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Stop and stay awhile in Glasgow, and you’ll be charmed by the city few travellers know, writer Martha Nelson explains.
Text by: Martha Nelson
Country: Scotland

few years ago I was accepted into a graduate program at the University of Glasgow. I had recently graduated with a history degree in Canada and was keen to spread my 21-year-old wings and explore the world. When I told curious friends and family of my post-graduation plans, they were always excited and supportive.

“Scotland? How exciting! I love Scotland! Where will you be? Edinburgh? St. Andrews?”

When I informed them that I was in fact heading to Glasgow, their reaction was quite different. Most had either never been, or only briefly passed through on the way to some other destination. Few had words of praise for the town, apart from its proximity to other must-sees in Scotland, and some had words of warning.

When I arrived in Glasgow, I was therefore quite surprised to find myself in a truly lovely city. There were little cobbled laneways full of teashops and secondhand clothing stores. There were old cinemas full of comfortable armchairs that were showing everything from black-and-white classics to the most recent “Twilight” film. There were enormous parks full of grand statues of lords, writers, and philosophers and streets lined with handsome sandstone houses and leafy trees.

Standing on the top of a beautiful hill, with the castle-like University of Glasgow towering behind me and the city stretched before me, I couldn’t help but think I had discovered one of Scotland’s hidden treasures.

But Glasgow isn’t hidden. It is the largest city in Scotland and home to its largest industries. It also houses the region’s main airport and the second busiest train station in the United Kingdom.

So what has been dissuading travellers from exploring the parks and cobbled streets of jolly Glasgow?

As with many cities in the United Kingdom, Glasgow has a long history that is plagued with sectorial clashes and social inequalities. Its location on the Clyde River made Glasgow a prime trading city throughout the 19th century and enabled the development of a world-leading shipbuilding industry. Economic success attracted thousands who flocked to work on the banks of the Clyde, churning out some of the most famous boats in history.

The population boom demanded the construction of huge numbers of tenement houses across the city. These houses comprised several flats that were designed to accommodate many people at a time, creating mass overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. Strong odors from these slums pushed wealthier residents out of the center, further isolating poorer immigrant communities. Even the iconic Glasgow University was physically moved from the City Center to the desirable West End, where it remains today.

The combination of poverty, sectorial divisions, and cramped living quarters resulted in chronic violence, leaving Glasgow with a bad reputation throughout the 20th century and keeping visitors away.

Glasgow Today

So does the Glasgow of today still deserve its 20th century reputation?

“I thought Glasgow was amazing,” said Sydney, 24, from Canada. “It is an understated, approachable city, where people actually live and work rather than visit or shop.”

“I like all the parks and the greenery. The fact it feels small, but big,” commented Libby, 28, a Glasgow resident. “I like walking all around the little lanes about Byres road in the West End, and all the tearooms scattered about the city. I also like all the events that are on throughout the year and the fact you can get sport, theatre, film, and music of all genres.”

Since the 1980s, Glasgow has seen widespread revitalization and gentrification. What remained of the original tenements was refurbished and renewed into desirable private housing. The waterfront that was left to dereliction after the collapse of the shipbuilding industry has been transformed into an entertainment and residential hub. Old shipyards were converted into modern stadiums, office blocks, and luxury flats.

Furthermore Glasgow’s working-class history provided an ideal breeding ground for music and art, and it now boasts the UK’s largest contemporary art scene outside of London. Apart from being home to the acclaimed Glasgow School of Art, the city also holds over 20 world-class museums and galleries that house Europe’s largest civic arts collection. What’s more, they are all free.

One of the city’s most iconic museums is the Gallery of Modern Art. Although an impressive establishment, the gallery’s fame comes not only from its contents, but also its guard, the Duke of Wellington. The statue’s fame comes from always wearing a pylon on its head — if a pylon is ever removed, a new one is quickly placed upon the Duke by a cunning Glaswegian.

The pylon-wearing Duke has become so iconic that recent attempts by city officials to raise the height of the statue to hinder vandals in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games were so fervently rejected and protested that they were dismissed.

In addition to an impressive art culture, the collection of quirky bars and underground clubs across the city has fuelled the development of a wide-ranging music scene. Whether you’re in the mood for swing dancing at Black Friar’s, electro at SubClub, or traditional fiddlers in the Oran Mor, you’re sure to find it.

Glasgow’s collection of fantastic venues, including nightclubs in converted subway tunnels and bars in old churches, have supported the growth of a range of musical talents and provide musical entertainment across the city daily.

