Wendy H Gilmour reveals the many delights that Glasgow – and in particular the foodie hub that is Finnieston – has to offer that will make you want to stay forever.
After living in Glasgow for 15 years we finally upped sticks and moved our family a half hour out into the country (the classic effect of two kids and two dogs) but the beauty of being so close is that I find myself back in the city every week, tackling it like a tourist; trying out new eateries and locations whilst shoehorning photoshoots into lunch breaks. Glasgow has terrible weather but scores big on the charm points with incredible architecture and museums, totally affordable food and a special breed of friendly locals who can talk your socks off whilst simultaneously drinking you under the table – this is a city to make friends in.
You’ll have to forgive me that this guide is somewhat Finnieston-centric but, whilst I am almost certainly a little biased (this area was our stomping ground for over a decade after all), Finnieston is a delightful area sandwiched between the city centre and the West End which has blossomed over recent years from nothing more than a smattering of old man pubs to a vibrant hub stuffed full of the best new restaurants and bars and all within walking distance of pretty much anywhere in town…
WHEN TO GO
It’s hard to say when the best time of year to visit Glasgow is, I mean, even in the height of summer you shouldn’t expect it to be balmy with an average high of about 18 degrees in July and August and with the West of Scotland being renowned for its rain you would be well advised to pack a brolly BUT somehow the dreich weather (that’s Scottish for damp and grey) adds to the charm of the medieval buildings and I promise there is plenty to do. Strike it lucky with the sun though and the city really comes to life with everyone and their dog filling all available sun traps and each square foot of parkland with a body parked on it (‘taps aff’ from May onwards weather permitting) – honestly though, Glasgow never really gets busy so I’d opt for the summer months if I had to choose.
WHAT TO DO
Glasgow is a city for walking and the beauty is that everything is within easy reach. Stroll through Kelvingrove Park and take along a picnic to enjoy from local deli Roots & Fruits (plenty of veggie and vegan options as well as a legendary sausage roll for £1.80) and, if the weather’s on your side, have a shot at lawn bowls for free via The Pavilion with Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum as a most epic backdrop.
The art gallery itself, as is the case for most of Glasgow’s museums, has free entry and a brilliant collection of paintings as well as a good helping of dinosaur bones, wild animals and a spitfire for the littles. If you happen to be planning a trip in July or August then please check out Summer Nights at the Bandstand, a completely renovated amphitheatre in the park, which has previously hosted sets from Florence and the Machine to Tom Jones. Whilst you can’t enjoy a concert for free as we used to, hanging out the lounge window of my old flat, the Bandstand has to be one of the most special venues around.
From here it’s just five minutes over the road to Glasgow University and, although they offer ticketed tours, I would say skip those and take yourself straight on up to The Cloisters and two of the most magnificent Harry Potter-esque quadrangles to fulfil all your Instagram dreams.
Whilst you’re in that neck of the woods pop over to the West End for a root around the indie and second-hand shops and come rain or shine the Botanic Gardens and the Glasshouse are well worth a free visit (with a Kember & Jones picnic as your companion).
The cobbled Ashton Lane is home to one of my favourite Glasgow landmarks, the traditional Grosvenor Cinema (currently closed for refurbishment until June 2020) and I love that they offer ‘Watch with baby’ for £6 with a free tea or coffee every Tuesday and Thursday morning – so cute.
If walking’s not your jam then grab yourself a Next Bike and tour round the cycle lanes and down the Clydeside which has all been revamped recently and land yourself in Glasgow Green and West Brewery for a little mid-ride pick-me-up with decent bar food and homebrewed craft beers.
Now that’s all well and good but, let’s be honest, if there are three things you really need to commit to trying when you visit Scotland then those are haggis, whisky and a ceilidh – the Scot’s trifecta. Haggis is best served in supper form from any local chippie (it’s hard to find a bad one, to be honest but if you want a sit down then Old Salty’s is a good bet with a good atmosphere), for your dancing, head to the Ceilidh at Sloans, Fridays 8.30pm-midnight with Chitterybite (tickets are £10pp or £25pp with a 3-course dinner) and your whisky is best served at the Ben Nevis with a side of folk music every Wed/Thur/Sun from 9pm where you can try the malt of the month for £2.95 (worth noting it’s absolutely brilliant but tiny so it gets busy).
WHERE TO EAT
Glasgow is a foodie heaven and honestly, you can’t really go wrong with anywhere in Finnieston but I have picked out a few of my frugal favourites so you don’t get stung on prices.
For a rustic cafe vibe at lunchtime and reasonable prices my favourites are PaperCup and the lesser-known Kelvin Pocket where (I’ll go out on a limb here) you can get the best coffee in Glasgow – order the cappuccino, trust me.
The Finnieston was one of the first of the new wave of eateries to open in the area and is a classic now – the Scottish seafood is incredible and the gin bar is not to be missed. It’s not always cheap but if you plan carefully then you can book a Tuesday fish, chips & fizz for 2 for £35 or a Wednesday kilo of mussels & carafe of wine for 2 for £35. The £1 oyster happy hours (5-7pm Mon-Fri) are a treat with an optional whisky mist for spritzing, and the beer garden hiding in the back is somewhere I always make a beeline for in summer.
In my opinion the best pizza in town hails from Paesano who have a West End and city centre establishment serving up real Neapolitan pizza for around £6-8. There’s a bustling atmosphere and you can’t book so be prepared to queue for a table but it is so worth it. I’ll warn you now though that they do not serve fries and don’t be caught out like my husband who ordered a side of ‘beef tomato and red onion’ and expected, well, beef… (head in hands).
A brilliant option for the weekend is Dockyard Social, a transformed warehouse with a rotation of the best local street food. Tickets are £5 but redeemable against drinks or food which is super affordable. It’s child-friendly, particularly in the afternoon slots, as well as dog-friendly but if it’s winter you should wear your biggest faux fur because, let’s not forget, it’s a warehouse after all.
I can’t finish without a mention for Six by Nico. It might be £29 for 6 courses but these six dishes might just be the best you’ll have. This in fine dining made fun in a completely unpretentious setting – I mean the last time we went, there was a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party theme (I’ll spare you the blurry photos of me munching the edible menu but do check out their Instagram to see what’s on the cards because it changes every six weeks).
WHERE TO STAY
Truthfully Glasgow is not an expensive city; in fact you could be forgiven for visiting and feeling inclined to buy property and stay for the long haul but if you’re set on just visiting then the Alamo Guest House was our top recommendation to friends, overlooking Kelvingrove Park in traditional tenement style but with pretty luxe details and from just £69 a night including a very good breakfast. Watch out because not all the rooms are ensuite but when the bathrooms look like this you might find you get over popping on a robe to step down the hall…
Of course, Airbnb is always a great option, especially if you’re travelling in a group or as a family. You may well have guessed that I would recommend Finnieston as an area to base yourself.
HOW TO GET THERE
From London (or anywhere in the UK) book the train in advance for a good deal or, if you’re really on a budget, then check out the Megabus for London – Glasgow tickets from £10 including luggage.
Glasgow Airport is only 15 minutes from the city and you can take the bus into the centre for £4. Prestwick Airport is waaay out of the city but does offer cheaper flights and has a direct train link (show your boarding card for a half-price ticket).