A magnificent and imposing mass of red sandstone and gothic-looking spires, Kelvingrove is Glasgow’s finest museum – and arguably Scotland’s too. The collection contains more than 8,000 pieces, which range from one of Europe’s greatest displays of civic art to a Supermarine Spitfire suspended dramatically from the ceiling. You’ll also find a world-famous assembly of arms and armour from throughout the ages, pieces from ancient Scotland and ancient Egypt alike, and various natural history exhibits showing off weird and wonderful beasts from across thousands of centuries. There’s a menagerie of more recently stuffed animals too, including Sir Roger the Indian Elephant, one of Kelvingrove’s oldest and most-loved exhibits (just try to stop the kids from spotting the bullet hole in his skull).
In May 2014 when a fire ripped through Glasgow School of Art’s historic century-old main building – legendary local architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s defining masterpiece – art and architecture lovers the world over held their breath, fearful that this iconic structure was about to be lost forever. But thanks to some heroic work by firefighters, against the odds the vast majority of it was saved and disaster averted, with the exception principally of the beautiful Mackintosh Library – which was tragically completely destroyed. It will be years before the building is fully functional again, but it speaks volumes of the mysterious mastery of Mackintosh that even blackened and smelling of soot, with several of its dramatic panelled windows blown out, it still looks noble and majestic.
Has any single structure come to represent Glasgow more than the Finnieston Crane? Probably not. The giant grey cantilever crane is no longer in working order today. But it has been wisely retained and recontextualised in new proximity to such shiny modern buildings as the Armadillo, The Hydro, the Glasgow Science Centre and the BBC Scotland headquarters, as a potent and emotive 53 metre-tall symbol of proud engineering heritage. It’s just one among several landmarks on the Clyde – the famous river upon which Glasgow is built – which can be experienced along a relatively short walk from Glasgow Green east of the city centre upriver to Govan.
Originally laid out in 1841 to supply the University of Glasgow, the gardens were acquired by the City of Glasgow and made public in 1891. In 1873, the gardens’ defining building – the eccentric wrought-iron and glass domed glasshouse Kibble Palace – was erected, followed a few years later by the Main Range teak glasshouse. Both remain beautifully preserved, free to enter and filled with exotic plant life, from arid lands and tropical rainforests alike. The long east-west facing green in front of the glasshouses teams with life on warm days, be it families or groups of students or yoga classes.
This remains effectively Glasgow’s last arthouse cinema – the number of picture houses in the city having rapidly dwindled in the second half of the twentieth century. But it’s in rude health these days, as a non-profit organisation supported by Glasgow City Council, under the umbrella of Glasgow Film. A third screen was added to the GFT in 2013 to maximise capacity, particularly during the booming annual Glasgow Film Festival every February, for which it operates as the main hub cinema and buzzes with premieres and events.
A double-take – perhaps even a triple-take – may be in order when you first set eyes upon the late nineteenth century façade of the Templeton Building, or Templeton On The Green to give it its full name. Even were this mindboggling grand red brick structure (which was modelled on Doge’s Palace in Venice) not situated in a fairly barren pocket of east central Glasgow, nor marred by an ugly modern extension, it would still look almost as if it had been beamed from another dimension. As well as being worth visiting purely to gawp at the exterior, the Templeton since 2006 has also boasted a worthy tenant in WEST – a Bavarian-style microbrewery and beer hall/restaurant.
Given that the medieval settlement of Glasgow grew up around the High Street and Saltmarket, from the cathedral in the north to the river in the south, then this open area of land adjacent to the Clyde can legitimately claim to be Glasgow's oldest park. Over the centuries it has played host to Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite army, radical political meetings, sports clubs and a railway station although that closed in 1953. More recently, it has been a venue for huge outdoor music gigs and the World Pipe Band Championship. The People's Palace, the city's social history museum with attached Winter Gardens, is sited within the park but there are other points of interest: the world's biggest terracotta fountain for instance, the Templeton building, a number of monuments, children's play areas, there is an attractive pedestrian suspension bridge crossing the Clyde and a football centre with assorted grass and synthetic pitches.
This cultural centre for the people was opened in 1898, at a time when overcrowding and poor public health were at their worst in the East End of Glasgow. Since the 1940s, it has taught visitors about the social history of the city – from its 19th-century slums to its hosting of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, at which time the ornate red sandstone museum and glasshouse sat proudly in the centre of the public hub on Glasgow Green. Through a wealth of historic artefacts, paintings, prints and photographs, film and interactive computer displays, it’s possible to discern much about how Glaswegians lived, worked and played in days gone by.
Intended as a gleaming symbol of modern Clydeside, rising from the post-industrial wasteland where shipyards once stood, the Riverside Museum has attracted scorn as well as accolades since it opened in 2011. This ambitious 7,500 square metre zig-zag metal and glass structure, designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, won the European Museum of the Year Award in 2013. The 3,000-strong collection of objects detailing Glasgow’s rich past from its era as maritime powerhouse through to the present day are as fascinating as ever, and engrossingly displayed. Skateboards, bicycles, prams and trams, rockets, boats and even an authentic large-scale recreation of a cobbled old city street are all featured.
A futuristic, architectural flourish on the south bank of the river, this attraction comprises three buildings: the science mall, the Cineworld IMAX cinema and the Glasgow Tower. In the mall, there are educational exhibits that aim to inspire visitors – great for children – while the cinema shows short, science-related movies. The tower is an impressive 127 metres and can rotate 360°, giving great views of Glasgow, but has been plagued by problems since opening in 2001. Currently it functions in summer only – as long as it's not too windy.
Glasgow can seem unremittingly urban most of the time but escape from the sandstone, concrete and internal combustion engine can be relatively easy: the Firth of Clyde and the great sea lochs and mountains of Argyll are fairly close by. If you want to stay in the city and seek some green respite however, Pollok Country Park is an excellent choice. The park extends over 146 hectares and has various walks, an attractive walled garden, a woodland garden, Clydesdale horses, a pedigree fold of Highland cattle, three mountain bike circuits, a play park for kids and places to picnic.
Sitting directly outside the Riverside Museum, although quite separate and with an entrance charge, the Tall Ship is a three-masted, steel-hulled barque built by a shipyard at Port Glasgow and launched in 1896. Named the Glenlee, she started her seagoing career as a cargo vessel, sailed round the world four times in the course of her work, served as a training ship for the Spanish navy from 1922 to 1969, changed name on several occasions, then was eventually berthed in Seville and allowed to fade away. Fortunately a naval architect spotted her potential and the Clyde Maritime Trust brought her home more than 20 years ago. Now, fully restored, the Glenlee is a historically important museum ship and one of only five Clyde-built sailing ships still afloat. Her story would justify a visit on its own – the chance to look around this large, handsome vessel is icing on the cake.