“I’m biased because it’s my hometown, but I think it’s a fab city,” says Hilary, 28. “It’s very pretty, and there is always a lot going on. The people are also very welcoming and friendly”.

“I really enjoyed the food,” says Vanessa, 24, from Canada. “From the black pudding and haggis breakfasts, to the delicious curries for dinner, it was all so good!”

As the city has grown, so has its culinary world, and today Glasgow boasts some of the UK’s top restaurants and has won “Britain’s Curry Capitalaward several years running.

The Glasgow of today has shed its past of poverty and crime in favor of musicians, artists, great food, and 19th century architecture. But this renaissance is not the only reason why you should visit.

Glaswegians

Glasgow’s history has bred a population of welcoming, chatty, and hardworking people. Around the city you will see people from every culture and every walk of life. Whether sitting in the park, in a pub, or at a bus stop, Glaswegians are always willing to converse with a stranger, give directions, or offer some life advice.

“Glasgow is a really chatty city. I brought my friend over from the Netherlands for Hogmanay (New Year) and he couldn’t believe that you could just go out and meet people and make new friends in a night,” comments Mary, 25, from Glasgow.

“Glasgow is a very vibrant city, with a lot of variety and a lot to offer,” says Gavin, 24, from Glasgow. “There are a lot of different cultures and classes that are represented in different regions, but who are all unified. This was really clear during the Commonwealth Games when everyone came together to support our city.”

The 2014 Commonwealth Games allowed Glasgow to showcase its huge transformation from a 20th century ugly duckling into a 21st century swan. Impressing spectators from around the world with its world-class sporting facilities, museums, galleries, and music venues, Glasgow demonstrated that rather than being a meaningless stop on the road elsewhere, this city is a final destination. Most importantly, Glaswegians showcased their openness and their ability to welcome anyone.

By far the city’s people have been done the most injustice by Glasgow’s poor reputation.

“They are rough around the edges in all the right ways,” says Sydney from Canada.

“Glasgow is made by its people. It’s not like other cities where everyone ignores each other; Glaswegians will just stop and talk to you. Their gruff exterior quickly being replaced with sincerity and humour,” comments Vanessa, 24, from Canada.

When I arrived in Glasgow, I didn’t know what to expect. Here I was in a new place by myself, with no friends or family, and only words of weary apprehension to send me off. Yet on the morning of my 22nd birthday, having only been in the country a few days, I awoke in my hostel bed to find that the staff had not only baked me a cake, but also organised a “wee party” to celebrate.

Knowing that I was alone, my new Glaswegian friends had offered a hand to welcome me to my new city. I realised then that it was not Glasgow that was Scotland’s hidden gem, but its people. From the friendly bus drivers, to the bartenders, to the hostel staff, Glasgow is filled with friendly faces that are sure to make everyone feel right at home.

Info Box

Favorite Places to Visit and Things to Do:

● Having a coffee at Sonny and Vito’s in Kelvinbridge
● Tam Shepard’s Trick Shop on Queen’s Street
● The Grosvenor theatre and The Lane bar on Ashton Lane
● Walking around Glasgow University and the Hunterian Gallery
● Drinking White Russians at Box on Sauchiehall Street
● The Hidden Lane Tea Room off Argyle Street
● Exploring The Christmas Market at St. Enoch’s
● Browsing the Hyndland BookShop in Hyndland
● Kelvin Gallery and Kelvingrove Park
● The Transport Museum
● The Science Museum
● Gallery of Modern Art



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Scotland’s Biggest Secret

After university I decided to go to Scotland for a graduate program. My family and friends were very excited and supportive, until they discovered I was going to Glasgow. Although most of them had never been there or only briefly passed through, they all warned me about it.

Therefore, I was surprised to find that Glasgow is actually a very lovely city. There are little cobbled laneways full of teashops and secondhand clothing stores. There are old cinemas full of comfortable armchairs that show classical movies as well as more recent films.

There are enormous parks full of grand statues and streets lined with handsome sandstone houses and leafy trees. It is a very vibrant city with a lot of variety.

And it isn’t only the city that people have misconceptions about. I was also warned about the locals. People think that Glasgow is full of poor, unfriendly, and dangerous people. But in reality it is quite the opposite.

Glaswegians are very friendly people, very sincere and humorous. They don’t ignore each other, but rather will stop and talk to you and are always willing to lend a hand. Glasgow is filled with friendly faces that will make you feel right at home.

 

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Scotland’s Biggest Secret

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Scotland’s Biggest Secret

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