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Plan Your Glasgow Vacation

Trendy stores, a booming cultural life, fascinating architecture, and stylish restaurants reinforce Glasgow's claim to being Scotland's most exciting city. After decades of decline, it has experienced an urban renaissance uniquely its own. The city’s grand architecture reflects a prosperous past built on trade and shipbuilding. Today buildings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh hold pride of place along with the Zaha Hadid–designed Riverside Museum.

Glasgow (the "dear green place," as it was known) was founded some 1,500 years ago. Legend has it that the king of Strathclyde, irate about his wife's infidelity, had a ring he had given her thrown into the river Clyde. (Apparently she had passed it on to an admirer.) When the king demanded to know where the ring had gone, the distraught queen asked the advice of her confessor, St. Mungo. He suggested fishing for it—and the first salmon to emerge had the ring in its mouth. The moment is commemorated on the city's coat of arms.

The medieval city expanded when it was given a royal license to trade; the current High Street was the main thoroughfare at the time. The vast profits from American cotton and tobacco built the grand mansions of the Merchant City in the 18th century. In the 19th century the river Clyde became the center of a vibrant shipbuilding industry, fed by the city’s iron and steel works. The city grew again, but its internal divisions grew at the same time. The West End harbored the elegant homes of the newly rich shipyard owners. Down by the river, areas like the infamous Gorbals, with its crowded slums, sheltered the laborers who built the ships. They came from the Highlands, expelled to make way for sheep, or from Ireland, where the potato famines drove thousands from their homes.

During the 19th century the population grew from 80,000 to more than a million. And the new prosperity gave Glasgow its grand neoclassical buildings, such as those built by Alexander "Greek" Thomson, as well as the adventurous visionary buildings designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and others who produced Glasgow’s Arts and Crafts movement. The City Chambers, built in 1888, are a proud statement in marble and gold sandstone, a clear symbol of the wealthy and powerful Victorian industrialists' hopes for the future.

The decline of shipbuilding and the closure of the factories led to much speculation as to what direction the city would take now. The curious thing is that, at least in part, the past gave the city a new lease of life. It was as if people looked at their city and saw Glasgow’s beauty for the first time: its extraordinarily rich architectural heritage, its leafy parks, its artistic heritage, and its complex social history. Today Glasgow is a vibrant cultural center and a commercial hub, as well as a launching pad from which to explore the rest of Scotland, which, as it turns out, is not so far away. In fact, it takes only 40 minutes to reach Loch Lomond, where the other Scotland begins.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Design and architecture The Victorians left a legacy of striking architecture, and Glasgow's buildings manifest the city's love of grand artistic statements—just remember to look up. The Arts and Crafts buildings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh are reason alone to visit.
  2. Art museums Some of Britain's best museums and art galleries are in Glasgow. The Burrell Collection and the eclectic Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum are definitely worth a visit, even on a sunny day.
  3. Gorgeous parks and gardens From Kelvingrove Park to the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow has more parks per square mile than any other city in Europe. Stop by the Botanic Gardens for outdoor theatrical productions in summer, or Bellahouston Park for the annual piping festival.
  4. Pints and great grub Whether you fancy a Guinness in a traditional old-man's pub like the Scotia or one of the converted churches like Òran Mór, there's a pub to fit all thirsts. Locals love their cafés and tearooms; stop by the Willow Tearoom or Where the Monkey Sleeps for cake and a rest from sightseeing.
  5. Retail therapy The city has become known for cutting-edge design. Look for everything from Scottish specialties to stylish fashions on the city center's hottest shopping streets, Ingram or Buchanan, or at the elegant Princes Square.
  6. Burns country Scotland's national poet lived, wrote, and drank in Ayrshire, a great place to appreciate his work. The excellent Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway is fitting tribute to his life and work.

When To Go

When to Go

The best times to visit Glasgow are spring and summer. Although you may encounter crowds, the weather is more likely to be warm and dry. In...

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