Shopping in Glasgow: the style mile

by mike.maceacheran

Whether you are after a designer dress or a diamond engagement ring, Glasgow is a shopaholic's dream. Here are my suggestions on where to spend, spend, spend

The best place to start, both from a connoisseur’s point of view and in terms of outright excess, is Buchanan Street. Forming the middle bar of the city’s “Golden Z”, in between Sauchiehall Street to the north and Argyll Street to the south, Buchanan Street is Glasgow’s very own Champs Elysees or Fifth Avenue. If you’re not shaking at the knees with excitement yet, then listen to this: every week, Buchanan Street attracts an average of 1.6 million shoppers.

At the top end, the Buchanan Galleries (Buchanan Galleries Shopping Centre, Glasgow, G1 2FF; +44 141 333 9898; www.buchanangalleries.co.uk) is the city’s newest mainstream shopping mall, home to global brands like GAP, Next, H&M, Levi’s and Boots. There are more than 80 shops including Glasgow’s flagship John Lewis department store and seemingly a zillion other fashion and accessory labels. Come at the weekend, during Easter or in the pre-Christmas rush and you’ll shortly see why the street has earned its style mile status: behind the Galleries a 2,000 space car park overflows with overladen, bedraggled shoppers who haven’t seen daylight for weeks and beg to be fed and watered. Say hi to my mum if you see her; I think she may have got lost on the mezzanine floor last month.

Higher-end brands

As the street tumbles down towards Argyll Street, the brands on display edge towards the higher end – think Diesel (116-120 Buchanan St, Glasgow. G1 2JW; +44 141 221 5255; www.diesel.com), Apple (147 Buchanan Street; Glasgow, G1 2JX, +44 141 300 4950, www.apple.com), Monsoon (66-70 Buchanan Street, Glasgow, G1 3JF; +44 141 221 4643; www.monsoon.co.uk), Hugo Boss (55 Buchanan Street, Glasgow,G1 3HL; +44 141 221 7168; www.store-uk.hugoboss.com) and Whittard of Chelsea (95 Buchanan Street, Glasgow, G1 3HF; +44 141 221 3504; www.whittard.co.uk) – before reaching a crescendo at Princes Square, the city’s luxury shopping precinct.

Princes Square - don't forget your sunglasses

Take a ride up the fanciest escalators in the city, making sure you have your oversized sunglasses perched on your forehead, and take a deep breath – Princes Square (48 Buchanan Street, Glasgow, G1 3JX; +44 141 221 0324; www.princessquare.co.uk) is Scotland’s premier designer wardrobe. Underneath its stained glass Art Nouveau cupola, and spread across its three elegant floors, iconic brands like Vivienne Westwood, Kurt Geiger, French Connection, Lacoste, Ted Baker and Reiss Womenswear rub shoulders with some of Scotland’s very best home-grown labels and crafts. Check out Arran Aromatics (Level One, Unit 32, Princes Square, 48 Buchanan Street, Glasgow, G1 3JX; +44 141 248 5242; www.ArranAromatics.com) for bath and body products, Chocolatier of Glasgow (Ground Floor, Princes Square, 48 Buchanan Street, Glasgow, G1 3JX; +44 141 222 2224; www.the-chocolatier-of-glasgow.co.uk) and Louise Shafar (Ground Floor, Princes Square, Buchanan Street, Glasgow, G1 3JN; +44 141 221 0022; www.louiseshafar.co.uk), Glasgow’s premier designer jeweller.

A distinctly Scottish House of Fraser

House of Fraser (21-45 Buchanan Street, Glasgow; +44 844 800 3728; www.houseoffraser.co.uk), Glasgow’s version of Harrods, is perhaps the ultimate place to find a gift to spoil a loved one. Stocking everything from luxury accessories and beauty essentials to home furnishings, Frasers may seem like a standard premium department store, but there is more to it than meets the eye – and it is distinctly Scottish. Opened by Hugh Fraser in 1849, the Glasgow branch is the flagship store of a chain that now has 61 stores spread throughout the UK, including prestigious shops in Belfast, Leeds and on London’s Oxford Street.

