The monumental heart of Glasgow lies north of the River Clyde. It is divided between the larger and mostly Victorian Commercial Center and the more compact district now designated the Merchant City (in honor of the tobacco and cotton “lords” who lived and ran businesses there from the 1700s). The commercial center is a vibrant modern city. There are art galleries, theatres, multiplex cinemas, music halls — not to mention literally hundreds of bars and restaurants. Meanwhile the adjacent Merchant City is to Glasgow as SoHo is to Manhattan: full of warehouses recently converted to condos, stylish bars, and trendy restaurants. If the river creates a southern boundary for “downtown” Glasgow, the M8 motorway creates both its western and northern limits. The eastern boundary is set by the High Street, which is historically the heart of the city.
Medieval Glasgow, however, was demolished by the well-meaning, if history-destroying, urban renewal schemes of late Georgian and Victorian Glasgow. Practically nothing remains to give any idea of how the city, before the 18th century boom, looked. And by some accounts it was one Europe’s most attractive medieval burghs. Still standing on the hill at the top of the High Street is Glasgow Cathedral, an excellent example of pre-Reformation Gothic architecture that dates in part to the 12th century, and across the square is Provand’s Lordship, the city’s oldest house built in the 1470s. Down the High Street you’ll find the Tolbooth Steeple (1626) at Glasgow Cross, and nearer the River Clyde is Glasgow Green, one of Britain’s first large-scale public parks.
The city’s salubrious and leafy West End, home to the University of Glasgow, is just a short journey from the city center, on the other side of the M8. The terraces of Woodlands Hill, rising to Park Circus, afford excellent views. Across Kelvingrove Park is a red sandstone palace, the city’s Art Gallery and Museum. Nearby, the tower of Glasgow University dominates Gilmorehill. Byres Road is the social and entertainment destination in the West End, a street full of restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops.
The city’s Southside sprawls from the River Clyde and is largely residential. Aside from the city’s shiny Science Center, on the south bank, there may be little of immediate interest to the casual visitor. But a little more than 5km (3 miles) southwest of the city center in wooded Pollok Country Park is the vaunted Burrell Collection. This museum of antiquity and art has become one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions. The commercial heart of the Southside is Shawlands, which offers an increasing number of good restaurants, and nearby Queens Park is a hilly classic of Victorian planning.
Glasgow’s East End is only slowly redeveloping after its industrial heyday. Once the site of coal mining and steel production, it is the least affluent district in Glasgow and, according to surveys, it is the poorest and least healthy area in all of Europe. But statistics don’t tell the entire story. Visitors to the Gallowgate on the weekend should see the flea market stalls of the Barras. Neighborhoods such as Dennistoun are gradually drawing young, creative types who can no longer afford apartments in the West End or on the Southside: a renaissance is simmering.