Clyde Arch, GlasgowRevived from its past as an industrial one on a steady decline, Glasgow is rediscovering its roots while also embarking on a new path as a cultural city with some of the best museums and galleries housed in architectural gems from different eras.  The city on the banks of the River Clyde is still glowing in the aftermath of the “Glasgow’s Miles Better” campaign in the 1980s, and then being crowned the European City of Culture in 1999, following the decades of depression that it experienced prior.

Nowadays, the whole city is preparing for newer wave of enthusiasm among visitors, as it will play host to the football games of 2012 London Olympics.  This has ushered in more redevelopment programs, mostly in the areas surrounding the River Clyde, the body of water that once led Glasgow to prosperity.

Though Glasgow still looks like the grim Glasgow of the fairly recent past, a thorough exploration of the city will reveal the legacy that its Victorian heyday left.  During the Victorian age, when the city was a rich shipbuilding nation, many of the wealthy merchants commissioned some of the best architects to create some of the most beautiful structures that dot the city today.  The most remarkable of them, as well as Glasgow’s last hurrah before descending into economic depression, are the designs by local architect, Charles Rennie Macintosh.

However, underneath all the redevelopment and the spotlight on Glasgow, many of its areas lay in the grime and grit that used to character the city in many people’s imaginations.  The settlements in the outskirts remain depressed and deprived, so that Glasgow does not forget its recent past (and in some parts, its present) as a city on the edge of an eventual meltdown.

Glasgow ViewNothing of medieval Glasgow remains, apart from the cathedral which stands on the site where St. Mungo founded a church in the sixth century.  Glasgow’s name may have come from Celtic “Glas-cu” which, loosely translated, means “the dear green place”.  The foundation of the University of Glasgow – the fourth oldest in Britain, and the second in Scotland—gave more prominence to the city. 

Glasgow reached its height after the controversial 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland, and Glasgow became one of the busiest ports in Europe.  Because of this, more and more people moved to the city, mostly Highlanders and Irishmen affected by the potato famine, to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities to be found in the “Second City of the British Empire”.  Consequently, it became a large shipbuilding city during the Victorian era—nearly every country had a “Clyde-built” steamboat. 

The city’s steady growth was then met with an almost instant anticlimax, as the great depression of the 1930s hit the city, leaving many unemployed.  The Glasgow of this era is what largely characterizes the city to people who’ve never been here—gray, violent, and hopeless.  In the 1960s and 70s, the heavy industries completely died away, leaving the entire city unemployed and with a tarnished reputation. 

Just when all hope seemed lost, in the 1980s, the city launched a campaign to save Glasgow from the slump, and re-launch it as a city of culture. 

The sights of Glasgow are at best scattered.  The city originally grew around the Glasgow Cathedral, but over the years, the boundaries of Scotland’s largest city have since changed significantly. 

The city centre is all situated on a grid system north of the River Clyde.  The main city square, located at the heart of the centre, is the attractive George Square, and east of the square, you will find the commercial and entertainment centre of the city, Merchant Street.  So while it is best explored by walking,  you will need to use the comprehensive Underground system to get to the other areas, such as West End, where most of the galleries are concentrated. The bus system is quite confusing, so pick up a timetable guide at the Travel Centre in St. Enoch’s Square.



City Centre
Glasgow City ChambersAt George Square, which is smack dab in the middle of the city centre, you will find the show-stopping City Chambers (+44 1412 874018, free), where the local government holds office, dominating the eastern edge of the square.  It was built by Queen Victoria in the late 1880s, and showcases the wealth amassed by the city during this era, with its Italian marble staircases and domed ceilings.   You can explore the ground floor on your own, but to marvel at its other interior features, you will have to join the free guided tours.

The plaza of George Square is filled with many statues of luminaries such as Sir Walter Scott, James Watt and Robert Burns. 

Glasgow GOMA  El Greco 'Layy in Fur Hat'South of George Square is the Royal Exchange Square, where the showy mansion of tobacco magnate William Cunninghame was built in 1775.  The Gallery of Modern Art (+44 1412 873050, free) now calls this mansion home. The exterior of the mansion, with its indulgence and decadence, playfully contrasts with the displays of the GOMA, which is a humble gallery without an air of elitism, making it popular among kids and the public in general and is indeed the most visited modern art gallery in Scotland.  The ground floor is home to many temporary displays, and the basement contains the resident library and café, while the two upper floors houses bigger exhibitions by international contemporary artists.

East of George Square, you will find the Merchant City, which is now where the yuppies rent residential space and if not, hang out at the coolest bars and designer shops housed in converted warehouses and eighteenth century homes.  Many of these structures date back to the eighteenth century, when the tobacco merchants of the day decided to expand the city, building such grand and grandiose structures in what is now the cool, chic Merchant City.

