Scotland’s biggest city is too often in the shadow of its rival, Edinburgh, around 65 kilometres to the east. Edinburgh may have fringe-fest flair, but Glasgow has character—and a swaggering charm embodied in the Glaswegian word gallus, meaning “daring” or “cheeky.”
As a UNESCO City of Music and the 1990 European City of Culture, Glasgow is applauded for its arts scene. Restoration of the School of Art, the city’s architectural masterpiece, should be complete by the end of 2018. Also this year a 150th anniversary exhibition honours the birth of the building’s renowned architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose design sensibility shaped how the city is seen by the world.
But for the heart and soul of the city, look to the locals. The city slogan, after all, is “People Make Glasgow.”
The hottest restaurants are now clustered in Finnieston, the trendy riverside district that not long ago languished as a post-industrial ghost town. The Gannet, Ox and Finch, and Crabshakk rank among the acclaimed destinations on the “Finnie strip.” Glasgow has many excellent curry houses; Shish Mahal and Mother India’s Café are arguably the best. Deep-fried fish and chips is the classic fast-food choice, as Justin Bieber discovered when he ordered one at the Blue Lagoon on Argyle Street after a recent show. He washed it down with a can of Irn-Bru, the orange soda revered by Scots.
Stars and Star Wars
Described by its designer as “Darth Vader’s apartment,” Dakota Deluxe is all dark brick and black blinds on its exterior; you don’t know whether to check in or fly an X-Wing down its corridors. Inside, though, the feeling is indulgent and cosy, suited to couples. The elegant cocktail bar offers a challenge: trying to name all the famous Jacks (Nicholson, Kennedy, etc.) whose portraits line the walls (www.dakotahotels.co.uk). In Glasgow’s leafy West End, the address of Hotel du Vin—One Devonshire Gardens—has long been a byword for luxury, which is why this converted stretch of Victorian town houses is the go-to spot for visiting celebs (www.hotelduvin.com).
The Art of Football
One of the quintessential Glasgow experiences is attending a gig at the Barrowland Ballroom or at least stopping by to admire its iconic neon sign. This is also a town for football. The fierce rivalry between the Celtic and the Rangers makes all the headlines, but going to see one of the smaller teams, Partick Thistle or Queen’s Park, provides an authentic glimpse of “fitba” culture. Make time, too, to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, a stately building that’s home to a world-class painting—Salvador Dalí’s “Christ of St. John of the Cross.”
It’s often said that the city has the best shopping in the United Kingdom outside of London. Much of it is concentrated on the “Style Mile” along Argyle, Buchanan, and Sauchiehall Streets. Look elsewhere for more-offbeat gift ideas: Young’s Interesting Books on Skirving Street; Dowanside and Ruthven Lanes for vintage clothing (Starry Starry Night) and antiques; Penny Black on Great Western Road for Glasgow-themed greeting cards. And don’t miss Scotland’s best record shop, Monorail, inside vegan café Mono in Kings Court.