Shopping in Glasgow: surprising experiences

by mike.maceacheran

Glasgow offers a number of surprising shopping experiences. But of most interest to the visitor are those that are tied to the city’s working class history as much as they are its prosperous present

For starters, swing by the overtly self-conscious Italian Centre. On the edge of the Merchant City, The Italian Centre (Ingram Street: +44 141 552 6099) is home to world famous names, a selection of the finest Italian designer stores and the UK's first ever Versace store. Featuring Renaissance sculptures and Italian inspired façades, the complex was converted from a series of derelict 19th-century tenements and is now home to enough upmarket brands to give an overloaded Glasgow shopper a heart attack.

But the Italian connection runs deeper than just Valentino or Armani. In the 1890s, as thousands of families from central Italy migrated west to America, many stopped off en route in Glasgow and – whether wooed by Scottish weather or women – decided to stay. Today there are 30,000 Scots-Italians and their fashion sense has definitely rubbed off on the locals. Local Italian-Scottish pop stars Sharleen Spiteri from Texas and Paolo Nutini are the pin-ups of choice of course. Agent Provocateur (213 Ingram Street, Glasgow, G1 1DQ;+44 0141 221 2538;, the city’s most famous and exclusive lingerie boutique, is also in the neighbourhood.

Relaxed market shopping

Nearby is the Merchant Square (Candleriggs, Glasgow, G1 1LE; +44 141 552 3038;, home to a popular weekend market. A more relaxed affair than the city’s large, purpose built shopping centres, half an hour in the Merchant Square is the closest Glasgow has to a corner of Montmartre in Paris. My tip is to ignore the enclosed roof – handy for when it rains but not a lot else – and concentrate instead on the hand crafted goods, jewellery, paintings, photography, cards and candles.

The mother of all Glasgow markets

Don’t dilly-dally though, as the mother of all Glasgow markets is within reach: the world famous Barrowlands weekend market (244 Gallowgate, Glasgow; +44 141 552 4601; In the heart of the city’s East End, the Barras is a mixture of a classic flea market and a knock-off shop where everything that can be sold will be sold: there’s everything from antiques, old boots, computer games and broken TVs to fruit, veg, handmade crafts and classic kilts. Truth be told, you’ll either love it or hate it, but it’s a raw Glasgow experience and half the fun is meeting the Wizard of Oz like scarecrow characters that prowl around behind the stalls as if they’ve just woken up in a child’s fancy dress toy box. The term “Barra”, my history teacher once told me, is Glaswegian dialect for “barrow”, relating to the market’s early years when traders once sold goods from old fashioned wooden handcarts. Yet for the time being, the Barras is undergoing a renaissance: the presence of award-winning designers like Che Camille (Unit 7B, 54 Calton Entry; can only help the upswing continue.

The West End - boutiques, retro clothes and low key shops

On the other side of the city – it may as well be on the other side of the planet in terms of what’s on offer – the West End showcases a very different shopping experience. Gone are the metropolis malls and markets and in their place are a series of bespoke boutiques, retro clothes shops and low key outlets. Of note, Timorous Beasties (384 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9HT; +44 141 337 2622;, is renowned as the city’s pre-eminent designer of humorous wallpapers and surreal and provocative textiles, and Felix and Oscar (459 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G12 8HH; +44 1433 98585; is thought by some to be the coolest place to shop in the whole city. It sells funky watches, slippers and a bizarre variety of gifts – ever the big kid, I particularly love its selection of retro robots and cars. Galletly and Tubbs (439 Great Western Rd, Glasgow; +44 141 357 1002; is also worth a visit for its quirky and contemporary furniture and interiors.

Nearby, on Cresswell Lane, De Courcy's Antique Craft Arcade (5-21 Cresswell Lane, Glasgow, G12 8AA; +44 141 334 6673), has been labelled Glasgow’s Covent Garden, and is home to a number of burgeoning indie shops trading in vintage, vintage and more vintage; it is, after all, the perennially popular Glasgow style. In particular, Made in the Shade (21 Cresswell Lane, Glasgow, G12 8AA; +44 141 337 3795; is a fantastic shoebox crammed full of vintage and urban design and what it terms neo-craft. In a similar vein, are Starry, Starry Night (19 Dowanside Lane, Glasgow, G12 9BZ; +44 141 337 1837) and The Studio (De Courcy's Arcade, 5-21 Cresswell Lane, Glasgow, G12 8AA; +44 141 334 8211), a specialist antiques and book shop with a passion for the Glasgow style - the perfect place to pick up the unexpected.

Souvenir shopping

Yet Glasgow is not only obsessed with fashion, furnishings, retro and designer labels. For the tourist seeking something more traditional, the city may not be in the same league as Edinburgh for shortbread tins and cut-price tartan kilts, but it makes up for this with a more personalised experience. Slanj (67 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow, G2 5TF; +44 141 248 7770; has a great selection of designer and traditional kilts and personalised Scottish slogan t-shirts, and Robert Graham’s Global Whisky Shop (Finlay House, 10-14 West Nile Street, Glasgow, G1 2PP; +44 141 248 7283; does exactly what it says on the door. Established in 1874, it’s the best place in the city to stock up on a Highland blend or Islay single malt. Apparently, if you squint your eyes hard enough after a few drams, you may even be able to count up to 1874 bottles on the wall.

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.


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?