High Kirk of GlasgowThe High Kirk of Glasgow (Castle Street, +44  1415 528198), built on the site of St. Mungo’s Church founded in the 6th century, is the only cathedral known to have survived the Reformation.  Built in 1136, and rebuilt extensively until the 15th century after destruction in 1192, the cathedral dedicated to St. Mungo who founded the city, is a two-level cathedral, with the lower part holding the crypt and hidden from view.  The lower part of the church holds the tomb of St. Mungo, which was the site of many pilgrimages back in the medieval era.  You can enter this part of the cathedral by climbing down the stairs from the nave.

The choir screen that divides the cathedral is embellished with a depiction of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Northeast of the choir, you will find the sacristy where the Glasgow University was founded. 

Across the cathedral, you will find the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art (3 Castle Street, +44 1412 761625, free), which houses many relics and objects from different religious beliefs such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, among others.  It is a perplexing project to encapsulate different world religions in one medieval townhouse, but they do attempt to give a good, if not entirely complete or justified, picture of each religious belief.

If wandering east of Merchant City for a few minutes, head for the East End, which has turned its face away from the sleek cultural city redevelopment happening in the rest of the city and remained adamantly working-class.  This is the Glasgow of everyone’s perception—gritty and still post-industrial.  In this area you will find the oldest public park in Britain, the Glasgow Green.  In the same area, you will find the excellent social history museum, People’s Palace (Glasgow Green, +44 1412 760788).  Popular among Glaswegians, especially the older ones who love a little bit of trip down memory lane, the People’s Palace is housed in a Victorian building for the very purpose of being a museum in the 1890s.  A great place to unwind, the Winter Gardens is a glasshouse garden attached to the museum.

Glasgow Science Centre logoThe Glasgow Science Centre is one of the projects undertaken by the city to reinvigorate the banks of the River Clyde, which lay quite neglected during the first onslaught of redevelopment.  The Glasgow Science Centre (50 Pacific Quay, +44 (0) 1414 205000, £9.95)combines the best of contemporary design with fun interactive science-based displays, most popularly in the Science Mall, a crescent-shaped titanium structure with three floors overlooking the riverside.  There is also an IMAX cinema (additional £2.50) that mainly shows documentaries that tackle nature and science issues of the day.  The Glasgow Tower (additional £2.50), which is closed temporarily to address the technical concerns that have been plaguing it since it first opened, and will reopen in Spring 2011, offers a great panoramic view of the whole city.

West End
The chic side of town, West End is dynamic and trendy, with a lively student population studying in the Glasgow University, along with a host of trendy gastro-pubs and designer boutiques.  This was where, in the 1800s, the rich escaped from Glasgow’s heavily industrial district and built mansions and estates.  It became even more elite when the ancient university transferred here in 1870.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and MuseumRecently reopened after three years of refurbishment, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (Argyle Street, +44 1412 769599, free) has always been Glasgow’s cultural icon, with a competitive collection that rivals the best of London’s museums.   Its main highlight remains the city’s collection of paintings, most notably Salvador Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross, along with the works of the Scottish Colourists and the Glasgow boys, as well as Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s paintings.  The museum is not all high-brow art—it also caters to kids, and to historical buffs who will love the life-size World War II Spitfire and other aspects of the city’s history, both social and factual.  The grandiose Edwardian exterior of the museum reflects the intricacy of the interior.

Adam Smith statue, Glasgow UniversityThe Glasgow University (+44 141 330 2000), which towers over most structures in the West End and ultimately characterizes its skyline, is the fourth oldest university in Britain and the second oldest in Scotland.  It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the mid-1800s.  Beside the museum, you will find the oldest public museum in the country, the Hunterian Museum (Main/Gilbert-Scott Bldg, University Avenue, +44 1413 304221, free), which started off in 1807 to house the collection donated by the university’s former student, William Hunter. Newer displays include the “Weird and Wonderful” collection featuring odd artifacts from Captain Cook’s Pacific voyages.

The Hunterian Art Gallery (82 Hillhead Street, +44 1413 305431, free) is the less whimsical side of the Hunterian legacy.  The gallery houses the best of Scottish art, mainly from the Scottish colourists and the Glasgow boys, including forerunner William McTaggart.  There are also French Impressionist paintings here, as well as a fairly extensive collection of James Abbott McNeill Whistler pieces.

Mackintosh House nearby is a tribute to creative couple Margaret MacDonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh and tries to recreate what their former Glasgow home (now sadly demolished) may have looked like.  The three floors contain furniture designed by Mackintosh, as well as some of his paintings and architectural designs.


