The train ride to Glasgow from Edinburgh is just under an hour, so even if you don’t plan on going to Glasgow while in Scotland, there really is no excuse not to fit it in. Glasgow has a very different vibe from Edinburgh, making it well worth the visit. It’s a city known for its shopping and artistic side, with major gang violence being a blight of the past.
Due to a logistical error on my part (whoops), Clayton and I found that we wouldn’t be able to check in to our AirBNB until 5 o’clock on the day of our arrival. Thus we found ourselves laden with luggage at Glasgow Central Train Station at 10am the morning of October 2. Luckily, most major train stations have a location where you can leave luggage for a fee, and we set about planning our surprise day in the city. Usually we spend our first evening somewhere planning out our itinerary. This may seem last minute, but being so on-the-go means we don’t have a ton of time to plan things out in a lot of detail far in advance. We like to go with the flow, and this day was the very definition of it. We snuck some coffee shop WiFi in and quickly planned out some sites to see.
Our first stop was The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture. It’s open to the public, with a viewing platform looking out over the city. We’d heard Glasgow had an artsy vibe, but we didn’t expect to be thrown into it so heartily. We walked through some public exhibitions, trying to understand what we were seeing. One exhibit was focused on sustainable materials, and was a sort of physical dictionary of all sorts of wood, metals, textiles, etc. We were the only ones there, and although we felt like we were trespassing, it was indeed for all to explore. We found an elevator to the viewing platform (passing a giant pair of inflatable lips – art?) and stepped out into a glass enclosure several floors up. There was a group of young art students, and a man playing a piano that was up there. He contributed a lovely soundtrack to our panoramic viewing. We did see an even higher tower, however, and realized that we were on the wrong viewing platform. More exploring led us to another art exhibition and the entrance to the higher tower. I’d really like to explain the art I was seeing, but I’m not sure I can. There were some incredible hats, complicated looking chairs which may have been art installations or for us to sit in (we weren’t sure), and numerous architectural drawings. However, the tower takes the cake. A wood-and-wire spiral staircase led up and up, while flashing lights and whinny, futuristic sound was projected through the center of the tower as part of the art installation.
It was pretty trippy, and a large notice was posted warning that anyone with vertigo should not attempt the climb. I left Clayton at the bottom and braved the long climb to the top. It was very disorienting, and frankly, disturbing, but the view from the top was worth it. Glasgow stretched out for miles in all directions, with craggy mountains framing the sky beyond. A multitude of Victorian structures stood up with a smattering of modern, chic looking buildings. In the center of it all, the side of a building was covered with a large pink sign with the words “People Make Glasgow”, which was quite endearing. There were signs on the railing that I thought would tell me what I was looking at, but they were evidently still part of the art installation and had random quotes from things like The Two Towers or landscapes from different cities etched on them. Clearly this was art for a different sort, as I had no idea what was going on.
Back down on solid ground, Clayton and I left the Lighthouse and found ourselves on the “Style Mile”, a collection of long, mainly pedestrian stretches in central Glasgow famous for shopping. The nickname mimics that of the Royal Mile of Edinburgh. It was essentially an outdoor mall, with many high-end shops and people scurrying to and fro with shopping bags. We did stumble upon some famous blue police boxes, however, and made sure to have scarves out for a picture!
We soon arrived at George Square, Glasgow’s city centre. It’s a large, open square with towering statues of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott among others. On this particular day it also contained a lone bagpipes player and a metric abomination of pigeons. Being in so many European cities, we have seen our fair share of them and I must admit, I have a soft spot for the goofy creatures. Although some people dismiss them as flying rats, it’s hard to hate a bird that looks like it’s getting motion sickness from walking. On a kinder note, they also have incredible colors and patterns in their feathers. Clayton says they only just seem able to fly, and as they catapult themselves into the air with the sonorous flapping of wings you can almost hear the “OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD AHHHHH” emanating from their feather brains.
But I digress.
After a lingering lunch, we collected our luggage from the station and traveled across town to check in to our AirBNB, an apartment in a repurposed church right across from Queen’s Park in the south of Glasgow. From the outside, it still looked exactly like a church, right down to the red brick walls and belltower. Inside, the apartment was spacious, with vaulted ceilings and exposed wooden beams cutting through the kitchen. Our host left us to ourselves, and we enjoyed cooking in a kitchen without approximately 200 other people and sleeping without a soundtrack of snores. It was bliss!
We spent our lazy days in Glasgow cooking, planning our next few weeks, and occasionally getting out to see some sights in the city. Queen’s Park was larger than we imagined, and we spent one evening hunting for mushrooms and enjoying the views from the top of a hill. A sign pointed towards some Iron Age ruins, but we didn’t manage to find them, try as we might, unless the boulders we saw were in fact what we were looking for. One rainy afternoon when we were feeling more adventurous, we went out to see the Tenement House. Located in a 19th century building, this flat was owned by Ms. Agnes Toward from 1911 to 1965, and she kept it exactly the same for decades. When she died, it was passed into the National Trust, which now maintains it as a museum. Stepping through the front door is like stepping back in time, right down to the newspaper clippings and pervasive smell of gas being used to light the lamps. I almost felt like I was trespassing. Everything looked so lived in – even the hairbrush looked like it was just set down. It really brought history alive like nothing else. Clayton and I particularly like the beds in closets. They looked incredibly cozy, especially the one in the kitchen!
We also got to try out some tea rooms in Glasgow, one of them being the famous Willow Tea Room on Sauchiehall Street. Several tea rooms in the city were designed by Charles Mackintosh, and this one opened in 1903. Mackintosh was renowned for the Art Nouveau style, and the tea room reflects that. Art Nouveau is a style that reflects natural forms, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers. It’s a very distinct style, and I think it’s underappreciated. The work of Alphonse Mucha, one of my favorite artists, is perhaps the most well-known of the style. Mackintosh definitely left his mark on Glasgow, however, and we were glad to have a fancy afternoon tea in the famous tea room. There is something inherently elegant about a three-tiered tea.
In short, Glasgow has a very different flavor than Edinburgh or even any other city we’ve been to thus far. It’s well worth a visit, and we didn’t even begin to cover all the tourist attractions that are there. It’s a city of art and culture, and perhaps more reflective of a bustling Scottish metropolis than the touristy Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Still, both have their unique charms and a special place in our hearts.