Where to start when visiting Glasgow’s West End
Google Glasgow’s West End and you’ll frequently happen upon descriptions like ‘bohemian’ and ‘arty’, ‘eccentric’ and ‘free-spirited’.
Those are the kinder words, because this buzzing corner of the mean city, although popular and attractive, does pay the price for its often quirky ways. Usually this ribbing is delivered via jokes and wry observations. The most cutting – and certainly the funniest of these – surely comes from the Facebook page Overheard in the Westend.
In a case of doing-what-it-says-on-the-tin, the page sweeps up and highlights the catalogue of clangers dropped by blissfully unaware westenders:
“Mummy, can I have more croissant for the ducks?”
“You can`t fully comprehend an oil spillage until you’ve witnessed it on a high-definition TV.”
“Is there a hashtag for this wedding?”
The page itself is kind of cluttered, so the quotes get a bit lost. Instead, head to Buzzfeed to get a good idea – and good laugh.
So, the area, and its inhabitants, are ripe for a bit of good-natured fun-poking. It is, after all, a locality characterised by a huge student population – and the formidable shadow of the University of Glasgow.
But if you find yourself visiting the city, it’s a great spot to do a bit of exploring. Here are some highlights.
Anything goes on Byres Road. This old adage still applies to the main artery that cuts across the neighbourhood.
Although probably less edgy than its legend would have you believe (for the non-corporates and smaller, independent shops and bars head to the cobbled lanes and side streets), Byres Road retains a certain allure. This is a lengthy thoroughfare, and from top to bottom it offers a decent share of old pubs and cafes, as well as eager new enterprises bravely facing down the area’s lofty business rates.
So, good for food, a tipple and, when all’s said, the best bet for the first-time visitor to grab a quick handle on the district. Byres Road is easily reached on the city’s Subway system too – just get out at Hillhead and you’re bang in the centre (or exit at Kelvinhall and walk up from this quieter end).
West End Festival
If you’re visiting the city in the first half of June, the West End Festival – Glasgow’s largest community celebration – will be on hand with more than 400 events across 75 venues.
Now in its 22nd year, the festival offers an eclectic programme. Dive in and you’ll discover music, theatre, dance, exhibitions, talks and guided walks – all jam-packed into 25 hectic days. As you’d expect, the area’s pubs, clubs and restaurants are in on the act. But so too are local parks, libraries, bookshops and museums.
Find out more about the festival here
Botanic Gardens & Kelvingrove Park
Crowning the summit of Byres Road, the Botanic Gardens is the number-one spot to escape the crowds and catch your breath.
Dominating the park’s upper level you’ll find the Kibble Palace, a beautiful Victorian glasshouse. Inside, you’ll be treated to a circular stroll flanked by thoughtfully curated tropical plants and a fine collection of marble statues. And on chillier days it’s a great place for a heat too. Elsewhere, the Botanics sprawls along, offering a tea room, floral displays and a row of more modest glasshouses.
The River Kelvin flows through the Botanics’ lower level. Following it will lead you to Kelvingrove Park. Less pretty, perhaps, than its neighbour, Kelvingrove remains well worth a visit and is beloved of dog-walkers and joggers, cyclists and skateboarders.
If you’re lucky, the magnificent Stewart Memorial Fountain will be in action. Even if the water isn’t gushing, it’s still a beautiful sight.
Nearby, a fine bandstand – built in 1925, but neglected for years – has been sympathetically restored and hosts regular big-name concerts. Now a well-loved addition to the West End Festival, this year the venue hosts a number of choirs.
Locating yourself at Kelvingrove also zeros you in on the district of Finnieston. This is an area that’s enjoying an authentic rebirth and is now stuffed with bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as charismatic shops and galleries. Branded, in 2016, as ‘the hippest place to live in the UK’ by The Times, Finnieston continues fizzing.
You’re close also, of course, to the famous Kelvingrove Art Gallery.
Three bars. And one café.
Easily conquered in an afternoon, here’s a stroll that begins and ends on Byres Road, but includes a couple of off-piste gems too.
Located in a huge former church, to call Òran Mór a bar would be doing it a disservice. This arts and entertainment hub, located opposite the Botanics, offers a theatre, music venue, restaurant and, in the stunning auditorium, a mural ceiling created specially by local artist and writer Alasdair Gray. Underfoot, beautiful mosaics dominate the entryway.
Another former church, inside this roomy venue you’ll find, just like in Òran Mór, a theatre, bar and restaurant. Built in 1865, and named after Daniel Cottier, the artist and designer who decorated the interiors, Cottiers is a real West End institution. In the area on a sunny day? Head to the beer garden and enjoy a drink in a truly captivating setting.
The Sparkle Horse
No theatre here – but plenty of drama on Monday evenings when the Sparkle Horse quiz gallops into view. This is a simple, unpretentious bar – and all the better for it. Depend on the Sparkle Horse for a drink, a bite, a chat (the sheer joy of good music kept to conversation-friendly levels) – and the sunniest staff in Glasgow.
The University Café
Rounding off this mini tour: a café that will celebrate its centenary in 2018. You’ll find the period interior fascinating (balance your plate upon the super-narrow tables), the honest fare comforting and the famous ice cream delicious.
Ready for a visit?
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