Edgier and less polished than Scotland’s capital, Glasgow has left its seedy reputation behind to become a chic cosmopolitan city, with a thriving student population keeping things hip. Glasgow has enough esteemed art galleries, historic architecture and excellent shopping to rival Edinburgh. Plus it’s a bargain city break; from your cab fare to the Cheap Glasgow youth hotels or hostels, your money goes further, making Glasgow the perfect choice for a budget traveler or backpacker. There are loads of cheap and free things to do in Glasgow, but here’s a selection of the very best:
1. A Wee Curry
If you can’t quite handle the haggis, then you’ll be pleased to know Glasgow has been named the ‘Curry Capital of Britain’. There are plenty of curry and kebab shops dotted over the city, but for the freshest ingredients, excellent service and a friendly atmosphere, locals swear by the ‘Mother India’ franchise. The Wee Curry Shop, 7 Buccleuch Street may be the smaller ‘bairn’ of the award-winning chain, but the dishes are big on flavor, low on price, and go beyond your typical Tikka Masala. Signature dishes include the Massala fish – haddock marinated in yoghurt, tandoori spices and mustard seeds, and the mushroom and prawn Poori, wrapped in a pancake with a sweet chilli sauce.
2. An Art Deco Tea
They may be a tourist magnet, but no art-lover can leave the city without a visit to the famous Willow Tea Rooms, 217 Sauchiehall Street. At around £12 for a pot of tea, light sandwiches, fluffy scones, buttered shortbread and a mountainous cake from the cake trolley, The Willow is far cheaper than the Ritz, and you’d be hard pressed to find a quainter setting. The main rooms are intimate and often get crowded, so if you can’t squeeze in there’s another outlet (and copy of the original building) located on Buchanan Street. Art-deco maestro Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed these tea-rooms, and his distinctive style bears influence over everything, right down to the tea-spoons.
3. An Art Deco House
After your elegant tea, why not visit the house of the architect himself – the Art Deco visionary Charles Rennie Mackinstosh. This is a reconstruction of the artist’s home on Southpark Avenue from 1906 to 1914, and every last detail has been painstakingly restored, with the striking interiors all completed to Mackintosh’s exact designs, and original furniture from the house. Admission is only £3, and afterwards you can check out the University of Glasgow’s extensive collection of art (for free) at the Hunterian Gallery. Please note the house will be closed for refurbishment from Wednesday 24 June until Monday 17 August 2009.
4. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
It’s hard to believe that admission to Scotland’s premier museum and art gallery is free – but it won’t cost you a dime to see the Kelvingrive’s collection of over 200,000 items! The building houses one of Europe’s great civic art collections, and one of the finest collections of arms and armour in the world. The grand building is worth a look in itself, built in a Spanish Baroque style in 1901 in red sandstone, and adorned with architectural sculptures.
5. GOMA – The Gallery of Modern Art
Another one of Glasgow’s top free sights, displaying a thought-provoking selection of exhibitions by local and international artists. The Gallery of Modern Art opened in 1996 and is housed in an elegant, neo-classical building in the heart of Glasgow city centre. Highlights include the huge selection of visual art, and the biannual projects, that address contemporary social issues. Look out for the statue of the Duke of Wellington outside with a Traffic Cone on his head!
6. Glasgow Cathedral
Yet another free sight, this majestic medieval church was the only building in Scotland to survive the 1560 reformation intact.
7. Dance Until Dawn
Glasgow is renowned for its excellent nightlife, and the range of music on offer will satisfy even the most hardcore raver. For cheap entry, drinks and indie hipsters littering the dancefloor, try the Glasgow School of Art. For RnB and hip hop, try Bamboo, and for big nights with top name DJs, the super-cool ABC (an old cinema) and The Arches are the places to be.
8. Drink Up
Glasgow’s watering holes have got alot chicer in the past few years – there are just as many cool trendy cocktail bars and modern lounges as traditional pubs. But the prices haven’t hit London levels just yet – sip on a £2 mojito at Nude, a sleek cocktail bar in the trendy Ashton Lane area, and then boogie by the bar at bar/club Kushion, which is just about to re-open.
9. The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens
Despite it’s reputation as a grimy city, Glasgow is full of scenic green spaces and grand old buildings. The People’s Palace at Glasgow Green is, you guessed it, free to visit. The beautiful building houses a fascinating social history museum, telling the story of Glasgow from 1750 to the present. Top exhibits include a pair of banana boots Scottish comic Billy Connoly wore on stage! After wandering throught the museum, check out the Winter Gardens, an elegant Victorian glasshouse full of tropical plants and a quaint cafe, and Doulton Fountain, the largest terracotta fountain in the world.
10. Peruse Pretty Gardens and Parks: Glasgow has a number of pleasant green spaces, but a few really stand out. Kelvingrove Park has free tennis and lawn bowls available, and the Botanical Gardens host some interesting free entertainment in the summer, with a selection of open-air plays and outdoor concerts. The gardens also make a lovely picnic spot, or place to snoop around the grand houses surrounding the park edge!
Backpacking in Scotland in August? Then you’re just in time for the Edinburgh Festival! But it doesn’t have to cost the earth, check out our list of the best free Edinburgh festivals, and a guide to the Edinburgh Fringe festival on a budget.