Glasgow, no mean city? That’s about right.
The dear green place has cast aside a reputation for hard living and violence to become a multicultural, vibrant culture hotspot brimming with things to see and do.
Everyone knows about the big hitting attractions, from the towers of Kelvingrove Art Gallery to the cathedral spires. But what about those attractions that only those in the know, know?
Here’s our alternative guide to Glasgow – a list of things you (probably) didn’t know you could see and do in the city. Got your own suggestions? Tweet us @wow247glasgow or post a comment below.
1. Party like it’s 1899
Glasgow’s lost music hall the Panopticon Brittania was found again in 1997, virtually untouched. Dating back to the 1850s, this Trongate theatre would have attracted shipbuilders, mill and factory workers and their families for countless evenings of entertainment – some of it of a racier nature, according to the disapproving upper classes – until it was closed up and buried behind a shopfront. Now, volunteers are working their magic to restore the place, with an old world shop raising funds alongside regular music hall performances and special entry-by-donation events (spooky silent film screenings, anyone?).
2. Glam up at the world’s biggest burlesque club
That’s right; it’s not New York or Paris which boasts the world’s biggest burlesque nightclub – it’s Glasgow’s 02 Academy. The southside venue hosts Club Noir roughly every three months, taking in special occasions like Valentine’s Day, Halloween and Hogmanay. It’s an evening of two halves, with a variety of regular and special guest performers taking centre stage to get the party started. There have been stripteases from within an enormous tin of beans, playful takes on some Hollywood greats, and more. The second half of the night is an all-out hedonistic club night, with DJs spinning retro toe-tappers alongside modern floorfillers. Regular Noir-goers pull out all the sartorial stops, some planning their outfits months in advance – and anything (jeans and trainers excepted) goes.
3. Escape the city by cycle
[Picture: Bob the Lomond / Flickr / CC]
On yer bike often means something else in Glasgow – but if you’re in the mood for the great outdoors, then look no further than the Glasgow to Loch Lomond Cycleway. The first long-distance cycleway in the country, the route is now an integral part of route seven on the National Cycle Network. Cut away the jargon and you’re left with a route which begins in the West End, opposite the SECC and towering new Hydro arena. From there, you’ll have the best views of the Clyde up to Clydebank, then on to a path running parallel to the Forth and Clyde Canal to Bowling. The final stretch, to Dumbarton, is off-road, and you’ll finally meet the river Leven, following it to Loch Lomond. There are railway stops aplenty on the way, should you get fed up with pedalling – but the views at the end of this scenic line are absolutely worth the effort.
4. Stroll among remnants of Strathclyde’s own Vikings
It’s a little-known tourist attraction, but with recent attention from the British Museum and free entry to see them, the Govan Stones are starting to draw crowds to a lesser-visited side of Glasgow. Govan Old Church houses 31 medieval monuments, including carved crosses and shafts and five impressive hogback stones. The Govan Sarcophagus – the only one of its kind carved from solid stone in pre-Norman Britain – is the centrepiece for this charming local church, where the stones lay unnoticed for 1,000 years. They mark Govan’s place as a Viking power centre following the departure of the Romans – and Govan natives are just beginning to realise that it’s something to boast about.
5. Sample a Scooby Snack
Tourists may be hung up on the mythical deep fried Mars Bar, but Glaswegians in the know are all about the Scooby Snack. The invention of this towering triumph is commonly attributed to The Maggie, a food truck serving up snacks to students at the junction between Byres and Great Western Roads, but there are a few local places serving up their versions. This artery-clogging piece consists of a bread roll with burger, square sausage, bacon, tattie scone, fried egg and a slice of cheese (ketchup or brown sauce optional but recommended). A healthy diet staple this isn’t – but when in Rome, or in many cases incredibly hungover from the night before, a Scooby Snack may just get you back on track, whether you have exams to face or otherwise.
