Glasgow by Robin McKelvie
Travel writer Robin McKelvie became a 'Weegie' for the day when he City Swapped his home town of Edinburgh for the sights of Glasgow. Read on for his whistle stop tour review of some of Glasgow's must see destinations.
Having been to over 100 countries as a travel writer one of my favourite cities in the world often surprises people, especially some of my friends from my native Edinburgh. Glasgow for me is a city break star awash with world class attractions and ace places to eat and drink. And all this and more is less than an hour from Edinburgh by train. So hop aboard and join me now as I help you enjoy the ultimate day out in Scotland’s largest city.
After the smooth train ride - which whizzed by as I admired both the spectacular 36-arch Almond and 23-arch Avon viaducts and a muffin and coffee from the catering trolley – I was right in the heart of Glasgow on George Square. I took a wee wander in the autumnal sunshine down Buchanan Street, the epicentre of Glaswegian shopping, a walk brightened by a collage of brilliant buskers. They reminded me that Glasgow was the first ever UNESCO City of Music. In Glasgow music is very much in the city’s veins, in a way I don’t feel so much in Edinburgh outside Festival time.
First up was a visit to one of Glasgow’s most jaw-dropping buildings and that is saying something in a city that was named UK City of Architecture and Design in 1999. Glasgow Cathedral is a stunner. Whatever your beliefs I defy you not to be awestruck as you slip into the hallowed depths of this utterly unique architectural wonder in Scottish Gothic style. The city’s patron saint, St Mungo, lies in a vault here and I’d say he’s easily got the finest last resting place in the city.
Next up was a wander down the road to the People’s Palace, a place of almost spiritual importance to Glaswegians. Getting there involved a walk through one of the Dear Green Place’s favourite green lungs, Glasgow Green. I chatted to a park warden who surprised me by telling me that Glasgow has over 90 parks. Some of my Edinburgh friends reckon Glasgow feels ‘too urban’. It certainly didn’t here as I eased along kicking through the autumn leaves as I savoured views out to the lifeblood River Clyde and a cormorant zoomed by.
The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens date back as far back as 1898, when it was crafted to provide a bucolic respite to the residents of Glasgow’s cramped tenements. It more than did its job. Today it’s still much beloved of Glaswegians. I nipped into the famous hot houses to check out the lush tropical vegetation. Ringing in my ears were the sounds of The Stone Roses and the new Transmt Festival, both of which I’ve been to on Glasgow Green.
For lunch I’d heard great things about a new hipster café in the Merchant City. The lavish Georgian buildings in this recently revamped part of town are up there with anything Edinburgh has to offer, bedecked with all sorts of architectural flourishes that evoke the wealth of the city’s merchants in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I’m impressed by the Wilson Street Pantry. Glasgow may not sport the Michelin star restaurants of Edinburgh, but I think it trumps the capital on value. I feast on two wedges of sourdough bread topped with a huge portion of hot smoked salmon, avocado and poached eggs, washed down with spot on coffee, for under a tenner.
I’d bought a bus ticket that handily let me zip around the city enjoying a sightseeing tour, but also let me hop on and off. I travelled right across the centre enjoying the grand Georgian architecture that harks back to Scotland’s largest city’s days as the ‘Second City of Empire’. My next stop took me deep into the industry that brought Glasgow worldwide fame – shipbuilding.
As a kid my mum and dad used to bring me to the old home of the Museum of Transport in Kelvin Hall. I instinctively sided with many Glaswegians when they weren’t sure about its move to a glitzy new building down on the Clyde on the site of the old shipyards. Well I’m happy to report both the building and the Riverside Museum are stunners and well deserving of the title of European Museum of the Year, which the site won in 2013. All the old favourites, like the old underground train and re-created streets are there, alongside a spectacular new rotating model ship display.
Despite its brilliance this is only my second favourite museum in Glasgow. So I turned my back on the widening banks of the River Clyde and its impressively reborn banks and headed inland following Glasgow’s often forgotten river, the Kelvin. This snaking route took me up the epic red sandstone grandeur of the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. It is easy to see why it’s one of the most visited museums in the UK.
The Kelvingrove for me is brilliantly and defiantly Glasgow. It has everything in here and more. It retains all the old world whale skeletons, Spitfires and taxidermy animals. But alongside them are the surreal works of Salvador Dali and an equally surreal illuminated statue of Elvis. I love bringing my kids here and my 84 year-old mum loves it too. That says it all.
It was with a heavy heart that I made my last stop for dinner. I’d heard good things about West beer, Glasgow’s answer to my favourite tipple in Edinburgh, Innis & Gunn. I was not disappointed. Their West on the Green overlooks Glasgow Green in the spectacular Templeton Building. I feast on chunky German sausages in a beer hall that is more Bavaria than Bearsden. Glasgow is that sort of city, a multicultural, multinational hub where different influences are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the city.
All too soon it was time to be back on the train to my city. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of the Scottish capital, but for me the fact that you can easily hop through to Glasgow for a day is one of the best things about Edinburgh. They are deliciously different cities and I hope after reading this you, and some of my friends, might think about hopping on a train and giving it a try. What are you waiting for?