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Cities in the Spotlight: Glasgow, Scotland

Updated: Mar 11

Today we are once again traveling to Europe, this time we will be taking a look at Glasgow, Scotland.


Glasgow City Information

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland and the fourth-most populous city in the United Kingdom, as well as being the 27th largest city by population in Europe. Glasgow grew from a small rural settlement on the River Clyde to become the largest seaport in Scotland and the tenth largest by tonnage in Britain. Expanding from the medieval bishopric and royal burgh, and the later establishment of the University of Glasgow in the 15th century, it became a major centre of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century. From the 18th century onwards, the city also grew as one of Britain's main hubs of transatlantic trade with North America and the West Indies. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the population and economy of Glasgow and the surrounding region expanded rapidly to become one of the world's pre-eminent centres of chemicals, textiles, and engineering; most notably in the shipbuilding and marine engineering industry, which produced many innovative and famous vessels. Glasgow was the "Second City of the British Empire" for much of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Glasgow's population grew rapidly, reaching a peak of 1,127,825 people in 1938. The population was greatly reduced following comprehensive urban renewal projects in the 1960s which resulted in large-scale relocation of people to designated new towns, such as Cumbernauld, Livingston, East Kilbride, and peripheral suburbs, followed by successive boundary changes. Glasgow's major cultural institutions – the Burrell Collection, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, and Scottish Opera – enjoy international reputations. The city was the European Capital of Culture in 1990 and is notable for its architecture, culture, media, music scene, sports clubs, and transport connections. It is the fifth-most visited city in the United Kingdom. The city hosted the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) at its main events venue, the SEC Centre. Glasgow hosted the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the first European Championships in 2018 and was one of the host cities for UEFA Euro 2020. The city is also well known in the sporting world for football, particularly the Old Firm rivalry between Celtic and Rangers.


Glasgow Historical Significance

The beginnings of medieval Glasgow start around 1119 with the building of the Cathedral on the site of St Kentigern’s first church, the patron saint of Glasgow. Medieval Glasgow ran from the River Clyde, up through the Saltmarket, along High Street and, up to the Cathedral. The recent development of the High Street area has led to archaeological excavation, which has uncovered many hidden gems, giving us a better understanding of Glasgow as a medieval burgh. The medieval landscape of buildings such as the Bishop's Castle, the Auld Pedagogy, the Black and Greyfriars, and the Old College, which dominated the medieval High Street for hundreds of years, now lie hidden beneath Glasgow’s Victorian architecture and new developments. Although gone, look around and you'll still see references to the city's history, whether it's the "Old College Bar" or "Blackfriars" free house. However, the city’s remaining medieval architecture, such as Glasgow Cathedral, Crookston Castle, Provand's Lordship, Provan Hall, the Trongate, and Tolbooth Steeple can still be visited today, while the hidden medieval city can be explored through the Medieval City Map.

Glasgow's coat of arms also has medieval and earlier roots with the fish and the bird appearing in the 13th century and all of the symbols first appearing together in the 15th century. One of the oldest buildings in Glasgow is the Cathedral, several parts of which date from the early 12th Century. Although an early Christian sarcophagus, dating from 576 AD, can be found within another listed church, Govan Old Parish Church. These buildings along with 1,800 other structures within the city are listed by Historic Scotland to protect them for future generations. Other famous listed buildings within the city include Central Station, Glasgow City Chambers, The University of Glasgow, The Trades House of Glasgow, and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.


Travel to Glasgow

*taken from Lonely Planet*

Disarmingly blending sophistication and earthiness, Scotland's biggest city has evolved over the last couple of decades to become one of Britain's most intriguing metropolises.

Glasgow's principal architectural legacy is its impressive assemblage of stately Victorian mansions and public buildings, the product of wealth generated from manufacturing and trade. It gives the centre a solid, slightly staid dignity that is rather misleading. More svelte are the sublime designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, which dot the city; visiting a few of his buildings and interiors soon reveals his genius. The city – always proud of its working-class background – also innovatively displays its industrial heritage, while modern structures, many along the Clyde River, have quickly become local icons.

Collecting was big in Victorian times, so it's no surprise that Glasgow's architectural legacy from the period is complemented by some wonderful museums and galleries. Kelvingrove combines natural history and diverse objects from around the world with a first-rate art collection, while nearby Kelvin Hall will hold, from 2020, the University of Glasgow's eclectic Hunterian museum exhibits, paintings, and sumptuous Mackintosh interior. On the Clyde, the Riverside holds an excellent ensemble of historic vehicles; to the south, the Burrell Collection (due to reopen in 2020) is an extraordinary corpus of archaeological treasures, objets d'art from around the world, and fine paintings.

