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City guide

Glasgow: Where to eat, drink, shop and stay in the COP26 host city

With the spotlight firmly on Scotland’s second city as the world’s leaders gather, here’s how to make the most of a weekend break there, says Hilary Mitchell

Tuesday 02 November 2021 10:57
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Evening view along the River Clyde from the city towards the Finnieston Bridge, with Pacific Quay and the Glasgow Science Centre tower beyond
Evening view along the River Clyde from the city towards the Finnieston Bridge, with Pacific Quay and the Glasgow Science Centre tower beyond

With the COP26 climate conference now in full swing, all eyes are on its host city: friendly, lively, dynamic and increasingly sophisticated Glasgow.

In recent years, this former shipbuilding hub has reinvented itself as a perfect weekend getaway, filled with wonderful museums, unbeatable bars and restaurants that take full advantage of the excellent fresh seafood caught daily on Scotland’s west coast.

After the world leaders have left, here’s how to make the most of a weekend in what is arguably Scotland’s most vibrant city.

What to do

Wander the West End

Glasgow’s West End is one of the most hip, eclectic and cosmopolitan parts of the city. Take a stroll down Byres Road, a busy thoroughfare packed with interesting cafes, bars and boutiques. The area is also criss-crossed with pretty, hidden little cobbled streets like Ashton Lane, which is lit with strings of fairy lights at night.

At the bottom of Byres Road, turn left to reach Kelvingrove Museum, a palatial, gothic building set in extensive parkland (and the setting for an exclusive dinner reception for world leaders at the start of COP26).

A 10-minute walk from the museum is The Mackintosh House, which was home to Glasgow’s most famous architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, from 1906-1914. Behind it you’ll find the Hunterian Museum, a true cultural gem and the oldest museum in Scotland.

Inside, you’ll find eye-opening anatomical displays, books, manuscripts, fossils and fascinating zoological specimens.

A Scottish wildlife mural on Ingram Street in Glasgow

Follow the Glasgow Mural Trail

The city’s impressive street art scene is just one of the ways various vacant or rundown industrial areas have been brought back to life.

Glasgow council has developed a detailed and helpful free trail map and guide.

Have a retro night at RollerStop

Get your skates on for some exercise and old favourites under the lights

Vintage skating rink RollerStop hosts themed, 16+-only retro nights packed with rock’n’roll hits and lit with funky strobe lighting. Tickets from £13.

Where to stay

Barrie Munn – the entrepreneur behind Sleeperz hotel in Cambridge – opened sleek boutique hotel Grasshoppers a decade ago. It’s handily situated right beside Glasgow Central station, and is elegantly decorated in pale greys and whites. The breakfasts are to die for too. Doubles from £75, B&B.

ABode Glasgow is a beautiful and historic three-storey Georgian townhouse that was originally the home of the first Scottish prime minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman; it’s now a grand but surprisingly budget-friendly accommodation option in the city centre. Doubles from £64, B&B.

Grasshoppers is located conveniently beside the city's central station

There’s a splash of Highland whimsy at Hotel Du Vin, located opposite the leafy Botanic Gardens. Less hotel, more country manor, the 49-room retreat spreads across a series of sandstone townhouses, creating a hive of woody corridors dressed to the nines with original Victorian fixtures. Doubles and suites are wallpapered with flowers and thistles and the most luxurious have free-standing roll-top tubs.From £133, room only.

Find more hotels in Glasgow

Where to eat

Innovative and artistic brasserie Ubiquitous Chip on Ashton Lane is a must-visit for lunch or dinner. Choose from a la carte or a nine-course tasting menu for £65pp.

Glasgow was voted the most vegan-friendly city in the UK a little while back, so make sure you swing by laidback, appealing vegan pub The 78 in Finnieston. Try their chickpea tagine or chipotle cauliflower burrito for a flavour kick.

Tantrum Doughnuts is top for a sweet treat

Babu Bombay Street Kitchen sells the best chai and roti this side of Maharashtra. Don’t miss their pau bhaji: a mix of spiced cauliflower, peas and potato served inside a fluffy, buttered morning roll. They can be found at the Glad Cafe every day from 5.30-10pm and at Platform at The Arches 12-10pm on Fridays and Sundays and 12-7pm on Sundays.

For a sweet treat, head to Tantrum Doughnuts, a hugely popular bakery that sells creative and indulgent doughnuts, as well as frothy hot chocolate topped with giant, toasted marshmallows. There are two outposts: one in Yorkhill, the other in the city centre.

Where to drink

Stravaigin (meaning “to wander” in Gaelic) is the place to be if you want to experience some of the best hospitality Scotland has to offer. You can sample everything from classic cocktails to locally brewed craft beer.

If you like bohemian, lively and great-value spaces, check out Hillhead Bookclub in the West End, where they serve cocktails in gramophones.

The beans are roasted at the firm’s roastery in Edinburgh and sent through daily (A

Soak up laidback vibes at Chinaski’s, a compact, cosy, candlelit bar with a great range of whiskys and bourbons.

Where to shop

For high-end fashion head to Glasgow’s “Style Mile”, a central, upscale shopping district that incorporates Buchanan Street, Argyle Street and Merchant City.

Shoppers on Glasgow's Buchanan Street on a summer's day

You can get great, quirky and unusual items like vintage clothing, local Scottish crafts and handmade jewellery at a variety of independent shops in De Courcy’s Arcade on Cresswell Lane.

For a uniquely Glaswegian shopping experience, head to famous market The Barras. It sells everything you could possibly need, from Rangers and Celtic memorabilia to saris.

Architectural highlight

The beautiful vaulted Cloisters (also known as the Undercroft) at the University of Glasgow date back to the 1860s. They’re part of Bute Hall, a Gothic revival building designed by renowned architect George Gilbert Scott.

The Cloisters (or Undercroft) at Glasgow University

Nuts and bolts

What currency do I need?

Pound sterling.

What language do they speak?

English.

Should I tip?

10-12 per cent.

What’s the time difference?

GMT.

Public transport

First Bus Greater Glasgow is the main bus company. You can get a one-week adult bus pass for £17.

Best view

You’ll get a panoramic view of the city from The Lighthouse, Scotland’s national centre for design and architecture.

Insider tip

If you’re feeling brave, drunk or particularly hungry, ask a local chip shop for a “munchie box”: essentially a bit of everything on the menu. If you’ve had a few too many whisky cocktails, a munchie box will either kill or cure you.

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