x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

My Kind of Place: Glasgow on the fast track to cultural hotspot

Often overshadowed by Edinburgh, Scotland's largest city offers lively restaurants and a steady stream of cultural events.

Glasgow is home to some of Scotland's best museums, including the Gallery of Modern Art. Courtesy of SeeGlasgow.com
Glasgow is home to some of Scotland's best museums, including the Gallery of Modern Art. Courtesy of SeeGlasgow.com

Why Glasgow?

When compared to Edinburgh, sometimes Glasgow appears as the ugly sister of Scotland's major cities. Although it's not the capital, Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland, and those who are willing to do a little digging often say it has the edge over its comparatively unwelcoming eastern rival.

A former industrial powerhouse, Glasgow was the British Empire's second city. The now quiet River Clyde was one of the world's foremost shipbuilding arenas, and with those huge profits came staggering Victorian architecture, much of which still stands today.

Added to that are three universities, the country's best museums (almost all of which are free to enter) and one of the most lively music scenes in Europe. Yet perhaps the city's biggest attraction is the gregarious Glaswegians themselves, whose combination of determination, hilarious turn of phrase and occasional hot temper are depicted on the world stage by three of its most famous sons: Sir Alex Ferguson, Billy Connolly and Gordon Ramsay.

A comfortable bed

For a city of a million people, there aren't many five-star hotels, but One Devonshire Gardens (www.hotelduvin.com/hotels/glasgow) has a stellar, Scotland-wide reputation for excellence, has a fantastic location and hosts a wonderful restaurant. Doubles start from £165 (Dh950). Blythswood Square (www.townhousecompany.com/blythswoodsquare) is a calm spot in the heart of the action. Rooms there start from £199 (Dh 1150).

Find your feet

Unbeknown to many, Glasgow has its own underground train system. Known by some as the Clockwork Orange (though few locals refer to it as such) because of its circular route and the bright colour of its carriages, the system has been around since 1896, making it the third oldest in the world. Trains run in both directions every few minutes all day (www.spt.co.uk).

Conveniently, the metro links the bustling city centre with the arty west end of the city, but if you prefer to stay overground and see more of Glasgow, open-top bus tours provide hop-on, hop-off tickets (www.citysightseeingglasgow.co.uk).

Meet the locals

Unlike in so many other modern cities, locals will talk to you given half the chance. To get a real sense of the Glasgow of old, head to the Barras Market (www.glasgow-barrowland.com), held on the eastern edge of the city centre every Saturday and Sunday. Locals have been trading their wares since the 1920s, and are never short of a quick line to entice potential customers.

For a more refined experience, head to the West End and to Ashton Lane, a wee cobbled street that's home to some of the city's liveliest restaurants and bars. The ever-popular Ubiquitous Chip is one of the trendiest spots in Glasgow, and it serves some of its best food.

Book a table

Since Gordon Ramsay's Glaswegian venture failed in 2004, the city has been without a Michelin-starred restaurant. However, knocking on the French judges' doors is the Ayrshire-born chef Brian Maule at Chardon d'Or (www.brianmaule.com). Using French techniques taught to him by the likes of Michel Roux, Maule shows off the best Scottish produce to his diners. Look out for the fried scallops with pesto dressing (£12.95; Dh75).

If you're looking for something with a stronger Scottish focus, try Stravaigin (www.stravaigin.co.uk), also in the city centre. As well as serving pigeon and locally sourced mussels, they also have an excellent fish and chips (£9.95; Dh57) and the Scottish national dish, haggis, neeps (turnip) and tatties (potatoes) (£8.95; Dh 52).

Shopper's paradise

Most international chains can be found along the huge pedestrianised avenues of Sauchiehall Street, Buchanan Street and Argyle Street, all of which intersect each other. For bespoke boutiques and independent designers, head to the Merchant City (www.merchantcityglasgow.com), a comparatively quiet haven on the east side of the city centre.

What to avoid

Beyond the Merchant City, the east end of the city centre is in need of rejuvenation and offers little for tourists other than the Barras Market (above). Also, if talking to a local, it's best to avoid admitting a preference of either Rangers or Celtic, Glasgow's ever-squabbling rival football clubs.

Don't miss

Edinburgh seems to save all its arts and culture for the fraught month of the Edinburgh Festival, but Glasgow has something going on every night of the week, all year long. There are few, in any, cities in Britain that rival the Dear Green Place (the approximate translation of "Glasgow" from old Gaelic) for live music, with everyone from newly formed acts to mega stadium fillers rocking venues across the city.

For a uniquely Glaswegian experience, visit The Arches (www.thearches.co.uk) a dark, dingey and atmospheric venue built under Glasgow Central train station, or the booming 100 year old Barrowlands (www.glasgow-barrowland.com) at the end of Argyle Street. The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (www.secc.co.uk) by the riverside is where you'll find the globally renowned acts once they've hit the top, but if you want to try and catch the next big thing on their way up, head to King Tut's Wah Wah Hut (www.kingtuts.co.uk) - a small place that's helped launch the careers of Radiohead, Snow Patrol and Oasis to name a few.

Go there

Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) flies to Glasgow via Manchester from Dh3,570 return including taxes. Emirates (www.emirates.com) flies direct from Dubai to Glasgow from Dh4,570 return including taxes.