As I walk down the boisterous main pedestrian thoroughfare of Buchanan Street on a Saturday night, two guys wearing Borat-style mankinis pass by. From what I’ve observed of Glasgow’s near 600,000 residents so far, this isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Filmmakers have flooded Glasgow of late, and I’m wondering whether the local supply of comical talent has something to do with it.
Indeed, Scotland’s second city has become quite the Hollywood hotspot. In August it emerged as the set of Brad Pitt’s zombie film, World War Z. And in September, Halle Berry showed a most un-Glaswegian lack of fortitude as she kept herself warm with a hot water bottle during filming of Cloud Atlas, also starring Tom Hanks.
But the recent influx of silver-screen talent is just the latest example of Glasgow’s cultural renaissance, which has seen the city blossom from its industrial roots into a perky hub of hip. Round-the-clock energy whirrs around what is actually the largest city in Scotland, home to classical and Victorian buildings, world-class museums, a thriving live music scene, and some seriously stylish nights out.
Another character I meet on my travels was an eccentric Belgian, who has made Glasgow her home for 13 years, has fully assimilated, nicknaming herself a ‘Glasbelgian’. She thinks the city is finally on the verge of the recognition it deserves. “This is a really arty city and it’s rightly trying to up its profile,” she says.
For an immediate immersion into the city’s impressive gallery and museum scene – Glasgow recently reported that it had recorded the most museum visits of any city in the UK outside of London – I visit Kelvingrove, a collection of 22 themed, state-of-the-art galleries. Music fans will rejoice at Rock On! AC/DC: Scotland’s Family Jewels, apparently the only exhibition to have ever had the band’s approval. Highlighting their strong connections with Glasgow, you can steep yourself in dirty riffs and even dirtier lyrics until February 2012.
Another cultural treat is the £74m Riverside Museum, described as a “sophisticated shed” by its architect Zaha Hadid, who also designed the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics. The zinc construction is inspired by the surrounding ship-building factories – it was Glasgow’s marine engineering industry that made it “the second city of the British Empire” for much of the Victorian era. A wander around it makes for a fascinating trip back in time.
If you get chance, also check out the fun (and free) Hunterian Museum on University Avenue, a collection comprising pickled organs and deformed animals, put together by anatomist and former student of Glasgow University, William Hunter (1718-83).
In keeping with the “collection of dead things” theme, I duck into Uisge Beatha – Gaelic for whisky – on Woodlands Road for a drink. Church pews, stuffed animal heads and more than 100 whiskies greet me. Those looking for live music must head to King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut on St Vincent Street – bands play every night of the week, and rumour has it Oasis were signed after a gig here.
Perhaps what strikes me most about Glasgow is how it wears so many different facades, from the bohemian bars and boutiques of the West End to the wrought-iron arcades and glass-gallery splendour of the city.
Walking through the old trading district around Candleriggs and Albion streets, I pass cafes with cushy on-pavement couches and myriad artwork, and crowded bistros embellished with art deco.
The retail hive, which underpins Glasgow’s ‘Scotland with style’ campaign, exists in the streets between here and Buchanan Street. The mile-long pedestrian thoroughfare extends down to the bracing Clyde River waterfront precinct, a hotspot for bars and bikers.
If you are seeking a breath of fresh air, the riverfront walkways here are an essential part of any visit. Check out the Clyde side and its canals – much like the rest of Glasgow, the canals are in full regeneration, and are thoroughly deserving of your time.
EAT, DRINK, SLEEP
The West End’s Stravaigin has something for all budgets, from local eats (haggis, fish suppers, Perthshire pigeon), to Asian twists. Two courses are £11.95, three courses are £14.95.
For a taste of Glasgow, “curry capital of the UK”, dine on award-winning vegetable karahi and aloo saag dosa – rice lentil pancakes – at Mother India.Two- to three-course evening menus start at about £10.
The basement bar of the Black Sparrow has a decent selection of draught beers and serves up a good roast.
On the banks of the River Kelvin, The Big Blue‘s beer garden comes highly recommended for cocktails with a view.
The Albion Hotel is a budget B&B in the West End residential area of Kelvingrove. Singles from £40pn, doubles from £50pn.
Modern and relaxed, find the Radisson Blu Hotel on Argyll Street. Doubles from £125pn.
Virgin trains connect London and Glasgow in 4-5 hours. Advance tickets start from £26 each way.