Glasgow Must Sees – at least…possibly

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!

‘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 we originally had it before May 2014. Because not only was there a fire in the famous School of Art back then, but – unbelievably – there was another and bigger one in June of 2018. The building, nearing completion after the first fire, was totally destroyed.

Model of Glasgow School of Art
In the ‘Window on Mackintosh’ Glasgow School of Art Visitor Centre, opposite his landmark building, is – among a whole lot of interesting exhibits – this model. Behind it through the glass, is the real thing, undergoing restoration after the fire. CORRECTION: after the first fire. The June 2018 fire has completely destroyed it. How the heck did that happen? This pic now of historical value only.

Loss of the Glasgow School of Art

OK, I agree, the Glasgow School of Art used to qualify as a Glasgow must see. It’s total destruction was a huge blow.

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.’

Glasgow’s thriving dining scene

(at least, before the 2020 pandemic)

‘Hot dinner? OK, where in Glasgow would you choose for dinner? I mean as a Glasgow must see or must experience.’

‘Hmmm. Huge choice. Cafe Gandolfi, probably. Old favourite. 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 or Arbroath 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.’ Ach, the idea of a friendly place is so subjective anyway.

Interior of Kelvingove Museum and Art Gallery
Lunch-time concerts (free) at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery have always been popular with the local folk.

Glasgow must sees – for culture

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… 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…’

Glasgow - Riverside Museum of Transport
Glasgow – Riverside Museum of Transport
Hunterian Art Gallery entrance (right) with Mackintosh House.
Hunterian Art Gallery entrance (right) with Mackintosh House.

Still, the Transport Musuem is a brilliant venue nonetheless. Amazing Zaha Hadid designed architecture. That’s better. And I like shopping, so…..’

Glasgow for shopping

‘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 though – they 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, did I say Merchant City? That was back 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? I mean all that ‘tobacco lords of Glasgow’ stuff?

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. But it’s the truth. They were all up to their necks in the ghastly trade.

Anyway, moving on, Princes Square has in the past been voted 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.’

Princes Square shopping, Glasgow
Princes Square, Glasgow – a highlight of Buchanan Street Shopping. Not just that but back in 2016 it was voted Scotland’s favourite building of the last 100 years, in a poll commissioned by the Festival of Architecture and Design. Hurrah for Glasgow.

‘Yes, agreed. You’d have to put Glasgow shopping as part of the Glasgow must see or must experience.

Glasgow must sees – a wee list

OK, you’ve nominated – not in order – Glasgow School of Art – but that’s well and truly off the list now – (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?’

Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art or GOMA.
Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art or GOMA.
Riverside Museum, Glasgow - Scotland's Museum of Transport and Travel
Riverside Museum, Glasgow – Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel

‘ 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. And it reopened in March 2022 after a massive refurbishment.’

‘Anyway, this all depends on how much time you have.’

How much time to spend in Glasgow?

‘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 that day – not the city’s best side, I’d say. I mean the downtown aftermath.’

‘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. (OK, I know, we have a dog too.) Nice enough plantings and so on, but it’ doesn’t feel like a ‘proper’ botanic garden – not like the pristine dog-free Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden. Glasgow’s is just a glorified public park, though it makes for a lovely stroll.’

Glasgow Botanic Gardens
Sunshine in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens in the West End.

‘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.

Come to think of it, I mean, about The Tenement House, it’s interesting 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 a ton of stylish places in the West End with great cafes – and dog-friendly ones as well.’

‘Did you ever 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. – even it’s a bit ‘loved to death’.

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.’

Well, here are two more then. Our day in Glasgow and also what to avoid in Scotland. Yes, there is a Glasgow connection…under certain circumstances. Take a look.