Glaswegians definitely work to live, and the city comes into its own after five – not that people don't pop down for a cheeky lunchtime pint, too. The city's pubs are gloriously friendly places and you're sure to have some entertaining blethers (chats) with locals when you pop into one. Glasgow's live music scene is also legendary; big bands play at iconic venues, but a number of lower-key pubs have regular gigs that are excellent too. Clubbing is also popular, with a couple of famous dance floors, and the LGBT-focused Pink Triangle is a notably friendly scene.

Glasgow is where Scotland shops; the city packs out at weekends when highlanders, islanders, Edinburghers, and more come in to cruise the malls. The downtown area has several major shopping centres and arcades fully stocked with global brands as well as more local offerings. On the fringes of this area and in the West End are the bohemian beats: record stores, vintage clothing markets, and second-hand booksellers. In the East End, the weekend Barras market is quite an experience, blending modern concepts with cheap designer ripoffs, faded bric-a-brac, and a dose of authentic working-class Glasgow.


Must See Sites

Glasgow Cathedral; Glasgow Cathedral has a rare timelessness. The dark, imposing interior conjures up medieval might and can send a shiver down the spine. It's a shining example of Gothic architecture, and unlike nearly all of Scotland's cathedrals, it survived the turmoil of the Reformation mobs almost intact because the Protestants decided to repurpose it for their own worship. Most of the current building dates from the 15th century. Built on the supposed site of the tomb of St Kentigern (Mungo), Glasgow Cathedral has been closely entwined with the city's history. The necropolis behind it is one of Glasgow's best rambles.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum; A magnificent sandstone building, this grand Victorian cathedral of culture is a fascinating and unusual museum, with a bewildering variety of exhibits. You'll find fine art alongside stuffed animals, and Micronesian shark-tooth swords alongside a Spitfire plane, but it's not mix 'n' match: rooms are carefully and thoughtfully themed, and the collection is of a manageable size. It has an excellent room of Scottish art, a room of fine French impressionist works, and quality Renaissance paintings from Italy and Flanders. Salvador Dalí's superb Christ of St John of the Cross is also here. Best of all, nearly everything, including the paintings, has an easy-reading paragraph of interpretation.

Glasgow School of Art; In 2018, Charles Rennie Mackintosh's greatest building was gearing up for reopening after a devastating 2014 fire when, unbelievably, another blaze destroyed the painstakingly reconstructed interiors and severely damaged the building. The school has committed to reconstructing it, but it will be a lengthy process.

Burrell Collection; One of Glasgow's top attractions, this outstanding museum 3 miles out of town houses everything from Chinese porcelain and medieval furniture to paintings by Cézanne. The tapestry collection is a particular highlight. It's closed for refurbishment, and is due to reopen in 2020. The new building will have double the exhibition space as well as a cafe. Meanwhile, some items are on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. The collection was amassed by wealthy industrialist Sir William Burrell and then donated to the city; it's housed in a park south of downtown. Burrell collected all manner of art from his teens to his death at 97, and this idiosyncratic treasure is extraordinarily wide-ranging. It's not so big as to be overwhelming, and the stamp of the collector lends an intriguing coherence.

Riverside Museum; This visually impressive modern museum at Glasgow Harbour owes its striking curved forms to late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. A transport museum forms the main part of the collection, featuring a fascinating series of cars made in Scotland, plus assorted railway locos, trams, bikes (including the world's first pedal-powered bicycle from 1847) and model Clyde-built ships. An atmospheric recreation of a Glasgow shopping street from the early 20th century puts the vintage vehicles into a social context. There's also a cafe.

Glasgow Necropolis; Behind Glasgow Cathedral, this sizeable 19th-century necropolis stretches picturesquely up and over a green hill. The elaborate Victorian tombs of the city's wealthy industrialists, several of them designed by prominent architects of the day (including Alexander Thomson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh), make for an intriguing stroll and offer great views and a vague Gothic thrill.

Botanic Gardens; A marvelous thing about walking in here is the way the noise of Great Western Rd suddenly recedes into the background. The wooded gardens follow the riverbank of the River Kelvin and there are plenty of tropical species to discover. Kibble Palace, an impressive Victorian iron and glass structure dating from 1873, is one of the largest glasshouses in Britain; check out the herb garden, too, with its med­icinal species.


Must Try Food & Drink

Neeps & Tatties; Known in full as bashed neeps and chappit tatties - mashed swedes and chopped potatoes, respectively - this simple vegetable side dish is a true Scottish classic. Either steamed or boiled until tender, only separately, both the swedes and potatoes are seasoned with merely salt and white pepper, though some might add a dash of nutmeg as well. Neeps and tatties are traditionally prepared as accompaniments to haggis and make for an essential part of the festive Burns Night supper.