6. Barter at The Barras
Glaswegians of all generations remember all too well a family trip to The Barras. The historic market – started in the early 20th century by hawkers selling from handcarts, or ‘barras’ – surrounding the iconic ballroom-turned-gig-venue is a Glasgow institution, and a rite of passage for anyone even considering settling Clydeside. The smell of hot salty chips and fresh sugary doughnuts will let you know you’re in the right place, and cries of “three fur a poun’!” only add to the atmosphere under those beloved arches. Whether you’re in the market for cotton socks, a new carpet or just the Glesga patter, a foray into the east end has to include the Barrowlands. Be sure to check out BAaD – the art and design centre in the middle of the complex – too for up-and-coming designers and one-off events drawing hipster types.
7. Track one of Glasgow’s greats on the Mackintosh Trail
Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s countless attractions are the jewel in Glasgow’s architectural crown. The city outwardly mourned when the famed Glasgow School of Art building was damaged by fire last year – in fact, many have given generously to speed up its restoration. But there’s more to Mackintosh than the art school, and a£16 Mackintosh Trail ticket will buy you entry to each of his city buildings, as well as free travel between them. The stunning House for an Art Lover sets the scene in the southside, with the leafy surrounds of Bellahouston Park providing a backdrop for the work of Mackintosh, and for contemporary artists on display alongside. The Lighthouse in the city centre is a similarly eclectic exhibition space, while Scotland Street School and the Mackintosh Church at Queen’s Cross provide a behind-the-scenes view of Glasgow life alongside magnificent settings.
8. Investigate the boys in blue
Did you know that the City of Glasgow Police (1779-1975) was Britain’s first police force? It’s perhaps why the city boasts a Police Museum, with artefacts providing historical insight, and even the odd clue from infamous murders on display. There’s also an international exhibition, showcasing uniforms from around the world. Hidden away in the Merchant City, the Glasgow Police Museum is a curiosity most tourists will miss, but it’s well worth a trip.
9. Hunt for Glasgow ghosts
An old city with more than a few gruesome tales, Glasgow isn’t short of ghost stories. Little ghost hunters will love the Ghoulish Glasgow tour bus, specially designed for kids aged 6-12 who love scary stories. The open top bus eschews the usual pretty attractions for tales of criminals, fiends and ghouls still said to plague the city, complete with two ghostly guides from way back when. For adults, there’s always the Theatre Royal – by evening, a glittering stage delivering drama and laughs galore, but by night, a dark, shadowy place dating back to 1895 (the current building, at least). The theatre hosts ghost tours to coincide with particularly spooky shows, so it’s not a regular event.
10. Reach new heights (and come back down again)…
The Glasgow Climbing Centre has made great use of an old Ibrox church, turning the building – tower and all – into an all-abilities climbing frame without the need to battle the elements outside. Newbies can go along and try the hobby out for the first time alongside seasoned climbers – and of course, there’s always the chance to raise money for charity, courtesy of the Climbing Centre. Daredevils have been known to tackle the Glasgow University tower (all 85m of it, otherwise closed to the public) and the Titan Crane in Clydebank in the name of good causes – but it’s safe to assume that there’s some fun involved for those taking the plunge as well.
11. …and zip your way across the river
See Glasgow from another perspective – a bird’s eye view, you could say – by zipsliding across the Clyde. Regular slides are held at the Finnieston Crane, usually in aid of a number of charities, and anyone can put their name down for the challenge – if they’re brave enough. The crane stands 150ft tall, and the journey across the river is 300m – but hey, just think of those views.
12. Head down the mines…
Take the car or train just 20 minutes out of the city to North Lanarkshire and you’ll find Summerlee; a museum dedicated to the area’s industrial past. Entry to the Museum of Scottish Industrial Life in Coatbridge is free, and there’s even an old-fashioned tram to take you round the site. The main building’s attractions include working machinery, including a winding engine from the former Cardowan Colliery, and nostalgia streets to rival the Riverside Museum. But the star attraction are the cottages and mine located at the back end of Summerlee, at the end of the tramline. There, you can explore one-room cottages styled from the 1840s to the 1980s, as well as heading underground (hard hats required) for a glimpse of the often harsh conditions endured down the mines.
