What to do in Glasgow and Beyond

Liz Tanner

Glasgow is a fun and lively city. Most of the architecture is 1850s or later as the medieval city has been almost totally rebuilt. In the 19th Century it was considered the Second City of the British Empire” after London. At that time 1/3 or 1/5 by tonnage of the world’s ships were “Glasgow Built”.  

Glaswegians believe style is essential. Edinburgh is the legal and administrative capital of Scotland, Glaswegians believe that Glasgow is the capital for all other functions. BBC Scotland and Scottish TV both have their headquarters in Glasgow and are opposite the SEC conference centre. There are three universities in Glasgow, University of Glasgow (founded 1451, fourth oldest university in the English speaking world), Strathclyde University and Glasgow Caledonian, plus the Glasgow School of Art and the Royal  Conservatoire  of Scotland, covering music, drama and the arts. So lots of student life and activities.

Glasgow

Architecture – the two most famous Glasgow architects are Charles Rennie Macintosh and Alexander “Greek” Thomson.

Charles Rennie Macintosh and his wife Margaret MacDonald Macintosh were leading exponents of the Glasgow Style of Art Nouveau. Charles Rennie Macintosh is most famous for the Glasgow School of Art, which sadly has suffered two major fires in recent years so will still be under repair during WBC2020. However, there are a range of other Macintosh buildings to see.

Macintosh House was the home of Charles Rennie Macintosh and his wife Margaret from 1906 to 1914 and is at the University of Glasgow.

He was responsible for other buildings which can be visited including The Hill House at Helensburgh is ¾ hour from Glasgow by train and usually open from late morning.

Queen’s Cross Church is THE centre for Macintosh fans and is the headquarters of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society. It is ¼ hour by car/bike or 40 minute walk from SEC.

Since his death A House for an Art Lover has been built from his designs and the building is ¼ hour by car/bike or 40 minute walk from SEC. Open 10.00-17.00.

You can also download files for walking tours (typically 1.5 hours) of Glasgow architects and buildings here. 

And take tea at the Willow Tea Rooms – see later

Alexander “Greek” Thomson never went to Greece, but was influenced by the architecture he saw in books to produce a style known as Graeco-Egyptian. He is responsible for a range of houses and terraces throughout Glasgow and these include Holmwood House which open to the public

Art – Glasgow has an excellent selection of art galleries. The Burrell Collection is currently undergoing a major refurbishment at the moment, but is due to re-open in “Spring 2021”.

However, there is there are many other museums and art galleries, usually open from 10 or 11am to 5pm every day, a few are closed on Mondays. Public museums have free entry for their general collections although most will also have at least one “Special Exhibition” on with an entry charge. 

Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery 5 minutes by bike, 10 minutes by car or 15 minutes by foot. It is the most visited Museum in the UK outside London and has an excellent art collection including Salvador Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross as well as French Impressionists, Glasgow School and the Scottish Colourists, plus Scottish Natural History and Scottish Decorative arts, arms and armoury etc.

And then another a 5 minute walk on is the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery (closed on Mondays). The oldest public museum/art gallery in Scotland covering from Anatomy to Zoology, with over the road, the Hunterian Art Gallery with the largest collection of McNeil Whistler’s paintings outside America. Also home to the Macintosh House (see above).

Museum of Modern Art, fabulous building and if you’re in a hotel in the centre of the city you are probably going to walk past it.

Plus a few more I’ve probably forgotten.

Religious Buildings

Glasgow Cathedral 20 minutes by bike, 15 minutes by car or 50 minutes by foot. It is the Church of Scotland main church in Glasgow. It was started in 1136 and consecrated in 1197 so is one of the very few remaining medieval buildings in Glasgow. Beside the Cathedral is St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Art and the hill behind it has the Necropolis. While it may sound odd to suggest a cemetery as a site to visit, this is one of the great Victorian cemeteries with the most amazing memorials.

In addition there are Episcopalian, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Cathedrals and a huge number of other churches covering all denominations of Christianity. As far as I have been able to work out in the 19th Century in Glasgow if one denomination built a church at least one other denomination would build one within 2 minutes walk. You will find corners and streets with two or three churches gathered together. Additionally being an international city virtually all the world religions have places to worship in Glasgow.

Comedy – Glaswegians enjoy “the craic” and Glasgow is the birth place of Billy Connolly. There are at least three Comedy Clubs the nearest being about a 2 minute walk from the SEC.

