One of the discoveries of my summer trip to the UK was the city of Glasgow. I’ve spent time in Edinburgh, walking its cobblestone streets, wafting through its museums, and enjoying the Tattoo, the impressive (and impressively percussive) celebration that takes place in the brooding, picturesque locale of Edinburgh Castle; however, I’ve never been to Glasgow.
The city offers wonderful museums, great vintage shops, and picturesque parks, as well as a long and fascinating industrial history. It is also famous for the work of architect and design innovator Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Sadly, I arrived not long after the Mackintosh building at the Glasgow School of Art had been destroyed, though I did get to see lots of Mackintosh architecture and designs by visiting the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and the Scotland Street School Museum. The latter was designed by Mackintosh and offers fascinating insights into past school life in Glasgow, such as the Home Economics classroom with its rows of bowls and rolling pins and pictures of students—all girls—preparing meals.
I enjoyed riding the historic subway—supposedly the third oldest in the world—whose trains are bright orange and traveling through the small, modern stations. Speaking of transit, Glasgow has one of the best transit museums I’ve ever seen—and it’s free (music to my budget-conscious heart). The museum is called the Riverside Museum, a futuristic-looking building next to the River Clyde, and it contains everything from bikes and autos to buses, trams, and trains. There were also displays of life in Glasgow, from movie-going to children’s toys. Docked outside is a Tall Ship—the Glenlee.
The city is full of vintage shops, perhaps evidence of the thrifty nature of Glaswegians or an interest in sartorial reducing, reusing, and recycling. I stopped at one and bought a Mary Quant scarf (with Quant’s trademark daisy) and a pretty silk scarf for just a couple of pounds, plus a clever piece of costume jewelry: wooden beads painted with black and gold paint to look like fancy glass beads. The sales staff were indicative, only more so, of UK retail workers who, I noticed, do not approach one at one’s entrance to a store and hover, asking if one needs help, but instead let one wander about at will. The sales staff in this vintage shop were particularly good at letting me alone, only seeming to notice that I existed when I appeared at the till, pound notes in hand.
Perhaps in connection with such thriftiness or the eco-consciousness that seems to suffuse so much of everyday life in the UK, I noted with interest, while examining the listings of several real estate offices, that information on as energy efficiency and even the carbon output of each particular rental were showcased along with the usual information of size, location, and price.
Notable too were the wide variety of restaurants, from simple cafés to more elaborate affairs. The Willow Tea Rooms, designed by Mackintosh, are famous, but the crush of people, probably largely tourists given the season, made me unwilling to venture inside. Instead, I sought out the Saramago café at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, where I found good, filling food for very little money. I also visited a restaurant called The Two Figs on Byres Road that was similarly stomach-satisfying at a very reasonable price. Afterwards, I strolled through the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, enjoying the bright flowers, shady trees, and the lovely old greenhouses, some of which might date back to the garden’s opening in 1842.
I was really impressed by Glasgow: it’s a city with a rich sense of tradition, but also a place that seems to value innovation and embrace the social, economic, and environmental changes of this century. It’s a place full of the kind of history and culture that make other cities in the UK great destinations, but it certainly has its own flavor, and accommodations and attractions in Glasgow don’t come with the high price tag found in so many other UK cities. I can’t wait to go back.