Haggis; Haggis is a spicy mince, a type of pudding of high nutritional value made from sheep's innards, lamb's heart, lungs and liver, beef, onions, oats, and spices. It is the national dish of Scotland and an excellent source of fibre, iron, and carbohydrates. According to some, the word haggis stems from the French word hacher, meaning to chop up or mangle. Originally, it was a poor man's meal made with liver and kidneys stuffed in intestines, providing a good way to feed a lot of people so that no meat would go to waste. Its flavor can best be described as spicy, crumbly, earthy, meaty, savoury, peppery, moist, and oaty. There is also a vegetarian version of haggis containing various vegetables, mushrooms, oatmeal, onions, and seeds. The dish is an important part of the Burns Supper celebrations that are held every year on January 25, in honor of Scotland's famous poet Robert Burns. He was the one that immortalised haggis in his poem Address to a haggis. The dish is typically accompanied by turnips and mashed potatoes on the side. And even though some like to accompany the dish with Scotch whisky, one of Scotland's authorities on haggis and so-called ''Haggis Queen'' Jo Macsween claims that serving whisky with haggis is a recipe for a ''culinary catastrophe.''

Cullen Skink; Even though it has been traditionally prepared all along the coast, Cullen skink is a dish originating from the fishing village of Cullen in Northeastern Scotland. This thick and creamy fish soup is typically based on smoked haddock cooked with milk, leeks, onions, and potatoes which provide the filling bulk. Some recipes specify the use of Arbroath smokies, although just about any smoked white fish will do. Cullen skink will go hand in hand with a glass of dry white wine, but to indulge in a true Scottish feast, try pairing it with Scotch whisky.

Tablet; Consisting of merely sugar, condensed milk and butter, tablet is a centuries-old Scottish treat similar to fudge, but with a crumblier consistency. An early record of it was found in The Household Book, an 18th century account of what domestic life was like in Scotland, written by Scottish songwriter Lady Grizel Baillie. Tablet is nowadays available in confectionery shops all across the country and it often comes flavored with whisky, which makes it the perfect choice for rounding off any traditional Scottish holiday feast.

Scottish Deep-Fried Pizza; Deep-fried pizza is a Scottish concoction consisting of a pizza that is deep-fried in hot oil (without being dipped in batter) instead of being baked in an oven. It can be found in numerous chips shops throughout the country, where it is fried in the same oil where fish and chips are prepared. This extremely caloric and unhealthy meal is often served with salt, vinegar, or chips in order to improve its flavors.

Tipsy Laird; This rich Scottish dessert flavored with whisky or Drambuie is a softer, more flavorful version of the traditional English sherry trifle. Tipsy laird (also known as Scottish trifle) typically consists of a sponge cake base that is layered with raspberry jam, whole raspberries, and egg custard, then topped with whipped double cream and toasted almond flakes. It is traditionally prepared for special occasions like Burns Supper, Christmas, and New Year.

Traditional Ayrshire Dunlop; Traditional Ayrshire Dunlop is a cylindrical, hard, pressed cheese made from Ayrshire cows' milk that is naturally pale yellow in color and has a smooth surface that feels moist to the touch. It can be mild, mature or extra mature, with the youngest maturing for a minimum of 6 months, and the oldest one can mature for up to 18 months. Its flavor is nutty and mild, but as it matures, some stronger, sharper and creamy flavors start to emerge. It is sometimes compared to cheddar, but it has a different, moister texture and it is not as strong.

Scotch; Lowland is a region for Scotch whisky that is located in the south of Scotland. This small region, in terms of the number of distilleries, is mostly associated with triple distillation, though not all distilleries employ it. Traditionally, whisky that is produced in the area will be lighter, softer, smoother, and more elegant, with a floral and fruity character and typical honeysuckle, grass, toffee, ginger, toast, and cinnamon aromas. Because of their light style and the lack of peaty flavors, these whiskies are often called the Lowland Ladies. They make a perfect aperitif and are excellent entry-level Scotch. Best distilleries in the region include Glenkinchie, Auchentoshan, and Bladnoch.

Finnan Haddie; Finnan haddie is a Scottish delicacy of cold smoked, flavored haddock. The fish is often roasted or grilled over high heat, but it can also be poached in milk and served for breakfast. It is believed that the dish was originally called Findon haddocks, after Findon, Scotland, the place where it was first invented in the 18th century.

Scone; Scone is a quick bread that is shaped into various forms such as squares, diamonds, and triangles, then baked in the oven. Although scones were griddle-baked and made with oats in the past, today they are traditionally made with wheat flour, baking powder or soda, butter, milk, sugar, and eggs. They can be either savory or sweet, consumed for breakfast, or served with afternoon tea. The most popular theory about their origin says they originated in Scotland in the early 1500s, the name scones derived from the Stone of Destiny, where the Kings of Scotland used to be crowned. This theory is supported by the fact that the first known reference in print regarding scones appeared in 1513, in the poems of a Scottish poet. Today, most of English scones are plain, relying on the addition of jam, lemon curd, or honey for extra flavor, but there are also some decadent varieties with cranberries, nuts, chocolate bits, and dates.


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