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Glasgow is the fourth city in Britain, and the largest in all Scotland. As the erstwhile "Second City of the Empire" back when Britannia ruled the waves, Glasgow retains much of its industrial heritage and consequently is where the tourist will find the real Scottish spirit. It is internationally renowned for its nightlife, parks, museums, galleries and architecture, even being named European City of Architecture and Design in 1999, with examples of architectural gems ranging from Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art, to the Clyde Auditorium, popularly known as "The Armadillo".

I was a student at Strathclyde University in Glasgow for five years, and can report that Glasgow is the best place in Britain to be a student. Prices are reasonable, there's great craic with students from no less than three universities, the best shopping outside of London, clubs to suit all tastes and the people won't give you the cold shoulder like those upmarket Edinbourgeois! To add further spice, Glasgow is the curry capital of Scotland, if you like your chicken tikka masala with pilau rice and peshawari naan, or perhaps just chips with curry sauce, you've come to the right place!

Buchanan Street

Buchanan Street is the main shopping street and Glasgow's main drag in general, although now pedestrianised. It hosts a number of shopping centres including the Buchanan Galleries and the fancy Princes Square, but most of the bars are located on the streets immediately to the west, also up Sauchiehall Street and down in the Merchant City.

At the top of Buchanan Street gazes the statue of Donald Dewar, the founding First Minister for Scotland immediately following devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The city's coat of arms is in the background with the motto "Let Glasgow Flourish".

Statue of Donald Dewar

Glasgow Italian Centre

Not far from Buchanan Street is the trendy Merchant City area, home to many of Glasgow's high end designer outlets including those of the Italian Centre. This small but artistic shopping development is doubly significant for the large number of Glaswegians who claim Italian origin.

Glasgow lays claim to the world's tallest cinema, at the time UGC (formerly Virgin) and now CineWorld. As Buchanan bus station is right behind where this shot was taken, I reckon that the clock's legs are running the wrong way - if he's late for his bus that's not going to help!

World's tallest cinema

I like armadillos!

Down on the Clyde is the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, centrepiece of which is the Clyde Auditorium, otherwise known as the Armadillo. It is part of the science and technology park, a complex which is not unlike Valencia's Ciudad de las Ciencias.

On the site of the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival stands the Glasgow Science Centre, Glasgow Tower and Scotland's only IMAX cinema. The tower was built to fully rotate 360 degrees into the wind, and was aerodynamically designed so that it wouldn't be buffeted by the breezes. Mostly funded by the Millennium Commission, the cinema and museum have been very successful, although the rotating tower occasionally grinds to a halt with thrust bearing issues when too many punters squeeze into the lifts.

Scotland's tallest tower

Down the Barras

It never fails to surprise me, given how well known The Barras is, that you can still pick up so many fine genuine (ahem!) products. The Barras is Glasgow's market, at the weekend the place is full of traders with their barrows, from which the name is derived. The famous Barrowland Ballroom is nearby too, with regular concerts still going on.

Glasgow Cathedral was built over the course of 300 years, commencing in the late 12th century, and was where the funeral of Donald Dewar, First Minister for Scotland was held in late 2000. In the foreground is the statue of David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer who tried to discover the source of the River Nile, and who also went to the University of Strathclyde.

Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow's oldest abode

Just over the road from Glasgow Cathedral is Glasgow's oldest house, Provand's Lordship, on Castle Street. Built in 1479, it is still not nearly as old as Glasgow itself, as the city has been remodelled so many times. The original main street and the oldest street in Glasgow is Rottenrow, dating back to the 6th century when the city was founded by St Mungo. The centre moved to the High Street in later years, and then to Buchanan Street in Victorian times.

The University of Strathclyde main campus is on George Street, just off George Square and far more central than Glasgow University itself. This is Livingstone Tower and the McCance building, housing maths, languages and administration. Strathclyde was founded as John Anderson's College in 1796 and became a university in 1964, around when much of today's campus was built. "Livvy Tower" was originally built as offices for a company that couldn't fill it, so the university bought it and turned it into classrooms.

