Glasgow city centre is based on a grid system that not only makes it easy to navigate but which has also proven to be a huge draw for Hollywood filmmakers looking to mirror US cities on screen. Glasgow has doubled as Philadelphia (World War Z), San Francisco (Cloud Atlas) and New York (Patrick Melrose) in recent years. In fact, in the coming weeks, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Jason Statham and Idris Elba will be in the city filming Fast & Furious spin-off, Hobbs and Shaw, in the city centre streets.
Throughout the summer months, George Square is a popular place to relax, enjoy a picnic lunch and people watch, whilst surrounded by historic architecture. Meanwhile, 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. Join a free tour to discover the grand, marble and Insta-worthy interiors for a great place to start your journey through this part of Glasgow.
George 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 people that have a real passion and knowledge of the city.
For something a little different, try the Glasgow Central Station tour, where you get to go underground into the vaults of the station and subterranean passageways and hear incredible tales from the station's 140-year history.
Take a wander around the city centre and ‘look up’ to see 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, who also designed the Grecian Buildings in Sauchiehall Street, now home to the award-winning Centre for Contemporary Arts.**
**Following the fire at Glasgow School of Art and the O2 ABC music venue, the Centre for Contemporary Arts remains within the cordoned area in Garnethill. At this time, the CCA is due to re-open on October 20. For the latest information on any relocated events and exhibitions that may be available please see: www.cca-glasgow.com**
Just off Sauchiehall Street is Rose Street - home to the quirky Art Deco delight that is the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT). As Scotland's original independent cinema, GFT is the host venue of the annual Glasgow Film Festival (Feb-March) and is also a great place year-round for film lovers. 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.
Head back to the heart of the city towards George Square and you'll find some of the city’s grandest buildings, which started life as banks, courts and prestigious offices, have been preserved beautifully and now operate as some of the city centre’s finest hotels and restaurants. Examples of 1800s buildings steeped in opulence include Grand Central Hotel at Central Station, The Corinthian Club, based in the former High Court building and The Anchor Line restaurant, bar and soon-to-be-opened apartments, which occupies the building which was the booking office for Anchor Line cruise ships.
“Glasgow’s city centre is a hubbub of creative energy. 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
Continuing east to the top of High Street and you'll reach 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 - here is the bird that never flew, here is the tree that never grew, here is the bell that never rang, here is the fish that never swam.
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 Street 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 the best high street brands with everything from John Lewis to Hamleys, Victoria Secrets to Topshop. 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 and one of the many pubs laying claim to the oldest bar in Glasgow. 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
Just off Buchanan Street – 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 and Glasgow is the only place in the world that has a concentration of his work. Throughout the city, you can see the icon’s evolution from his early commissions to his final masterpieces.
Mackintosh at the Willow
An absolute must-visit is the world-class cultural and heritage attraction Mackintosh at the Willow, which opened in 2018. Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1903, Miss Cranston’s original Willow Tea Rooms in their Sauchiehall Street location has undergone a major restoration and is now open as a tea room, visitor centre, exhibition space and gift shop, showcasing the achievements of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh and Miss Kate Cranston. There is also The Willow Tea Rooms on Buchanan Street, for high tea served within stunning surroundings, inspired by Mackintosh.
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. This year we mark the 150th anniversary of his birth with a programme of events and exhibitions.
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 thought-provoking series of exhibitions and is also free to visit.
From here, you can make your way down Ingram Street, which is lined by elegant blonde sandstone, which house exclusive brands such as Ralph Lauren, Emporio Armani and Cruise. The New York Times described Ingram Street as “confidently Glaswegian and instinctually international”. This main artery running through the city has some great little dining side streets, such as Brunswick Street, Hutcheson Street and Miller Street, which leads to the quaint, cobbled, fairy-lit Virginia Court.
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. As a designated UNESCO City of Music, home to five of Scotland's six national performing arts institutions and the third highest ranking performing arts education institution in the world, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland - 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 (17 Jan - 3 Feb 2019) 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. Every year in August, the city comes alive with the sound of the pipes for an entire week, as Piping Live! and the World Pipe Band championships take over city centre locations such as George Square and Glasgow Green.
Image: King Tuts. 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. *A significant fire at the neighbouring Glasgow School of Art on 15 June, 2018 has sadly also affected the o2 ABC venue, for more information about the venue visit their website.
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 - there's La Lanterna, 'winner of Bookatable’s Best Restaurant in Scotland Award 2017' and Paesano, ‘TripAdvisor’s most highly rated Pizza restaurant in the UK 2017’. For eye-watering curries, 'hot’ spots include 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.