From sampling Buckfast Curry to taking on the ‘Subcrawl’, we offer 25 essential Glasgow experiences, for visitors and locals alike...
We listed our top 25 things to do in Edinburgh before you die, and now we’ve turned our attentions to Glasgow.
Our next stop is Aberdeen – tell us your essential Aberdonian experiences and see if they make the cut.
1. What was formerly known as the Transport Museum has a new name and a new home. The Riverside Museum, architect Zaha Hadid’s first major public building in UK, sits on the site of a former shipyard, and tells the story of Glasgow’s - and Scotland’s - contributions to travel and transport; a history few cities, or countries, can rival. The 19th century Tall Ship moored alongside the building’s undulating zinc waves beautifully illustrates the museum’s tracing of past to present, as do the displays inside, which put skateboards beside steam trains.
2. Along with Brick Lane and Bradford, Glasgow forms the triumvirate of curry kingdoms in the UK. Everyone has their favourite – ours are Mother India’s Café on Argyle Street for tapas-style dining; Balbir’s on Church Street for a healthy take on the classics; and the very aptly-named branch of the Wee Curry Shop on Buccleuch Street, tiny but mighty and the most intimate you’re ever likely to get with a curry. If you’re feeling brave head to the House of Shah in nearby Hamilton for a Buckfast Korma – Glasgow has taken the tonic wine from Devon to its heart almost as closely as it has curry, so combining the two is a logical step... surely?
3. Glasgow’s marketing bureau would have it best known as a shopping mecca for the Style Mile of designer stores and high street flagships in the city centre, but the truly great Glaswegian retail experience is of the vintage variety. Hit Saratoga Trunk, a vast warehouse containing tens of thousands of items dating from Victorian times to the 1990s; Mr Ben’s, great for wearable 70s and 80s finds; Vintage Guru, where Chanel and Moschino have been spotted for sale; and The Glasgow Vintage Co; an orderly emporium from the family that runs the legendary Armstrong’s. Don’t forget to tack on a trip along Dumbarton Road, the Rodeo Drive of charity shopping.
4. The rivalry between Rangers and Celtic may not always do Glasgow many favours in terms of its image elsewhere, but the Old Firm is as fundamental to the city as Irn Bru and Billy Connolly, and the derby is guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience. The atmosphere from the stands is spine-tingling, but if you’re heading to the pub to watch and nailing your colours to the mast, just make sure you’re in the corresponding part of town.
5. Asia Style on St George’s Road serves the best and most authentic Chinese and Malaysian food in Scotland – just ask the homesick students who crowd this formica-clad no-frills diner till the small hours. Let the hanging duck carcasses, somewhat severe service, fluorescent lighting and equally virulent hand-written menus plastering the walls entice you in, order the soft shell crab and kangkong sambal, and you will never look at MSG-laden lemon chicken again.
6. Independent cinema the Glasgow Film Theatre hosts the city’s film festival, and boasts the most eclectic and esoteric programme any cinephile could ask for. But the GFT is at its most loveable at one of its Late Night Classics, 11pm screenings of cult classics and old-school favourites. Coming (again) attractions include Withnail And I (25 November), Labyrinth (9 December) and Home Alone (16 December). Take your ticket along Sauchiehall Street to hipster hangout Nice N Sleazy’s for entry to the after-party, where animated discussions on cinematic nostalgia can take place over £2 White Russians - Scarlett Johansson (recently spotted at the bar) might even get involved.
7. Indulge your inner Gatsby with oysters and champagne at Rogano, which retains its original 1930s Art Deco interior, along with all the associated elegance. Glasgow’s oldest surviving restaurant is an homage to the Cunard liner The Queen Mary, kitted out in the same style at the same time the ship was taking shape in a Clyde shipyard in 1935. With two AA Rosettes, it isn’t resting on its laurels either.
