We have been to Glasgow a few times now, not only to sightsee, but it is always a handy starting point for travel around Scotland, and we have used Glasgow Central and Queen Street stations to get to various places around Scotland, from Dundee to Wemyss Bay. Glasgow will also be hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games, so I urge any visitors who are coming to the UK for the games to get to know the city whilst they are here.
Status: Glasgow City Council Area, City, Scotland
Date: Various, First (04/01/2013)
Travel: Virgin Trains (Carlisle – Glasgow Central), Scotrail (Glasgow Central – Wemyss Bay, Perth, Dundee, Balloch)
Eating & Sleeping: Greggs, Central Station Booths
Attractions: St Mungo’s Cathedral, City Chambers, George Square, St Andrews Cathedral, St Mary’s Cathedral, Blue Police Boxes, The Armadillo, Glasgow Science Centre, River Clyde, Glasgow Subway, Gallery of Modern Art, Duke of Wellington Statue, Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Sauchiehall Street, St Luke’s Cathedral, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Finneiston Crane, Clyde Arc Bridge etc
We pulled into Glasgow Central, one of the largest train stations in the country, and set out to explore Glasgow City Centre. The views from the train on the way in were very promising, and we even spotted the Armadillo further down the river (more on that later).
We made our way through the towering streets to the main pedestrianised sections, and look what we found…
Anyone familiar with the British TV show Doctor Who will know the distinctive blue box (TARDIS) that he travels in, but what you may not know is that they used to be a common feature in the UK, with police boxes standing on many street corners throughout the nation, with telephones on them so you could contact the police. They were most popular in the 1960’s, as was why it’s shape was chosen for the TARDIS so that it could blend in. They have all but disappeared now, but one rare instance of somewhere they have stayed is Glasgow, with a few of them dotted around the city, and we saw another later on our way to St Mungo’s Cathedral. We started here in the city centre which is only a minute away from Glasgow Central Station.
The inner city is an amazing collection of streets, pedestrianised and otherwise, that make Glasgow a stand out city in the UK, and one of the best examples of a European City in Scotland. I love the high rise streets, you really get absorbed into the world of the city, and the architecture is very pleasant to look at, so its great to get lost in a new city. This is Buchanan Street, the main street in the heart of the city.
We were heading for somewhere I had heard a lot about, and had always wanted to visit…
George square is the main square in the city, and is known for the many statues it contains. At the far end are the Glasgow City Chambers. By the 18th century, Glasgow’s Tolbooth was becoming increasingly strained for local government in the ever growing town. It was sold in 1814, but we found the remains of the building later in the day…
A new site for the council was sought, and eventually the East Side of George Square was picked, and preparations made.
The chambers were constructed between 1882 and 1888, designed by William Young (1843 – 1900, Local Scottish Architect) who won a competition for the design of the building, with the first meeting taking place in 1889 after the inauguration by Queen Victoria the year before. It was used as the headquarters of Municipal Government from 1889 until the present day, with the current council, Glasgow City Council, having been in operation since 1996. The building is covered in statues and artwork, aside from Queen Victoria’s Statue, with
There have been a few additions to the building, starting in 1923 with an extension to the East Side of the building on John Street, and again in 1984 when Exchange House was added in George Street. Together, they increased the overall area of the City Chambers from 5,016 metres in 1889, to 14,000 today.
In the centre of the square stands a column, topped out by a statue of Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832, a famous Scottish poet and novelist). Other statues in the square include Robert Burns (1759 – 1796, another famous Scottish Poet who died in Dumfries) and Robert Peel (1788- 1850). On the other side of the square is Glasgow Queen Street, the other main station in the city, which we have used a few times on our way to other cities in Scotland including Stirling, Perth and Dundee.
As you look at the picture, on your right hand side out of shot is the Tourist Information Office for the city, and we picked up a map and got some tips on where to head for next.
One rather amusing tradition in Glasgow, is to top the statue of the Duke of Wellington outside the Gallery of Modern Art, with a cone on it’s head. This is seen all year round, and happily was present when we visited the city for the first time. The tradition supposedly dates back to the 1980’s.
The Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley, 1796 – 1852, 1st Duke of Wellington) was an Irish solider and Statesmen, who was a superior tactician on the battlefield and he claimed many victories, the most notable ones being the defeat of the French at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813 and during the Hundred Years War in 1815 he helped to win the Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon. During the later stages of his career he was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom twice, from 1828 – 1830 and briefly during 1834.
The Gallery itself is a beautiful building, and very reminiscent of Liverpool Town Hall back in England. Of course it wasn’t always the Gallery of Modern Art, as it began life in 1778 as the townhouse of a very wealthy man called William Cunninghame (1731 – 1799, a Scottish Tobacco Merchant). The next owners were the Royal Bank of Scotland who bought it in 1817, but later moved out and over to nearby Buchanan Street, so it became the Royal Exchange and it was refurbished to this end, and was finished by 1832. It was this time that the fantastic pillars at the front of the building were added, and it’s quite hard to image the building without them. By 1954 it was playing host to the Stirling’s Library, before becoming the Art Gallery in 1996. Its incredible that his building has had so many uses, and changed hands so many time but with damage to its heritage.
We soon found our way to the main shopping centre in Glasgow, the St Enoch centre, which opened in 1989. Previously, St Enoch railway station stood on the site, but it closed in 1966 and was demolished 11 years later. Note the large glass exterior. This building actually has the largest glass-covered enclosed space in the whole of Europe, and the steel frame holding it all together was built by the shipbuilders called Scott Lithgow, based in Port Glasgow, however they stopped trading in 1993. This shows how much interest and care taken into the construction of the building. The large amount of glass helps to keep in heat and has substantially reduced the heating bill, and made the interior a lot lighter due to the natural light that can come in all day.
Inside, we found a rather interesting set of decorations. As we were visiting in January, they were probably only around for the Christmas period, but we found them fascinating anyway…
This set of reindeer have been beautifully crafted, and tower above visitors. We counted at least three of them, and there were no doubt more in other areas of the centre. We nipped up to the top floor to enjoy a bit of the view and then moved on, down to the river.
Just outside the St Enoch Centre is the St Enoch Underground Station on the Glasgow Subway, but I will touch on that later.
The River Clyde runs through the centre of Glasgow, from its source in the Lowther Hills in South Lanarkshire, out into the Firth of Clyde amongst the Scottish Islands, and ultimately out into the Irish Sea. It is the 9th longest river in the UK, and the 3rd longest in Scotland. Glasgow has always been a major port in Britain, so further down the river are docks and ports that take trade out around the world.
There are numerous bridges over the Clyde, including the Arc Bridge (Known as the Clyde Arc that opened in 2006) further towards the Armadillo, the M8 Motorway Bridge that shoots over the City Centre and connects up with the Scottish Motorway network on either side of the city. As well as these, the West Coast Main Line bridge shown above brings Virgin Trains from London and Birmingham direct to Glasgow, and local services run by Scotrail also use it to access local areas of Scotland. The railway bridge leads directly into Glasgow Central, which is situated directly over the river on the size, so its from here that you get some amazing views of the city on your way in travelling from the south.
Walking down the river, we passed St Andrews Cathedral, designed in 1814 by James Gillespie Graham (1776 – 1855, a Scottish Architect) and it was completed in 1816. It became a Cathedral in 1884, after the Scottish Hierarchy of the Catholic Church was restored by Pope Leo XIII (1810 – 1903). The building looks very modern, yet with a bespoke charm about it. All over Glasgow new modern high rise towers and developments are appearing, yet both old and new compliment each other brilliantly, which is what I love about Glasgow.
There are two other Cathedrals in Glasgow, St Mary’s and St Luke’s. If you keep going down the river you will find The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens on Glasgow Green. It includes the palace with a giant conservatory at the back, situated in a vast parkland. The complex opened in 1898, and has been an important feature of the city ever since.
