. Still, don’t blame me for not having created the London guide yet! (face-palm)… Keep checking in the near future as I promise you it is due to come and will be fully packed as are the guides for Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Naples or Brussels just to name a few of the ones I keep returning very frequently.
Now onto what really matter here for now: Glasgow. To start understanding a little bit of the city and its incredible importance back in its heydays, we have to return few centuries ago, and not to the Roman times because over here, all that was built back then was the Antonine Wall which together with the Hadrian’s Wall farther south, were the northernmost frontiers of the Roman Empire, keeping it separate from the Celtic and Pictish Caledonia. It’s from the 17th century where the city started benefiting from the international trade, manufacturing and invention. At the turn of the 18th century the city was described to be only second to London for its beauty, cleanliness and planning; a city at the time of only 12000 inhabitants. Soon after with the Scottish Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution the city’s expansion was unparalleled. Take a map, and see the city’s urban planning, then you have the answer right away: the perfect city with the perfect orthogonal urbanism filled with the finest architecture of the era. Georgian, Victorian and then art-nouveu. To this last style, I will soon return to explain.
The 18th century also saw Glasgow’s port, created on the nearby Firth of Clyde expanded to become what is still today the largest and most important in the United Kingdom. Back in the time it was a major hub for the transatlantic routes and international trade especially tobacco, sugar, cotton and goods. Over half of the British tobacco was traded in Glasgow alone.
Shipbuilding produced more than 50% of the overall in the rest of the country, and a quarter of all locomotives in the world. Ad taking this sentence from Wikipedia as such, it farther mentions this enormous growth in wealth: “In addition to its pre-eminence in shipbuilding, engineering, industrial machinery, bridge building, chemicals, explosives, coal and oil industries it developed as a major centre in textiles, garment-making, carpet manufacturing, leather processing, furniture-making, pottery, food, drink and cigarette making; printing and publishing. Shipping, banking, insurance and professional services expanded at the same time”.
With such background, Glasgow became one of the first cities in Europe to reach a million inhabitants, and it is home to the 3rd oldest metro system in the world, only after London and Budapest. But among its architectural treasures are the early 20th century art-nouveu jewels by Charles Rennie Mackintosh scattered through the city. Say this way: there is no Barcelona without Antoni Gaudi, but there is no Glasgow without Mackintosh. In between you have some of the grandest Victorian constructions in the country and the so typical and full of character blond/brown sandstone houses known as tenements. It is no wonder why I mentioned at the start this is one of my favourite and most beautiful cities.
However, not everything has been as flamboyant as it might look. The recession during WWI, then the struggles in WWII, the acute decline post Industrial Revolution where the city suffered as no other, coupled with Manchester and Liverpool. Steep unemployment, urban decay, population decline, poor health… a dangerous city only resurrected after 1980’s regeneration efforts, leading to a constant rise once more ever since.
Nowadays, becoming such a fashionable place, with an incredible regeneration program still on the go, demolishing these awful council towers, creating new green spaces, restoring the past and adding striking 21st century architecture notably around the former inner docks, it is without doubt one of the top destinations in Europe. Shopping, restaurants, cafes, pubs and nightlife is all guaranteed in every district. Finding a nice place to eat is as easy as anywhere else in the UK, not expensive (unless a fancy place of course), great quality and good size portions; but if there is something you should not let go is eating a good Angus or Aberdeen steak. After all, it is coming from Scotland, and it is slightly cheaper than elsewhere in the UK.
For more information about Glasgow check this Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The United Kingdom’s currency is the British Pound (£). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Glasgow
- South of the city Across the Clyde River is the more industrial part and the less attractive, however the southern you go the nicer it gets with elegant mansions and villas.
-Scotland Street School By Charles Rennie Mackintosh. At number 225 Scotland Street, literally next door to the metro station Shields Road, at the south of the city. It is his last work.
-Holmwood House A masterpiece created by another of the “big four” Sottish architects, Alexander Thomson, in art-nouveau style. Not only its exterior is fascinating, its interiors retain most of the original fittings and decorations. Located at 61-63 Netherlee Road near the Muirend train station, quite far away from the centre. Entrance fee of £6.00 for adults, £5.00 for students and senior.
- Clydesdale Bridges Linking the south with the north bank where the historic city lies perfectly enclosed in the so well defined orthogonal urban plan.
-Clyde Suspension Bridge The most beautiful and historic of them all, built by the Victorians.
-Glasgow Bridge and King George the V One at each side of the Central Station Bridge that carries the trains, are the major links between south and north.
-Central Station Bridge Built by the Victorian, a nice reminder of the industrial era metallic architecture.
- Saint Enoch Square At the southernmost side of the historic town, across the river Clyde.
-Saint Enoch Subway Station Where the original Victorian building of the station is kept as a cafe, and the new glass entrance recently opened.
