Glasgow Must Sees - our take on Scotland's largest city
A conversation about Glasgow must sees. One of us thinks Glasgow is great - the other isn't so sure about Scotland's largest city. But one thing is definite: Glasgow is (miles) better than it used to be! (And people sometimes get in touch to say I've been unfair to it here.)
Glasgow Must Sees
'Tell them about some Glasgow must sees,’ said Johanna. ‘It’s time you said something about Scotland’s largest city.'
‘But I’m not sure I really I like the place,' I replied. ‘Never been comfortable there, to be honest.’
‘That’s because you’re an east-coaster and prefer small towns.’
‘Could be. But I reckon Glasgow offers no essential Scottish experiences that you can’t get in Edinburgh. OK, it has plenty to see, but as for Glasgow must sees, I’m not sure.’
‘Well, you’re making the city sound like an inferior Edinburgh. And that’s plain wrong. What about Charles Rennie Mackintosh? The Glasgow School of Art?'
WAIT - STOP THIS PART OF THE CONVERSATION. You can tell it was had before May 2014. Because not only was there a fire in the famous School of Art back then - unbelievably there was another and bigger one in June of 2018. The building, nearing completion after the first fire, was totally destroyed.
‘OK, I agree, the Glasgow School of Art used to qualify as a Glasgow must see. It's total desctruction is a huge blow. (The visitor centre opposite is still worth seeing though - though I wonder what will happen to that now?)
And I’m not really saying Glasgow is an inferior Edinburgh. It’s just a lot less picturesque. It hasn’t got those sweeping panoramas, those magnificent first impressions, that sense of theatre... ’
‘That’s enough. You’re beginning to sound like these tourist brochures you used to write.’
‘That’s true. I wish I could have a hot dinner for every time I’ve written about Edinburgh's ‘sweeping panoramas and sense of theatre.’
‘Hot dinner? OK, where in Glasgow would you choose for dinner? I mean as a Glasgow must see or must experience.’
‘Hmmm. Cafe Gandolfi, probably. They’re friendly there. Or the old-established Ubiquitous Chip. Oh, and Fanny Trollope’s used to be good. And, come to think of it, I was always told to go on about Glasgow’s legendary friendliness, its “genius for instant friendship”. But, personally, I have always found, say, Dundee or Buckie just as friendly.
They always chat to you in the shops anyway. Berwick-upon-Tweed is really friendly and it isn’t even in Scotland. And, at the other end of Scotland, Orkney folk are friendly. Come to think of it, most places in Scotland are friendly. Except possibly Crieff.'
‘Hmm. Moving on. So you’ve reached two must sees for Glasgow. Now what about its culture? Would you add the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to your list of Glasgow must sees?’
‘Yes, I suppose I would. Love the layout and building and the art. And the free organ recital at lunchtimes. But as a museum experience I wouldn’t say it’s any better than the Royal Museum of Scotland….’
‘I know, I know…..in Edinburgh. Come on, try a bit harder.’
‘Well, I like steam trains, so I’d add Glasgow Transport Museum to the list. Sorry, I mean the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel. Except you’re best to go in school term-time as otherwise it’s full of skirlin bairns. I mean screaming children. Or do I mean weans? It’s ‘weans’ in the west…’
‘Still a brilliant venue nonetheless. Amazing Zaha Hadid designed architecture. That’s better. And I like shopping, so…..’
'OK, then. For some folk, the Glasgow shopping experience should be on the list. Not so much for the Buchanan Galleries or the St Enoch Centre.
They’re just like the vast shopping malls elsewhere in the UK. Could be anywhere – just faceless 21st-century retailing.
No, I’m thinking, maybe, Princes Square – decent cup of coffee in there, in my time – or some of these exclusive individual boutique shops in the Merchant City.
Oh, wait, that was in the 1980s. Now it's more...uhmm, slightly pretentious pubs and some restaurants.
By the way, is it my imagination or do you see Merchant City as branding much less often than a few years ago? Maybe they've worked out the name's connection to the slave trade. Who did they think worked the tobacco plantations anyway?'
'OK, that's enough. Stop being controversial.'
'Sorry. Anyway, Princes Square was recently voted as Scotland's Favourite Building from the last 100 years. And I used to be forever writing stuff about Glasgow being the second-largest retail centre in the UK, but I’m not even sure that’s true. Big enough, anyway.'
‘Yes, agreed. You’d have to put Glasgow shopping as part of the Glasgow must see or must experience. OK, you’ve nominated - not in order - Glasgow School of Art - guided tours available here now you say - (and you could also have put the Mackintosh House in there); then you said Cafe Gandolfi and/or The Ubiquitous Chip, Kelvingrove Museum, The Riverside Museum. What about the Burrell Collection?’
