Glasgow is set to take its turn on the world stage as Scotland's largest city prepares to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games, writes Sheridan Rhodes.
"It's possible to sunbake in Scotland," our young kilted guide, Colin Mairs, tells us as we pass Glasgow's Botanical Gardens with its historic glasshouses dazzling under a clear blue sky. "Yep, it's my favourite day of the year," he says, deadpan. Which means, since arriving in Scotland a few days prior, the country's average hours of sunshine have miraculously increased three fold. Apart from a sprinkling as we made our way up Glasgow's steep San Francis co style streets last night, we've had nothing but sunshine, clear skies and, almost incomprehensively, balmy weather –which makes this thoroughly Scottish city on the banks of the River Clyde sparkle.
Often overlooked by travellers in favour of big sisters Edinburgh and London, next year Glasgow– once at the forefront of the industrial revolution – takes its turn on the global stage. This edgy, arty city whose slums were once notorious, is in the grip of vast urban renewal to the tune of £2 billion – mainly being spent on sport-related infrastructure as it prepares to host next year's Commonwealth Games. Having experienced both dramatic highs, as the Second City of the Empire, and the depths of post industrial decline, there's a feeling Scotland's biggest city is once again on the cusp of greatness.
TAKE ME TO THE RIVER
To understand the city's past, start at the Riverside Museum, which opened in 2011 and was named European Museum of the Year 2013. Riverside is a development of Glasgow's much-loved Museum of Transport. Designed by internationally renowned architect, Zaha Ha did – her first major public building in the UK and said to resemble a choppy wave – the museum displays Glasgow's industrial heritage, which stems from the River Clyde where there were once 50 shipyards in operation. It's also where comedian Billy Connolly got his start as a welder in the 1960s.
Today, just three shipyards remain in operation.
Inside you'll find a collection of Clyde-built ship models, locomotives built at the nearby St Rollox yards, plus an excellent recreation of a typical Glasgow street from the turn of the century, complete with cobblestones, street lamps, a Glaswegian pub, Italian cafe and subway train. Berthed behind the museum is the Glenlee, an 1896 tall ship. Although not officially part of the museum, admission is free, and the restored ship affords views all the way up the river to the Clyde Arc (better known as the Squinty Bridge).On a sunny afternoon, families with kids were scrubbing the decks with water, ringing the ship's bell and crawling over the former cargo ship's every nook and cranny.
THE WEST END
Glasgow's West End is home to the historic University of Glasgow, the Botanic Gardens and Kelvin grove Park, as well as the buzzing Byres Road and Ashton Lane. Start with a wander around the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world, circa 1451. With its neo- Gothic style, magnificent arches and lawn quadrangles, it's easy to see why many think it was the inspiration for J. K. Rowling's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
From there, head down the hill and sink a pint or two in the atmospheric cobblestone "pub mile" known as Ashton Lane, with its cafes, bars and cinemas, many housed in former stables, coach houses and even an undertaker's office. One of the best places to dine here is the Ubiquitous Chip, which serves up Scottish-inspired dishes in its courtyard dining room.
Ashton Lane connects with nearby Byres Road, regarded as the heart and soul of Glasgow's West End and one of the city's best loved retail strips. Here you'll find We Love to Boogie, crammed with high-end vintage and retro treasures. Also worth a look are Circa Vintage, Retro, Starry Starry Night and the thrift stores.
At the top of Byrnes Rd, drinkers soak up the late sun at Oran Mor, a pub in a beautiful converted church, which also offers one of the city's best whisky bars.
Kelvin grove, a magnificent sandstone building, is the most visited free attraction in Scotland and the most visited museum in theUnited Kingdom outside London. Twenty-two state-of-theart galleries display 8000 objects including Scottish art (a major retrospective of artist Jack Vettriano's career is currently on display). Next door, the Kelvin grove Lawn Bowls Centre will offer one of the most dramatic settings of all the Common wealth Games venues.
Lovers of art and architecture should book themselves a spot on the informative tours of the Glasgow School of Art, an Art Nouveau gem designed by native son Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Built in two stages, the school bookendsMackintosh's illustrious career.
A graduate of the school, Mackintosh's 1896 design for a new School of Art building heralded the birth of a new style of 20th-century European architecture. The school has produced six Turner Prize winners and three Beck's Futures winners .
EAT, DRINK, SHOP
The Style Mile is a square mile in the centre of Glasgow housing the UK's largest concentration of shops outside of London. Located around Buchanan St, Argyle St and Merchant City, shoppers will find everything from unique designer stores to the favourite chains.
The Left Bank is an excellent place to do brunch, with friendly Scottish waiters and an interesting menu using locally sourced produce .A couple of doors down, Artisans serves up some of the city's best coffee.
Glasgow also enjoys one of Britain's best music scenes. Acts like Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai and Franz Ferdinand all got their start in legendary clubs like King Tut's, Wah Wah Hut and the Barrowland Ballroom, which are fun for a night out.
The writer was a guest of Visit Britain and Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic offers daily flights to London (23hr) via Hong Kong from Sydney with new multiple daily connections to Aberdeen and Edinburgh on its Little Red domestic service. Phone 1300 727 340; see virgin-atlantic.com.
Hotel Indigo Glasgow is a 95-room boutique hotel housed in the former Scottish Power building.
The first building to be illuminated from there was the Glasgow School of Art. In keeping with its origins, commissioned portraits by 25 local artists of their Scots heroes, including Charles Rennie Mackintosh, actor Gerard Butler, boxer Benny Lynch and writer John Byrne, adorn the walls. The hotel's Limelight Bar and Grill boasts one of the city's most extensive wine lists and vintage Glasgow cocktails. Rooms start from £129, hotelindigoglasgow.com.