There’s a long-standing rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh, although there’s no clear-cut reason why. The crux of it seems to lie in Edinburgh’s perception of Glaswegians as ‘a bit rough’, while Weegies see the Edinbuggers as ‘snobbish’.
It’s down to each city’s employment history: Glasgow, despite being as much a ‘university town’ as Edinburgh (both have three universities each, and numerous colleges), is more renowned as a centre of industry, especially during its ship-building heyday during World War I and II. The capital, on the other hand, is more famed for pushing out doctors, lawyers and politicians: former Prime Minister Gordon Brown studied at Edinburgh University, while the PM before him (Tony Blair) boarded at the exclusive Fettes College in his youth.
Round one: Nightlife
These divisions are semi-reflected in each city’s predominant cultural habits. Citizens of Glasgow, according to their stereotype, are more inclined to relax in the company of sweaty gig-goers; hence, the city is home to both King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and the Barrowlands, two of Scotland’s (and the UK’s) finest concert venues, as well as an ever-expanding network of smaller gig-houses (including the 13th Note, The Garage and Nice’n’Sleazy), and larger venues popular with touring acts such as the O2 Academy and the O2 ABC. Belle and Sebastian, Biffy Clyro, Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand and The Fratellis are among the many bands that have grown up here.
Edinburgh is home to a number of great live music venues (Liquid Room, Sneaky Pete’s and Cabaret Voltaire). The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations pull in a global audience of partygoers with dancing on their minds. Glasgow is home to clubbing institutions such as Optimo,Numbers and Soma Records (where Daft Punk got their first break).
Round two: Literature
Edinburgh, with its refined sensibilities, is more likely to appeal to the bookish sort. The Edinburgh International Book Festival attracts hundreds of authors and thousands of book-lovers every August, adding a literary edge to the city’s already bustling festival timetable (the International, Art and Fringe festivals also take place at this time of year). Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were all born in the capital, and in more recent years, Irvine Welsh, JK Rowling, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith have helped keep the city’s literary heritage alive. It’s telling that, in the wave of recent library closures around the UK, a bubble of protection seemed to exist around Edinburgh.
Glasgow isn’t to be left out, it boasts artist/author Alasdair Gray, Scots Makar Liz Lochhead and Britain’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy among its alumni.
Round three: Comedy
The previously mentioned Edinburgh Fringe brings in comedians (as well as performers of every other stripe) from around the world every August; while the city’s Lyceum, Traverse and Festival theatres attract the biggest names in touring and home grown dramatic arts.
Glasgow boasts Billy Connolly, Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges among its crop of still-working comedians. Glasgow’s Tramway, Citizens, Arches and Tron venues (above) constantly provide an outlet for up and coming theatremakers.
Round four: Films
Edinburgh has been the backdrop to countless films, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Trainspotting and The Illusionist.
Stars to film in Glasgow recently include Brad Pitt, Halle Berry and Ewan Mcgregor.
Round five: Art
In terms of visual art, both cities are proud homes to significant art institutions. The Glasgow School of Art and Edinburgh College of Art are each responsible for generating a formidable number of Turner Prize nominees.
The National Galleries in Edinburgh (comprising the National Galleries Complex, the Dean Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the recently refurbished Portrait Gallery) house some of the country’s finest artworks from at home and abroad, as do the Hunterian and GoMA in Glasgow. While smaller independent galleries in both cities (including the Collective, Axolotl and Ingleby in Edinburgh, and the Market and Kendall Kope in Glasgow) showcase the finest rising stars of the art world.
And the winner is…
For cities that exist within a 45-minute train journey of each other, Glasgow and Edinburgh display a multitude of differences, in terms of accent, class loyalties and general attitude. Both are exceedingly friendly, but in their own way: Edinburgh-dwellers will politely enter into debate with you on the finer points of Scorsese’s ouvre should you be seated in the Cameo or Filmhouse cinemas, while Glaswegians will take the piss out of you as if you’ve already been friends for years if you find yourself standing next to them in the Arches or staggering around the bars on Ashton Lane.
Both have an undeniably healthy attitude to developing and encouraging a vibrant arts and culture scene, whether it be art, books, film, theatre, music or comedy. Your best bet is to dive into both with no preconceptions – and if someone asks you which city you prefer think carefully before you answer.