' And The Glasgow Science Centre. It's great fun if you have kids...'
‘The Burrell Collection. Ah, yes, the magpie collection of a Scottish shipping magnate.’
‘Will you stop sounding like a smug brochure?’
‘Sorry. But Burrell was well known for his ability to pick up a bargain. And the kindest thing you can say about the collection is that it’s eclectic.’
‘Well, I still think it should be on a Glasgow must see list. It’s quality. Wait, though... it's closed till 2020 for refurbishment.’
‘Anyway, this all depends on how much time you have.’
‘Aye, that’s a consideration. Knowing your prejudices as an east coast laddie from the country, I suppose you’d recommend potential visitors take a day trip to Glasgow by train from Edinburgh?’
'Possibly. And I'd certainly advise them to check the football fixtures in case Rangers were playing Celtic - not the city's best side, I'd say.'
‘To be honest though, I'd say a day trip might not give you enough time to cover the ground. Though, if I really compiled a list of Glasgow must sees, I'd not have their Botanic Gardens on them. ’
'And why would that be?'
'Because they let dogs in. Nice enough plantings and so on, but it's not a proper botanic garden - not like the pristine dog-free Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden. Glasgow's is just a glorified public park.'
‘You really are letting your prejudices surface a bit aren't you? Any more must sees? Personally, I’d put The Tenement House into the list.’
'Yeah. It’s a reminder of the ordinary working folk of Glasgow, I suppose. Same goes for the People’s Palace. Add it to the list. Interesting, come to think of, that the equivalent preserved example of domestic life in Edinburgh is the Georgian House - definitely a bit more upmarket.'
‘Well, that’s Glasgow and Edinburgh for you. Anyway, think back. What else did you used to write about Glasgow?’
‘I always used to say that you had to look up. I mean all that Victorian detailing. A lot of it is going on above ground floor level. And I remember I was always asked to say something about the Glasgow style, though I could never work out what it actually meant.
I always reckoned it was just a marketing ploy. I suppose it referred to a lot of themes coming together - Charles Rennie Mackintosh; classy shops; Glasgow’s own cafe society. Though you can get a nice scone in John Lewis’s coffee shop. OK, only joking....there are plenty of places in the West End with great cafes - and dog-friendly ones as well.’
'Did you tell them about Byres Road and Ashton Lane? Remember that pleasant drink we had on the roof of the Ubiquitous Chip?
'Sure, sure. "The Chip" is great. Look, of course visitors will have a fine time. It’s Scotland’s biggest city after all and worth discovering. It’s bound to have good restaurants.
Bottom line though: if I had extra days to allocate on a Scottish vacation, unless I was an inveterate clubber, shopper or diner, I think I’d rather go north and west. Even if it was only to see Loch Lomond on the way. Come to think of it, is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park a Glasgow must see?’
'Probably. And I love the way you speak text links.'
'Thank you. And here's another one. This one takes you to Amazon's selection of Glasgow guidebooks. Not as wide-ranging as Edinburgh, I think...'
Duke of Wellington statue controversy....We love this: read on below...
In November 2013 the Scottish media reported that Glasgow City Council was ashamed of its image - as reflected by the tradition of placing a traffic cone on the city’s statue of the Duke of Wellington. They intended to spend an astonishing £65000 on raising the duke even higher on his plinth.
Now, the Duke of Wellington was terribly good at battles and military matters, and twice a Tory Prime Minister. He opposed the Reform Act, extending the vote to the people. He also opposed the development of the steam locomotive and railways on the grounds that it would ‘only encourage the common people to move about needlessly’. (To be fair, there seems to be some uncertainty about whether he really did say this.)
Given that Glasgow at one time had the second biggest steam locomotive manufacturing base in the world (after Baldwin’s in the USA), would that be reason enough to be less than reverent about the conservative old buffer?
Well, in our book, definitely yes. So we applaud the tradition of (slightly drunken?) revellers planting the cone on his head. The cone was repeatedly removed, no doubt by po-faced Council employees, yet always to be replaced again. Actually, we haven’t a clue why the feature really became so permanent. Maybe it was linked to the statue’s location outside GOMA, the city’s Gallery of Modern Art - so that the cone became a kind of installation in itself. Or maybe it was just an expression of the much vaunted humour of the locals.
The point is that after a widely-publicised campaign was launched on social media, the city authorities then reversed their intention of doing away with the ‘tradition’. Perhaps someone pointed out, for example, that the influential Lonely Planet Guide named it in 2012 as one of the ‘top ten most bizarre monuments on Earth’. Anyway, look out for the iconic statue on your visit. That cone is here to stay! Hurrah. Watch the hilarious short video here about one way he gets the cone on his head.
There he is, on his nag in front of the gallery. The old buffer has definitely become a 'Glasgow must see'.