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Get a taste for the energy and artistry of this refurbished Scotland treasure

Posted: 25 September 2009
by Words: Rachel Nouchi


GLASGOW IS AN energetic, gutsy city whose face has almost been wiped clean of its 19th-century industrial grime. These days, the city houses some of the greatest art collections in Britain, has the biggest shopping centre outside London and also offers striking architecture. It also has acres of parkland and a lively spirit that refuses to be refined and bottled – despite the recent regeneration of its less salubrious areas.

Start your walk smack-bang in the city centre at the Gallery of Modern Art. This huge building was constructed in 1775 as the private home of William Cunninghame – one of the fat cats of the tobacco trade. Later, it became the Royal Exchange building, and in 1996 it was transformed into the modern art powerhouse that it is today. Here you will find some of Eduard Bersudsky’s fantastic theatrical scrap metal sculptures, as well as huge works by contemporary Scots, many of whom have shocked the establishment. There are looming canvasses by Wisniewski, Howson and Campbell (aka The Glasgow Boys), as well as Turner Prize nominees.

The gallery runs a free drop-in art workshop for children aged three to 12 on Saturdays from 10.30am to 1pm. These are held in the old rooftop café where there is also a working studio and comfortable seating for parents, so you can sit back and relax while your children create a mess that someone else will clear up! Sessions introduce children to giant wooden paintbrushes, allowing them to splash around in the paint; they may get quite messy, so bring an art-smock or change of clothes. An art library in the basement runs regular storytelling sessions for children – call ahead to check the programme for the day of your visit (see Resources).

Give the coffee shop in the gallery’s basement a miss and hold out for the treats that beckon beyond. Outside the gallery, turn right and then left onto Buchanan Street (Glasgow’s official shopping high street) and walk down to Princes Square: a five-floor wrought-iron-and-glass mall. Here, you will find the fantastic Cupping Salon – a chic café linked to boutique Fifi and Ally. The escalator whizzes you up to the white tables, black chairs and enormous mirrors of the café, where Glasgow’s glitterati can be spotted lunching shoulder-to-shoulder with the ‘yummy mummy’ brigade. This café is well-stocked to keep younger customers happy and it even offers a children’s organic picnic platter for £4.95 (which includes organic crisps, Parma ham, cheese and bread). Toys and books are also available to borrow from the children’s section of the boutique, which helps younger guests remain calm. The boutique stocks some fantastic items, from a selection of children’s toys through to luxury lingerie and handmade ceramics.

If you can extricate yourself from the delights of the Cupping Salon, walk back up to Royal Exchange Square (where café tables spill out onto the square when the weather is fine), then turn right into Ingram Street where hip boutiques jostle for space alongside trendy cafés. Pass by the elegant tower above Hutcheson’s Hall and the Ramshorn Church – one of the earliest examples of the Gothic Revival style of architecture in Scotland – and take a right down Albion Street. You’ll now find yourself in the district known as Merchant City (3).

Glasgow’s tightly-knit centre faintly echoes Manhattan with its tall, narrow blocks and the Merchant City district could, with a little imagination, be Tribeca. The area was named after the great merchant princes of the 18th century whose warehouses were filled with tobacco and sugar. These same warehouses are now being turned into gentrified flats and smart shops.

Walk down Albion Street and stop at La Piazzetta which offers families an Italian feast. Don’t expect glamorous decor, but you will probably be able to picture Al Pacino striking deals behind the black curtain while your children tuck into meltingly good pizzas and bruschettas. Quaint cafés nestle alongside French and Russian eateries in this area, which is also home to the striking Tron Theatre at Trongate. With its elegant bar and impressive programme, the best time to visit is when one of the Tall Tales At The Tron is being performed. This is a monthly event for three- to five-year-olds where actors perform a mix of storytelling and mime with music.

After the joys of the Tron, continue down Trongate and turn left on to King Street. You’ll soon discover why Glasgow is still the über-cool centre of the European art scene – this area is full of contemporary art bolt-holes. Make a beeline for the Glasgow Print Studio and the Transmission Gallery on King Street, where graduates of the famous Glasgow School of Art show off their latest masterpieces.

From here, it’s worth making a diversion to the weird and wonderful Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery & Theatre on King Street. Glasgow doesn’t come any quirkier than this magical kinetic puppet hideout, which was founded by sculptor-mechanic Eduard Bersudsky. There are hundreds of puppets on display here driven by electrical motors, and children adore watching them. The gallery also runs drop-in daytime shows at midday and 3pm, as well as full-length shows three times each week.

By now, toddlers may be pining for some green open spaces and there are two options: Glasgow Green or Kelvingrove Park. If your children are bouncing with energy, try visiting both, but if you need to shorten your day, opt for Glasgow Green.

To get there, continue down King Street, go straight over Bridgegate and down Toll Court. Once you get to Saltmarket, Glasgow Green will soon swing into view. This open space was originally a common grazing ground for cattle during the 1400s, where women from the east end used the area for washing and bleaching their linen, and is one of the oldest public parks in Britain.

The People’s Palace is a hulking Victorian building with a regal fountain, which is now a museum of Glasgow’s social history and people. There are endless rooms with interactive displays that have been designed for children to poke and prod, and the sights and smells will appeal to all ages. Don’t miss Ken Currie’s expressionist paintings on the dome of the top floor. Next door is a beautiful glasshouse filled with tropical plants; it also has a café offering standard park refreshments.

You may well have had enough by now, but if you still have plenty of energy, one of the highlights is situated in the west end of Glasgow, a short ride away on the underground system known as Clockwork Orange (Circle Line). Jump on at Buchanan Street station (back near the start of your journey at the Gallery of Modern Art) and alight at Kelvinbridge, which takes you to the edge of the magnificent Kelvingrove Park.

Walk down Kelvin Way, which slices through the centre of the park, to reach Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. After its £30-million makeover, the gallery is the second most visited museum in the UK, outside London, and its latest additions include a Ceratosaurus skeleton and the legendary Salvador Dali painting Christ Of St John Of The Cross. A stunning glass café on the lower ground floor offers countless daily activities for children, while nearby Mackintosh House houses a great reconstruction of the designs of celebrated Glaswegian architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. By now you will have definitely had your fill, so trundle back on the Clockwork Orange subway to Buchanan Street – Queen Street station is next door – to await your sleepy train journey home


NOVEMBER 5 Bonfire Night
Every year, Glasgow celebrates Bonfire Night with a spectacular show, including 50,000 fireworks, lasers, live bands and a funfair on Glasgow Green. The funfair runs from 4–10pm and fireworks start at 7.30pm. Visit for more information.

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I live in Glasgow and for years we went to holiday parks in St. Andrews and in particular Crail, but have discovered that the weather is always better goig on Dawlish holidays and in particular to holiday parks in Devon. It has the same feel as St. Andrews but nice to go further afield.

Posted: 09/04/2015 at 12:32

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