With a fusion of students and thriving arts scene, Scotland’s biggest city is also its most fun
“I was once served a pint by one of the lads from Teenage Fanclub. And the bassist from Franz Ferdinand.” So claims my friend John as we sit in a tiny pub called the Arlington on Woodlands Road. “Sam’ll take you to Sleazy’s. It’s where everyone from every band in Glasgow has worked at one time or another.”
Ah, the promise of another pub. I’ve only been in Glasgow 24 hours, and I’ve had a brilliant time so far. I’d flown out for a couple of days to see a band (The Divine Comedy at the Royal Concert Hall, since you ask) and was staying with my mate Sam who was back in Glasgow to finish his doctorate. Sam enthusiastically agreed with John about Sleazy’s, and promised we’d go tomorrow. It was coming to the end of a long first day.
Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city, but Edinburgh, the capital, is the one that gets the most tourists. Well, with the Royal Mile, the castle, Arthur’s Seat and a pervading feeling of grandeur that’s understandable. Glasgow is the fun one though. The perfect combination of a large student population, a thriving arts scene and the fact it’s a little bit rough around the edges means there’s always something going on.
After starting the day with a full English breakfast (full Scottish?), we walked into town. It was a beautiful day; bright, crisp and cold, perfect autumn weather. Along Renfrew Street, we went towards the Art College, before cutting down Scott Street and onto Sauchiehall.
We followed it down its length, dodging buskers, charity muggers and people in marquees trying to get you to switch phone contracts (which, by the way, must work if companies think it’s worth the time and resources to put sales staff on the street, but work on who? I can’t think of a single thing a pushy bloke on the street could say to get me to make a financial decision like that on the spur of the moment).
At the Royal Concert Hall, we swung right past the statue of Donald Dewar, the inaugural First Minister of Scotland, and then onwards past Greggs – queued out the door and down the street; some stereotypes do hold true – down Buchanan Street and into The Lighthouse.
This exhibition space was designed by Charles Rennie-Mackintosh, is seven stories high, and is free to visit. We took the lift up to the viewing area at the top, looked at some of the surrounding rooftops and made “hmm” noises, before going back down again, wondering why we’d done that.
We headed back up Buchanan Street and onto George Square, where I was introduced to one of Glasgow’s motifs – Victorian lads on plinths. Any Victorian worthy thought, well, worthy of being honoured has been so.
Everywhere you go, you’ll see people in frock coats being commemorated, from the great (James Watt, Robert Burns), to some of the more obscure benefactors of the city like James Lumsden. Oh, and the Duke of Wellington with his traditional traffic cone on his head of course. These statues lend the city the feeling of wandering around a museum, and I enjoyed learning about who these people were. God bless the smartphone.
East along Ingram Street, turning left up the hill onto High Street (which then becomes Castle Street) will get you to Glasgow cathedral. A wonderful example of Gothic architecture (not seen much in Scotland) and with an intricate wooden-beamed interior, it is a fascinating delight. Even more so is the Necropolis.
Behind the cathedral and over a pedestrian bridge, this sprawling cemetery was built in the style of Père Lachaise in Paris, with winding footpaths, steps and hills. It’s beautifully well-kept and topped off with a 12-foot statue of religious reformer John Knox perched on a giant Doric column.
Back into town via McChuills (home of the Glasgow branch of the FC St. Pauli supporters club), and time for a pint or three, surely? Yep, so we did that and then moved across the city to the Bon Accord, which is a lovely pub. Eight ales on tap, big comfy chairs to sink into – exactly the sort of place you’d love to be able to call your local. After a bit of food, we headed up to the Arlington where we met John, and where this article began.
The next morning we were rather hungover and Sam had to go into Uni for the day, so I took the chance to walk up to Kelvingrove Park and get lost there for a while (and it really is elegant round there) before stopping by an aggressively-punctuated pub called DRAM! for a couple of rounds of hair of the dog. I was considering doing a bit of work as well, but their wifi was down. Football Manager was the alternative. I took the alternative.
After Sam had finished his work, we met at the Bank Street Bar (lots of wood and chrome) before moving on to The Old School House to watch Slovakia beat Scotland in the World Cup qualifiers.
We eventually made it to Sleazy’s (or Nice N Sleazy to give it its full name), and yeah, it was pretty decent. Cheap beer, the right mix of grotty and cool, a good-looking list of local bands lined up to play and some marvellous graffiti.
I’d loved to have stayed longer – being a massive football hipster I’d wanted to catch a Partick Thistle game for one thing – but had to be back in the office, alas. I’d recommend Glasgow heartily. It’s tatty, grand, brutal, beautiful, faded and glorious. Everything I ask for in a city.