I’ve been putting off writing this, mostly because it’s really hard to excitedly list all the things to do in a city that you hated. This was the first international city I had traveled to since February 2020, so you can imagine my disappointment when I was less than over-the-moon about it. Glasgow is not all bad, but it leaves a lot to be desired.
Unlike its slightly better looking older brother, Edinburgh, Glasgow is not heavy on sightseeing. Popular consensus has it that there are two worthwhile museums in town: The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel. The Riverside Museum is as famous for its facade as it is for its collection of cars, trams, and boats. If you’re a fan of antique transport or you’re 12 years old, this is not to be missed. The Kelvingrove is a nice stop if you want to get out of the rain and enjoy the stunning interior and somewhat diverse if not haphazard collection of items that includes art, history, science, and technology. I couldn’t tell you why there was a Dali painting across from a bunch of stuffed deer, but I enjoyed it. It’s definitely the kind of place that has a little something for everyone. And best of all, the museums are free.
Other than that, the city is dotted with gorgeous Gothic architecture, not the least impressive of which is on display at the University of Glasgow. The University of Glasgow is inexplicably considered a popular stop for Harry Potter fans, because it sort of looks like Hogwarts, even though it was not the inspiration nor the filming location for it. It’s a tenuous connection at best, though it’s a pretty campus to walk through. The Glasgow Cathedral and adjoining Necropolis also offer sights of historic interest if you like cemeteries or if it stops raining long enough for you to want to spend an hour wandering through headstones and mausoleums.
In preparation for our trip to Scotland, we watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown that was basically all about how grimy and violent Glasgow used to be. That was definitely not the vibe we were hoping to cultivate, but I suppose it was an adequate primer. Though we never felt unsafe nor did we witness any crime in the city, Glasgow does have the partly run down scrappy aspect that makes for a perfect episode of Parts Unknown. It does not, however, make for a super marvelous place to vacation.
With its few top tourist spots (which you will probably live without ever seeing), this frees you up to just relax and just enjoy the city, right? Spend the afternoon at a pub, wander the cute neighborhoods, and grab a bite to eat whenever you want. Not so fast. I’m not sure if this is post-pandemic savagery or if the city just has too few interesting places to wine and dine at, but everything is constantly booked. Near the University of Glasgow, you’ll find the picturesque nightlife hub, Ashton Lane, which seems like the perfect place to spend a half a day and evening. But after the sun goes down, you’ll be hard pressed to find a place to plant yourself unless you made a reservation. I don’t think I’ve had such a hard time trying to get a drink in my life. Not even on Temple Bar on St. Patrick’s Day, and that’s saying a lot.
If you do get a coveted table at the Ubiquitous Chip or The Gardener, keep it and cherish it for a long time. You’ll eat and drink well, and be surrounded by the warm merriment of Glaswegians. The Wee Bar at the Chip was a cozy, albeit cramped, gem. However, if you don’t manage to sneak in before it becomes Mardi Gras out there, you’ll be out in the icy rain with people are way too drunk or drugged out for 7 pm. The string lights are not that nice that you’ll want to spend your Friday evening hanging out outside four bougie restaurants.
TripAdvisor and TimeOut suggest that the city’s outdoor spaces like Glasgow Botanic Gardens and Pollok Country Park are some of Glasgow’s highlights. Which is a real tall order for a place where it can torrentially downpour for a week straight when it’s 40 degrees out. And it can get as low as 40 degrees for an average of eight months out of the year… So it’s not hard to see why so many locals are dying to get absolutely wasted inside somewhere.
I absolutely love a place that isn’t an exhausting tourist gauntlet where I can indulge in my favorite personal interest that isn’t travel: food. But the experience is somewhat soured when it’s a pain in the ass to be able to eat anything. Especially when everything turns out to be mediocre. Even when you don’t have much planned, who wants to wait 45 minutes in the pouring rain for a table? Who wants to carefully pick out a place to eat and go all the way over there only to be turned away by some snooty asshole because you don’t have a reservation? (The Citizen, looking at you. You’re a pub, get a grip.)
Now that a couple of weeks have passed since I was in Glasgow, I don’t remember much of what we ate there, but I do remember how difficult it was to get a table. The only memorable food was our dinner at The Bothy. And while that was delicious, we were first turned away for lunch and had to make a reservation and go back for a dinner. And then we spent an hour and a half waiting for our meal because the restaurant was swamped with a huge party. There wasn’t a single dining experience that wasn’t somewhat marred by how busy everything is. We even had to wait at the chicken chain, Nando’s. And you know I had to be pretty desperate to pass up a highly rated local restaurant to eat at an international chain.
The attractive possibility of a laid back vacation in a chill city where you have nothing to do but hang out is impossible because you need for reservations for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks. To add insult to injury, you have to give up the freedom of eating whenever you want for food that is ultimately forgettable and mediocre.
So if you’re spending a weekend in Glasgow, make sure you bring patience along with your umbrella!