Glasgow is the Rodney Dangerfield of British towns. Although it’s the biggest city in Scotland, it always seems to fall off the bottom of most people’s wish lists for a Scottish vacation. And that’s a shame, because the city has a lot to offer. Admittedly, if you’re chasing misty daydreams of bagpipes, kilts, mysterious lochs, and sweeping glens, Glasgow will disappoint. But to understand Scotland beyond the cliches, Glasgow is a must.
Maybe the biggest thing Glasgow has going for it are its people. The Glaswegians (rhymes with “Norwegians”) are the friendliest people in this exceptionally friendly country. Although it’s a hardworking city, shop clerks here seem in no hurry to do anything but chat. And their accent is a hoot to listen to. Most caricatures of “colorful Scots” have a thick Glaswegian accent — think Billy Connolly.
Glaswegian is one of the most impenetrable dialects of English (to my ear, only Belfast is harder). A few tips: Don’t worry about understanding every word. Just let the lovely lilting cadence wash over you, and grab onto any passing vocabulary you recognize. And don’t freeze up like a deer in headlights when they ask you a question you don’t understand: Just politely ask them to repeat. And repeat again. And again. And eventually you’ll get it.
Like the centers of many other British (and American) industrial cities, Glasgow’s once-seedy and abandoned downtown has been reclaimed by developers. Buchanan Street is one of three streets (collectively called “The Golden Zed” or “Style Mile”) that have been pedestrianized and graced with big-ticket shops.
Strollers and window-shoppers promenade along Glasgow’s Buchanan Street, soaking in some rare sunshine. (While most of Europe has suffered through record heat, this has been the coldest Scottish summer in 40 years. Or more to the point, as many Scots have told me, “We’re not really getting a summer at all this year.” My Glasgow visit has been one of the rare stretches of sun on my trip.)
It’s fun to see what could be a dreary eyesore become a vibrant people zone. The steps leading up to Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall are jammed with office workers on their lunch break.
Americans struggle with the graffiti that tarnishes European cities. It helps to view at least some of the graffiti not as an eyesore, but as street art. Glasgow has a bold and progressive program to employ graffiti artists by commissioning huge murals on otherwise bare and ugly walls. Exploring the city, you stumble upon these everywhere — and you’ll soon find yourself appreciating the way that graffiti has been repurposed as a tool of urban beautification.