Glasgow and art go together like fish and chips, salt and vinegar or perhaps Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his less known but equally talented wife, Margaret. In 2015 the city hosted the Turner Prize, 2017’s Portrait Artist of the Year lives and works in Glasgow and Glasgow School of Art has world renown for producing top artists year after year. So it is not surprising then that the city has plenty to see when it comes to great creative works.
Legend has it that two white bulls led St Mungo to the spot on the banks of the Molendinar Burn where he was to establish a settlement. That place became the site of Glasgow Cathedral and the very heart of ‘Glaschu’. Today, very close to that very spot, sits St Mungo’s Museum featuring religious artefacts from around the world, including a famed Zen garden and a large bronze statue of Hindu God Shiva Nataraj. Yet it is just one of Glasgow’s many cultural jewels, and the city’s abundance of museums and galleries house impressive artworks, including Whistler, Hornell and Monet.
Pride of place goes to the splendid Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The Grande Dame of them all, this Victorian architectural masterpiece provides the perfect frame for one of the most powerful art collections in the country, including works by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, masterpieces by Van Gogh, Rembrandt the iconic Dali ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’ when it is not out on tour, as well as work from the Scottish Colourists. This free museum also includes historic and cultural artefacts from around the world from a Spitfire LA198 to a three-dimensional model of the solar system made in 1820, regular exhibitions and family-focused natural history displays in The Life Gallery.
The Object Cinema Life in the Rainforest exhibition, which uses film and sound to bring the rainforest to life, is also worth a look. And don’t miss the 1pm organ recital in the main entrance hall – you might have heard the organist play already as his rendition of Life on Mars by David Bowie, played in tribute to the star who died in early 2016, went viral.
Just up the hill on University Avenue you will find one of Scotland’s oldest public museums, The Hunterian Museum (closed until 2021 for redevelopment), home to 1.3 million artefacts ranging from meteorites, mummies and Mackintosh. Displays at the new Kelvin Hall showcase a satellite of the Hunterian and include Scottish Pottery and Scottish Fossils. The Hunterian Art Museum on Hillhead Street displays a range of works from past masters such as Rubens, and includes the largest permanent display of the works of James McNeill Whistler, to modern works by British artists.
Glasgow and art go together like fish and chips, salt and vinegar or perhaps Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his less known but equally talented wife, Margaret
Museums and architecture
More modern tastes can also be catered for at the Gallery of Modern Art, or GoMA. Housed in a neoclassical mansion bang in the city centre, the gallery has exhibitions, artists’ talks and a library with cafe, free internet and book-lending facilities. Talking of books, if you feel like going back to school, jump on the underground to Shields Road. An outstanding example of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s artistry, Scotland Street School Museum, is a wonderful creation of space and light. Now a museum celebrating pupils and playtimes past, you can sit at an ink-stained desk, visit the Cookery Room with original Mackintosh dressers, or try hopscotch in the Drill Hall.
Provand’s Lordship – Glasgow’s oldest house – dates from the 13th century, and still stands proudly opposite the Cathedral. This last vestige of the city’s mediaeval heart was once a hospital run by monks, a legacy reflected in its St Nicholas garden, containing medicinal plants used in the Middle Ages. Both Provand’s Lordship and the People’s Palace in Glasgow Green tell the story of the ordinary folk of Glasgow.
A glorious mix of artefacts, the People’s Palace is a social history museum, with everything from wartime displays to Billy Connolly’s banana boots. It’s a brilliant place to spend the day, especially as it’s attached to the beautiful Winter Gardens, a Victorian glasshouse providing coffee and a comfy seat beneath giant palm trees. Travelling west, down by the river, a welcome addition to the city’s cultural scene is the wonderful Riverside Museum of Transport, an award-winning architect-designed extravaganza crammed with planes, boats, trains and trams – and with a Tall Ship moored outside. Remember, admission to all Glasgow Life-run museums is free.