A family shopping experience

And yet there is still more. Only moments away from Buchanan Street, Argyll Street intersects with another onslaught of shops and boutiques. Chief among them is the recently renovated St Enoch Centre (55 St. Enoch Square, Glasgow, G1 4BW; +44 141 204 3900; www.st-enoch.co.uk), the largest shopping centre in Scotland and Europe’s largest glass structure. Looking like a cross between a glass pyramid and a lopsided Paisley greenhouse, the St Enoch centre prides itself on being a family shopping experience – and there is no doubt that it is more accessible and fun for children than either Princes Square or the Buchanan Galleries. Although it’s been neglected for a number of years, and has suffered at the hands of competition from elsewhere, a recent renovation should ensure that the crowds begin to return in no time. Stores on offer include Debenhams, TK Maxx and Bhs and – in keeping with its family friendly ethos – there is also a Kids' Play Area and Kiddy Cabs. The large food court is also on hand if you want to top up the cholesterol levels with all manners of deep fried junk food.

Shelter under the Heilanman’s Umbrella

If it’s raining, it’s worth heading towards the Heilanman’s Umbrella – the affectionate nickname for the glass railway bridge from Central Station (it used to be a popular meeting place for Highlanders back in the day) – to stock up on cheap DVDs and records at Fopp (19-27 Union Street, Glasgow, G12 8AW; www.foppreturns.com), the city centre’s best independent music store. Mono (King Street, 10 King's Court, Glasgow, G1 5RB; + 44 141 553 2400, www.monocafebar.com) a cross between a connoisseur's record shop and a music brew pub in the Merchant City also comes highly recommended.

Further along Argyll Street, completing the “Golden Z” like a slightly kitsch crown, the Argyll Arcade (51 Argyll Arcade, Glasgow, G2; + 44 870 850 6271; www.argyll-arcade.com) is a stretch of 32 jewellery shops linked together like an overpriced golden bracelet. Even though I feel like I’m walking into a 1980s episode of Only Fools and Horses when I duck into its arches – I can easily picture Del-Boy flagging knock off diamond rings from any of the shop fronts – the corridor is always packed at weekends with engaged couples and romantics. Built in 1827, its ornate iron-framed roof is almost as dazzling as the Aladdin’s Cave of gold on display. It may be a tackier version of the Gold Souks, which tourists can find in Dubai or Muscat in the Middle East, but it has a comforting damp smell, which reminds the visitor that they’re very definitely in Scotland. 

More expert advice on Glasgow

For suggestions on where to stay in Glasgow, see my Glasgow Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Glasgow page.

Read my overview on Shopping in Glasgow.

mike.maceacheran

I am a freelance travel writer born in Glasgow and bred on deep fried Mars bars and Tennent's Lager. I have visited 80 countries and I have written for Esquire, Time Out, The Herald, The Scotsman, Sunday Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Geographical, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Sun, News of the World, Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Record, Sunday Mail, Business Traveller, CNBC Business, Holland Herald (KLM), Bangkok Post, Silver Kris (Singapore Airlines), South China Morning Post, TNT, Portfolio (Emirates), Etihad Inflight and Aspire (Etihad Airways), The National (UAE), Oryx (Qatar Airways), Fah Thai (Bangkok Airways), Gulf Life (Gulf Air), Discovery (Cathay Pacific), Premier (Barclays Bank), Zoo, Fall-Line Skiing, Seabourn Club Herald (Florida) and Get Lost (Australia) to name quite a few. I also used to write for The Times and The Independent.

