Getting Around (And Getting to Know) Glasgow
The number one question I got asked when I told people I was going to Glasgow was, “Oh really? That’s nice, but have you thought about going to Edinburgh instead?" Truthfully, there was never really a choice for me. I’ve always had a soft spot for Glasgow. (Maybe it’s more that I have a soft spot for wanting to live in a Georgian townhouse, of which there are plenty splendid examples in Glasgow.) Or maybe I simply like rooting for the underdog. In any case, Glasgow is a taste of Scotland free from many of the touristy gimmicks of Edinburgh. And this easily navigated, user-friendly city makes even the most obvious tourist feel like a local. Here are my tips for getting around and getting to know Glasgow.
Getting to Glasgow is surprisingly easy (Granted, I traveled from Shannon, Ireland so my flight was a mere 45 minutes). But in any case, Glasgow usually offers slightly cheaper airfares than Edinburgh, which any budget conscious traveler will appreciate. And once you’re out of the friendly skies, it’s just a quick bus ride into the Glasgow city. An important note on taking the bus; be sure and check with the information kiosk located in the arrivals gate for directions to the bus stop, you’ll have to catch this bus as it comes around one of the access roads of the airport and you’ll want to make sure you’re standing in the correct spot. Also, make sure you’ve already converted your currency, as you’ll have to pay your fare once you’re on-board the bus.
Once you’ve settled yourself in your hotel, or in my case hostel, it’s time to go out and start exploring the city. Walking Glasgow is an option (and a fun one to boot), but the New Yorker in me wanted to see what the Glasgow Underground was like. What I found is essentially an idiot-proof way to get around the city. The Glasgow underground runs in two huge concentric circles around the city. One called the “Inner Circle” and the other, the “Outer Circle”, which I have come to learn basically means clockwise and counterclockwise. The only downside of the underground is that it doesn’t run late nights or at all on Sunday. Again, my inner New Yorker shuns the idea of closing anything on a Sunday, especially public transportation, but I suppose that’s what cabs are for.
As I mentioned previously, while Glasgow is less touristy than Edinburgh, that’s not to say there aren’t some first-rate sites you’ll want to visit on your trip. While you could go individually to any of these wonderful sites, I recommend taking a hop-on/hop-off tour of the city as your first order of business. I always take the whole tour through once (without hopping on or off) to get the lay of the land and to pick out the sites I want to see the most and then do all my hopping the second time around. (F.Y.I. My must-see Glasgow destinations are: The Kelvingrove Art Museum, Glasgow Cathedral, and lunch at the Willow Tea Room, a stop that will make anyone a fan of Charles Rennie Macintosh.)
Now for the best reason for selecting Glasgow as your Scottish destination. The day trips into the Highlands! There are numerous bus companies that offer daylong bus trips up into the Highlands, many offering specialized itineraries to match your interests. I selected one that took me to Glencoe (of the famous song, “Donald of Glencoe”), Inverness (Of the popular Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon), and Loch Ness (Because, really, why go to Scotland if you aren’t going to go see Loch Ness?). Departing from St. George’s Square in Glasgow center, these trips are convenient, well worth the money, and allow you to experience two uniquely wonderful personalities of Scotland. Also, my tour came with a free sample of Scottish whiskey, and free anything when you’re traveling on a budget is always appreciated.
By this point in your Scottish adventure, you’ve come to feel so at home on the streets of Glasgow, you could almost give directions yourself (I did, and now I’ve even gone and written this article). But most importantly, you leave Glasgow with a feeling that there is always something more to come back and see, and since now you’re such a pro at getting around the city, why not?