Glasgow, Scotland, is city with muscle, a working man’s town. The River Clyde fueled its economy, first as a major trading center in the 18th century, when it prospered trading tobacco, cotton and sugar with the American colonies, and then, after the Revolutionary War, becoming a locomotive and shipbuilding powerhouse in the 19th and early 20th century. But as the century wore on, shipbuilding moved east and hard times hit a hardworking populace.
Then, in the 1980s, Glasgow began reinventing itself into a city focusing on services -- tourism, retailing and commerce. The city put itself on the tourism map with major exhibitions and events, starting with the Burrell Collection in 1983. Sir William Burrell, a millionaire ship owner, bequeathed the collection that he had spent decades amassing to the city and it became the linchpin to its rebirth. Its opening was closely followed by the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988; Glasgow was then named European City of Culture 1990. It became the U.K. City of Architecture and Design in 1999. Now the city is turning back to its origins, investing more than £500 million on new facilities along the River Clyde.
Glasgow, in short, never stands still. And you can see that simply by looking at the city. It’s a mix of architectural styles -- Victorian neo-classical spires and glowing sandstones, sensuous Art Nouveau and contemporary minimalist glass and titanium buildings.
It’s a city of great museums -- more than 20 -- funded by those early traders and shipbuilders. More modern buildings, such as the Glasgow Science Centre and the cutting-edge Lighthouse, showcase the work of modern designers. It recycles buildings -- the Gallery of Modern Art is located in what was the mansion of a merchant who made a fortune in tobacco; many of the warehouses for these 18th century masters of the universe now house shops, barsand restaurants of the fashionable Merchant City district. It now has shopping that rivals London’s West End, albeit in a more compact -- and hence more walkable -- space.
Glasgow is a vital city, one that plays as hard as it’s always worked -- when work was to be had. It has more than 800 bars and pub and 30 night clubs. Music is important to Glaswegians; port city that it is, it’s imported music as well as goods, rock ‘n’ roll and country music are big here. It has a wide range of concert venues, from big auditoriums to pubs featuring grassroots music.
It’s now a great place for eating out, offering a choice of multinational chains as well as much more individual and locally owned bistros and brasseries full of character. Glasgow is served by a 15-station underground system known as the “Clockwork Orange,” which operates in a six-mile loop through the city center and the West End. It also has an extensive bus network. Taxis are widely available.