The biggest city in Scotland has plenty going on and if you’re planning to move to the area any time soon, it’s probably a good idea to keep abreast of what’s going on.
1- Visit The Wellpark Brewery
The last place in Scotland you might expect to find craft beer is a bar-restaurant attached to a small brewery within the complex of a far larger brewery – owned by a drinks multinational – where the canning line can churn out 2,000 cans of lager a minute. But this is Glasgow. The protagonists here are Dublin-based drinks conglomerate C&C Group, owner of the Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow’s East End (home to Tennent’s) and the Williams Brothers, Scottish craft brewers who have been making decent beer for more than twenty-five years.
They got together to launch the Drygate project in 2014, based in its own compound at Wellpark. This hosts the Drygate Brewery – which makes Bearface Lager, Gladeye IPA and Outaspace Apple Ale – as well as the Vintage at Drygate Bar and Kitchen. There are 24 rotating beers on tap, another 200 in bottles, a beer hall with massive screens for football, rugby and other televised events and a terrace for those rare Glasgow days when it’s not raining. The genuine commitment to a wide range of good beers is admirable.
2- Play the Glasgow “Escape” game
Simply say the phrase ‘Escape Glasgow’ and it might be taken as a wry comment on the city’s lack of sunshine, or some other perceived deficiency. Actually it’s the name of a new live escape game, launched in August 2014, that sees participants locked in a room then given 60 minutes to solve the puzzles and clues that allow them to get out. Very soon after it opened for business – in the Baltic Chambers building on Wellington Street – families, groups of friends, couples and city visitors found it was an incredibly fun thing to do. Its popularity spread by word of mouth.
It’s for a minimum of two and a maximum of six players, room access costs a flat £60 irrespective of the numbers, and players have to work collaboratively to escape within the allotted hour. The whole experience, soup to nuts, takes around 90 minutes: getting in, being briefed, then your hour in the room. It might sound like an odd thing to do but with brain training-style games all over the app stores and the enduring popularity of sudoku and crosswords, maybe live action problem solving is the coming trend.
3- Explore the parks
Pollok Country Park is a skelping great stretch of greenery in the south of Glasgow covering 146 hectares and readily accessible from the city centre. All you have to do is jump on a suburban train to Pollokshaws West from Central Station – the journey takes just under ten minutes. The park has an attractive walled garden, a woodland garden, Clydesdale horses, a pedigree fold of Highland cattle, a play park for kids and places to picnic. Aside from all that, however, there’s the art. The park is home to two of Glasgow’s main attractions: Pollok House and the Burrell Collection. Pollok House was originally the grand, 18th century home of the Maxwell baronets of Pollok, and boasts a number of important artworks that include paintings by El Greco, Goya and Murillo as well as Scottish artists such as Guthrie and Raeburn. Meanwhile, the Burrell is just ten minutes’ walk away.
This is a custom-built gallery and museum that houses the remarkable collection of art and artefacts amassed by shipping magnate Sir William Burrell who gifted it all to the city authorities in 1944. He died in 1958 but it took until 1983 for a suitable site to be agreed, a building to be designed and the collection declared open to the public. Fortunately it was worth the wait. There is anything and everything here from Egyptian stone sculpture dating back 5,000 years to French Impressionist paintings via ancient Chinese ceramics and medieval European armour and weapons. It is quite remarkable.
4- Check out the museums
In Glasgow, there are a handful of visitor attractions that really are la crème de la crème (Glasgow Science Centre, Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, the Riverside Museum). It may come as a shock to some that the Scottish Football Museum is held in similar esteem. Based within the National Stadium at Hampden, the museum focuses on Scotland’s unique football heritage. Local team Queen’s Park FC was founded as far back as 1867, while the Scottish Football Association – the world’s second oldest – dates to 1873, with professional football kicking off here in 1890. More than a game, it can be seen as an expression of the country’s social and economic history, through war and peace, reaching deep into the Victorian era.
The museum explores the whole story with an extensive collection of memorabilia as well as glamour items such as the Scottish Cup – the world’s oldest surviving association football trophy (the English FA Cup would be older but the original was nabbed in 1895). When visiting there is also a tour of the 52,000-capacity National Stadium itself and a chance to see the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. This is usually reserved for individuals but in 2014 McCrae’s Battalion was inducted en masse. This was a battalion of the Royal Scots, raised in 1914 to fight in the First World War, with recruits including professional footballers, other sportsmen and football fans from East Central Scotland, mostly associated with Edinburgh’s Heart of Midlothian FC. A great many didn’t come back from the trenches.
5- Go for a pie and a pint
Where Edinburgh has a reputation for gentility, snootiness and its international arts festival, Glasgow likes to define itself as far grittier, post-industrial and real. This attitude filters through in many areas of life, arts and culture – even in theatre. Òran Mór is an arts and entertainment venue in Glasgow’s West End, based in a refurbished Victorian church, and open since 2004. It does food, drink, theatre performances, live music and club nights – the main auditorium has a striking ceiling mural by artist and writer Alasdair Gray. One of its regular lunchtime slots is called A Play, A Pie And A Pint, which does exactly what it says in the title.
There are dozens of new plays commissioned each year, they’re all bite-sized at 45 minutes long and the ticket price includes a pint and a pie (though you can choose wine or a soft drink instead). The idea is genius, pure and simple: accessible theatre and an excuse for a beer and a snack in the middle of the day. Writers have included some of Scotland’s best-known, as well as newcomers, while there have been seasons by writers from all over the world. It’s fun, it’s not expensive given the inclusive food and drink, it’s not taxing and it’s a brilliant way of seeing new work.