13. …or into the mill for a hard day’s work
Head further into Lanarkshire and you’ll come across New Lanark, the village founded by David Dale in 1786 and now a World Heritage Site. The cotton mill was set up as model for utopian socialism, ensuring the health and well-being of its workers and their families. Nowadays, history buffs can explore the site, learn more about New Lanark’s original ideals and even take a tour with one of its ghosts on the Annie McLeod Experience before heading to an old fashioned gift shop, or even a short walk to the stunning Falls of Clyde. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump from Glasgow and, just like the workers themselves, a great way to escape the city smog.
14. See the city by river taxi
Buses, trains and taxis are all well and good – but with the Clyde becoming more and more of a centrepiece for Glasgow, commuters with a little more time and appreciation for the finer sights are going ‘doon the waater’. The riverlink runs between the city centre and Braehead (May-October), with hop on and off points on north and south ports along the way. Heading to the Riverside Museum? Then take advantage of the Govan Ferry too, providing a link between the southern borough and the specially-designed transport museum. The ferry allows museum-goers to hop on and off the subway at Govan, but there’s also a chance to explore the parish church and its medieval stones.
15. See Glasgow’s own castle
Edinburgh dwellers may boast about their impressive castle – and while Glasgow can’t claim to have one of the same standing, there is a lesser-known ruin towering over the suburb of Crookston. The southside neighbourhood boasts its own ruin, in the form of 15th century Crookston Castle. Situated at the top of a leafy hill, the place offers great views of the surrounding area and a little insight into the city’s history between the majestic medieval cathedral and tenement slums.
16. Enjoy the arts outdoors
The dear green place is making more and more use of its many parks, and not just for (very) occasional sunbathing. After years of disrepair, the Kelvingrove Bandstand is back in action, and hosting regular seasonal gigs and special events. The picturesque amphitheatre was used last year as a venue for Magners Summer Nights, a series of sold-out shows from acts like Teenage Fanclub and The Waterboys, as well as kicking off the 2014 Commonwealth Games with Belle and Sebastian. Glasgow loves its music, and you haven’t partied properly until you’ve experienced surround sound gigging on those stone steps. The same goes for the newly restored Queen’s Park Arena across the river, which has hosted gigs, opera tasters, community get-togethers and even foodie events since completion last year. Umbrellas may be in order – but don’t let that put you off these unique venues.
17. See the stars
Stargazing in the city? It’s not only possible – it’s a regular thing at the Botanic Gardens. Stars Over the Botanics is run by the Astronomical Society of Glasgow and Glasgow Uni, and offers monthly get-togethers for those looking up at the sky, in the gutter or otherwise. Prefer to see the stars from a comfy seat? Then head to Paisley and Coats Observatory, the oldest public observatory in Scotland. The place has a digital planetarium, offering the wonders of the night sky on weekly viewing nights.
18. Dive into the cultural deep end
Ever seen Shakespeare in the middle of a swimming pool? Or a model strut her stuff in a dress made of bottle tops? Perhaps sampled cuisine from around the world surrounded by pool tiles? Then you’ve never been to Govanhill Baths (pictured). The community hub is part of an ongoing struggle against Glasgow City Council, following the longest community-led occupation the country has seen, in 2001. The council tried to close the pool; the locals revolted. Now, they’re running the place as an anything-goes arts venue in the hope of restoring the Edwardian baths to its former glory. Govanhill Theatre Group are staging well-loved classics and new productions alike, Rags to Riches are upping the fashion cred of upcycling and anyone else who can breathe new life into the place is welcome to come and have a go. Don’t forget your jacket – it does get chilly at the deep end.
19. Enjoy art on the street (and for free)
The city isn’t short of art galleries, with Kelvingrove, GoMA, the Burrell Collection and more housing some of the world’s greatest pieces and drawing art lovers in. But for those who love nothing more than a little guerilla street art, there are plenty of prominent works dotted around Glasgow. In fact, the city’s collection has even been given the seal of approval from the council, who recently produced a trail leaflet on the best examples and how to get to them, showcasing work by Rogue-One, Klingatron and Smug. Westenders will recognise the work of Adelaide-born Glasgow School of Art graduate Peter Drew, the man behind Home, which saw him past portraits of friends and family on vacant walls near the university. Emoticon Hamlet followed, with 16 pixelated cube-heads dotted around the city, although sadly, the artist has since returned to home turf. There are too many examples to count – but then half the fun is finding them.
