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Friday 31 January 2020

How Glasgow reinvented itself

I was fortunate enough to spend several days in Glasgow late last year, discovering a city of art, culture and fun with a plethora of whisky, rum and gin distilleries and breweries.

Having spent some time in Glasgow three decades ago, when it was seriously run down, I was very pleasantly surprised to find a city on the move; home to friendly folk with fire in their bellies.

With a buzzy vibe and hundreds of historic buildings, Scotland’s biggest city also has plenty of surprises for visitors with a huge range of street art to be savoured and plenty of talented buskers.

What was once a bleak industrial wasteland following the closure of shipyards and heavy industry is today a vibrant city with its own style of sass.

Glasgow is lively, cheeky and irreverent and was recently the United Kingdom’s leading cultural and creative city by the European Commission.

Glasgow is home to more than 100 cultural organisations and five of Scotland’s six internationally renowned national performing arts companies. It is also home to music venues including the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, City Halls and the Old Fruit market.

More people visit Glasgow’s museums each year than in any other UK city outside of London, with both Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the Riverside Museum attracting more than 1.3 million visits each in the last year.

Glasgow’s nine city museums are home to Europe’s largest civic arts collection, with masterpieces by Dali, Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, Whistler and Monet all on show for free in the city’s museums.

The city is also the place to come to admire the genius of architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, or a gig at the futuristic-looking SSE Hydro, which in 2018 was named the world’s best performing music venue by size.

The city is also home to the Glasgow Jazz Festival, Glasgow International Comedy Festival and the Glasgow Film Festival.

I’d advise any first-time visitor to take a hop, on-hop off bus tour of the city to gain an idea of its size. The bus stops at highlights including Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow University (for some amazing views of the city), Glasgow Cathedral, Riverside Museum, the People’s Palace and Botanic Gardens.

Glasgow is an easy city to find your way around. Built on a grid system. It is compact to navigate, either on foot or public transport. If you get lost, the friendly, sassy locals will probably engage you in chat before giving directions.

Sports lovers, meanwhile, will want to take in the atmosphere of a home game at either Celtic or Rangers, two of the most famous football clubs on the planet – and fierce rivals.
Some gourmet highlights of my visit:

Glasgow’s cuisine is a million miles away from the Irn Bru and Deep-Fried Mars bar image of a couple of decades ago. Today, Glaswegians dine out at hip modern eateries like The Gannet (below), in the city’s lively West End.

This multi-award-winning restaurant celebrate the best of Scottish produce, dictated by the rhythms of the seasons. The service here is spot on, there is a terrific wine list and diners can choose from the likes of halibut caught of the isle of Gigha served with celeriac and grains and Cairngorm red deer game sausage with beetroots and wild mushrooms.

The food tastes as good as it sounds and the chefs have close links with Scottish scallop divers, oyster growers, fishermen, smokers, farmers and game producers.

For a more traditional experience, enjoy afternoon tea in the 200-seat Mackintosh at the Willow tea rooms on Sauchiehall Street. The famous Art Nouveau tea rooms first opened in 1903 and are of huge importance to Glasgow’s architectural and cultural heritage and are the only surviving tea rooms designed by famous local architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh for local entrepreneur Miss Kate Cranston.

Think elegant finger sandwiches, including Scottish smoked salmon and cream cheese, bite-sized plain and fruit scones served with homemade jam and clotted cream; a selection traditional cakes and a choice of leaf teas and freshly brewed coffee.

Another standout, for the atmosphere as much as the food, is the old-school Hutchesons City Grill, in an ornate city dining room furnished along the lines of a hunting lodge of gentleman’s club. Marquee dishes here include roast monkfish on the bone and Cote De Boeuf, made from Scottish Highland beef.

Other top dining options include Brian Maule at Chardon d’Or, Ox and Finch, Number 16 and Cail Bruich.

Serious coffee lovers will want to check out one of the Single End outlets, or Spitfire Espresso, while the SWG3 arts complex is the latesthub of creativity, live entertainment and partying .

The Clydeside Distillery (below), in an old pump house on the banks of the River Clyde, is one of Glasgow’s newest attractions; offering distillery tours, comparative tastings and lunches. The facility is Glasgow’s first single-malt distillery in over 100 years.

Also check out the Wester Distillery in the West End suburb of Partick for a tour, tasting and cocktail class and make an appointment to sample the gins and vodkas at the Glasgow Distillery in the outer suburb of Hillingdon. Try the Makar Glasgow Gin, the city’s first.

The Tennent’s Heritage Centre offers a journey through the colourful history of Scotland’s favourite beer, tracing the history of Tennent’s Lager from the 1556 to the present day. A fascinating insight into both Scottish history and culture.

Craft beers are also popular, Check out Brew Dog, West and the Drygate Brewing Company.

At night, pop into the Ben Nevis bar for a whisky tasting and some live music.

# The writer was a guest of Glasgow Life and the Moxy Hotel Merchant City. 

The Moxy Hotel Merchant City is just a short stroll from the city centre and is a busy area known for its many eateries, student bars, art galleries and coffee shops.

The funky Moxy is part of the Marriott group and is just a short walk from both Glasgow Cathedral and the landmark George Square.

There is a casual vibe with friendly staff and the rooms feature complimentary wifi, flat-screen TVs and tea- and coffee-making facilities.

Amenities include an industrial-chic 24-hour cafe/bar with a lively vibe, a lounge and a fitness centre. Prices start from around $80 per night but rise steeply in peak periods, so it pays to book in advance.

210 High Street Glasgow G4 OQW. +44 141 846 0256.

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in Ciao Magazine.

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