- Argyle Street The major thoroughfare running along the southern edge of the historic city. To the west is the International Finance Services District, to the east it becomes Trongate to end in the Glasgow Cross. (See Merchants City subsection later below)
-Central Train Station The largest and most important in Glasgow, a prominent work of Victorian architecture in its grandest. Argyle Street passes through underneath the rail bridge.
- Old Town – Buchanan and parallel streets The true artery across the historic centre. Its starting point is at Saint Enoch Square all the way north to meet Sauchiehall Street. The eastern section of the city it divides is the Merchant City.
-Fraser House The first House of Fraser department store chain, opened in 1849.
-Burton’s Building Opposite the Fraser, built in 1938 in art-deco style.
-The Lighthouse By Charles Rennie Mackintosh, in the side street Mitchel Lane. It is the centre for architecture and design. At the top of the tower there are nice views over the city. Entrance fee of £3.00.
-Egyptian Halls Considered as one of Alexander Thomson masterpieces, built in 1870 for a wealthy iron manufacturer.It is literally behind the Lighthouse, in Union Street side to side with the Central Train Station.
-Ca’ D’Oro The next building ahead of the Egyptian Halls was built in 1872 in Venetian Style.
-Gordon Street One of the principal perpendicular streets to Buchanan.
-Gran Central Hotel On Gordon Street, serves as the head-end of the train station. It is one of the most reputed and luxurious in Glasgow.
-Stock Exchange Building Ahead along Buchanan to the next important intersection, Nelson Mandela Place/West George Street. Built by the Victorians in neo-Gothic style.
-Clydesdale Bank Head Office Across the stock exchange, in neo-classical style. The smaller of the 3 banks of Scotland, however one of the few allowed to print their own bank notes. (Behind the building is George Square, heart of the Merchant City, later explained below).
-Saint George’s Tron Parish Church In the middle of the crossing of the streets, by the metro station Buchanan Street.
-Union Bank of Scotland Two streets behind Saint George’s, in the corner of Renfield with Saint Vincent streets, it is the first example of American style art-deco in Glasgow, from 1927.
-Glasgow Royal Concert Hall The northern terminus of Buchanan Street, in between the largest shopping malls in the city centre. Here the next major thoroughfare starts heading west, Sauchiehall Street.
- Old Town – Sauchiehall and parallel streets Running from the northernmost point of Buchanan Street all the way towards the westernmost end of the historic area.
-The George Hotel Right at the corner of Buchanan with Sauchiehall. Once one of the top hotels during the Victorian times, only the facade is what remains, with new interiors. For the movie fans, this is the real location of Trainspotting interior images of the drug deal hotel. The outside images are the Royal Eagle Hotel on Craven Road in Bayswater, London.
-Cineworld Only mentioning here for the fact of being the highest cinema in the world.
-Willow Tea Rooms On 217 Sauchiehall, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Built in 1904 at the time the tearooms were so popular, currently under a painstakingly restoration due to reopen in 2018.
-Theatre Royal Behind the Cineworld on the parallel Renfrew Street. In operation since 1867 making it the oldest running in Scotland. The current is the 3rd reconstruction, dating from 1895.
-O2 ABC The former art-deco cinema is now the O2 concert hall.
-Glasgow School of Art In 167 Renfrew Street, parallel to Sauchiehall, near metro station Cowcaddens. One of Charles Rennie Mackintosh finest creations, and one of the most reputed schools for art and architecture in the UK. £8.75 adults, £7 students and seniors, however as of June 2017, it is still closed under restoration after the 2014 fire.
-The Beresford Building One of Glasgow’s art-deco masterpieces. If you have the chance, get inside the hall to admire the reliefs and decoration.
- The Merchant District East from Buchanan is considered as the oldest part of the city, the once medieval Glasgow.
-Argyle/Trongate Street Limiting the southernmost part of the district, running in perpendicular to Buchanan.
-Glasgow Cross A major intersection where Trongate, Saltmarket, High Street, Gallowgate and London Road meet.
-Clock Tower Is all that is left from the City Chambers, destroyed by fire in 1926.
-Tron Theatre Housed in a former church.
-Queen Street Parallel to Buchanan, limits the western edge of the Merchant’s City with grand buildings on its way.
-The Guildhall A sandstone grand building so traditional from this city, converted into flats retaining its facade to the accurate detail of preservation.
-Gallery of Modern Art It also acts as the western end of Ingram Street, marked by the statue of the Duke of Wellington. It is the second most visited modern art gallery in the country after London.
-George Square The largest in the city, and also the most elegant full of grand and imposing architecture everywhere. Queen Street heads directly there.
-Counting House Along the western side of the square is the former flagship branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, nowadays a JD Wetherspoon pub, retaining some features such as the money vault being used as a wine cellar.
-Buchanan Clark and Wells Office The next building next to the Counting House, a debt collection agency.
