Words by Amanda Woods
A vibrant city that is coming out of Edinburgh’s long shadow, Glasgow calls to those with a love of music, architecture and good times.
If you’re the type of person who doesn’t usually talk to taxi drivers, Glasgow may just change your ways.
The city’s slogan is ‘People make Glasgow’, which is evident from the moment I hop into my first black cab at Glasgow Queen Street station after a scenic one-hour train trip from Edinburgh. I am met with genuine interest in where I’m from, why I’m here, and suggestions for things to do while I’m in town.
Throughout my trip, the story is the same with every taxi I hop into. The tips they share range from places to go for a bite to the way Glasgow has changed over the years. I’m told that while the city used to have a rough reputation, these days visitors from all over the world are telling taxi drivers how their first visit exceeded expectations.
Despite being bigger than Edinburgh with around 100,000 more residents, Glasgow has long been seen as Scotland’s second city. Most visitors make a beeline to the Scottish capital and its castle with little thought for the city just 70 kilometres west.
But those people are missing out. Glasgow is a vibrant, friendly city with beautiful architecture, great shopping and dining, world-class museums and galleries where the entry is almost always free, and one of the best music scenes there is.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of architect and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Born in Glasgow back in 1868, Mackintosh went on to become one of the most important figures in the European Art Nouveau movement.
Tragically Mackintosh’s masterpiece, The Glasgow School of Art, was badly damaged in a fire in June 2018 after almost being destroyed in a blaze in 2014. ‘The Mack’ was set to reopen next year following a £32 million rebuilding and restoration project and now needs to be rebuilt once again.
In the meantime, fans of Mackintosh’s work can still explore the other treasures the founding father of ‘Glasgow Style’ left behind. As well as taking tea at the newly refurbished Willow Tea Rooms in the Mackintosh House, visitors can step into a meticulous reconstruction of the home Mackintosh shared with his wife and fellow artist Margaret Macdonald from 1906 to 1914, still decked out with their original furniture.
Other highlights include the Hill House, which Mackintosh designed for publisher Walter Blackie in 1902, and House for an Art Lover, a stunning home brought to life through a German design competition Mackintosh and Macdonald entered in 1901.
While a bowl of hot chips may be known as a ‘Glasgow salad’, the city’s food scene has a lot more going on than fish and chips and deep-fried Mars Bars.
At the trendy Six by Nico in Finnieston, the six-course tasting menu changes every six weeks and is based on a different place or memory. Past menus include ‘Route 66’ and ‘Scottish Forest’, but it’s ‘Cooking with Wonka’ time when I’m in town. I was treated to duck parfait with pickled blueberries, blueberry meringues and multi-coloured granola as part of their Willy Wonka themed menu.
At the Ox and Finch – which scored a Bib Gourmand for good food at affordable prices in the Michelin Guide – the tapas style dishes include seared scallops with Ramsay’s black pudding and apple, while the bartenders prove that beetroot really can work in a margarita.
But perhaps surprisingly, Glasgow also caters well to vegan tastes. A few years ago, it was crowned the most vegan-friendly city in the UK. There’s even a pub exclusively for vegans called The 78.
Those with an appetite for music are well spoiled, with more than 130 live shows in the city each week. As a UNESCO City of Music, Glasgow’s tastes are diverse, including urban and hip-hop, electronica and indie, and Celtic and classical.
The city’s biggest music venue, the SSE Hydro, was designed by Norman Foster and is the busiest of its kind in the world – with Beyoncé, Dua Lipa, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon among those performing there.
Oasis and Metallica have both named Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom as one of their favourite music venues. But there’s also the Grand Ole Opry for country music fans, and Nice N Sleazy has the city’s longest running open mic night.
With so many music venues open every night and bands always passing through, it’s best to check online gig guides to see what tickles your fancy. Or you could just ask your local friendly taxi driver.