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; www.agentprovocateur.com/stores), 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; www.merchantsquareglasgow.com), 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; www.glasgow-barrowland.com/market/barras.htm). 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; www.checamille.com) 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; www.timorousbeasties.com), 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; www.felixandoscar.co.uk) 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; www.galletlytubbs.com) 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; www.wearemadeintheshade.com) 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.
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; www.slanj.co.uk) 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; www.globalwhiskyshop.com) 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.