8. Several pubs claim to be Glasgow’s oldest, which is an excellent excuse for a pub crawl round the contenders. The Scotia in Stockwell Street dates from 1792, while the Old College Bar on the High Street was founded in 1810, but in a building that dates from 1515. It doesn’t look like it’s been scrubbed up since from the outside, but promises ‘tasty snacks and a singalong’, which you can’t argue with. Sloan’s on Argyle Street bills itself as the oldest bar and restaurant, founded in 1797 and the departure point for the stagecoach to Edinburgh (which took five hours) as well as the scene of cock-fighting contests.
9. Make like Alan McGee and see the next big thing at King Tut’s. Labelled “quite possibly the finest small venue in the world” by the NME, a gig at Tut’s has helped launch the careers of Oasis (who McGee famously signed at the venue immediately after seeing them play), Pulp, The Verve, the Manic Street Preachers and Radiohead. It’s still the best place to spot both new talent, and the aforementioned rock royalty alumni, who head there for a night out after playing the city’s bigger venues – Bloc Party, Kings of Leon and the Gallagher family unit (in happier days) have all been spotted at the bar.
10. Ignore the gift shop fodder his work has inspired – the ubiquitous earrings and tea towels bear no relation to the genius of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Glasgow art world’s most famous son. Artist, architect and designer, Mackintosh was the UK’s main proponent of Art Nouveau, and its most prolific. Wander into the Glasgow School of Art, his first and most important commission, to experience this first hand, making sure not to miss the small but perfectly-formed dark wood library - everything from the light fixtures to the book cases to the chairs is a Mackintosh original.
11. The Barras has been synonymous with Glasgow for over a century, and although it has also become synonymous with pirate DVDs and dodgy “designer” gear, a new generation of traders, including craft collective Made In The Shade and Glasgow indie fashion mogul Camille Lorigo of Che Camille, are injecting fresh life into the iconic market. Don’t worry though, gentrification is a long way off. Start early with a roll and sausage and a pint and lose a day there – the hipster craft stalls and fixed gear bike workshop sitting alongside fruit ‘n’ veg stalls, lifetime supply of cheap lighters and knock-off tracksuits neatly sums up the mix that makes Glasgow great.
12. Shoot the breeze on Glasgow Green. The Green is the city’s oldest park, existing in one form or another since the 15th century, and was used for cattle grazing until the 19th. Since then it has been the scene of Chartist riots in response to the Reform Act of 1832, suffragette meetings, anti-war protests during the First World War, and more recently Michael Jackson’s only, and the Stone Roses’ last, performance in Scotland. Wander over the park to the West micro-brewery, housed in the old Templeton carpet factory, a rosy-red Victorian masterpiece based on the Doge’s Palace in Venice, for a pint and a schnitzel.
13. It may seem implausible in the buzzing, built-up and often exhausting city centre, but Loch Lomond is a mere 20 minute drive out of Glasgow, and a scenic and exhilarating one at that. Once you get there, mountain-biking, canoeing and plain old communing with nature are all on offer at Britain’s biggest stretch of open water.
14. Glasgow’s subway - the third oldest in the world after London’s and Budapest’s – is hardly expansive, and as a result not all that useful if you live anywhere outside the West End or a very small pocket of the South Side, but its circular track makes it an excellent vehicle for a pub crawl; or Subcrawl. Buy a Discovery ticket for unlimited travel in one day, disembark at every station, have a drink in the nearest pub, get back on and repeat until you end up back at the first pub you started in. With fifteen stations to get round, the challenge has assumed legendary status among students, but don’t let that put you off.
