As an Oxford student with an accent, I am frequently asked upon meeting people, “So, where are you from?” To this blunt query I have three possible answers: Somerville College, if I’m feeling sarky; Scotland, if I want them to like me; and Glasgow; if I don’t. To say that Glasgow’s got a slightly different reputation to the rest of Scotland is an understatement. The latter seems invoke for most Southerners a magical, Macbethian world of castles and ceilidhs and Glenfiddich and faeries, the former a gritty city full of tracksuited Buckfast drinkers committing knife crimes all over the place (while teenage and pregnant). Though it may be true that Glasgow is very different to the rest of Scotland, these reputations are, somewhat, unfair. Trainspotting was, as any indignant Wegie will tell you, set in Edinburgh, and though they may have their fancy castle, it’s Glasgow that has the culture.
Described by Vice as “a paradise,” and not just because of the cheap and abundant drugs, Glasgow is not-so-secretly a cultural hive. With one of the best and most beautiful art schools in Europe and more hipstery music and theatre venues than lamp posts, there’s always fifteen things you could be doing right now, and they’re all less than twenty minutes away on the genuinely excellent bus system or adorably miniature one-line underground system. You can seek out cool house, electronic and techno club nights in semi-refurbished warehouse and train arches if that’s your thing (the latter even has a FunktionOne soundsystem), or you can down one pound Jaegerbombs to the sounds of the Sugababes in one of Glasgow’s many LGBTQ+ or friendly clubs.
Whether you take your tea with scones or shisha, party White Lightning or White Russians, eat veal or vegan, you’ll always find your fix. I’m not exaggerating – the Willow Tea Rooms on Buchanan, the main shopping street, let you enjoy high tea in the beautifully preserved rooms designed by the internationally renowned Art Deco architect Charles Rennie MacIntosh. Tchai-Ovna serves over 100 types of tea and offers hookah pipes for rent. Although voted Britain’s vegan capital in 2013, you don’t even have to leave the train station to find top quality Angus beef steaks – just pop into Alston Bar & Beef.
Glasgow doesn’t just have things to do, it has things to see: due to its immense wealth accumulated through its involvement in shipping and trade, the second city of the Empire is packed with beautiful Victorian and Art Deco buildings. There are a vast selection of museums and galleries that showcase not just the work of international artists but many of our own making. While the Turner Prize exhibition on right now is not to be missed, neither are the beautiful and culturally critical works of the Scottish Colourists and the Glasgow boys, to be found at Scotland’s oldest public museum, the Hunterian.
If this all gets a bit overwhelming, you can always find some peace and quiet in one of Glasgow’s many lush and gorgeous parks, such as the Botanic Gardens, home to the iconic Kibble Palace hothouse and the Bard in the Botanics outdoor Shakespeare productions in summer. If that isn’t enough of an escape you can drive the hour it takes to get to the infamous Loch Lomond, surrounded by the The Trossachs protected National Park. Once you’re up there, you may as well drive a little further and pay a visit to Loch Fyne, along with its famous fresh oyster bar (Madonna’s favourite restaurant in Britain).
Glasgow may not quite evoke the glamour of the other cultural meccas of Europe, but it doesn’t have the prices, either. For a cheap, trendy, busy weekend away, it’s the perfect unexpected location.