Heading towards the main Cathedral, St Mungo’s we passed through another part of the historic city. At the very back you can make out all that remains of the Tolbooth that I mentioned earlier. After the great fire of 1577 the earliest Tolbooth was constructed, before being destroyed (save for the tower) in 1793. The tower was then incorporated into the next Tolbooth. I am so glad the Clock Tower survived, as it’s just incredible to look at! The rest of the building was destroyed in yet another fire in 1926 but this section pulled through. This area of the Glasgow is known as Glasgow Cross, and just next to it as a Mercat Cross from 1930 (a replacement for the centuries old original that was long since gone).
At the front of the picture is the Tron Theatre, with it’s own clock tower in orange with a striking blue clock at the top. The Tron Theatre Club took over a derelict 1795 building that was designed by James Adam (1732 – 1794, Scottish Architect) known as the Tron Kirk, and refurbished it to reopen in 1981. The oldest surviving section of the building is the Clock Tower from the 16th century.
The theatre is situated on Trongate, a name which dates back to 1560. A “Tron” was the name given to the beam that goods were weighed on as they entered the city, and this area of the city has long been full of financial and trading activity.
We continued on through this area of the city and up to…
St Mungo’s cathedral, with accompanying David Livingston statue (1813 – 1873, Famous Scottish missionary and explorer) is the main cathedral in Glasgow, and was built before the 12th century. It is supposedly where St Mungo (the patron saint of Glasgow) built his first church.
A treaty of peace with England was ratified here in December 1502 by James IV, whilst later that century the battles of Glasgow in 1544 and 1560 made great use of the Cathedral and the Castle. The Castle itself was situated directly opposite the Cathedral, but it was destroyed in the 18th century so that Glasgow Royal Infirmary could be built, and it is still there today.
Inside the Cathedral is very impressive, and you could spend quite a while exploring its depths. It’s a short walk out of the main city centre, however there are lots of interesting things to discover on the way.
Behind the Cathedral is the famous Glasgow Necropolis, a massive graveyard that was established in 1832. There are over 50,000 individuals buried here, and most of the graves are marked by small impressive stone monuments. Due to its position up a small hill, these monuments are clearly visible and it’s a very interesting sight to look at.
Directly next to the Cathedral, is the aforementioned Royal Infirmary, with the beautiful South End of the Medical Block standing tall and proud. Famous staff at the hospital include Joseph Lister (1827 – 1912, surgeon who introduced a procedure to sterilise instruments between surgeries, noting infections passed from patient to patient during surgery and was often fatal).
From here, after marvelling at the incredible buildings all through the city, we returned to the main city centre, back up the pedestrianised section, to a notable modern statue…
Back onto Buchanan Street, we made our way to the far end away from Glasgow Central and George Square, to the statue of Donald Dewar (1937 – 2000). In 1707 when the parliaments of England and Scotland joined together to form the Great Britain (UK coming later when Ireland joined) the Scottish Parliament was dissolved and power transferred to Westminster, London.
When Scotland was granted devolution within the UK in 1998, a First Minister was elected to be the head of government in Scotland. This man was Donald Dewar, who took office in 1999, and marked the first time the Scottish Parliament had met since 1707. He stayed in office until the end of 2000 when he sadly passed away due to a brain haemorrhage. Since then there have been a further 5 first ministers, with Alex Salmond the incumbent (as of 2014).
Donald Dewar was the first, and after his death Jim Wallace became the acting First Minister, before passing over the role to the 2nd official First Minister, Henry McLeish. He resigned in 2001 following a financial scandal, so once again there was an acting First Minister, and again it was Jim Wallace. He handed over to Jack McConnell in late 2001, and he stayed in the role until 2007 when the Scottish National Party, headed by Alex Salmond, won elections and took power.
Behind Mr Dewar’s statue, is the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, which opened in 1990. The smooth stone exterior of the building looks fantastic, and the building was intended to replace St Andrews Hall that was destroyed by a fire in 1962. At the back of the building, the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre (opened 1999) joins on to it, with trains running to and from Glasgow Queen Street Station running underneath both buildings.
