“Edinburgh’s pretty, but if you like your cities gritty with soul, then Glasgow’s the place to be” – said our chirpy Irish waiter about why he’d chosen to move to this Scottish city.
But to say Glasgow isn’t pretty is to do it a disservice, it just has a brasher, aesthetic charm all of its own.
It has the steely appearance of a city built on industry, but it’s a tough exterior that’s punctuated by striking points of interest. Turn a corner off the main shopping drag of Sauchiehall Street and you’ll find yourself in front of one of Scotland’s most famous buildings, The School of Art, designed by one of its most famous sons: Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Though the library in one wing was ravaged by fire in 2014, forcing it to close to the public for renovation, much of the building was saved and it still stands as a living, breathing masterpiece.
It spawned a more modern-day campus, which stands in its shadow, and the school is still blazing a trail in the arts world and is a breeding ground for Turner Prize winners.
It’s symbolic of a collective passion for the arts which has helped the city reinvent itself in the post-industrial age, with accolades such as European Capital of Culture 1990 cementing that reinvention.
Students deliver daily Mackintosh at the Glasgow School of Art Tours which give a fascinating insight into what’s considered to be the artist’s greatest piece of design, while also giving you the chance to view the School of Art’s unique collection of original Mackintosh furniture.
But it isn’t just Mackintosh who helped to shape this city’s architectural gems. At the other end of Sauchiehall Street you’ll find Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
Its striking red sandstone, Spanish baroque lines and sweeping towers make it a striking addition to the city skyline. Not only is its exterior a work of art, it houses a mass collection of great works.
Salvador Dali’s rather hypnotic Christ of Saint John of the Cross would be worth the visit alone, but there’s also more than 20 public galleries, housing everything from Old Masters such as Rembrandt to the world’s biggest collection of The Glasgow Boys, to meander your way through.
Outside of London, it’s one of Britain’s most visited museums, and it’s easy to see why: it’s got something for everyone. On our visit, there were gaggles of children looking up in awe at the suspended Spitfire and former zoo resident Sir Roger the Elephant, one of the museum’s oldest attractions.
After all that culture and working your way around this large city, you’ll need refuelling.
Fortunately, it’s not just the city’s approach to the arts which has undergone a renaissance. We didn’t get one sniff of battered Mars Bar on our visit (though I secretly wanted to try one), instead you can take your pick through an array of vibrant eateries which celebrate the city’s melting pot of flavours.
Kitchens here have really upped their game and The Gannet is a shining, mouth-watering example of this.
“The best restaurant in Scotland” say the reviews and, judging by our visit, I can believe the plaudit that’s been placed at the door of this former tenement building in the gentrified area of Finnieston.
The building has a stripped back, New York apartment vibe with its industrial lighting and bare brick walls. Instead, colour comes in the form of its food, a culinary ode to the country’s rich seasons. The chefs here have scoured Scotland for its best produce and have crafted it into something special.
I could have devoted a full feature to our meal, but, for the purposes of page space, I’ll keep it concise – the Stornoway black pudding with scotch duck egg was a divine meat feast and fully committed black pudding’s reputation as just a greasy fry up staple to the doldrums.
The perfectly-executed wild trout made me never look at this fish in the same way again and the scallops were piscine perfection.
And don’t leave without trying the salted caramel fondant, you’ll have to loosen your belt buckle to fit it in, but it’s more than worth the calorie hit.
Also worth a visit, especially if you’re around Kelvingrove, is The Butchershop, which stands in the shadow of the museum. With a name like that, you’d expect its meat to be good – and it is!
We couldn’t choose which dish to go for from the selection of dry-aged, grass fed Scotch beef options, so went for the sharing charcuterie board which almost buckled under the weight of its cold cuts.
Like most of this wave of modern venues, much attention to detail has been paid to the decor which doffs its cap to husbandry with artistic cow horn mounts and vintage saddles.
A gem of a find was also Drygate brewery. Artists from the Glasgow School of Art design the labels at this quirky craft brewery where you can take a tour and tasting session.
It’s an informative insight into your pint. Beer’s their big business, so we didn’t expect the food to be quite as spectacular as it was. The beautifully silky goats cheese panna cotta was so good I’ve looked for it on menus back in the North East – I haven’t found it yet.
As testament to this thriving restaurant scene, we visited during the first Glasgow Restaurant Festival – which probably won’t be its last.
For four weeks, an elaborate 1920s-style spiegeltent (Dutch for a travelling mirrored tent) springs up in the city’s Candleriggs Square where diners can enjoy nightly takeovers by city restaurants to the tune of live music.
With all that imposing architecture, Glasgow’s skyline is a sight to behold. And we found a city centre hotel which is perfect for doing just that – the Apex City of Glasgow which stands in the buzzing Bath Street. Its contemporary theme lends itself perfectly to the floor to ceiling windows which offer vistas of this strikingly steely city.
•For more information on weekend breaks to Glasgow see www.peoplemakeglasgow.com or follow @peoplemakeGLA on Twitter. For more information on Apex City of Glasgow visit https://www.apexhotels.co.uk/apex-city-of-glasgow-hotel