1. Where to Stay
Stay within walking distance of the famed Glasgow School of Art (daily one-hour tours, $14) at Blythswood Square (from $207), a 100-room property housed in a landmark Georgian building in the city center. The hotel’s Harris tweed–decorated rooms are split between a historic section with marble fireplaces and crystal chandeliers, and a new extension that includes a 10,000-square-foot spa.
Ignore the drab lobby leading up to Grasshoppers (from $136), a boutique hotel that opened last year on the penthouse floor of an office building. Once you’re upstairs, you’ll find flair in 30 rooms featuring engravings by local artist Ian McNicol and handmade wallpaper in different patterns. Ask for a room overlooking Central Station; its glass roof is the largest in Europe. In the morning, head to the kitchen for complimentary breakfast treats prepared by co-owner Joanne, who runs the hotel with husband Sean.
Scope out TripAdvisor’s 2012 pick for trendiest hotel, citizenM (from $78), before the tech-themed chain opens its first Stateside branch in Times Square next summer. Self-service terminals in the red-and-black-hued lobby allow guests to check into prefab, soundproof “pods” outfitted with Vitra chairs, floor-to-ceiling windows, and remote-controlled mood lighting.
2. Where to Eat
Squeeze into bi-level Crabshakk, architect John Macleod’s 55-seat space outfitted with reclaimed wood, burnished steel, and glass tiles. Order from a menu of seafood culled daily from Scotland’s waters: seared scallops ($12–$22), fried whitebait ($11), and a whole brown crab ($22) that tends to sell out. If the place is packed, wait across the street at the Ben Nevis, where over 180 bottles of whisky are served and fiddlers entertain punters.
Book at least two weeks in advance to sample modern Scottish cuisine at Michelin-recommended Cail Bruich (Gaelic for “eat well”). Run by Paul Charalambous and his brother Chris, recently of Copenhagen’s famed Noma, the restaurant’s ingredient-driven menu showcases seasonal dishes made with foraged produce, such as braised beef tongue and cheek ($22.50) served with wild garlic from Glasgow Botanic Gardens (located across the road) and beach herbs from the coast.
Find a table in the upstairs café-bar at Stravaigin to see why it received an industry-group award for U.K.’s best-designed pub in 2011: The floors come from an old cotton mill, the bar incorporates Victorian tenement doors, and the ceiling was sourced from a burnt-out ice-cream parlor. The menu reflects a variety of global influences, but if you’re open to eating the national dish of haggis ($15), try it here—made with a base of mutton and lamb offal, it’s meatier than what you’ll find at the average pub and spiced with Jamaican pimentos for extra flavor.
3. What to Do
Discover the next Martin Boyce at the Briggait, a former Victorian fish market given new life by Wasps, a Scottish charity that transforms abandoned buildings into artists’ workspaces. The facility holds guided tours of its 45 studios on the last Friday of every month, but if you call in advance and ask nicely, a private showing can be arranged within 24 hours. Stick around afterward to watch the evening trapeze and circus classes offered in the main hall.
Explore arts incubator SWG3, which is tucked below a series of disused arches in an industrial estate on the West End. Home to emerging artists working across all mediums, the warehouse regularly hosts micro-festivals, deep-house parties, and indie fashion shows. If you’re visiting during the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art (April 20–May 7), check out #Unravel, a sound installation dreamt up by musician Aidan Moffat and art-pop collective FOUND that encourages audience participation.
Buy pop-surrealist prints and lowbrow photography for as little as $40 at Recoat, the only gallery in Scotland promoting street art. Last year, they launched Team Recoat, a collective of Scottish artists who use the space as a studio during three-week residency programs. If inspiration strikes, you can also purchase spray paint here, as well as graffiti magazines and limited-edition hand-screen-printed T-shirts. For contrast, head to the nearby Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (free), home to a world-class collection of art and artifacts.
Arrive late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds at the Riverside Museum (free), a sleeker version of the city’s old transportation museum. There are more than 3,000 items exhibited—including a wall of old cars and a hanging velodrome—but the real attraction is the building itself, a steel-and-zing-clad structure with a zigzag roof designed by Zaha Hadid.
4. Insider’s Tip
You’ll find architectural treasures in an unexpected place at the Necropolis, a vast Victorian-era cemetery where more than 50,000 Glaswegians have been laid to rest. Spread over 37 acres on a hill overlooking the city, the site features monuments designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Alexander “Greek” Thomson, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s idols. You can join a free walking tour (available every half-hour from 12:30 to 3 p.m. starting at the Cathedral Precinct Gates) or explore on your own, but be sure to stop into the adjacent medieval church for a look at the detailed stained-glass windows.
5. Oddball Day
Experience the music scene that produced Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand, and Snow Patrol, among other indie bands. Brace yourself with a full Scottish breakfast at Southside café Gusto & Relish, where the traditional fry-up ($12) is served with gourmet sausage and black pudding made in-house. Walk a few blocks down to Moon Guitars, a store selling custom-built acoustic guitars preferred by everyone from Adele to Steve Earle, and ask owner Jimmy Moon if you can peek inside his workshop to watch him carve blocks of mahogany and Indian rosewood by hand. Next, head to local pop pioneer Stephen Pastel’s Mono, home to ping-pong tournaments, an on-site microbrewery, and free gigs that occasionally include surprise D.J. sets by famous indie musicians. Browse on-site record shop Monorail alongside crate-diggers looking for sixties garage punk and experimental electronica. Afterward, grab a drink at dingy split-level bar Nice ’N’ Sleazy, where you can reminisce about CBGB’s heyday while listening to homegrown rockers on the ever-changing jukebox or performing on a subterranean stage (cover $8–$16) that also hosts visiting musicians like rapper Lil B (May 6; $8). Break for dinner and take a taxi to the West End satellite of Mother India, arguably the city’s best curry house. Order from the tapas-style menu—try the lamb saag with spinach ($8) and spicy machi massala ($7)—and don’t mind the wait, as everything here is made from scratch. Around the corner is the Sub Club (cover $25–$35), which opened the doors to its intimate red-lit basement 25 years ago and is still drawing underground house spinners from Detroit to Berlin. But you’re here for longtime resident James “Harri” Harrigan, whose eclectic deep-house sets have become as famous as the club itself.
Created by a couple of art-school grads, GRID maps out contemporary art events around town.
The List has everything from interviews with local bands to reviews of the best breakfasts around.
A great source for cultural listings, the Skinny also showcases emerging artists by showing and selling prints of their work.
Architecture buffs can visit the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society for suggested walking tours devoted to the father of “Glasgow Style.”