Music - Glasgow is UNESCO’s first “City of Music”. Almost any option of music is available. The World Bagpipe Championships take place in August each year. WBC2020 take place in the SEC, but it seems likely during WBC2020 that there will be an evening concert or two of some variety in the SEE Hydro about a 2 minute walk from the SEC. Most bands doing a tour include Glasgow in their itinerary.

Currently the only concert I can see listed for listed for SEE Hydro during WBC2020 is “5 Seconds of Summer” from Australia on 20th May. For listings please check the SSE Hydro Events page.   

The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall is in the Buchanan Shopping Centre and has a series of events. You can search for events during WBC2020 here.

There are various theatres in Glasgow including King’s Theatre, Theatre Royal, The Citizen’s Theatre and the Tron. Events in Glasgow can be found here.

Pubs and Inns – There are many in Glasgow of every size and style, just walk along any street, you’ll find some.

Restaurants – Also many at every price range. While there are no Michelin starred restaurants, the best ones are very close. Near the SEC you will find a range in Finneston and into the centre of Glasgow, also the West End. The styles include Scottish making use of meat and fish etc from Scotland and will include “haggis, neeps and tatties”. The usual range of different nationalities are represented but include fusion between Indian and Scottish giving curried haggis or venison curries. The Italians are also represented by excellent ice cream parlours such as Nardini’s. Tea can be taken in Miss Cranston’s Willow Tea Rooms in Sauchihall Street decorated by Charles Rennie Macintosh or at Buchanan Street. A “fish supper” can be got at any “Chippie” and is two pieces of deep fried fish and chips. It is rumoured that it is possible to have a deep fried Mars bar – calorie content not known precisely, but is generally believed to approach 1000.

Sport – The Scottish Football team play at Hampden Park, athletics are at Scotstoun Stadium and cycling at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, with bowling at Kelvingrove Park. Glasgow hosted the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Golf and curling (probably) were invented in Scotland. The best curling stones came from the island of Ailsa Craig off the Ayrshire coast.

Golf – There are over 550 golf clubs in Scotland ranging in fame from “The Old Course” at St Andrews (less than 2.5 hours from Glasgow by train), via Turnberry, to the courses on the outer islands and in the middle of cities. The most westerly course is on Barra (1.25 hour from Glasgow by plane, land on the beach airstrip, so only at low tide, yes I did say land at low tide only) and day membership is currently £10. The most northerly is in the Shetland Isles (1.5 hour from Glasgow by plane). In Glasgow there are multiple golf courses, the City Council alone runs six and then there is a huge number of private one and the costs will be much less than you might expect.

Outside Glasgow

The whole of Scotland awaits you. As I write this Scotland has won yet more travel awards.

Cities – Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are next three biggest cities in Scotland after Glasgow.

Edinburgh – is less than 80 km from Glasgow. Capital of Scotland, so all you would expect from a capital city: art galleries (National Gallery of Scotland, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), museums (National Museum of Scotland, Museum of Edinburgh), shops, universities, a castle (Edinburgh Castle), a palace (Holyrood Palace), the Scottish Parliament building etc. Trains basically shuttle between the two cities, every 15 minutes taking about ¾ hour. So great and very easy day (or part day) out.

Dundee – famous for the “Three Js”. Jute fabric (the last Jute factory stopped processing jute in the 1970s, but Verdant Works can be visited), Jam is Keiller's marmalade and Journalism is D C Thomson publishers of newspapers but more famously “The Beano” and “The Dandy” comics. About 1.5 hours by train.

Aberdeen – oil city with an ancient university (founded 1495). About 2.5 hours by train.

What to do – You can stay in the most luxurious castle hotels waited on “hand and foot” through to basic B&Bs with anything between. There are Lochside hotels beside sea or freshwater lochs. There are ones in the hills for walkers. There are city hotels from the world wide chains to the family run. You could wake up to see deer in the gardens, dolphins out at sea or eagles flying.

You can climb some “hills” but please make sure you bring good boots, warm clothes and waterproofs and then take a proper map and compass (Google Maps can get you lost on the hills and it can RAIN and blow on the Scottish hills even in May).

You can go salmon or trout fishing on one of the world’s great fishing rivers with a gillie to look after you, to getting a day pass on a little river.

You can take boat trips to see seals, sit at a lochside and watch ospreys and sea eagles, go to the islands to see Golden eagles etc (found out more here) with 52 bird reservations in Scotland. Scotland has its own “big five” of red squirrel, red deer, golden eagle, otter and harbour seal.