-Millennium Hotel Facing along the northern side of the square, covering the Queen Street station behind.
-Glasgow Queen Street Station The second in the city, serves all the lines to the north of Scotland and Edinburgh.
-Old Parish Hall Designed in 1900 by Thomson & Sandilands, although not at George Square itself but in George Street, only few meters ahead from the northeast corner hence listing it here.
-City Chambers Dominating the eastern side of the square, was built in 1888 in Italian Renaissance style, home to the headquarters of Glasgow City Council. You can check for tours inside the building, worth if you have the time. Behind is the building’s extension
-Old Glasgow Post Office Along the southern side of the square.
-Lemond House The next building after the old post office, built by architect James Miller.
-Ingram, Cochrane and and George Streets These are 3 of the major perpendicular to Buchanan and parallel between them, heading from the west (George Square) towards the eastern end of the Merchant City district.
-Old Sheriff House Along Ingram Street, nowadays converted into luxurious apartments.
-Hutcheson’s Hospital and Committee Rooms N9 Right across the road from the Sheriff House and through to Cochrane Street. Designed by David Hamilton and completed in 1805.
-Royal College Along George Street, built in 1912 where the story of Strathclyde University started.
-Cathedral Street The last of the parallel streets in this district, starting from Queen Street Station at the west all the way east towards the Cathedral.
-The Royal Infirmary These huge hospital grand buildings facing the Cathedral Square were designed in 1914 by architect James Miller.
-Cathedral One of the oldest buildings in Glasgow still standing, dating from the medieval times in Gothic style.
-Necropolis Cemetery Right behind the Cathedral, on the hill where the statue of John Knox dominates above the hill on a column pediment.
- Kelvingrove Park – West of the Old Town At the west end of Sauchiehall Street. One of Glasgow’s largest parks. 3 metro stations serve the area: Kelvinbridge (northeast), Hillhead (northwest) and Kelvinhall (southwest).
-Mitchell Library Europe’s largest municipal public reference library housed in an imposing Victorian building with an stunning reading room. Located in North Street, the westernmost avenue that encloses the old town, meters from the beginning of Sauchiehall Street and right by the Charing Cross station.
-Park Circus Towards the eastern end of the park accessible from Sauchiehall Street, is one of the finest Georgian districts in the city, with some circus similar to the famous you can find in Bath.
-Glasgow University The fourth oldest in the UK, and one of the most prestigious. The main building dating from 1870 in neo-Gothic style was built by Sir George Gilbert Scott, who also designed London’s St Pancras railway station.
-The Mackintosh’s House Opposite the main building of the university from the north facade, it is a “new” recreation of the house of this ingenious architect serving as a museum dedicated to his works and achievements.
-Kelvingrove Art Gallery At the south of the park, it is one of the largest and most renown in the UK. The building itself is an architecture masterpiece from outside.
- Southwest of the historic old town South and west of Kelvingrove, where you will find one of the most modern districts in Glasgow, recently revamped and redeveloped on the site of the former docks. Among the buildings are reminders of the industrial past as warehouses, cranes and bridges.
-Clyde Auditorium Nicknamed the armadillo for its resemblance look designed by Norman Foster, it is one of the newest additions into the skyline of Glasgow, right by the old Clyde docks.
-Glasgow Science Centre At 50 Pacific Quay, rich across the River Clyde from the Auditorium.
-The Clyde Arc Bridge The most prominent bridge linking both banks across the Clyde.
-Riverside Museum Near Patrick metro station at the southwest of the city, right along the north banks of the Clyde riverside, west from the Auditorium area, has been recently opened as the largest exhibition and museum gallery dedicated to the transport, with great collection of trains, cars, planes, a reconstructed metro station with original trains, and the last surviving of 5 Clyde built tall ship in the world, from 1896.
-House for an Art Lover Within the Bellahouston Park, near the metro station Ibrox. One of Charles Rennie Mackintosh masterpieces built postmortem in 1990 based on his 1901 design. Entrance fee of £4.50 for adults, £3 for students and senior.
- Outside of the city There are many places you could go near Glasgow, that being nature, sightseeing or history. For some you will need longer, usually a day trip is the norm as for example, reaching Fort William and taking the Jacobite Express train (aka the Hogwarts Express as it is known in the Harry Potter movies). Or at less than a hour away, you have the beautiful capital of Scotland, Edinburgh, and minutes north, the famous Loch Lomond. Like this, countless of places to keep you going for days.
-Queen’s Cross Church By Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of his most mysterious projects, although in the city of Glasgow, is farther from the urban core. The nearest metro station is St George’s Cross then walk Maryland Road all the way north.
-Loch Lomond Around 30 kilometres northwest you can reach the southern shores of Loch Lomond, one of the most beautiful and famous lakes in the whole of Scotland. If you have your own transport then nothing beats as driving through such landscapes. Also something unique you could do is taking a seaplane for an unique experience flying over Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, here you will find all the information.