That was it for our initial visit to Glasgow, however we have been back a few times to get trains to other parts of Scotland, so on the way back from Stirling one day we had a few hours to explore another section of the city…
Glasgow has one of only 3 metro systems in the UK, after London and Newcastle (Tyne and Wear). The are two lines that both follow the same course, with the line consisting of just one full loop. The two lines run clockwise and anti-clockwise around the loop every few minutes. The full loop can be completed in around half an hour, and each station lists how long it will take to each of the other stations heading to the designated start and finish stations for list purposes. The subway runs on both sides of the Clyde, crossing it twice at either end of the loop. The current trains are in an orange livery, and are smaller than the trains used on the London Underground. The ticket system is quite cheap, and even a day rider doesn’t cost a lot, giving good value for money. Expansions for the network have been talked about for the future.
We started at Buchanan Street Station, the entrance to which is directly opposite Glasgow Queen Street, so we went straight there after arriving back from Stirling. We travelled Clockwise round to Cessnock, and disembarked there, and walked down to the river.
Along the banks of the river are the Glasgow Science Centre, and the Clyde Auditorium (pictured), also known as the Armadillo because of its distinctive shape. It is probably the most well known shape in Glasgow, and is a major draw for tourists. Similarities between the Sydney Opera House and the Armadillo have also been drawn, however the design is actually based on an interlocking series of ships hulls.
It opened in 1997 after a new building was decided on to increase the overall capacity in the nearby SECC (Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre). The winning design was pitched by Foster and Partners (Founded in 1967, Architectural Firm from London) and has 1,100 seats.
This whole area was originally Queen’s Dock, but this was filled in years ago and the area was rebuilt. One major landmark of the area that has survived is the Finnieston Crane. If you have made it to this part of Glasgow I guarantee you won’t miss it, as it towers over the quayside. It was completed in 1932 and played an important part in the running of the docks that inhabited this part of the city. It’s official name is actually the Stobcross Crane however it was intended to replace the previous Finnieston Crane so locals have coined the name for it. It stands 50.24 metres tall, with a 77 metre long jib on the top.
Just down from the Armadillo, heading back towards the city centre, is the Clyde Arc Bridge that I mentioned earlier when we found the river on the way to St Mungo’s Cathedral.
This stylish road bridge was opened in 2006 by the then leader of Glasgow City Council, Steve Purcell, and is the first road crossing built in Glasgow since the Kingston Bridge was completed in 1969. The bridge runs for 96 metres, with a steel arch holding the structure up using the wires that come off the arch. Again the bridge is a very recognisable part of Glasgow, and quite interesting aesthetically.
We started heading back towards Cessnock tube station, and we passed by the Glasgow Science Centre, which is on this side (South) of the Clyde, and a major visitor attraction. The purpose built science centre has three main buildings, a Science Mall, the IMAX cinema and the Glasgow Tower , which is a 127 metre tall observation tower. It holds the Guiness World Record for the tallest tower in the world that can rotate 360 degrees.
Glasgow is a very well connected city, with Scotrail services running to almost everywhere in Scotland from the main stations of Glasgow Central and Glasgow Queen Street, including to connect with ferry services around the coast, and to Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and the other cities. The motorway network as I pointed out before meets up in Glasgow with the M74 (For Lockerbie and Gretna) coming from the M6 (For the North and Midlands of England) at the English Border. There are two airports that serve the city, Glasgow International near Paisley and Glasgow Prestwick in the town of Prestwick on the coast near Ayr.
Elsewhere in the city you can explore the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Sauchiehall Street (one of the main shopping streets in the city) and the Hunterian Museum (the oldest public museum in Scotland) which is part of Glasgow University.
Glasgow is a lovely city, there are many things to discover and explore, and as it is the largest city in Scotland so many of Scotland’s national treasures are housed here. If you visit Scotland, this is a must see place, so get on down to Glasgow!