Univeristy of Strathclyde

John Anderson campus village

The main student village at Strathclyde was developed largely in the 80s and 90s, with James Goold Hall being constructed most recently in 1997. I stayed for a year in Birkbeck Court, at the time popularly regarded as the scummiest halls but it really wasn't so bad - no matter where you stay you still have a great time!

During my second year I had the fortune to be bumped up a level in poshness to Thomas Campbell Court, although still not at the dizzy heights of Chancellor's Hall or en-suite James Young Hall. I lived with 7 other people in a kind of "two flats in one", where we had two toilets, two showers and two kitchens yet only one living room. Power for the buildings is partly supplied by solar panels on the south facing facade. See friends to meet my former flatmates, if you feel like a laugh.

Thomas Campbell Court

Baird Hall, The Beresford

Baird Hall on Sauchiehall Street was one of the off-campus residences of Strathclyde. It is an art deco building from 1938 which was originally The Beresford Hotel, then offices for ICI prior to acquisition by the university, and has since been converted into yuppie flats and renamed once again as "The Beresford". As university accommodation it was a bit run down inside, with mostly shared rooms, and was the only catered hall of residence at Strathclyde.

I should of course give Glasgow Uni a mention too, while I'm here. It was one of the four original universities established in Scotland, dating back to 1451, this is the gothic tower of the main building on Hillhead Campus. The other three original Scottish universities are St Andrews (1413), Aberdeen (1495) and Edinburgh (1583).

Glasgow University


Near to Glasgow University is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, which was renovated in the early 2000s. The Glaswegian scientist William Thomson took his name from the adjacent River Kelvin when he became Lord Kelvin. He is one of most famous physicists of Victorian times, notable for realising the existence of absolute zero and lending his name to the Kelvin temperature scale.

Ashton Lane out in the west end of the city is Glasgow's own "Shambles" with quaint little pubs and restaurants. This includes one of the many Ashoka Indian restaurants which abound in the city, my favourite.

Ashton Lane

Glasgow City Chambers at Christmas time

Glasgow City Chambers is a grand old wedding cake of a building, and is occasionally used in films for its interior and exterior, doubling for locations such as Philadelphia, Moscow and Gotham City.

Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art hosts a great collection in the old house of one of the tobacco merchants, in the centre of Royal Exchange Square. The Duke of Wellington's equestrian statue is often seen sporting a traffic cone during the student season, and indeed he makes it into the tourist brochures with his unusual choice of headgear.

Duke of Wellington complete with his traffic cone

Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art

During the festive season a ceiling of fairy lights covers the square around the Modern Art Gallery.

The Glasgow School of Art was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and remains to this day one of the masterpieces of perhaps Glasgow's most influential architect and artist.

Glasgow School of Art

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Detail of the windows on the west face of the Glasgow School of Art, showing Charles Rennie Mackintosh's unmistakable style.

One may also enjoy the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh with a cup of tea and a nice bit of cake, in the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street.

Willow Tea Rooms

Pile 'em high

During most of the sixties there was a housing revolution in Britain and nowhere more so than in Glasgow, where people were moved out of the decrepit Victorian tenements into the gleaming council-built concrete high density housing of the schemes. It worked for a while, but these days there are often many social problems and much crime associated with such buildings. There were more multis in Glasgow than Munros in Scotland (284 Munros!) including what were Europe's tallest residential buildings on Bluevale Street.

Hampden Park is the national stadium of Scotland, in Mount Florida on the south side of Glasgow. Unlike the two other large stadiums in Glasgow; Parkhead and Ibrox, there is no football team hosted here. The stadium was rebuilt during the 1990s to its current capacity of over 50,000 football, rugby, athletics or even tennis fans.

Hampden Park stadium

West Highland Way

In the peaceful posh suburb of Milngavie (pronounced Mullguy) this granite post marks the start of one of Scotland's great walks, the West Highland Way. 100 miles of paths lead you up the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond into the Highlands across Rannoch Moor, and down into Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain.

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2001-2013