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Glasgow, an urban sanctuary connected with nature

Tuesday 19 October 2021

The second most important Scottish city is like a friend that will never let you down. If you're looking for an itinerary that includes culture, Glasgow offers you plenty; if you want to explore a place with loads of heritage and history, all you have to do is get out and walk around the city; and if you’re longing to see more nature and less asphalt, you’ll find wild landscapes of incomparable beauty less than one hour away. And all the above is surrounded by lush, green landscapes. Come and discover it! 

Figures don't lie, and proof of the fact that Glasgow has a green spirit –  which becomes greener every day – is that 22% of the city (18,000 hectares) has been designed to protect nature and biodiversity. Although the city reached its apogee in the 17th and 18th centuries, when its ports were teeming with life, now, after a period of deterioration, it has arisen from its ashes, bursting with life and greener than ever before.

What is the best way to get the day off to a good start in Glasgow? The answer is, in the most sustainable way possible; on foot.  To understand a city and its citizens, there’s nothing like returning to the past. This is possible thanks to places like Tenement House, a museum that shows what the life of Glasgow’s citizens was like at the beginning of the 20th century. Located in the West End, this house, owned by Miss Agnes Toward, an emancipated woman (a rare species at that time!), contains objects used in everyday life – including a jar of jam that is almost one hundred years old, or the coal-fired kitchen stove – that existed at that time.

Speirs Wharf in Glasgow. Canal boats in foreground.

If you have time for a brunch, a good option is Ocho Café, on the banks of the canal at Speirs Wharf. They serve creative and extremely photogenic dishes and the menu includes many vegan options made with local ingredients.

Some of the buildings along this route, such as Glasgow University and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, are absolutely spectacular. The latter, which is the museum with the highest number of visitors in the UK(barring some in London), is a wonderful architectural jewel. This Victorian-style building was designed and built by Sir John W. Simpson specifically for the purpose of housing exhibitions and opened in 1901. The collection – with more than 8,000 objects exhibited in 22 halls – includes works by international artists such as Dalí, Renoir, Monet and Rembrandt, as well as those of local movements like the Glasgow Boys, a group of young artists who were the forerunners of Scottish Modern Art. At the main entrance, you will most certainly want to take a photo of what is possibly the most famous musical instrument in the city; a historic pipe organ on which recitals are played every day, which broke a world record in 2015 when it was used to play its 3,000 recital.

It's not difficult to take a breather in Glasgow without losing your respect for the environment, and even less so at restaurants like The Gannet, which is only a ten-minute walk from the museum and serves one of the best and most sustainable menus in the city. It is definitely a household name in Glasgow and one of the best places in which to sample local Scottish cuisine and produce. Try eels and beef, venison from the red deer of the Highlands, sourdough bread with home-made butter, Isle of Mull cheese, line-caught mackerel, pickled herrings and smoked mussels, among others. Both its conventional and its vegetarian tasting menus are made with seasonal ingredients and pay tribute to the farmers and small local producers who respect the environment. 

From there it is easy to get to the impressive main building of the university, a classical-style building designed by the British architect Sir Gilbert Scott, one of the leading exponents of English Gothic architecture. The city also has an Opera House, Ballet and the National Theatre of Scotland, an authentic banquet of culture. If you are an admirer of panoramic views, some of the best are in the Necropolis, a Victorian cemetery filled with sculptures located next to the famous Gothic cathedral.

In the 20th century, Glasgow gradually positioned itself as an art centre in the UK. A good example of this is that in recent years, many young creative industry professionals have decided to come to Glasgow. Their presence is quite clear when walking through its streets and their influence will no doubt help to promote the sustainable activities that have converted Glasgow into one of the greenest cities in Europe.

In fact, the city’s commitment to nature forms part of the City Council's strategic plans.  This year, it announced the pedestrianisation of the streets in the city centre and an increase in green areas in order to achieve more sustainable public spaces.

Glasgow also hosts the International Arts Festival, a fabulous opportunity to discover the work of hundreds of artists from many different countries. The Glasgow School of Art, one of the most prestigious schools of art, architecture and design in the world, is another example. It acts as a bridge thanks to the creativity of its students, in order to attract the latest trends and make a contribution to the most alternative scene of the city.

Glasgow Mural Trail, a walking trail for the city's street art.

Another essential plan to put into practice in Glasgow is to see its murals on the Glasgow Mural Trail, a project that began in 2008 with the objective of bringing life and colour to the city’s streets. The murals map, which is updated regularly, is available online, and one of the most photographed – which went viral when it was created in 2016 – is Saint Mungo. Be sure not to miss it!

The times when the only eco-friendly option in accommodation was to carry a tent have now passed. Now, thanks to hotels like the Radisson Blu, which takes part in the Green Tourism programme, or the Voco Grand Central, whose strategy is based on sustainability (starting by working with local suppliers and stressing the importance of recycling in all processes), it is now possible to enjoy a more sustainable stay in Glasgow.  

 

Day trips

The beautiful Isle of Arran, to the west of Glasgow, is the largest of the isles of the Firth of Clyde and can be reached by public transport (the journey takes about two and a half hours). In Glasgow, take the train to Ardrossan Harbour and from there, take the ferry (consult the times here). With hundreds of kilometres of coastal paths and bicycle trails,  it is easy to visit and see its wild, natural beauty, without causing any environmental impact. One of the best known parts of Arran is the Glenashdale waterfall, which can be reached along a moderately difficult circular trail of five kilometres. What's more, there you can visit the famous Giants’ Graves, two Neolithic chambered tombs (cairns). Another, more relaxing plan (that is also very photogenic) is a visit to Brodick Castle and its gardens, which are managed by the National Trust.

The Isle of Arran, Scotland.

And of course, the privileged setting of the island offers many opportunities for those in search of adventure, from kayaking to canyoning or rock climbing. At lunchtime, a good option is Crofters Arran in Brodick, a bistro that serves local produce. The menu includes dishes such as ham hock terrine and pickles, scallops with cauliflower purée or lamb served with apple sauce, among others. It also serves vegetarian dishes.

Another option is Loch Lomond and its National Park (Loch Lomond & The Trossachs). Known for its overwhelming beauty at any time of year, it is easy to get to by public transport from Glasgow. A train – one of the best ways to travel with a low carbon footprint – takes you from the city directly to Balloch, the gateway to the Park, in less than one hour. Nature conservation is the main objective of this magical place, which features oak forests inhabited by deer.

The trails with the best views are those that ascend the mountains, as they give you a bird’s-eye view of the lake and that fantastic Scottish mix of colours formed by the blue water and ochre tones of the landscape. But if you're looking for a gentler hike, there are also mountains that are not difficult to climb, as they are not all that high and have excellent trails. The Drovers Inn, one of the most famous pubs in Scotland – founded in 1705 – is one of the best options for lunch and an opportunity to try classic Scottish dishes like fish and chips, or mince and tatties (ground beef and mashed potato). If you fancy some local seafood, then the Cattle & Creel is the place for you, with its seafood platter, which includes scallops, prawns, oysters and shrimp, a must-have.

Last but not least, if you're keen discover Loch Lomond by water, the many boat trips available will allow you to enjoy a much more intense feeling of immersion, in which the scents of the surroundings will be etched on your memory.

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