Built in subtle sandstone and glittering glass, Glasgow is a visually-striking city, and was awarded UK City of Architecture and Design status in 1999. This led to a surge in new design initiatives, evidenced in the refurbishment of many old buildings and a raft of new and innovative builds, including the city’s burgeoning Financial District down by the old berths of the Broomielaw. And Glasgow continues to grow and change, demonstrated in wonderful hybrids of old and new, as seen in The Lighthouse, Glasgow’s centre for architecture and design, and in beautiful contemporary structures such as the Clyde Arc bridge, the Hydro and the gleaming Science Centre. But for many, Glasgow style means Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and his soaring masterpieces like Queen’s Cross Church in Maryhill although sadly it is unclear if visitors will ever be able to see the world famous Glasgow School of Art again since a second massive fire in 2018.
A glorious mix of artefacts, the People’s Palace is a social history museum, with everything from wartime displays to Billy Connolly’s banana boots
Historical houses and theatre
A half hour train ride to Helensburgh will also take you to the Hill House, CRM’s breathtaking creation for the Blackie family, while, back in the city, another Mackintosh-designed delight is House for an Art Lover at Bellahouston Park. Built in the 1990s to his original design, the house showcases contemporary crafts, and visitors can also hear music recitals, buy gifts, or take tea in the elegant cafe. Many of these buildings can be enjoyed with a Mackintosh Trail Ticket from Tourist Information Centres and other outlets.
Glasgow’s other great architect and designer, Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson is renowned for a range of magnificent Victorian terraces, churches and houses, all with distinctive Greek and Egyptian influences. Most striking amongst these is his church on St Vincent Street, the terraces off Great Western Road and his remarkable houses on the city’s south side, including the stunning Holmwood House at Cathcart described as the architect’s finest domestic design.
As befits Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow has an artistic pedigree as long as it is broad; embracing every aspect of traditional and contemporary culture. Many national companies such as BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Ballet and the Scottish Youth Theatre are headquartered here, and the redeveloped south side of the Clyde is shaping up to become the media hub of Scotland, with both BBC and STV broadcasting from the river’s banks.
The Theatre Royal in Hope Street is the oldest theatre in Glasgow. Expertly restored as a well-equipped modern opera house with an old-style auditorium, it presents not only its home company, Scottish Opera, but also Scottish Ballet and other world-class arts companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre. A new foyer with spiral staircase was opened in 2014 and April 2015 saw the launch of a stunning new balcony cafe and rooftop terrace with views across the city’s rooftops.
Glasgow has several other theatres, each with their own distinctive character. Enjoy traditional fare and musicals at The Pavilion and The King’s, the Cottier in the West End and the Merchant City’s Tron Theatre offer more contemporary dramas and comedies. The world-renowned Citizens Theatre in the Gorbals is currently closed for renovations, although an artistic programme is still being presented at the Tramway in Pollokshields. A West End institution is the much-loved lunchtime theatre of A Pie, A Play and A Pint at Oran Mor.
As befits Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow has an artistic pedigree as long as it is broad; embracing every aspect of traditional and contemporary culture
Live performance venues
You can see the stars of tomorrow showcase their skills today at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Renfrew Street, where student-led drama and recitals abound, and enjoy comedy, theatre and art at Platform, the Bridge, an award-winning arts hub in Easterhouse. SWG3 in Eastvale Place is a bit of a well kept secret, but those in the know enjoy a wide variety of contemporary shows and exhibitions at the arts venue. Home to Scottish Ballet, Tramway is one of Europe’s leading contemporary visual and performing arts venues.
Originally a tram depot, the huge scale of space available attracts well-established theatre and dance companies, while still leaving plenty of room for galleries and public areas, including the peaceful The Hidden Gardens. And all this right next to the Glasgow Gudwara, where pre-arranged tours include a free meal. Visitors to the city can also enjoy a wide variety of lunchtime and evening concerts and recitals, thanks to Glasgow’s network of concert halls.
The elegant City Halls provide the focus for Glasgow’s Centre for Music. Dating from 1841, it’s Glasgow’s oldest purpose-built performance and meeting space, housing rehearsal, recording and broadcasting facilities. As a creative hub, the centre also provides a programme of public workshops and concerts, and the Grand Hall’s traditional shoebox-style auditorium is world-renowned for its acoustics. Backing onto the halls is the Old Fruitmarket, an entrancing period venue which hosts theatre events, jazz concerts, comedy, gigs and ceilidhs, while Glasgow’s stunning Royal Concert Hall is home to folk, jazz and classical concerts including the world famous Celtic Connections series, and performances by Royal Scottish National Orchestra – one of Europe’s leading symphony orchestras.