The LighthouseCharles Rennie Mackintosh defined the look of Glasgow, creating buildings that liberally took inspiration from the best of Gothic, Art Noveau and contemporary architecture.  The Mackintosh stamp was so distinct that it became the vogue to mock his style to get people’s attention.  If you want to see his pieces scattered all over the city, you can purchase the Mackintosh Trail Ticket (£16), consumable for a day and gives you entry to the twelve Mackintosh buildings all over the city, as well as unlimited Underground and First bus access.  You can buy the ticket online (+
£1.50 for shipping and handling) from the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, and also at the tourist office.

His most popular work is the Glasgow School of Art (167 Renfrew Street, +44 1413 534500), which he designed after winning the competition.  It is considered as one of BBC’s greatest artistic achievements, and is one of the first examples of Art Nouveau in Britain.  The financial constraints that would plague the otherwise flamboyant architect throughout most of his career also affected what would be his greatest legacy, as the school had to be built in two sections.  The length of time in between the building of his design is reflected in the shift of look of the western and eastern parts of the school.

Prior to this, during his career under Honeyman and Keppie, he designed several other structures that give people an idea as to how he developed aesthetically.  West of George Square, in a lane between shopping district Buchanan Street and Union Street, is Glasgow Herald, or as it is more popularly known, The Lighthouse (11 Mitchell Lane, +44 1412 765360).  Built in 1895, this was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first public commission, and now it has been converted to house Scotland’s Centre for Architecture, Design and the City.   Along with the permanent Mackintosh Interpretation Centre, you can find many temporary displays here on architecture.

The Queen's Church interior, GlasgowThe only religious structure designed by Mackintosh ever to see construction is the Queens Cross Church (870 Garscube Road, +44 1419 466600), built in 1896.  It combines Gothic and Japanese design principles, and now houses the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society.  

Mackintosh also designed furniture for Miss Kate Cranston, who owned many of the Glasgow tearooms that were becoming the vogue among Glaswegians in the late 1800s.  In the case of the Willow Tea Rooms (217 Sauchiehall Street, +44 1413 320521) in Sauchiehall Street, he designed the building itself, taking his creative cue from the word Sauchie, which means willow, to unify the elements in his design.  

Scotland Street School, GlasgowAmong Mackintosh’s last hurrah is the Scotland Street School (225 Scotland Street, +44 1412 870500, free), which takes inspiration from the Scots Baronial style, and is now a museum dedicated to education.  But the last of his designs to be built after his lifetime, the House for an Art Lover (Bellahouston Park, 10 Dumbreck Road, +44 1413 534770, £4.50), reflects what Mackintosh could have achieved had he been granted financial freedom with his project.  Designed for a German competition and built more than ninety years later in Glasgow, it bears the unmistakable Mackintosh stamp.


The Burrell CollectionIn 1944, the rich industrialist and ship owner Sir William Burrell (1861-1958) gave to his city his art collection which he amassed over the years.  Today, the
Burrell Collection (Pollok Country Park, 2060 Pollokshaws Road, +44 1412 870047, free) housed six miles south of the city centre is the highlight of most visitors’ trip to Glasgow.  Unpretentious and undiscriminating, Burrell bought pieces simply because they caught his fancy, and not because of what the fashion dictated, which resulted in an eclectic collection that gained value as their merit was more known.

The city of Glasgow had a hard time deciding where to put the collection, so when the Pollok Estate was donated to the city, they decided to hold a competition which would decide who would build the structure that now holds the collection.  The result is a well-lit structure, with large windows overlooking the courtyard giving proper backdrop to the pieces.  The pieces amassed by Burrell over the years include paintings by Degas, Manet and Cezanne, medieval and post-medieval art from all over Europe, delicate Chinese porcelain, and even Greek and Roman artifacts like a fifth-century Roman mosaic.  There are also ancient weaponry among modern sculptures.  Some rooms from Burrell’s castle home were even recreated in some parts of the museum, which showcases even more Burrell’s taste in furnishings and antiques.





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Places of Interest:   Zoom out to see more numbers.  1. City Chambers  2. Gallery of Modern Art  3. High Kirk of Glasgow  4. St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art  5. People's Palace  6. Glasgow Science Centre  7. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum  8.  University of Glasgow  9. Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery  10. Mackintosh House  11. Burrell Collection  12-16 show key Mackintosh Buildings:  12. Glasgow School of Art  13. The Lighthouse  14. Queen's Cross Church  15. Scotland street School Museum  16. House for an Art Lover



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Or you can check out our reviewed hotels in Glasgow's City Centre below and contact them directly

City Centre
The Brunswick Hotel
(106-108 Brunswick Street, +44 1415 520001, from  £50).  For a hotel that looks very contemporary and designer-boutique, you’d expect polite yet impersonal treatment from the staff, but this is an independent hotel run by a warm and friendly staff.  The bar gets busy at night, as it is popular among mixed crowds.

