It’s the grid system that mirrors many US cities which has enabled film makers to use the streets as the backdrop to blockbuster movies with Glasgow doubling as Philadelphia (World War Z), San Francisco (Cloud Atlas) and most recently New York (Patrick Melrose).
Throughout the summer months, George Square is a popular place to relax, enjoy a picnic lunch and some people watching and over the festive period, it’s transformed into a winter wonderland with the Glasgow Christmas Markets stalls and fairground rides.
The majestic City Chambers (which incidentally has doubled as the Vatican and the Kremlin on film) is the headquarters of the city council and sits proudly overlooking the Square. Joining a free tour to discover the grand, marble and Insta-worthy interiors is a great place to start your journey through this part of Glasgow.
The Square is also the ‘hopping on’ point for the City Sightseeing Bus Tour– for young and old this is a fun and informative way of seeing the sights! Getting around the city on a guided tour is a great way to really get to know Glasgow, its history and its venues through those people that have a real passion and knowledge of the city.
Just taking a wander round the city centre and ‘looking up’ you’ll find an abundance of stunning landmark structures that illustrate the city’s rich and varied architectural heritage. Along with the iconic work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (more about him later!), highlights include St Vincent Street Church by eminent Scottish architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, whose other surviving works include the Egyptian Halls in Union Street and Grecian Buildings in Sauchiehall Street, now home to the award-winning Centre for Contemporary Arts.
From there, pop your head round to Rose Street and you’ll see the quirky Art Deco delight that is the Glasgow Film Theatre. Host venue of the annual Glasgow Film Festival (Fed-March) but also a great place year round for an eclectic mix of fantastic films for all the family. Head west on Sauchiehall Street and you’ll reach Charing Cross where you’ll find the Mitchell Library with its distinctive copper dome. With over a million items, it also has one of the world’s largest collections of work by Robert Burns. A short walk north from here you'll discover the fascinating interiors of The Tenement House on Buccleuch Street, a hidden gem that offers a rare glimpse into life in Glasgow in the early 20th century.
“Glasgow’s city centre is a hubbub of creative energy. Visit The Glasgow School of Art, the CCA and Stereo to take in contemporary art exhibitions, marvel at Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s iconic designs and sample the city’s vibrant nightlife and explosion of tasty vegan cuisine. The busy thoroughfare of Buchanan Street is a shoppers delight, be sure to look up as you explore to take in Glasgow’s distinctive architectural heritage.”
Jen Stewart, The Glasgow School of Art
Head back east to the top of High Street to yet another must visit location, Cathedral Precinct where you will find the stunning medieval Glasgow Cathedral, St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art and Provand’s Lordship – the oldest house in Glasgow. Be sure to look out for the lamp posts featuring the city’s Coat of Arms - the fish that couldn't swim, the tree that never grew, the bell that never rang and the bird that never flew.
Glasgow is the largest retail centre outside London’s West End so head for Buchanan Street, the main pedestrianised thoroughfare that along with Sauchiehall Street, Argyle Street, Ingram St and Royal Exchange Square make up what’s known locally as the Style Mile – one square mile of fantastic shopping!
Buchanan Street is bookended by St Enoch Centre and Buchanan Galleries– huge malls housing all of the best British high street brands with everything from John Lewis to Hamleys. Nestled in the heart of the street you’ll also find the original House of Frasers store that has a history dating back to 1849; Argyll Arcade, widely regarded as the finest jewellery centre in Scotland and home to over 60 luxury jewellery and watch retailers and Princes Square, a speciality shopping mall that was officially named in a public poll as the nation’s favourite building of the past 100 years.
On Buchanan Street over the weekend you’ll also come across Sloans Market, a quirky showcase of wears from a great selection of local independent traders. Check out Sloans Bar too – dating back to 1797, the Grand Ballroom is a stunning space featuring a magnificent vaulted ceiling, period marble fireplace and intricate stained-glass windows.
"What’s great about Glasgow’s retail scene is the fantastic choice of shops we have in the city centre, ranging from major global fashion brands to buzzing independent boutiques. Glasgow’s exciting architecture and vibrant dining scene all add to the experience to create a unique shopping destination, which is renowned as one of the best in the UK."
Anne Ledgerwood, General Manager of St. Enoch Centre and Chair of the City Centre Retail Association
Keep an eye out for Mitchell Lane, where you will happen across The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture. The building was the first public commission in 1895 for the young draughtsman, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Today the venue is a beacon for the creative industries in Scotland, has a permanent Mackintosh Interpretation Centre celebrating the life and work of the city’s most famous architect and a fantastic viewing platform for stunning vistas across the city’s rooftops.
