A Day in Glasgow

February 14, 2012 by

Art & Museums, Europe, Food, Drink & Travel, Suggested Itineraries

Everyone raves about Scotland’s alternative capital, Glasgow – its down-to-earth locals, grand civic buildings from the days of the British Empire and tucked-away inner-city squares and gardens. Let’s put this city on the Clyde to the test and see what it has to offer during a day out on the town.


We’ve put on our shiniest walking shoes to explore the Merchant City – better still, we might buy a brand-new pair while we’re walking through this revamped district of shops and restaurants. Just entering Merchant City is a grandiose affair, as we walk under grand classical archways east of Buchanan Street. The imposing city chambers, former Royal Exchange (now the Gallery of Modern Art – pop inside to see the latest installation of kinetic sculptures), Robert Adam’s Trades Hall, the statue-bedecked Italian Centre – this affluent area makes surrounding parts of Glasgow look decidedly shabby.

Glasgow School of Art

Glasgow School of Art - photo courtesy of Steve Cadman via Flickr

The Glasgow School of Art restores our faith in Glasgow’s glory. To get to this Art Nouveau masterpiece by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, we first head west up Sauchiehall Street to Number 217 and stop off for tea and cakes at the Willow Tea Rooms.

Feeling sustained and relaxed by the café’s cool white interior of purple and white stripes, we continue up Sauchiehall to the art school at 167 Renfrew Street. We’ve timed our visit for the morning tour of the buildings and their Mackintosh-designed furnishings. The tour is led by the students who study here, so the feeling of visiting a living and breathing youthful institution is quite thrilling. It almost makes me wish I could start over again and relive those student years. Almost.


After grabbing a bite to eat at a high street sandwich bar, we jump on a city bus heading east to visit Glasgow’s historic cathedral precinct. Some of the city’s oldest buildings are preserved here, most famously the quaint stone house called Provand’s Lordship opposite the cathedral. It was built back in 1471, and Mary Queen of Scots and several King Jameses have been said to have visited. It’s closed when we pop our heads in, but we peer into the rear of the property to glimpse the medieval-themed herb garden and a ginger cat washing its whiskers.

Provand's Lordship

Provand's Lordship - photo courtesy of LordHorst via Flickr

Then it’s into the cathedral, the only Scottish cathedral on the mainland to have survived the Reformation intact. We visit St Mungo’s Tomb, which is surrounded by sturdy squat pillars in the 13th-century lower church, then return upstairs to admire the cathedral’s timber roof and stone choir screen, a real rarity apparently. It’s interesting reading the plaques lining the cathedral’s walls, tracing the lives of former Glaswegians who led imperial troops to battle in colonial India, South Africa and the Crimea.

More gravestones lie at an angle in the churchyard outside, but for the mother lode of tombs and memorials we take a walk up to the hilltop Necropolis overlooking the cathedral. It’s like a treeless Highgate Cemetery, with crumbling but still grandiose Victorian-era crypts built into the rock and lines of impressive monuments to famous Glaswegians from the past. There’s a monument on a column to Scottish Protestant John Knox, and poignant epitaphs for the too-brief lives of children amongst the carved stone memorials.

As it’s summer, and the sun doesn’t go down till after 10pm, we’ve still got time to visit one of Glasgow’s highest-scoring gems, the Burrell Collection. The bus takes us through Glasgow’s inner-southern suburbs, past local shops, streets of terrace houses and public parks. The thing that astounds us about the Burrell Collection is its eclectic exhibits – there’s everything here from reconstructed doorways from Romanesque castles, paintings of ballerinas by Degas, Restoration-era needlework and Georgian glassware to Chinese sculptures, ancient Egyptian funerary figures and stained-glass windows from long-gone European churches.

Burrell Collection

Burrell Collection - photo courtesy of dalbera via Flickr

The collection of Sir William Burrell is housed in a specially constructed gallery in Pollok Country Park, where auburn-furred highland cattle graze in paddocks shaded by oak trees. We found it well worth detouring along a country lane to nearby Pollok House, a Georgian mansion with clipped lawns overlooking a tumbling stream. There’s more art inside this imposing grey-stone manor, including paintings by El Greco, Goya and Murillo, but we enjoyed the surrounding park and gardens where local families come to picnic and walk their dogs on these long summer evenings.


We’ve admired the looming classical columns and arches of the Merchant City by day, but come nightfall the area morphs into a night-time hub of restaurants and bars. We’ve booked into the Italian Café on Albion Street in the Merchant City, an authentic enoteca style restaurant serving a must-share tasting menu of tapas-like nibbles such as creamy mozzarella and basil-infused tomatoes, mushroom penne and marinated artichokes.

Fully refueled, we’re off to end our long day in Glasgow at Arta with some Spanish-style salsa dancing in the Mediterranean-themed Hacienda Bar, staying refreshed with fruity sangria and sparkling cava wine.

– Janet Austin

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