48 Hours In: Glasgow

Explore the elegant design style of one of Scotland's most celebrated architects in his native city. By Harriet O'Brien
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Travel essentials

Why go now?

The 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns has triggered the ongoing Homecoming Scotland 2009 events ( homecomingscotland2009.com ). This year is also the centenary of the completion of one of the greatest buildings in Scotland's largest city: Glasgow School of Art (1) by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. With tours, talks, exhibitions and more, "Mackintosh 100" commemorates not just this building but the life and work of the great architect and designer. Next month sees the opening of a special exhibition to mark the 110th anniversary of Mackintosh's Queen's Cross Church (2), now home to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society (0141-946 6600; crmsociety.com ).

Touch down

Glasgow Central railway station (3) is located where its name suggests. On the West Coast Main Line, the shortest journey time from London Euston on Virgin Trains (0845 722 2333; virgintrains.com ) is four hours and 10 minutes, with fares from £35. Virgin trains also serve Glasgow from Milton Keynes, Crewe, Preston and Carlisle. Many other English and Scottish cities have direct links. More details from National Rail: 0845 748 4950; nationalrail.co.uk .

Glasgow airport, eight miles west of the city centre, has links from across the UK on bmi (0870 607 0555; flybmi.com ); bmibaby (0905 828 2828; bmibaby.com ); British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com); Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com ); and easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com). The Glasgow Flyer service runs to Glasgow Central railway station (3) in 15 minutes, traffic permitting, and Buchanan bus station (4) 10 minutes later, for £4.20 each way (0870 040 4343; glasgowflyer.com ).

Get your bearings

Spilling for miles on either side of the Clyde, Glasgow can appear dauntingly large on the map. The city centre, however, is an easy-to-walk-around area of streets in a neat grid plan, bounded to north and west by the M8 and to the south by the river. To the east are St Mungo's Cathedral (5), the old High Street and the revamped Merchant City area. In the leafy West End beyond the motorway are Glasgow University and the city's big museums, set around Kelvingrove Park. The majority of sights are easily accessible by Glasgow's little Subway, a circular underground railway of only 15 stations (single tickets £1.20, one-day tickets £3.50 for unlimited travel). Leaflets and maps of the 12 main Mackintosh sites in and around Glasgow are available free from the tourist office (6) at 11 George Square (0845 225 5121; visitscotland.com ), open 9am-8pm daily (Thursdays from 9.30am, Sundays 10am-6pm).

Check in

Part of the stylish chain owned by chef Michael Caines, Abode Glasgow (7) is centrally located at 129 Bath Street (0141-572 6000; abodehotels.co.uk ). It occupies the Victorian town mansion built for Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, prime minister from 1905-08. There are 59 generously sized rooms, a funky bar and brasserie and an award-winning Michael Caines restaurant next door. Doubles are rated from "comfortable" at £130 to "fabulous" at £240, including breakfast.

Over at 278 West George Street, Malmaison Glasgow (8) (0141-572 1000; malmaison.com ) was formerly an Episcopal church. Original features include an ornate staircase and vaulted ceilings while the 72 rooms are soothingly decorated in caramel, taupe and chocolate. Doubles cost from £170, without breakfast.

Glasgow has some excellent hostels offering budget options – or you could book into the Rennie Mackintosh Art School Hotel (9), close to the eponymous building at 218 Renfrew Street (0141-333 9992; rmghotels.com ). It offers 24 comfortable rooms (doubles from £68 including breakfast); public spaces are decorated with Mackintosh-style flourishes.

Day one

Take a hike

From the tourist office (6), set out on a short walk that takes in the chief Mackintosh sights of the city centre. Head west from George Square and continue along St Vincent Place. Turn left down Mitchell Street and cross over Gordon Street and then turn left into Mitchell Lane. Number 11 is The Lighthouse (10), so called because of its neat white tower. It was Mackintosh's first building, designed in 1895 as a warehouse for the Glasgow Herald. In 1995 it became Scotland's Centre for Architecture and Design (0141-221 6362; thelighthouse.co.uk ), its third floor dedicated to a permanent exhibition on Mackintosh. It opens 10.30am-5pm daily (Tuesday from 11am, Sunday from noon); admission free on Saturdays, £4 on other days.

Retrace your steps to Gordon Street, turning left and then left again into Renfield Street. Turn left into Renfield Lane and make for number 20-26 on the right-hand side. This was the Daily Record building (11), designed by Mackintosh in 1901 and completed in 1904 – the ground floor now houses a café and bar.

Continue along the lane, turn right into Hope Street and follow this road to Sauchiehall Street where you turn left and make for number 217: location for the tall, handsome Willow Tea Rooms (12), created by Mackintosh for Miss Kate Cranston, a well-known restaurateur, in 1904 (0141-332 0521; willowtearooms.co.uk ).

