The transformation from a period of economic decline has been dramatic. It began in earnest in the 1980s, and by the end of the decade it had been proclaimed European City of Culture, followed by City of Architecture and Design, and Unesco City of Music – the first British city to win this accolade. The rusting shipyards faded into history, and in their place rose the striking futuristic architecture of award-winning museums and performance venues.
Glasgow is a sociable city that has always known how to party. In the 1920s it had 81 ballrooms and dance halls, more than anywhere else in Britain, and thousands were still dancing to big bands in the famed Barrowland as German bombers roared overhead in the 1940s.
The music scene today is more diverse and dynamic, with scores of pubs and clubs rocking to indie bands, cool jazz, fiery folk and Latin rhythms, and concert halls showcasing the classics. Scotland’s national orchestra, opera and ballet companies have all based themselves in Glasgow, and this year’s MTV Europe Music Awards are being staged in the city’s stunning new SSE Hydro arena.
This is also a year of multi-cultural celebrations when the XX Commonwealth Games come to Glasgow over 11 days in July and August. They will begin with an eccentric Glaswegian blast, when five 30-storey flats are to be blown up during the opening ceremony, as a symbol of the city’s regeneration. The Ryder Cup comes to nearby Gleneagles in August, followed by the MTV Awards in November.
To top it all this is the year of Homecoming Scotland 2014, and the clans are gathering for celebrations culminating in the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn near Glasgow, when the Scots struck a decisive blow for independence – a feat nationalists would love to emulate in the September referendum.
When to go
Whenever you like. The highlights of this year’s celebrations are in summer, when in theory the weather should be better, but the city loves to party throughout the year.
Celtic Connections is a two-weeks extravaganza of contemporary and traditional Celtic and world music featuring more than 2,000 musicians that lightens dark winter nights in January. The Glasgow Film Festival is held annually in February, followed by an International Comedy Festival in March and the Aye Write! Book Festival in Europe’s largest public reference library in April.
The West End rocks to a three-week multi-cultural festival in June with 400 performers in 80 venues, while the rest of the city hosts an International Jazz Festival.
The Merchant City, a lively entertainment quarter, gets in on the Commonwealth Games act in July with a street festival of live music, dance, performances and exhibitions, and in August the massed pipes and drums of 230 bands from Canada to New Zealand engage in fierce competition in the World Pipe Band Championships.
The city’s gay community joins in the fun with Glasgay! a month-long celebration of gay culture in October spanning comedy, film, visual art, performance and community arts projects. And all year round visitors can enjoy a warm, down to earth welcome in the pubs, clubs and shops of a revitalised city with a new slogan: “People Make Glasgow”.
British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies from Heathrow and London City, 1hr 30mins; EasyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) flies from Bristol, 1hr10 mins, Gatwick 1hr 25mins, Luton and Stansted 1hr 15mins; Flybe (0871 700 2000;flybe.com) flies from East Midlands 1hr 15mins, Exeter 3hrs 15mins, Jersey 4hrs, Leeds Bradford and Manchester 1hr 5mins, Southampton 1hr 30mins; CityJet (0871 666 5050; cityjet.com) flies from Cardiff 1hr 35mins; Citywing (0871 200 0440; citywing.com) flies from Isle of Man, Apr-Oct, 1hr.
Virgin (0871 977 4222; virgintrains.co.uk) has services from London Euston to Glasgow Central on the west coast line via Preston, Lancaster and Carlisle, 4hrs 38mins. East Coast (08457 225 225; eastcoast.co.uk) has services from London King’s Cross to Glasgow Queen Street on the east coast line via Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh 5hrs 40mins. Scotrail’s Caledonian Sleeper (08457 550033; scotrail.co.uk) is a comfortable way of travelling overnight, with duvets and breakfast in bed. Leaves Euston at 11pm, arrives Glasgow Central 7.18am. Book early for ‘bargain berths’, which offer amazing value.
Enjoy a light supper or nightcap in the Caledonian Sleeper’s lounge car, and don’t rush out of bed in the morning. Passengers don’t have to leave the train until 8am.
If you must visit Edinburgh, it’s less than 50 miles away on the M8 but traffic in rush hours can be a nightmare. Better to take a train, services every 15mins, journey time 50mins.
Hardly worthwhile hiring a car, which could be more trouble than it’s worth, as it is fairly easy to get around on public transport.
Travel anywhere in the city on a First Bus (firstgroup.com) for £1.90 and with a day pass for £4.00.
Glasgow’s Underground has 15 stations in a circular network between the city centre and the west end, with trains every four minutes at peak times, £1.40 single.
There’s no shortage of taxis, but private cabs such as 50-50 (0141 882 5050) are cheaper. Airport taxis to the city centre cost between £20-£25, airport buses £6, every 10 mins, journey time 25 mins.
Know before you go
Visit Scotland Visitor Centre, 170 Buchanan Street, Glasgow (0141 204 4400/0845 859 1006; visitscotland.com).
The List is a fortnightly magazine with comprehensive listings and reviews of film, theatre, music, dance, art events and restaurants. Shades of Grey: Glasgow 1956-87 by Hugh McIlvanney is an affectionate portrait of a tough, warm-hearted city.