An insider's guide to Glasgow

Polly at Glasgow Women's Library.
Polly at Glasgow Women's Library.

Local insider Polly Neill offers a personal take on the perfect route through Glasgow, from the grandeur of Kelvingrove Art Gallery to vibrant street art – plus the best places to grab coffee and food.

Glasgow’s West End and Kelvingrove Art Gallery

The West End of Glasgow spends its days rolling its eyes at the meandering students with their black coffees and oversized coats, a cliché that wraps itself around each second hand record store and cobbled lane.

But the turrets of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, set adjacent to the university steeple, both melting and rising in tandem, are not to be scoffed at.

Polly in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (look out for the gold organ...)
Polly in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (look out for the gold organ...)

The museum, possessing a grandeur that would render even the largest man on earth inadequate under its arching doors, demonstrates an unrivalled architectural prowess – and underneath its colossal roof it guards a plethora of art and culture, ranging from French Impressionism to Surrealist confusion and on to Scottish landscapes.

In one shared space, the visitors, much like the floating heads that whisper to one another as we climb the stairs below, journey in awe through decades of history and artistic expression scattered almost haphazardly across the walls.

Choose a balcony to stand still in for a moment, next to an old, dusty bust overlooking the grand hall. Rest here a while, as the tremors of the giant’s organ rush up through the stone below your feet, into the gold embossed ceiling and beyond.

Heading through studentville for a pick-me-up

Take a walk down Kelvin Way and into the beating heart of the student populace, and you’ll find yourself quickly lost among the throng of people rushing upwards in a flustered hurricane of mutual academic lateness.

Down the avenue of trees, opening up onto the university campus, your steps involuntarily mimic a path to one of the many miniature coffee shops that inhabit every other building. On Gibson Street, dip into café Artisan Roast, whose church pews pushed too tightly together assure a cosy environment for customers searching for that morning’s dose of caffeine.

Polly rides the subway
Polly rides the subway

Taking the subway to the city centre

I would normally walk from the West End into the city centre, but with Glasgow’s perpetual raincloud so often transforming the streets into full-length swimming pools, the subway is a (somewhat) dryer option.

The tiny cars that transport the masses, whether travelling outwards or inwards, are almost comical in their appearance, as they force anyone slightly over average height to duck for the entirety of their journey.

Step off at Buchanan Street, exiting the dystopia that snakes underneath the city in a perfect circle, and onto the bustling main street, into the midst of protesters and activists scrambling in unison for the attention of passers-by.

Escaping the city at the top of the Lighthouse

Tucked away in a tiny alley, hiding from the hordes of shoppers littering Buchanan Street, lies the Lighthouse, Glasgow’s ode to the legacy of designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The traffic lulls at the top of these rickety spiral stairs, although the multitude of buskers harmonising below can still be heard faintly – the bagpipes never sleep in Scotland, you see.

From up here, aligning oneself with rooftops functions as a relief from the heavy city air, as the streets that may be familiar on the ground become trickier to decipher clearly, especially when distracted by the silly graffiti etched upon the plastic maps protruding from the tiny balcony.

Glasgow city centre mural trail
Glasgow city centre mural trail

Exploring the mural trail

Dotted around the metropolis of tenement flats, the soot-stained bricks have been reclaimed by street artists in a game of hide-and-seek, during which a taxi is carried above our shoulders by a bouquet of balloons, while a rugged panda sleeps soundly, and Billy Connolly wishes us all a good day.

Following the Lego grid of streets, like a well-groomed maze, the line blurs between vandalism and art in an assertion of an identity that’s distinctly Glaswegian, its sense of humour emanating from the words that scream “ARE YE DANCING?” in bright fuchsia. Yes, we are.

The People’s Palace: a place for Glasgow's history

Moving past the throng of the high street and into the oasis of calm at the edge of Glasgow Green, the People’s Palace displays an eclectic mix of the history that paves the city’s wide streets, documented with pride.

At the rear of the miniature version of the Barrowland ballroom sign, there exists a tiny corner where the elderly come to reminisce in front of a projection of their past selves.

In this squashed spot next to artefacts from a time that now exists only in the pieces it left behind, an old female stranger taught me the quickstep.

Polly at Glasgow Women’s Library
Polly at Glasgow Women’s Library

A bite to eat before visiting Glasgow Women’s Library

While in this area, if you’ve worked up an appetite, mooch along through the park to Mono café-bar, a pub-slash-gig venue, decked out in a perfect array of contrasting colours – a manifestation of power-clashing that boasts a plant-based menu.

Then it’s back past the park to Glasgow Women’s Library, a centre of female literary achievement, wherein lie the archives of a revolution acted out by the ‘second sex’.

In this modest space there’s a palpable feeling of the sort of comfort found in a soft, warm duvet, except this one has been sewn into being by the words of a womanhood bound together like the books that fill the walls.

It’s an endlessness of feminine expression, punctuated by small wooden blocks etched with the words, “women on the shelf”. Aren’t we all?

Polly Neill studied French and English Literature at Glasgow University. Her favourite things are Sixties girl-bands, sparkly socks and PJ Harvey.

Polly was a winner of our 2019 student writing competition.

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