A true Scottish patriot in every sense of the word – you won’t find any underpants beneath my kilt – I have wandered around Glasgow for 32 years spending every restless minute trawling the best bars and restaurants of the Merchant City and the West End, getting sweaty at the country’s best music venues (King Tut’s and the Barras for the uninitiated or inebriated) and shaking my head in disbelief while watching the national team play at Hampden. If I cut myself, I would bleed a sweet electric orange hue as my arteries are clogged with Scottish soft drink Irn Bru.
 

My Glasgow

Where I always grab a beer – Glasgow specialises in dark music bars pasted in posters and crammed full of rock’n’roll credentials, heavenly jukeboxes and bohemian clientele. In the city centre Nice’n’Sleazy, Republic Bier Halle, Brunswick Cellars, 13th Note, Moskito, Mono and King Tut’s are the places where you are most likely to find me nursing a pint of Belhaven Best.

My favourite stroll - Kelvingrove Park or the Royal Botanic Gardens in the West End of the city are perfect to clear your head from the night before or to laze around with a picnic before the night ahead. St Mungo’s Cathedral, Castle Street, and the nearby Necropolis are also recommended for contemplating God.

Fiction for inspiration – Alasdair Gray’s “Lanark” may not be light holiday reading but it’s one of Glasgow’s most praised literary works. For something a little more light-hearted, Christopher Brookmyre’s Glasgow crime novels are hard-boiled Raymond Chandler yarns deep fried in Scottish wit and banter. I’d opt for some of the late great Edwin Morgan’s stunning poetry.

Where to be seen – Princes Square shopping mall off of Scotland’s style mile Buchanan Street represents the Pearly Gates for those carrying a branded handbag but for student types and culture vultures, Byers Road (and its surrounding streets) is the Scottish equivalent of the Parisian Left Bank.

The most breathtaking view – Pointing into the sky like a shoddy compass needle, the Glasgow Tower at the Glasgow Science Centre will have a cracking view if it ever opens… The panorama from Park Terrace across to the Gothic spire of the University and the Kelvingrove Museum is also a cracker.

The best spot for some peace and quiet – The Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) on Royal Exchange Square is my favourite rainy day retreat. When the sun shines, go rummaging through the undergrowth with the wildlife in Pollock Park on the south side of the river.

Shopaholics beware – Glasgow has the largest concentration of shops of any city in the UK outside of London – so hold that credit card tighter than a hand grenade. Particular gems include humourous wallpapers from Timorous Beasties, vintage clothing from Felix and Oscar (both on Great Western Road), lost LPs from Mono (King’s Court) and designer fashion cuts in the hedonistic Princes Square. The Golden “Z”, encompassing Argyll, Buchanan and Sauchiehall Streets, has more gifts and goods than you could stick in your luggage in one trip, so it may be a better idea to just buy another suitcase while you’re at it. Bag and Baggage (Royal Exchange Square) should do nicely.

City soundtrack – As the UK’s first UNESCO City of Music, Glasgow has first class indie pop credentials and over the years has produced a multitude of top class talent. Take your pick from Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, Simple Minds, Del Amitri, Travis, Franz Ferdinand, Texas, Lulu, Paolo Nutini and Deacon Blue to name just a few. Belle and Sebastian’s “If you’re Feeling Sinister” is the perfect soundtrack for wandering around the tree-lined backstreets around the University of Glasgow. “Like Dylan in the Movies” used to soundtrack my walk from Hillhead station to early morning lectures.

Don’t leave without... visiting Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the Art School, wandering through the cloisters of the University of Glasgow, taking tea at Tchai Ovna, having an Irn Bru picnic in Pollok Park, watching an Old Firm football game at Ibrox or Celtic Park, eating fish’n’chips past midnight on Sauchiehall Street, taking in a gig at the Barras or King Tuts, seeing a show at the Tramway, feasting on fresh seafood at the Two Fat Ladies, sailing on the Tall Ship, exploring the House for an Art Lover, greeting Walter Scott on George Square, riding the Clockwork Orange…. In second thoughts, maybe you should just stay for a bit longer?