Martin Ferguson stumbles across architectural gems and traditional pub grub in Scotland’s largest city.
Wear comfortable shoes – Glasgow is hilly and you will be doing lots of walking. Start on the corner of Great Western Road and Byres Road, outside the Oran Mor bar and restaurant. Walk southwest along Byres Road, dipping in and out of the adjoining lanes and boutiques until you reach University Avenue. Turn left and walk to the summit – the University of Glasgow’s ancient main building is on the right. Go through the main gate and up the stairs to the cloisters and absorb the 500-year-old history. The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery – Scotland’s oldest public museum – is housed in the same building (hunterian.gla.ac.uk; open 9.30am-5pm Mon-Sat). The works of Scottish artists Charles Rennie Mackintosh and James McNeill Whistler are on permanent display. If time is no object, go through the back of the cloisters and down the hill to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery (glasgowlife.org.uk; open 10am-5pm Mon-Thurs and Sat, 11am-5pm Fri and Sun). Otherwise, continue down University Avenue turning left, then right on to Gibson Street, where Stravaigin restaurant (stravaigin.com; tel +44 (0)141 3342 665) serves award-winning Scottish food at number 28.
MITCHELL LIBRARY and GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART
Continue along Gibson Street and Woodlands Road until you reach Charing Cross. Here you’ll find the Mitchell Library, one of the largest public reference libraries in Europe. The building’s façade is famous throughout the city, and definitely worth a photograph. From here, walk up Sauchiehall Street, turning left at Garnet Street and right on to Renfrew Street. Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and completed in 1909, the Glasgow School of Art (gsa.ac.uk) is a great source of cultural pride for Glaswegians. Tours run at differing times throughout the day and year. Former students include the city’s own Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Return downhill to Sauchiehall Street and walk east, uphill. For the next couple of kilometres – until you reach the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and the top of the Buchanan Street pedestrianised precinct – you’ll see how Glasgow has developed into a retail paradise over the past 20 years. The Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts (cca-glasgow.com) on your left hosts six major exhibitions a year. Opening times vary.
HORSE SHOE BAR
A small detour from Buchanan Street takes you to one of the city’s most iconic public houses. As you walk south, turn right on to St Vincent’s Street, left at West Nile Street, then right into cobbled Drury Street. The Horse Shoe at number 17 has one of the longest bars in Britain, and is the unofficial birthplace of the pie-and-a-pint concept. In the downstairs section it’s still possible to buy pie and beans (or peas) for less than £1. Upstairs in the lounge, where fiercely competitive karaoke contests are held nightly, you’ll get change from a fiver for a three-course lunch. Do not, however, expect haute cuisine. Back in the bar, mix with noisy working class Glaswegians, exchanging views on everything from football to politics. Visit horseshoebar.co.uk
Halfway down Buchanan Street (just after the underground station) the pedestrian walkway meets Queen Street. Turn left and, 50 metres ahead, you will see George Square, the centre of the Georgian grid system that exists in most of the city centre. On the east side of the square sits the ornate City Chambers, home to Glasgow City Council since 1888. It’s one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. Free, 45-minute tours start at 10.30am and 2.30pm on weekdays. There is no requirement to pre-book but groups are advised to contact the duty manager (tel +44 (0)141 287 4018; glasgow.gov.uk) in advance. If you’re hungry, George Square has a branch of Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant chain, aptly named: Jamie’s Italian (jamieoliver.com; tel +44 (0)141 4042 690). The statues around the square include some of Scotland’s most renowned poets, adventurers, soldiers, scientists and politicians.
MERCHANT CITY AND GLASGOW CROSS
Leave George Square at the southeast corner and head on to Cochrane Street. Follow the road to the end and turn right on to Montrose Street, then left down Ingram Street and first right in to Candleriggs. You are now in Glasgow’s Merchant City. During the 18th and 19th centuries the area – which dates back to the medieval period – was home to Glasgow’s wealthy tobacco lords and shipping magnates. It was regenerated in the late 1990s and is now home to some of the city’s hippest pubs and clubs, and some of the finest restaurants. Glaswegians are famous for their love of Indian food and there are hundreds of excellent curry houses around. The Dhabba (44 Candleriggs; tel +44 (0)141 5531 249; thedhabba.com) is among the best. At the end of Candleriggs turn left on to the Trongate. About 100 metres ahead is the Glasgow Cross Tolbooth Steeple clock tower. Although you cannot enter the seven-storey building, it is remembered as being the site for public executions until the early 20th century.
Lastly, take a five-minute taxi ride (£4.50) to the People’s Palace in Glasgow Green – it’s only a ten-minute walk if you still have the energy. The Palace is an interactive museum that tells the story of the city from 1750 to the present day. Photos, films and paintings catalogue how Glaswegians have lived, worked and played over the years. Look out for Billy Connolly’s famous “banana boots” on the first floor. To finish your tour, unwind with a coffee in the Palace’s Winter Gardens, and enjoy the view out on to Glasgow Green, one of the oldest public spaces in the city. Open Tues-Thurs and Sat 10am-5pm, Fri and Sun 11am-5pm. Entry is free. Visit glasgowlife.org.uk