Image: The Lighthouse, Mitchell Lane
Charles Rennie Mackintosh went on to become Scotland's most celebrated architect and designer of the 20th century. Glasgow is the only place in the world that has a concentration of his work and a visit to one of his iconic venues is a must-do on any short break itinerary. This year we mark the 150th anniversary of his birth with a programme of events and exhibitions but the city is also home to a number of permanent attractions including The Glasgow School of Art (GSA), considered his masterpiece. Sadly, in 2014 a fire damaged the west wing of the Mackintosh building but restoration work is well underway and there is still plenty for visitors to see including the brand new Mackintosh Furniture Gallery, Window on Mackintosh visitor centre and shop in the recently completed, state of the art Reid building. One of the best ways to discover the venue is through one of the award-winning Mackintosh tours conducted by current GSA students.
Image: The Glasgow School of Art Furniture Gallery
Just around the corner on Sauchiehall Street you will be able to continue your Mackintosh experience with the reopening of Mackintosh at the Willow – Miss Cranston’s original tearoom – in June 2018. You can also seek out some of his lesser known works in the city centre including The Glasgow Art Club on Bath Street and the Daily Record building on Renfield Lane which is home to Stereo cafe bar, head here for some delicious vegan meals, live music and late night DJs.
TheMerchant City, one of Glasgow’s oldest quarters dates back to the 1750s when it was home to the warehouses of wealthy traders who shipped tobacco, sugar and tea. In the 19th century, the area became home to Glasgow’s produce markets so it has a rich cultural and stunning architectural heritage. Having enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, it is now full of cool bars, restaurants, boutiques and galleries and is at its most vibrant and colourful when the streets come alive with a carnival atmosphere during the annual Merchant City Festival.
Image: Royal Exchange Square
Your discovery of the Merchant City begins when you wander from Buchanan Street through the iconic 19th Century archways to Royal Exchange Square – a fairy-lit courtyard filled with great cafes and bars and upmarket retailers including LK Bennet and Sweaty Betty. The centrepiece is a magnificent, neo-classical building which was once the home of a wealthy tobacco lord and is now the Gallery of Modern Art. As the most visited modern art gallery in Scotland, it offers a varied and though-provoking series of exhibitions and is also free to visit.
Glasgow is also known for its legendary nightlife and the city centre is where you will find a vast and eclectic mix of experiences and venues. With accolades over the years such as European City of Culture and the current designation as a UNESCO City of Music City of Music, Glasgow continues to be the driving force in Scottish culture and is known as a performance arts powerhouse. It has a roll-call of iconic venues and organisations including Theatre Royal, The King’s, Scottish Youth Theatre and Tron Theatre offering a mix of award-winning west end productions, pioneering music and dance, family shows and independent theatre. The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall - the official home of Celtic Connections winter music festival, City Halls and Old Fruitmarket have a year-round eclectic programme of classical concerts, comedy and musical extravaganzas.
Image: The Old Fruitmarket.
For a uniquely Scottish music experience head to The National Piping Centre. All year round you can visit their fascinating museum which holds three hundred years of piping heritage and there is an opportunity to try out the pipes as part of your visit. Then during August, the centre is the festival hub for Piping Live! Glasgow International Piping Festival. Over one week the city comes alive with the sound of the pipes with events taking place at the centre, in George Square and at a host of other venues across the city.
Image: O2 ABC. Credit: JJ Robertson
For live gigs head to King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, considered one of the best small venues in the world and famed for being the place where Oasis were discovered. Other popular venues include the O2 ABC and Classic Grand, and if you have the stamina to last to the wee small hours then head to the famous Sauchiehall Street for intimate live music gigs, open-mic nights and a stellar selection of neighbourhood pubs and bars.
When it comes to dining out there is plenty of world cuisines and stunning venues to choose from. The city's built heritage can be seen everywhere in Glasgow. It's therefore no surprise, that many of the bars and restaurants are set within buildings of significant distinction. Glamorous locations include Anchor Line, Hutchesons and The Citizen. Drink and dine in the beautiful surrounds of Rogano, Alston Bar & Beef and The Willow Tearooms and be bang on trend at uber-cool venues Tabac, Chaakoo Bombay Café and Babu Bombay – to name just a few!
There are loads of family friendly dining options too, such as DiMaggios, Hard Rock Café and Darcy's and if you are looking for a pit stop while out shopping, be sure to check out the brand new street food market, Platform – open every Friday and Saturday – housed in the iconic Arches venue on Argyle Street.
Thanks to the rich Italian and Indian heritage of many of the city’s residents, there is also no shortage of choice when it comes to the finest pizza and pasta and eye-watering curries. Some ‘hot’ spots include La Lanterna, Italian Kitchen, Obsession of India and The Dakhin.
Stunning architecture, theatreland, great shopping
George Square, street art, lively nightlife
The historic city centre is a great place to start your Glasgow discovery, and once you’re done, you can head by Subway, bus, train, taxi, bike or on foot to your next unique neighbourhood experience.