No visit to Glasgow would be complete with taking in an authentic show at The Britannia Panoptican, the world’s oldest surviving music hall. Almost untouched since it’s heyday, it hosts a schedule of evening shows and silent films. If it’s the silver screen that’s your passion, Glasgow’s the place to catch both the classics and the latest releases. From the art deco chic of the Glasgow Film Theatre in Rose Street, the salon-style Grosvenor in Ashton Lane, to the megalith multiplex that is Cineworld in Renfrew Street or the ‘superscreen’ Cineworld at Silverburn, film buffs can be assured that every taste is catered for. Add to that the 3D IMAX cinema at the Science Centre in Govan, and the arrival of 4D at Cineworld in Renfrew Street, and you can enjoy the flicks in small, medium and very, very large!
Our friend and neighbour Edinburgh may boast tattoos and artfests, but Glasgow does pretty well on the festival circuit, too, with festivals to meet all tastes. January kicks off with the world-famous Celtic Connections. Historically, the influence of the Celt stretches far across the globe, and this international folk music festival blends top-class musicians and performers in a unique celebration of Celtic folklore, traditions and music.
The elegant City Halls provide the focus for Glasgow’s Centre for Music. Dating from 1841, it’s Glasgow’s oldest purpose-built performance and meeting space, housing rehearsal, recording and broadcasting facilities
In February, it’s the turn of the Glasgow Film Festival, an extravaganza of all things celluloid. Around 30,000 people each year attend over 200 themed screenings, events and special appearances, proving that cinema is definitely a Glasgow favourite. March sees the International Comedy Festival, a riotous affair of stage shows, cabarets and stand-up which spreads cheer citywide. Another local passion is literature, and the AyeWrite book festival in April attracts an array of Scottish and international and writers and readers to the majestic surrounds of the Mitchell – Europe’s largest reference library.
April also sees Glasgow International, a wonderful, biennial festival of visual art which spreads across the city. Visitors in June can enjoy more art, alongside literature and music in the brilliant festival that is National Refugee Week, when Glaswegians new and old celebrate this culturally diverse city. Also in June is the bohemian West End Festival and the Glasgow Mela, a two-day celebration of Asian culture.
The Bard in the Botanics festival of outdoor Shakespeare plays runs from the end of June to the start of August in the West End’s beautiful Botanic Gardens. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still a perennial favourite. Glasgow’s annual festival of street arts, physical theatre and circus, featuring a range of performers from around Scotland and further afield, takes place in July and August. This includes a diverse range of workshops and master classes. The relatively new TRNSMT festival – which has previously featured such acts as Queen and Liam Gallagher – takes over Glasgow Green in July.
Don your kilts in August, as Glasgow hosts Piping Live and the World Pipe Band Championships, which sees more than 8,000 pipers, drummers and bands from every continent uniting in a crescendo of chords and colour. Doors Open Day – which is actually an entire weekend in September – is a fantastic opportunity to glimpse the hidden city, as over a hundred weird and wonderful buildings in and around the city open up previously unseen areas to public view. Did you know, for example, that there’s a secret multi-storey horse stable in the Merchant City? Or a redundant bus garage filled with over 100 vintage buses, coaches, commercial vehicles and fire appliances exists in Bridgeton Bus Garage? Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust host events throughout the year.
Outspoken Arts Scotland’s annual festival of gay culture, takes to the streets in October. Now in its sixth year, the Scottish Mental Health Arts And Film Festival features music, film, art and literature, and also runs at a number of venues across October. The year draws to a close with Glasgow Loves Christmas – almost two months’ worth of winter celebrations incorporating the Christmas Lights switch-on in George Square, continental markets, a seasonal nativity, festive singing, and skating under the stars, before you gear up to end the year with traditional music and dance – including the obligatory bagpipes – at Glasgow Loves Hogmanay!
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