20. Tuck into a post-club pancake stack
We all know about that gnawing need for a snack when stumbling out of a club at 3am. But what about a full sit down meal? Glasgow has it covered. Locals know and love Sauchiehall Street hangout Steak and Cherry, an open-all-night diner offering clubbers a place to go when the lights come on. The restaurant suffered a fire in 2011 and night owls everywhere mourned, but the place is back open and offering burgers, healthy bites and more between 8am and 5pm – and let’s face it, it’s much better than standing in the rain waiting for that taxi you ordered hours ago.
21. Become an urban explorer
You know the kind of places which have entire forum threads dedicated to them; historical, in ruins, perfect for sneaking in and exploring (like many will have done before you?) While we can’t condone bypassing those keep out signs, there are plenty of must-see Glasgow sights on the urban explorer checklist. The tunnel and underground station at the Botanics is a popular choice (not to mention a regular underground rave venue) and Govan’s abandoned dockyards make for an impressive sight. Head out of Glasgow towards Cardross for a view of St Peter’s Seminary, a shining example of brutal architecture and the subject of many a restoration plot for years now. Again, Instagrammers will go wild for a snap of these eerily quiet spots.
22. Enjoy your weekend on the high seas
The Glenlee has taken pride of place at the Riverside Museum after years down the river at a less impressive docking. Visitors to the city may well have climbed aboard the Tall Ship (as it’s known locally) and explored the historical side of the big boat – but for those who live nearby, the best way to see this Clydeside attraction is at special themed events. From psychics to film clubs, multiple groups make use of the space below decks, including the Glasgow Film Festival screening nautical-themed films like Whisky Galore! and Jaws (no jokes about needing a bigger boat please).
23. Explore the Orient with a trip to Chinatown
It’s well known that Glasgow’s Chinatown – a complex offering everything from food to hairdressing – lies under the M8 at Cowcaddens. But the city’s Chinese population and foodies alike know that there’s more to it than just the one building, with vast supermarkets expanding north to Possil. Take a drive along Garscube Road for endless supplies of char sui, tofu and traditional chicken feet, ending with a trip to the biggest of them all, See Woo. This hypermarket offers every dish you can think of, from Chinese staples to dedicated Polish or Japanese sections. There’s a live seafood counter – whether you’re buying a juicy lobster or just watching them wander around – and when you’ve finished your shopping, there’s always the restaurant next door (with more live crustaceans to choose from, for diners of a less squeamish persuasion).
24. Grab a beer right from the source
If craft beers are all the rage then Glasgow is well and truly in on the action – and the east end is where hops go for that malty transformation. Traditionalists point to the Tennent’s brewery (the glass with the T on it known as Glasgow water to some). But fast becoming the city’s favourite homebrew is West (pictured), a German-inspired brewery installed in the historic Templeton building on Glasgow Green. The former carpet factory now boasts a brauhaus-style interior, beer garden locals flock to on sunny days – and regular tours of the brewery itself, complete with tasters. Add Glasgow’s latest microbrewery and trendy venue Drygate, Oktoberfest and CAMRA real ale celebrations and there’s plenty on offer for beer fans the whole year round.
25. Tour the real-life sets of your favourite films and TV shows
Glasgow has been touting itself as a film haven in recent years – and even Hollywood is paying attention. From Scarlett Johannson settling in the city for Under The Skin to Brad Pitt closing George Square for a zombie attack in World War Z, there have several blockbuster and big name moments. But there are also few recent independent Scottish films which haven’t featured the fair city of Glasgow – and finding recognisable settings can prove a fun afternoon. Head to the Barrowlands, the picturesque west end or the northern canals for a taste of Belle and Sebastian’s hit musical God Help the Girl. Karen Gillan fan? Scottish rom com Not Another Happy Ending features Glasgow Cathedral and the entrancing Necropolis. Even Irvine Welsh adaptation Filth (and Trainspotting before it) has scenes which were filmed in parts of Glasgow masquerading as Edinburgh. There’s more to the city than Taggart – so get out and spot those former film sets.
Discover more from Glasgow
Share this on Twitter: