The fortunes of Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, have turned more often than most. With its days as a great shipbuilding center long over, Glasgow spent much of the latter half of the past century struggling to overcome a reputation for poverty and crime. But regeneration has gathered pace over the past few decades, helped along by its hosting of large events; most notably, this year, the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which begin on July 23, as well as the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards in September.
Whatever your reason for visiting Glasgow, here are the areas to explore.
The Clyde Waterfront
The Clyde Waterfront regeneration project has been spurred along by the promise of the Commonwealth Games. This former shipbuilding stretch of the River Clyde, which once saw the construction of the great Cunard shipping line vessels such as the QE2 and the Royal Yacht Britannia, is now home to Scotland’s new national arena at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Center and the newly built Emirates National Indoor Arena and Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, named for Scotland’s six-time Olympic cycling champion.
Not all of the development is centered around the Games, however. You will also find the Sir Norman Foster-designed, armadillo-shaped, Clyde Auditorium here, as well as the Riverside Museum, designed by Zaha Hadid and named European Museum of the Year for 2013.
Near the remnants of the medieval Glasgow Cross intersection, the area formerly called Trongate had seen considerable decline since the days it housed Glasgow’s wealthy tobacco merchants. Revitalization began in the 1980s, when the area was partially pedestrianized and renamed Merchant City. Still home to some of the city’s most important Georgian and Victorian buildings, the area is noted for its restaurants and high-end shopping. From July 24 though August 3, as part of the Commonwealth Games’ Culture 2014 program, Merchant City will be hosting the Merchant City Festival, which features art, music, and dance exhibitions, and the Vintage Festival, a celebration of throwback British culture.
In Glasgow’s City Centre you’ll find an abundance of work by one of the city’s most celebrated sons, Art Nouveau artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. His masterpiece is the Glasgow School of Art, built at the turn of the century in a dramatic design that heralded the birth of a new style in 20th century European architecture. The building was severely damaged by fire in May, 2014 and, as such, visitors are not currently allowed to access the building. However, art school student-led tours around the city visit other Mackintosh designs as well as other noted architecture and design sites across the city center. Tours cost about $17.
If you would rather explore alone, other Mackintosh attractions in the center include the Lighthouse center for design and architecture (free to enter), and the Willow Tea Rooms, where a traditional afternoon tea costs about $22. A few minutes outside of the center, you will also find the Mackintosh House inside the Hunterian Art Gallery (free to enter), Mackintosh Queen’s Cross, the only church he designed ($6.50); and House for an Art Lover, the Mackintosh-designed country retreat ($7.50).
The West End
Dominated by Glasgow University (founded in 1451), the West End has a youthful feel with a wide selection of restaurants, bars, and shopping, including numerous vintage and record stores. The Glasgow Botanic Gardens are free to enter and host a full calendar of open-air Shakespeare productions (stock up on picnic supplies at the shops along nearby Byres Road).
Opposite the 85-acre Kelvingrove Park — site of an opening ceremony party featuring a performance by Belle and Sebastian — the Baroque Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum houses one of Europe’s greatest art collections. The museum includes works by the Old Masters, French Impressionists, painters of the Dutch Renaissance, Scottish Colourists, and members of the Glasgow School of Art, as well as other highlights such as Salvador Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross. And the best part? The Kelvingrove is always free.
Where to Stay
Many hotels are fully booked over the Commonwealth games period, and the ones do have availability are charging premium rates — $550 per night at the mid-range Malmaison, for example, or $358 for the Hilton Garden Inn. One affordable but decidedly no-frills option is the recently reopened EasyHotel (from the same founders as the budget airline) in the center. The hotel still has some rooms available starting at $169, but you’ll have to pay extra if you want a television or maid service.