For the geology minded, you will find some of the oldest rocks in the world. The two UNESCO Geoparks are North West Highlands and the Shetlands. The Lochaber geopark includes the village of Strontian where strontium was first mined and Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland.

https://www.nwhgeopark.com

https://www.shetlandamenity.org/geopark-shetland

https://lochabergeopark.org.uk

Train trips – regularly one of “the 10 best railway journeys in the world” is the Fort William to Mallaig on the West Highland Line going over the “Harry Potter Viaduct” with some journeys by steam train. From Mallaig you can take a ferry “over the sea to Skye”. You get to many places on the Scottish mainland by train (www.scotrail.co.uk) and almost every journey through Scotland is scenic.

Ferries – CalMac (in full Caledonian MacBrayne ferries www.calmac.co.uk) run the ferries to the western islands of Scotland, check out their map to see where you can go. Take a car, a bike or just go by foot.

Castles – there are many castles in Scotland ranging from the massive and grand with paintings by the great masters and famous owners (e.g., Castle of Mey (the late Queen Mother), Drumlanrig (Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry), Dunrobin (Countess of Sutherland), Dumfries House (Prince of Wales), Inveraray Castle (Duke of Argyll)) to the smaller castles with the Head of the Clan living and the treasures of the clan on display (e.g. Dunvegan Castle (the MacLeod of MacLeod) on Skye) and then the ruined – too many to mention. And there are the castles converted into luxurious hotels. 

Highland Games start in late May and run through the summer. Tossing the Caber, Throwing the Hammer and various athletics events, Highland Dancing and single Piper and Pipe Band competitions. If you want to see men in kilts there will be plenty including the competitors. 17th May 2020 has the Gordon Castle Highland Games, while the week-end of 23-24 May has the Atholl Gathering and Highland Games at Blair Atholl (2 hours by train), plus potentially West Lothian Highland Games at Bathgate (3/4 hours by train) and Carmunnock Highland Games at Carmunnock (25 minutes by bus).

Hills – Scotland has a series of mountain ranges, generally known as “The Hills”. The 282 Munro peaks are those over 3000 ft (914m) which may not sound high, but if you climb you are likely to start at <100m. The highest mountain in Scotland is Ben Nevis at 1,345 metres (4,411 ft) which can be walked in a day, but note that even in the summer Ben Nevis is covered in fog/mist about half the time. The nearest Munro to Glasgow is Ben Lomond which will take 5-6 hours to climb as you start beside the loch so about 10m above sea level and ascend to 3,196 ft (974 m). Please note: make sure you bring good boots, warm clothes and waterproofs and then take a proper map (e.g Ordnance Survey) and compass (Google Maps can get you lost on the hills and it can RAIN). By the time you get to the top and a wind is blowing it will be cold even on the hottest summer day. There is permanent snow cover in places. There are 5 ski resorts in Scotland, but you are unlikely to be able to ski in May.

Sailing – the west coast of Scotland is said to be some of the best coastal sailing in the world, islands, bays, sea lochs (fjords), etc.

Seaplane – based on Loch Lomond so about ¾ hour car trip from Glasgow and they run trips out to the west for sightseeing flying at about 2,000ft so great views. www.lochlomondseaplanes.com

Whisky (please note whiskey comes from elsewhere) there are over 120 active distilleries at the moment many of which run tours (including a “wee dram”). Malt whisky distillation is divided into 5 areas: Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside. One of the newest is Clydebank, a 5 minute walk from the SEC. The island of Islay has 8 distilleries alone, so take a ferry and you’ll need transport around the island. The highest distillery open to the public is Dalwhinnie (1,154ft or 350m) and  10 minute walk from the train station. Speyside along the River Spey covers about 50 distilleries and has the highest concentration of distilleries with nearly half open to the public.

These are my thoughts after 11 years living in Scotland. I’ve had many visitors to Scotland and travelled over many parts. I’ve stayed in hotels and B&Bs; I’ve been on trips; I’ve been to distilleries, done the tours and tasted the whisky; I’ve had earring buying disrupted by the sight of an eagle flying above the shop on Skye; I’ve walked the low (but not the high) hills of Scotland; I’ve travelled the North Coast route and seen dolphins swimming near John O’Groats; I’ve seen osprey feeding their young above the River Spey; I’ve watched Highland Games and I’ve seen the Moine Trust the first place where geologists described continents colliding; I’ve toured grand castles with amazing art work and photographed ruined castles; I’ve seen deer leaping across the road behind my car. Scotland is an amazing country to tour before or after the conference. And Hamish (@HamishtheCow) would like you to visit his live cousins, the highland cow.

HOWEVER, these thoughts are not approved by any tourist board and the accuracy is not guaranteed. The links worked when I wrote it. Any complaints will come to me! All photos by me.

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Liz Tanner