6- Watch a movie in style
There are many reasons to head for the striking Glasgow Science Centre (GSC) on the south bank of the Clyde at Pacific Quay but for movie fans one of the most compelling might be the chance to see a film at the biggest screen in Scotland. The Cineworld IMAX at GSC shows gee-whizz, 3D educational movies as part of its museum remit, all around 45 minutes long (though there is an IMAX supplement to the basic ticket price). When the venue functions as a more familiar part of the Cineworld chain, however, it offers the standard multiplex list of blockbusters and current releases in 2D or 3D.
Why cross the river however when there are perfectly good cinemas in the city centre? Although the IMAX phenomenon began way back in the 1970s and there are now hundreds of IMAX screens worldwide, there are only four in Scotland. This is the longest-established, and the space age building and riverside location add a certain something to the experience. It shows movies in far better resolution and at a far greater size than conventional venues – you will see every hair on Brad Pitt’s head, every wrinkle on that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and every detail on Matthew McConaughey’s spacesuit.
7- Go clubbing
With the biggest population of any city north of the border, a considerable complement of students, a sizeable gay scene and a creative vibrancy that other Scottish cities lack, it’s an undisputable fact that Glasgow is Scotland’s clubbing capital. A multifaceted venue like The Arches on Argyle Street may offer arts events, gigs and a café-bar, for instance, but come 10pm or 11pm it also starts to live up to its stellar reputation as a superclub with regular guest DJs and club nights that cover the whole range of contemporary dance music.
Elsewhere in the city centre you find venues like Jamaica Street’s Sub Club, not only the venue for Primal Scream’s first ever gig but also reputed to be the longest-running underground dance club on the planet. The Garage on Sauchiehall Street, meanwhile, is a different beast: huge and populist, it packs the punters in with fun times and drinks promotions. Elsewhere on Sauchiehall Street you find the eclectic local legend that is Nice’N’Sleazy which leavens its excellent clubs roster with food by Meathammer Ltd – burgers a speciality – and acoustic open mic nights. Meanwhile established venues on the gay scene include the long-running Polo Lounge and the AXM Club, both in the Merchant City. In Glasgow you can go from cutting edge electronica to the campest of sing-a-long pop – the choice is yours.
8- Check out the concert arenas
Glasgow has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to gig venues. Down by the Clyde at Finnieston the cavernous Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) opened in 1985 for big gig. Then the adjacent Clyde Auditorium, also known as the Armadillo because of its distinctive shape, was added in 1997. Come 2013 it was dwarfed by the impressive and rather huge Hydro at the Finnieston site which announced its presence to the world with a showpiece gig by Rod Stewart. Meanwhile the prestigious Glasgow Royal Concert Hall at the top of Buchanan Street is the flagship venue for the annual Celtic Connections festival and it has smaller sister venues in the City Halls and the Old Fruitmarket.
Barrowlands Ballroom in the East End remains a favourite for its atmosphere, while the Academy Music Group also has a presence in the city with the O2 ABC and the O2 Academy attracting mid-range rock and other touring acts. Throw in King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, other small venues, and pubs with live music nights, and it’s almost impossible to go short of musical entertainment in this city, whether you’re in a crowd of 13,000 for a Gaga gig at the Hydro or sitting in the Scotia on a Sunday night watching Doctor Cook and the Boners crank out their cover of See You Later Alligator.
9- Cruise on the Clyde
The River Clyde is such a central part of Glasgow’s story that it’s impossible to ignore. From the city’s ancient origins on the riverbank to its merchant pomp and maritime pre-eminence – not forgetting the heritage of shipbuilding – there simply would be no Glasgow without the Clyde. You get some sense of the river from the many bridges that cross it within the city boundary, or from the Clyde Walkway – a long distance route that runs from Glasgow into South Lanarkshire. However, there’s no better way to see a river than to get out on the water and Clyde Cruises offers this option between Easter and October every year.
The 90 minute tour covers a fair stretch of the Clyde and affords a unique view of central Glasgow, its bridges, its waterfront architecture and the huge cantilever crane that survives among the shiny developments at Finnieston. You can also use this service to get around, too. Board in the city centre, say, travel by river to the impressive Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum, hop off, check it out, then hop on again to get back to the centre.
10- Shop till you drop
Whichever way you count it, Glasgow is big. Its city population is a shade under 600,000 while the Greater Glasgow area, encompassing nearby satellite towns, is even more populous, estimated to have around 1.2 million people. Throw in those from even further afield and that’s a lot of Scots looking to Glasgow for work, entertainment and shopping. Handily, it hosts a number of malls like Buchanan Galleries and St Enoch’s in the city centre or Braehead Shopping Centre west along the Clyde, but there are chichi alternatives, too. At Princes Square off Buchanan Street you will find names like Kurt Geiger, Ted Baker and Vivienne Westwood, as well as Jo Malone and Space NK.
The elegant Argyll Arcade, also off Buchanan Street, dates to the Regency era and has an extraordinary concentration of jewellers, while the Merchant City is where you’ll find Agent Provocateur underwear, Emporio Armani outerwear, and the only Bose shop in Scotland. Otherwise Argyle Street, Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street serve as the main shopping drags, plus there are small, quirky shops to be found in the streets immediately south of Trongate – and even more in the nooks and crannies of the West End. In the East End the Barras, also known as Glasgow Barrowlands Market, runs every Saturday and Sunday and has all kinds of useful items, tat and gems, usually at bargain prices. Given what’s on sale, it’s not really a luxury shopping destination – more a foray into the city’s street culture and patois.