Always an exciting city to visit, Glasgow has upped its game even more in readiness for Scotland’s ‘Year of Homecoming' in 2009. There's never been a better time to go...
There’s something about Glasgow that keeps bringing me back, time after time, and with each visit I discover so many new and exciting sides to its unique personality. It’s hard to believe it was back in 1990 that it was voted European Capital of Culture, but after almost 20 years and with many subsequent winners and contenders, that accolade still stands for me.
Now, with 2009 being Scotland’s 'Year of Homecoming', Glasgow has upped its cultural offerings even more to provide for the huge influx of expatriates and other visitors from all over the world. Add the 250th birthday anniversary of Scotland’s most famous son and poet, Robert Burns, to the mix and you’ll see why this is a fantastic time to visit.
As you’d expect from Scotland’s third largest city, there is an abundance of accommodation to suit all pockets and tastes. I stayed at Saint Jude’s boutique hotel in fashionable Bath Street, which is conveniently situated near to Central Station. Following a recent renovation, it has retained its appealing Victorian structure but now has a very stylish and contemporary interior with, as I discovered from my travelling companions, no two bedrooms the same. It is also home to the Mama San Bar & Lounge, where we tried some delicious South East Asian cuisine before becoming complete night owls in Mama San’s trendy bar - voted Best Hotel Bar in Scotland at the Theme Bar and Restaurant Awards.
Grid-patterned streets make getting around Glasgow a relatively simple exercise, so get hold of a good city centre map and you’ll be wandering around like a native in no time. As a focal point, the Central Station puts you in the commercial centre of the city, with Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street the main shopping centres.
With a frontage onto Buchanan Street, Princes Square, not really a square but a beautifully restored and elegant 19th-century building complex, is really worth a visit. It's now converted into a five-storey shopping arena, with a glass domed roof just one of the restored original features that make this such a special venue. Apart from having around 30 independent shops, bars and restaurants (including a new Vivienne Westwood store) to visit, the restoration is a real work of art in itself, illustrating how Glasgow effortlessly combines industry and the arts to such stunning effect. Even if you’re not going to shop, just pop inside and admire the fantastic restoration work.
You can’t visit Glasgow without paying homage to one of its most famous sons, the Art Nouveau artist and architect, Charles Rennie Macintosh. His influence is seen everywhere in the city through its architecture and design. In Scotland’s Year of Homecoming, you can experience ‘Mackintosh 100’, an 11-month celebration of the life and work of Mackintosh, marking the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Mackintosh Building at The Glasgow School of Art.
It’s impossible to get around the 20-plus museums and galleries in one weekend, but venues like The Lighthouse, Centre for Contemporary Arts and the hugely popular Gallery of Modern Art are all within easy reach. If you’ve got children in tow, then to keep them occupied I’d recommend a trip to the futuristic Science Centre on the banks of the Clyde or to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The museum is set in extensive landscaped grounds and home to dinosaur fossils, collections from the travels of Charles Darwin and David Livingstone, and impressionist paintings - to name just a few of its amazing exhibits. There’s something for all ages, and with its proximity to Glasgow’s West End district, it's well-placed for exploring this area too.
Apart from the bustling Merchant City area, for me Glasgow’s real character is to be found in the cobbled streets of the West End. It’s just a short subway ride to Hillhead from the city centre so you’ll soon be wandering around the independent shops and bars showing off the true independent spirit of the city. With an atmosphere akin to the Temple Bar area of Dublin, Ashton Lane is a real magnet, with its cobbled pedestrian thoroughfare bustling with people talking in a cosmopolitan mix of languages and a smattering of Glaswegian ‘patter’. It’s a hop skip and a jump from Glasgow University so, as you’d expect, there’s a youthful atmosphere and prices are a little cheaper than in the city centre.
I came across a delightful Belgian restaurant called Brel, located in a converted stable and coach house, where after a delicious serving of Scottish mussels and crusty bread, Paul, the head chef recommended that I return for an evening of live acoustic music. And I’m glad that I did. The music may have been acousitic but the atmosphere was electric, and I was reliably informed that bands are queuing up to play this particular gig, renowned for its top quality entertainment.
Glasgow is like that. There seems to be something new and surprising around every corner. It is a city of many contrasts, mixing the old and the new and the weird and the wonderful to create an exciting and entertaining whole. In the Year of Scotland’s Homecoming, this is a perfect time to visit.