The Radisson Blu SAS (301 Argyle Street, +44 1412 043333, £145) in Glasgow is housed in a huge and imposing modernist building, with 250 rooms.  The staff, as can be expected in a huge hotel, can be quite cold yet still serviceable, but the rooms are comfortable and well-equipped enough, with heated bathroom floors for cold Glasgow nights.

Euro Hostel (318 Clyde Street, +44 1412 222828, from £30)
is housed in a former student resident hall, so the beds in the rooms are all bunk beds, however, all are en-suite so it’s a win-win.  It is the choice of many backpackers, so it can get quite crowded.

Housed in a building that dates back from 1823,
Blythswood Square (11 Blythswood Square, +441412 082458, from £120) is quite a luxurious hotel, so expect to pay the price.  The deluxe rooms are not quite as big as one would expect, but the beds are comfortable, and so are the amenities.

Adelaide’s (209 Bath Street, +44 1412 484970, £62).  The rooms here are basic, and not all of them are en-suite, but the service is friendly, and the location central.  It is housed in a converted historic church.


Cathedral House Hotel (28-32 Cathedral Court, +44 1415 523519, £79).  Overlooking the Glasgow Cathedral and the Cathedral Square, this hotel is set in a Scottish Baronial structure and boasts of seven en-suite rooms that are simple but tastefully decorated.  The rates include a full Scottish breakfast that’s worth waking up early to.

CitizenM (60 Renfrew Street, +44 1414 049485, from £49) tries to marry luxury and budget and the result is good enough for a few nights’ stay.  Some of the rooms are not as big, but very well-furnished with whatever you can expect from a boutique hotel. 

Part of a chain of luxury hotels across the UK, the
Menzies Hotel Glasgow (27 Washington Street, +44 1412 222929, from £60)  incorporates the design of an old Rice Mill into its accommodations to create something modern yet still pays homage to the Glaswegian legacy.

Recently opened in 2008,
Acorn Hotel (140 Elderslie Street, +44 1413 326556, £65) is still brand-spanking-new so you can expect the amenities to be more than standard. The rooms are quite small, but the Wi-Fi connection is very reliable—perfect for people on a quick business trip.


West End Hotels

Set in a Victorian townhouse, the Alamo Guest House (46 Gray Street, +44 1413 392395, £76-85) offers friendly service, and rooms painstakingly decorated with tasteful period décor, making it look lush and luxurious for its reasonable price.  The guest house overlooks the Kelvingrove Park.

The SYHA Hostel Glasgow (8 Park Terrace, +44 1413 323004, from £13.50) is one of Scotland’s best hostels, housed in one of West End’s most beautiful townhouses.  The dorms are all en-suite.

Kirklee (11 Kensington Gate, +44 1413 345555, £75) is a pretty Edwardian sandstone guest house with individually styled bedrooms filled with period details.  One bonus here is that breakfast is served in bed, which makes you feel like you’re staying in a luxury hotel instead of a comfy family-run hotel.

While the Victorian townhouse that holds
Belhaven Hotel (15 Belhaven Terrace, +44 1413 393222, £72) looks a little dated from the outside, the interiors are lush and give off a luxurious feel right off the bat. Some of the rooms are quite small, but the family and double rooms are indeed spacious.  

Hotel du Vin One Devonshire Gardens (1 Devonshire Gardens, +44 1413 392001)  This is the first boutique hotel in Glasgow that used to be known as One Devonshire Gardens.  The new management of Hotel du Vin retained the best of what the former had to offer, and added the signature Hotel du Vin touch, which is a friendly hotel with a luxurious touch.

15 Glasgow (15 Woodside Place, +44  1413 321263, from £95).  The location of 15 Glasgow is enviable—being right in the middle of the City Centre and West End, making both a five-minute walk away.  The views from the bath are amazing.  The rooms in this restored A-listed Victorian townhouse are spacious and decorated in intricate and chic furnishings.  

Barrisdale B&B (115 Randolph Road, +44 1413 397589, £40-60).  This B&B is in a quiet little corner of the West End, and looks quite homey compared to the more luxurious counterparts.  The windows are huge and offers great views, and the ceilings high, making the bedrooms look more spacious.

The Manor Park Hotel (28 Balshagray Drive, +44 1413 392143, from £60) is a family-run B&B that looks like a set piece in a period film, with the heavy drapery and four-poster beds in some of the ten en-suite rooms.  The service is friendly and accommodating, but the hotel itself is a little farther away from the city centre than most of the hotels in the West End are.



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