The area is at its most vibrant and colourful when the streets come alive with a carnival atmosphere during the annual Merchant City Festival (July/August). The Festival is a centre-piece of the city’s cultural calendar and presents some of the best Scottish and international art and entertainment and great family activities too.
“The Merchant City is the cultural heart of the city, where cultural and artistic entrepreneurs choose to base themselves, alongside the great food and drink offer in the area. The annual Merchant City Festival (MCF) is when all this vibrant energy bursts out in an international celebration of music, dance, street theatre, circus, design, food and drink. MCF surprises and delights and continues the tradition of the merchant city being where Glasgow interacts and exchanges with the world.“
Lorenzo Mele, Executive Producer, Merchant City Festival
Start your exploration in Royal Exchange Square, one of the city's most gracious urban spaces filled with great restaurants, cafes and upmarket retailers which surround the splendid neo-classical building that now houses the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA).
Head further into Merchant City along Ingram Street, the exclusive fashion boulevard featuring Armani, Ralph Lauren, Mulberry, and Cruise to drop just a few famous names!
Stop for a cocktail at The Corinthian Club and marvel at its elaborate interiors dating back to 1842. Past incarnations of this striking venue include the Union Bank and judiciary courts. Or be wowed by the grandeur of Hutchesons City Grill. Housed in a glorious Grade-A listed building the venue has three floors of decadent dining options.
Image: Hutchesons City Grill
The area is not known as the designer district for nothing with independent concept stores such as END, 18 Montrose and Walker Slater all showcasing their uniquely curated fashion and beauty brands. Other quirky shopping highlights include:
All that shopping is bound to work up an appetite and the Merchant City has an abundance of great spots.
Drinking and Dining
Miller Street is a popular haunt with the award-winning Paesano Pizza, rated ninth out of Europe's top 50 pizza restaurants in 2019 by Big Seven Travel and easily identified by the queue of eager weekend patrons; as well as the uber-stylish Spanish Butcher – a carnivore’s dream! Through a fairy-lit lane, you’ll also discover Virginia Court, a little courtyard which is occupied by a small but quirky selection of bars. Brutti Compadres has a Mediterranean inspired menu including a great selection of tasting plates while Cup Tearooms by day is a stylish café serving delicious afternoon teas then by night is transformed into Gin 71, a cool venue for craft gins and homemade tonics. You’ll also find the Gin Spa – be perfectly pampered with botanical oils and then enjoy a delicious G&T!
Image: Brutti Compadres, Virginia Court
Head further along Ingram Street to Candleriggs and Albion Street where you are literally spoiled for choice with the range of drinking and dining options available. Try Ingram Wynd for Scottish flavours, KoolBa for top-notch, award-winning curries and The 13th Note and Mono for tasty vegan food.
For laid-back, traditional pubs, favourites include Babbity Bowster with its great beer garden perfect for the summer months, Blackfriars for real ales and live music and Rab Ha’s for top quality, warming pub grub and a cosy fire.
Merchant Square meanwhile, is an undercover courtyard and former merchant’s market which is now home to a further great selection of bars and restaurants. Be sure to stop by at the weekend to pick up some unique Glasgow gifts at their weekly craft and design fair.
This historic and fascinating part of the city is also home to a selection of great visitor attractions. From the small but perfectly formed Glasgow Police Museum (winner of the 'Best Day Out Award' at The Glasgow Awards 2019) showcasing the history of policing in Glasgow over the last 175 years, it also houses Europe's largest international police display of uniforms and insignia from around the world.
The hidden gem in this neighbourhood is the Britannia Panopticon – dating back to the 1850s, it’s officially the world’s oldest surviving music hall. A guided tour is a must to learn about its colourful and quirky history and some of the famous names who starred there.
The area is a magnet for creative talent with independent, artist-run galleries such as The Modern Institute and Transmission. Over recent years a number of creative hubs have also sprung up to support this ever-growing community, allowing them to share innovative exhibition and workspaces.
The Briggait is a beautiful Grade A listed venue, built in 1873 that has been transformed by the Wasps Trust and Wasps Artists' Studios into a home for visual artists and cultural organisations.
Head towards High Street via Glasgow Cross to capture a photo of the Tolbooth Steeple, a 17th Century landmark that stands proudly on this junction. The Steeple is all that remains of the old Tolbooth buildings which were demolished in 1921.
Another great way to discover some of this neighbourhood’s venues is on a Glasgow Music City Tour. Walk the oldest streets as part of their Merchant City Music – Past and Present tour and learn about how this part of the city has been the creative stamping ground for some of the city's finest talents.
''With venues ranging from the Britannia Panopticon, the world's oldest music hall, to fantastic venues such as the Old Fruitmarket, 13th Note and Mono, the Merchant City is a rich showcase for Glasgow's music heritage and its thriving contemporary scene. From cutting edge, grassroots groups to classic rock bands, it's all here and guests on our Merchant City Music tours love hearing their stories. And telling us theirs."
Jonathan Trew, Glasgow Music City Tours
Merchant City really comes alive at night and whether it’s comedy, classical music or cabaret you’ll find something you’re sure to enjoy.
Image: Merchant Square
The City Halls is Glasgow's oldest purpose-built performance space, having entertained patrons since 1841. Renowned for its world-class acoustics, the spectacular Hall also houses the Scottish Music Centre and is home to The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and hosts regular performances for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
The Old Fruitmarket is also part of the City Halls complex. Dating back to the 1800s and a working produce market until the 1970s, the venue has retained its period charm and regularly hosts a variety of events including jazz, rock and pop concerts, club nights and ceilidhs.
The Tron Theatre has been a familiar landmark in Glasgow's Merchant City for centuries and a popular cultural venue for over twenty years presenting outstanding contemporary theatrical work loved by young and old.
Glasgow has a thriving LGBTQ+ scene, with much of it concentrated in the heart of the Merchant City.
Image: The Polo Lounge
Delmonicas is one of the city’s longest established gay bars and is guaranteed to have a busy and bustling crowd on almost any night of the week. While snugly situated right next door is The Riding Rooms, where you can expect to see all manner of quirky thrills on the stage throughout the week – from risqué comedy to burlesque shows. Just round the corner is The Polo Lounge, which has won the coveted 'Best Gay Bar' award on a number of occasions.
There really is so much to discover and explore in this fascinating neighbourhood.
Creative spaces, LGBTQ+ scene, independent and designer stores
Cocktails in stunning surrounds, summer festival atmosphere, fairy-lit Royal Exchange Square