-The Hill House By Charles Rennie Mackintosh, it is located very near Balloch, the southern shore of Loch Lomond. For anyone on an architecture tour this is a must.
-Fort William Farther north after Loch Lomond, altogether around 180 kilometres from Glasgow. Why is this place famous, other than the incredible landscapes you will pass through reaching it? For the Jacobite Express Railway, described as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, it is also the very same used in Harry Potter movies, known as the Hogwarts Express. Click here for a travel guide of this place and our experience taking the train.
-New Lanark At around 45 kilometres southeast you will find one of the finest examples of a company town in the UK, where the factory would be built in the centre and the houses for the workers around, complete with churches, hospital, shops, banks and everything of a small city. Listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
-Stirling One of the very historic cities in Scotland that played a key role during the fighting times for independence. Does William Wallace sound familiar? Braveheart that’s right, the monument is on a hill north of the city.
-The Forth Bridges Around 55 kilometres east from Glasgow, and almost in Edinburgh already, is this industrial masterpiece of a railway metallic bridge, listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The viewpoint in the south at Queensferry is the best.
-Edinburgh The vibrant capital city of Scotland, 70 kilometres east from Glasgow, is unique in architecture, history and legacy, and totally different character than Glasgow is. Listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has plenty to do and see but beware even it looks small, it will require at least 2 full days to explore.
Within a radius on 1 hour you have 3 international airports. 2 serving Glasgow, and a third at the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh. Flights within the UK are very frequent to destinations such as London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester or Belfast. Almost any airline serve this route (BA, AerLingus, Loganair, FlyBe, Easyjet, Ryanair). British Airways route to London is a shuttle, therefore plenty of frequencies through the day.
If landing at Glasgow International Airport, 13 kilometres to the west, the only public transport are buses. The Shuttle Bus heads towards both main train stations in the heart of the city, for £6.50 single, £7.00 day return or £10 open return. The cheaper version, not as frequent as the Shuttle, is the First 747 for £4 single, £5 return.
Preswick Airport is 50 kilometres southwest and it’s the hub for the low-cost carriers, especially Ryanair that serves destinations across Europe. The fastest way to reach the city is by train, where if you show your flight ticket you get a 50% discount and pay just £3.55, taking 45 minutes to Glasgow Central Station. Alternatively, the X77 bus connect to Buchanan Bus Station.
As last, Edinburgh International has a farther choice of destinations not served by Glasgow, making it very convenient giving a great choice. Any train from Glasgow to Edinburgh city call at EDI Airport, and so the CityLink buses from Buchanan Bus Station.
Coming by railway or bus from elsewhere within the UK is easy and straightforward, and a London to Glasgow can possibly be even faster than flying counting that you have to get to any of London’s airport, and then from the airport to central Glasgow. The fast trains are less than 5 hours, with many departures through the day from London Euston station. An overnight train, the Caledonian Sleeper goes all the way through to Fort William where it terminates. When booking any train well in advance, it can be as cheap as £20 per way, however it is rare to find this great fares and usually is way more expensive than flying.
Within the city, although there is not an immediate need for taking any public transports, it does have a great choice notably by buses. However there is a convenient metro circle line, the 3rd oldest metro system in the world, which makes it easy for reaching some of the highlight buildings of Mackintosh. Other than this, everything through the city centre is best on foot along the nice streets and many squares, and beautiful pedestrian streets.
As the 5th largest city in the UK, and sometimes referred as second in importance after London, you can imagine the countless choice of hotels of any kind. From the very luxurious to the more modest and anything in between. Then the hundreds of b&b, airb&b and smaller properties. However even this huge choice is there, rates per night are still some of the highest in the UK. Finding a good deal, well, it’s a bit harder than expected, and for sure will cost you more than usually. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
After a while looping around some hotel search pages we finally found a decent deal at the Ibis Budget in 2A Springfield Quay, south of the city and near the Shields Road metro station, right across the large shopping centre full of restaurants and cinema. The location was great since you are just few minutes from the metro, or a short walking distance to the Clydesdale Bridge onto the centre of the city. The room was simple, plain but as is the standard on this hotels, in great condition and very clean, and extremely comfortable bed. The staff was super friendly and was fun. All was perfect and great until Saturday night. There was a party in a room near ours, and plenty of movement of people in and out with loud music (how did they manage to get on with that remains a mystery). We let the receptionist know about this, but did nothing. 3 attempts took us, then without any hesitation changed us the room, that’s fine. However, their comment was a bit of a surprise for a hotel, saying something as: “well this is Glasgow and it’s Saturday, so people party”. Honestly, we did not find this answer from a receptionist of a hotel appropriate. If you want to party, you go out, but not in a hotel room!