Lunch on the run

In Gaelic, sauchiehall means "lane of willows". The Willow Tea Rooms (12) fell into decline after the Edwardian era, and became part of a department store. Thirty years ago it was restored, and the ground floor leased out as a jewellery shop. The tea rooms were re-opened; there is often a lunchtime queue, but hang on for a table at the first-floor Room de Luxe, a chamber crowded with elegance and high-backed chairs.

Cultural afternoon

From the Willow Tea Rooms (12) continue along Sauchiehall Street, turn right into Rose Street and left into Renfrew Street, with the Glasgow School of Art (1) at number 167. Take in the main façade, with its striking play of shapes, stone and ironwork, then head to the side entrance at 11 Dalhousie Street where you can join a guided tour of the interior (0141-353 4500; gsa.ac.uk; daily on the hour from 10am to 5pm; £7.75). These are conducted by students at the college and include a visit to the library, Mackintosh's renowned masterpiece of light, space and functionality.

Then take the Subway from Cowcaddens (13) to Kelvinhall (14). Glasgow University is a 10-minute walk east of the station and its Hunterian Art Gallery (15) (0141-330 5431; hunterian.gla.ac.uk ; open 9.30am-5pm daily except Sunday). Admission is free to the main gallery, but £3 to its leading attraction: the interior of 6 Florentine Terrace, home to Charles and Margaret Rennie Mackintosh from 1906-14. Their furniture original is on display, while the walls are hung with a changing selection of the university's large collection of the couple's decorative art. (Note that the Mackintosh House will close 21 September-8 October for repairs.)

Nearby is Kelvingrove Art Gallery (16) on Argyle Street (0141-276 9599; glasgowmuseums.com; daily 10am-5pm; free). Among the vast collection is a room dedicated to the "Glasgow Style" of the early 1900s, with Mackintosh's furniture and décor displayed alongside gesso panels by his wife, Margaret Macdonald, and works by other contemporaries such as George Walton and Jessie King.

An aperitif

Join the locals at Stereo (0141-222 2254), a cool bar on the ground floor of Mackintosh's Daily Record building (11) at 20-26 Renfield Lane. Later in the evening this becomes a live-music venue: gigs finish around midnight.

Dining with the locals

Don't be deterred by the name: Brian Maule @ Chardon d'Or (17), 176 West Regent Street (0141-248 3801; brianmaule.com ), is a sleek establishment serving some of Glasgow's best cuisine – the likes of fillet of lamb with aubergine caviar at £23. Next door is a branch of Keppie, the firm of architects that Mackintosh was apprenticed to in 1889 and for whom he worked for many years.

Day two

Sunday morning: take a ride

Until the end of September hop-on, hop-off bright pink buses take visitors to nine Mackintosh sites, with commentary along the way. Tickets for the Mackintosh Experience Bus Tour (0141-204 0444; crmsociety.com ) can be used over two consecutive days and cost £8 for adults. Four round trips are made on Sunday, starting from George Square (6) at 11am (five trips are made on other days from 9.45am).

Out to brunch

Get off the Mackintosh bus at Scotland Street School (18), 225 Scotland Street (0141-287 0500; glasgowmuseums.com ; daily 10am-5pm; free), or take the Subway to Shields Road – the school is almost opposite the station. Designed by Mackintosh in 1903, the building became a museum of education in 1990. The Willow Café here (open also from 10am) serves all-day breakfast ranging from smoked salmon croissants (£4.35) to scrambled eggs and bacon (£4.10).

A walk in the park

From the school take the Subway to Ibrox then walk south down Copland Road, turn right along Paisley Road West and then left into Dumbreck Road, on the eastern side of Bellahouston Park. Number 10 is The House for an Art Lover (19) (0141-353 4770; houseforanartlover.co.uk ) designed by Mackintosh for a competition in 1901, but not built until the 1990s. It opens 10am-1pm from Thursday to Sunday, 10am-4pm on other days, but weekends only from October; admission £4.50.

Sunday afternoon at church

Take the Subway back to the centre, disembarking at St Enoch. Walk west along Argyle Street to Hope Street and catch bus 40 or 61 to Queen's Cross Church (2) at 870 Garscube Road (0141-946 6600; mackintoshchurch.com ; Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sunday 2-5pm; adults £4).

Now the headquarters of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, this sober yet serene building (pictured) was designed by Mackintosh for the Free Church of St Matthew in 1896 and finished in 1899. A new exhibition here celebrates its design and social history.

The icing on the cake

One of Mackintosh's finest buildings is about 30 miles down the Clyde Estuary. The Hill House at Upper Colquhoun Street in Helensburgh (0844 493 2208; nts.org.uk ; open daily until end of October 1.30-5.30pm; £8.50) was designed in 1902 for the publisher Walter Blackie. Complete with original furnishings, it is a breathtaking property. The house is a half-hour signposted walk or a taxi ride from Helensburgh Central station, which is served from Glasgow Queen Street station (20) roughly every half-hour (journey time about 45 minutes).

You can even stay here: the Landmark Trust (01628 825925; landmarktrust.org.uk ) has the lease of the top floor. The apartment sleeps up to six and costs from £264 for a three-night weekend.