15. Sail up the Firth of Clyde on the world’s last remaining sea-going paddle steamer. Built in 1946 to replace the original model that was sunk in the evacuation at Dunkirk, The Waverley has been restored to its former glory, and a cruise on her decks is a recreation of gentler times, with period interiors and details intact. Services run between May and August, and when Waverley isn’t in service she can be found starring in movies, like the upcoming Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
16. The Glasgow Necropolis is a Victorian cemetery home to 50,000 departed souls; a sprawling and beautiful city of the dead in which monuments and tombs vie for space, crowding the hill and meandering to its summit to meet the statue of John Knox that overlooks the site. The Necropolis was based on Père Lachaise in Paris, and the atmosphere is similarly dreamy. For help spotting monuments designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh take a guided walking tour with volunteers from the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis, which are conducted year round, come snow or dreaded sunny day.
17. Head to the SWG3 warehouse in Finnieston, home to rising art stars and the city’s best parties. Artists’ studios, exhibition space, band rehearsal rooms and gig venue all rolled into one, there is always something worth seeing - this is the place to experience Glasgow’s fabled art scene firsthand, and be reassured that it is alive and well. Befriend the right people and you might get to sneak up to the roof - the ladder is dauntingly high but the views are worth it. Just don’t tell them we told you to do it.
18. A Scotland game at Hampden, Scotland’s National Stadium, is a must-do, although if you can snag tickets to the London 2012 Olympic football events being staged there, they will probably be pretty memorable too. The stadium is also home to the Scottish Football Museum, which tells the inspiring (and no doubt also frequently disheartening and hilarious) story of Scottish football with the help of 2,500 display items, including the Scottish Cup, the world’s oldest national trophy.
19. The Sub Club may still be best known outside Glasgow as the home of legendary techno night Optimo, where guests included Peaches, LCD Soundsystem, Richie Hawtin and The Kills, but even accounting for the night’s demise in 2010, a night at ‘the Subby’ is still an essential Glaswegian experience. The longest-running underground club in the world, and voted into the global top 15 by DJ Mag, it’s known for its eclectic, charismatic and hedonistic but infinitely inclusive crowd and second-to-none sound system, and was the scene of local heroes Primal Scream’s first gig.
20. Be a ballerina for an hour - take a class with Scottish Ballet, and get a glimpse into a rarefied world. Classes open to the public are held at the headquarters of Scotland’s national dance company at the Tramway, costing just £8.50 and starting at absolute beginners’ level.
21. Have your picture taken with the Duke of Wellington. The statue, complete with now-permanent traffic cone top hat, serves as shorthand for Glasgow’s irreverent pride in its own history, and as a result has become the best-known emblem of the city. Go in winter, wrap up warm, and have a coffee under the canopy of fairy lights over Royal Exchange Square, the prettiest Christmas decorations in Scotland.
22. From art to armour, Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross to a Spitfire fighter plane, there are over 8000 items on display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the most-visited attraction in the UK outside London. A permanent Glasgow Boys collection is newly on display, and the current major exhibition is Rock On! AC/DC: Scotland’s Family Jewels, illustrating the gallery’s eclectic and always entertaining approach to what’s on show.
23. Folk music, whisky and a warm welcome may be an almighty Scottish cliché, but that doesn’t make them any less appealing, and Glasgow boasts some of the best places to partake of all three. The Ben Nevis and the Park Bar on Argyle Street are particular favourites, with the former serving 180 different variations of the water of life and the latter hosting a monthly Gaelic pub quiz, and both famed as being among the friendliest in a city full of friendly pubs.
24. Guided tours of the City Chambers are free and twice-daily at 10.30am and 2.30pm. The building itself is a potent symbol of Glasgow’s past wealth and power, and its stunningly opulent interior, with ornate mosaics tiling the vaulted ceilings, carved archways and marble staircases, belies its rather dry quotidian purpose.
25. Glaswegians in stetsons with ready access to cheap drinks and line dancing is a sight to be treasured, and one you can behold for the bargain price of £5 every weekend at the Grand Ole Opry in Govan. A gunslinging contest and the ceremonial folding of the Confederate flag at closing time do their best to bolster the illusion that you are in fact in Nashville, but this really couldn’t be anywhere but Glasgow.