The leafier half of Scotland’s biggest city offers a unique shopping and cultural experience, with plenty of classic 19th century architecture, writes David Whitley
Mackintosh, the arts and parks: Glasgow has a West End to rival London
Why Glasgow’s West End?
The West End is divided from the city centre not just physically – there’s a honking great motorway cutting the two into halves – but in mindset as well. The West End has long been wealthier, greener and more fashionable. It has clusters of magnificent Georgian and Victorian buildings, swaths of parkland and a considerable student influence, courtesy of the university.
But the traditional, trendy West End has expanded in recent years, due to the boom in neighbouring Finnieston. Once rather sad and empty, Finnieston has mushroomed with cafés and restaurants and is now the go-to place for Glaswegians heading for a night out. Going west is no longer done with nose slightly in the air.
A comfortable bed
By far the most characterful hotel choice in the West End is the Hotel du Vin, which spreads maze-like across a series of heavily wood-panelled townhouses. Open fires, stained-glass windows and book-filled nooks and crannies give it an eccentric country house feel. Doubles cost from £119 (Dh551).
A few buildings further east along the Western Terrace, the Belhaven Hotel goes for the same converted townhouses shtick, although without the opulence. It’s more a three-star guest house than luxury hotel – but there are high, stucco-lined ceilings and big drape curtains to add a touch of gloss to the slightly cheap-feeling furniture. Ensuite rooms cost from £82 (Dh380), including breakfast.
At the top of Byres Road, the Hilton Glasgow Grosvenor has the best location albeit with calculatingly bland rooms that it’s hard to pick fault or character in. Doubles start at £89 (Dh413).
Find your feet
Most of the West End’s goodies are found around the Glasgow University campus, where grand 19th-century buildings tuck away a host of little museums. These include the Hunterian Art Gallery, which hosts a strong collection of Charles Rennie Mackintosh watercolours.
For Mackintosh lovers, though, the highlight is Mackintosh House, a reconstruction of the house where he once lived. Inside, the fixtures have been retained and it has been filled with Mackintosh-designed furniture. Visits are by guided tour only.
The star of the campus, however, is the Hunterian Museum which hosts the collection of polymath William Hunter inside an awe-inspiring wooden-roofed hall. Hunter was quite the collector, and the displays flit from mastodon teeth to fantastical 17th-century maps via Polynesian fish hooks and body parts in jars.
From there, head into the leafy, hilly and dreamy Kelvingrove Park to decompress.
Meet the locals
It’s not often you can play at an international sporting venue for free, but the Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre inside Kelvingrove Park allows amateurs to rock up, have a go and play barefoot if they so desire. It hosted the bowls competition in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Most participants, it’s fair to say, are not up to that standard. But there are also six artificial grass tennis courts the public can play on.
Book a table
Newly opened in a converted pharmacy, the Drugstore Social plays to its roots by listing the health benefits of the key ingredients it uses. It also does a nice line in foraged herbs, plants and mushrooms, while using distinctively Scottish ingredients where possible. The £7.95 (Dh37) shredded pheasant gamekeeper’s pie is excellent.
The Porter and Rye is one of a series of small, highly individual joints on Argyle Street in Finnieston, and it is unashamedly beef-heavy. There are several massive cuts designed to be shared between two, but there’s a 10oz rump steak for £19.95 (Dh93) if you want to go it alone.
Byres Road has traditionally been the West End’s most energetic street, and there’s plenty of shopping along it. Among the more interesting options is Papyrus which straddles stationery and giftware. That means everything from beard maintenance kits to board games.
Just off Byres Road, and tucked down an unpromising laneway, is the Ruthven Mews Arcade. Here, a collection of ramshackle, unpolished antique shops and galleries gather. There’s a borderline flea market feel, but there are some treasures to be found in there.
What to avoid
Going for a walk along the River Clyde might seem like a nice idea, but sadly the big constructions there – the Riverside Museum, conference centre and Hydro entertainment centre have not been threaded together with pedestrian pathways.
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is arguably the finest in Scotland, largely because it is presented so engagingly. It’s evenly divided into art and museum sides, with the highlights of the former being the dangling heads with varying facial expressions hanging from the ceiling and the section delving into Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s architectural influence on the city. The other side has dinosaurs and big stuffed elephants, but it’s most interesting when looking at the people of Glasgow and their stories (including an unexpected passion for country music).
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