If you are not familiar with the name Charles Rennie Mackintosh before coming to Glasgow you will be before you leave. Mackintosh was a prodigious architect, interior designer and artist, and the city has a wealth of his work. One of Mackintosh’s original commissions from 1904, the Willow Tea Rooms, exemplifies the light, airy spaces he created and is the perfect antidote to cloudy Scottish days. Stop in for a cup of tea and a scone, or settle in for afternoon tea (12.95 pounds, about $19.50 at $1.63 to the pound) while taking stock of the mirrored friezes, silver-plated doors and high-backed chairs that Mackintosh also designed. Despite a recent fire that damaged the Mackintosh building at the architecturally imposing Glasgow School of Art a few blocks from the Willow Tea Rooms (the interior is under restoration), the school’s new tour (£9.75 for adults) still includes a look at the building’s facade along with other sites close by that represent the city he lived and worked in.
After work on a Friday many residents head to their local pub for a pint or a dram of whisky. You can join some of them at the Pot Still, an institution that dates from 1857 and is known for its atmosphere with a long wood bar and original Deco moldings. But the real draw is the selection of over 450 malt whiskies. Choose a classic like Lagavulin (£5.70) or Arran (£3.80).
Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery is a wood-paneled space where you’ll find some surprising dishes like sliced home-smoked Gressingham duck with citrus and cherry vinaigrette, mignons of Scotch beef layered with kale colcannon and pancetta jus and mussel risotto. Expect to pay about £30 per person for dinner without wine.
Glasgow has a well-earned reputation for showcasing and nurturing musical talent. The Verve, Oasis, Radiohead and Franz Ferdinand are only a few of the bands that played at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut early in their careers, and this intimate but legendary music space has become a hub for emerging artists. Down the hill, Sub Club not only hosts indie bands like Hot Chip and Optimo but also plays cutting-edge dance music well into the night. In 2006, it built a large bodysonic floor, which means you will feel the bass frequencies through your feet. So get your dancing shoes ready.
Perhaps because of locals’ penchant for late nights, spots for good coffee and baked goods have proliferated over the years. At Coffee, Chocolate and Tea in the West End for example, a fire-engine red Samaic roaster is the source for an excellent house blend, and a 1960s espresso machine for the espresso shots and flat whites that people line up for. The spot also has over 40 loose leaf teas, freshly baked croissants and homemade chocolates.
Surrounded by one of city’s most lovely parks (Glasgow in Gaelic means the dear green place), the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is housed in a formidable red brick building dating from 1901. The blue and gold inlaid ceiling, Art Deco hanging lamps and marble floors alone provide sufficient reason to visit, let alone the impressive art collection that includes Salvador Dalí's controversial “Christ of St John of the Cross.” Nearby, on the grounds of the University of Glasgow, the Hunterian museum and art gallery contains the reassembled townhouse of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. Don’t miss a guided tour: The home showcases his exquisite organic style, where each floor represents part of a plant, and the guides will point out the more poignant time in the life of the couple when commissions were down. Before leaving the gallery, check out the marvelous collection of art also on site, including several spectacular Whistlers.
Scotland has an abundance of excellent seafood, and the intimate Crabshakk is a perfect introduction to the country’s juicy briny oysters and daily catches, including ruby red langoustines (about £20 for lunch). Or stop by the oyster bar at Rogano in Exchange Square, which has been a spot for power brokers for decades to celebrate deals with a glass of Champagne and a dozen oysters (£19) in a space designed to look like a 1930s Art Deco cruise liner.
In addition to all the designer labels from Top Shop to Mulberry, small shops highlight Glasgow’s independent mercantile spirit. Starry Starry Night, for example, carries vintage treasures, including top hats and ball gowns; Timorous Beasties, not a far walk away on Great Western Road, has exquisite wallpaper and textiles. Monorail, on the other side of town, is a must for vinyl-lovers and those looking to discover more about the city’s music scene: Glaswegian artists like Mogwai and Young Marble Giants are among the musicians to discover there.
If it pours, and even if it doesn’t, a visit to the Grosvenor Cinema on Ashton Lane for a movie is well worth the effort. It has plush leather seats or cozy sofas, beer and wine to wash down your popcorn, and screenings that include current hits, classics and BBC broadcasts like “King Lear.” Tickets: £9.70. There are even “Toddler Time” and “Watch With Baby” screenings for children in tow. If you prefer to stay outside, the Glasgow Botanic Gardens (free), also in the West End, serves as a green oasis with a combination of formal gardens, woodlands and glasshouses.
Young chefs in town have brought a new generation of smaller, inventive restaurants that emphasize both the excellent modern food movement in Scotland and international cuisine. The intimate Number 16, in the West End, features seasonal menus with dishes like pan-fried sardines with grapefruit, broad beans, baby globe artichokes, asparagus and grapefruit dressing, and a delicious salad of figs, rhubarb, feta and Israeli couscous with watercress, rhubarb vinaigrette and dukkah. (About £50 for two people for dinner without wine.) The recently opened Hanoi Bike Club showcases Vietnamese food in a stylish space that hosts cool locals well into the evening. Don’t miss their homemade tofu. (About £30 for two people for two courses without drinks.)
Just a 50-minute train ride away, Loch Lomond draws tourists and locals to its banks for the iconically Scottish combination of moody green hills, wide sky and clear blue water. From Balloch, take a short taxi ride to villages like Luss, where local boats run excursions to the outlying islands or take a hike along the banks.
The Michelin-starred chef Martin Wishart’s signature restaurant inside the Cameron House has become a culinary must in the last few years, and a £28.50 three-course prix-fixe meal on the weekend is a way to experience one of Scotland’s most famous chefs at an affordable price.
1. Willow Tea Rooms, 217 Sauchiehall Street; willowtearooms.co.uk. Glasgow School of Art,167 Renfrew Street; gsa.ac.uk.
2. The Pot Still, 154 Hope Street; thepotstill.co.uk.
3. The Two Fat Ladies, 652-654 Argyle Street; twofatladiesrestaurant.com/buttery.
4. King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, 272a St. Vincent Street; kingtuts.co.uk. The Sub Club, 22 Jamaica Street; subclub.co.uk.
5. Coffee, Chocolate and Tea, 944 Argyle Street; coffeechocolateandtea.com.
6. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle Street. The Hunterian, University Avenue; gla.ac.uk/hunterian.
8. Starry Starry Night, 19 Dowanside Lane; starrystarrynightvintage.co.uk. Timorous Beasties, 384 Great Western Rd.; timorousbeasties.com. Monorail, 12 Kings Court; monorailmusic.com.
9. The Grosvenor Cinema, 24 Ashton Lane; grosvenorcinema.co.uk. Glasgow Botanic Gardens, 730 Great Western Road; glasgowbotanicgardens.com.
10. Number 16, 16 Byres Road; number16.co.uk. The Hanoi Bike Shop, Ruthven Lane; thehanoibikeshop.co.uk.
11. Loch Lomond, lochlomond-trossachs.org.
12. Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond, Cameron House, mwlochlomond.co.uk.