The weather in Scotland's largest city may be gloomy for much of the year, but everything else about Glasgow is bright and vibrant: The city of 600,000 is friendly, multicultural and impressively well-dressed — this is a city that loves to shop.
Don't arrive expecting only to experience haggis, kilts and bagpipes. They do exist, but many Glaswegians are keener to show off their city's strengths in contemporary art, music and design. Meanwhile, the local cuisine has been given new life with fresh, organic ingredients and the influence of South Asian flavours. Here's how to enjoy Glasgow's mix of past, present and future like a local. And don’t forget, as a Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card member, you’ll enjoy rewards and benefits like No FX Mark-Ups and Complimentary Airport Lounge Access when you travel.*
Day One - Traditional Glasgow
You can't take a dozen steps in Glasgow without bumping into some evidence of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), an architect, artist and designer — and local hero. Glasgow boasts no fewer than 13 attractions where you can get to know Mackintosh's aesthetic, which was a major influence on Frank Lloyd Wright. The expansive Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is the best bet for first-time visitors to Glasgow, for its exhibits on Mackintosh and much more. Also: check the website of the nearby Kelvin Hall, a cultural centre with rotating exhibitions, to see what's up when you're visiting.
Next, pause and refuel at the Willow Tea Rooms, and admire Mackintosh's design and decor, which the tea rooms haven't changed since 1904.
Now for some shopping. McCall's Highlandwear could be the world's most stylish destination for traditional Scottish dress. For anyone who's donned frumpy rental Scottish wear for a wedding, the tailoring at McCall's is refreshingly flattering and the fabrics luxurious. You may find yourself salivating over a custom Highland dress package (starting at £1,099 for a traditional men's outfit).
Day Two - Multicultural Glasgow
If you have never tried haggis — the famous/notorious Scottish dish consisting of sheep offal (including heart and lung) cooked with oatmeal and spices in a sheep's stomach — you probably should, for the experience. First-timers frequently admit it's tastier than it sounds.
But if you really want to sample haggis like a local in Glasgow, try it as the base of an Indian-style fritter called a pakora. Tens of thousands of Glaswegians are of South Asian ancestry, and cultural culinary mashups fill the city's menus — none more beloved than the haggis pakora. Many of Glasgow's South Asian restaurants feature the hot, salty little fried treat on their menus; you can't go wrong sampling one at bustling, friendly Ashoka Finnieston, where Glaswegians have been loyally lining up to eat since 1973.
And if you lunch at Ashoka, have dinner at a restaurant that shows off Glasgow's expertise in south Indian cuisine. Many local residents have roots in the southernmost states of India, including Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. As a result, Glasgow could be the best place in Europe to the region's richly flavoured dishes — with dosas on the side, of course. Dakhin, located in the trendy Merchant City shopping district, has won accolades from media outlets up and down the United Kingdom.
Day Three - Contemporary Glasgow
For a possible view of Glasgow's future appearance, visit the Riverside Museum. Housed in a beautiful contemporary building by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, the museum focuses on transportation of the past, present and possible future.
Then, for proof that Glasgow is an important city for contemporary art, there's the always-relevant Gallery of Modern Art. Known as “GoMA" to locals, it’s housed in a neoclassical building right in central Royal Exchange Square.
Most of central Glasgow is dedicated to shopping, and locals know that many of the quirkiest and most interesting stores are located in the side streets around the Princes Square and Buchanan Galleries shopping centres rather than inside them. Find hip-casual designer labels at Fat Buddha and vintage duds at Mr. Ben's Retro Clothing; a few blocks east, The Barras Market is an entire building dedicated to second-hand, bargain and funky finds. (And while you stroll, be on the lookout for murals.)
Finally, you can't say you've experienced today's Glasgow like a local unless you've dined at. Ubiquitous Chip, a restaurant that has helped Scots rethink their domestic cuisine. It offers all-organic, fine-dining versions of traditional Scottish dishes: Think venison haggis, steaks from the original home of Angus beef, and — of course — seafood galore from the North Sea.
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