Glasgow’s Central Station area is very much the beating heart of Britain’s third largest city. Since hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games the city has ridden a wave of positive change and modernization. With increasingly pleasing diversity, central Glasgow doesn’t just host renowned restaurants and designer stores; there are just as many independent establishments tucked in among them catering to a broad range of tastes and interests.
Glasgow’s bars, restaurants and shopping are among some of the best in Britain. With a vibrant culture and notable history already firmly rooted here, there has never been a better time to visit Glasgow. To help you find the most authentic Glaswegian touches and most exciting outside influences on the city, here’s our guide to the Glasgow Central experience, like a local.
For whisky connoisseurs The Pot Still (154 Hope St) is one of the finest spots in all of Glasgow. In fact, it is the perfect choice for whisky novices and the whisky curious as well. If you lose count of how many single malts, blends and other whiskies they stock, don’t worry: it’s not the warm creep of whisky inebriation, they just have a lot. The staff has fantastic knowledge; tell them a dram you’ve enjoyed in the past and they will locate three or four others they think you’ll like but may not have tried before. They also offer beer, ale and delicious pies.
Across the road from The Pot Still is Swing (183 Hope Street), a lively jazz bar that could be a natural progression/stumble across the road for fans of the dance floor on a night out. Taking on a 1920s speakeasy layout and sensibility, this underground bar and club is best appreciated with a glass of champagne or a cocktail in hand, a passion for blues and jazz music, and a love of live performance and acrobatics.
The Smokin’ Fox (6-8 Waterloo St) isn’t necessarily trying to prove that there is indeed hope at the bottom of a glass, they just aim to serve good beer and food. Located across the street from Glasgow Central Station, The Smokin’ Fox (formerly known as The Hope) boasts is a reasonable whisky selection and a good range of wines, cocktails and beers, both bottled and draught. This is a family-friendly spot and there’s an extensive food menu with reasonable prices if you’re looking for a bite to go with your sup.
Sometimes when you’re in Scotland, you want to pretend like you’re in Ireland. That’s okay, nobody is judging you. At least not in Molly Malone’s (224 Hope St), one of the most popular Irish bars in Glasgow. Molly Malone’s has TVs set up streaming live sporting events for those who like to keep up with the latest scores.
The Raven (81-85 Renfield St) is a modern, wood-panelled Glaswegian bar with a noticeable stateside influence both on its excellent range of bottled craft beers and smokehouse food menu, including dry-rubbed baby back ribs. The 11 large screens dotted all around bring you the latest sporting action as you chow down.
Over by George Square – one of the city’s focal points with its proud statues of some famous Scots who have made an impact on the world – is Drouthy’s (155 Queen Street). It’s a friendly local spot. Devoid of any pretension, Drouthy’s is a good place to have a pint or two and maybe even have a natter with some locals or drop some cash into the fruit machines.
Although many of the drinking options listed above offer pub food, there are some wonderful restaurants in Glasgow for a classic sit-down meal. La Lanterna (35 Hope St) is one of them. Serving great Italian food since 1970, this family-run eatery has picked up a slew of best restaurant awards in recent years, yet remains inviting and unpretentious. It is located in the basement, but you’d never know it with its warm furnishings and friendly staff.
Although it’s hardly likely to be as addictive as it sounds, Opium Restaurant (191 Hope St) is Glasgow’s favourite Asian fusion restaurant. The extensive, but not overwhelmingly large, menu is given that extra spice of attentive service that can really make dining out a special experience. Opting for a mixture of dim sum, such as the excellent chilli, salt and pepper squid or har gau, alongside a main plate is highly recommended.
More of a compliment than an insult, Two Fat Ladies in the City (118A Blythswood St) is part of the increasingly popular Two Fat Ladies chain. Devoted to fine dining, this busy city spot devotes the majority of its menu to fresh seafood. Scallops, sea bream and lemon sole are all known to grace the A La Carte menu, which is reinvigorated on a monthly basis.
For anybody looking to find a spot that combines an entertainment store with a social space, look no further than Geek Retreat (63 Union St). The store stocks a wide range of comics, figurines and trading cards, but people stick around for the packed events schedule; Geek Retreat runs almost daily tournaments and gatherings for all, be you Pokéfan, Bronie or simply curious to find out what the first two are.
Located opposite Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s famous building, housing the Glasgow School of Art, is the Glasgow School of Art Shop (164 Renfrew St). Drop in and peruse the homeware, textiles and jewellery showcasing cutting edge designs and art by the school’s students, graduates and staff. All purchases here directly support the school.
For lovers of all things Japanese, TokyoToys Manga Store (27 Union St) is one of the most unique shops in the country, stocking everything from manga comics to cosplay costumes. If your boat is floated by Dragon Ball Z or Naruto, there is likely to be something of interest here. The fantastic staff guarantees to impart their knowledge and enthusiasm, especially to newer fans of manga.
No item of clothing draws quite the levels of admiration and mirth as the kilt. This traditional garment, made in various tartans that would have originally been used to associate with certain clans, is still as popular as it ever was. James Robertson Kiltmaker (118 Sauchiehall St) has been selling and renting out kilts for 25 years and is well worth a look for anybody who wants a very unique Scottish souvenir.
The Butterfly and the Pig Tearooms (151 Bath St) offers more than a great name; with a period feel to the decoration their afternoon teas are a classy way to spend a couple of hours. Alternatively you can pair tea with a light lunch. Soup and sandwiches, aka sanners as per their fun and hyperactively written menu, only add to the appealing whimsy of these tearooms. There are lots of gluten free options marked on the menu.
Glasgow is undoubtedly an international city, and that means good Italian food and, perhaps more importantly, good Italian coffee. Laboratorio Espresso (93 W Nile Street) provides the latter, with a great range of beans and an excellent house blend. Italian pastries and lunch options are also available.
Riverhill Coffee Bar (24 Gordon Street) is a popular, modern spot that attracts all manner of people given its prominent location a block away from Glasgow Central Station. Lunchtime gets especially hectic here as people flock to partake of their freshly made selection of sandwiches, cakes and ever-changing daily specials.
When visiting Glasgow’s main shopping street, many people take a breather and nip into Willow Tearooms (97 Buchanan St) for a brew. The traditional tea house feel is created by many little touches like the leaded glass windows, fancy chairs and the Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibition. There are roughly 25 different loose leaf teas to choose from, making this a particularly good choice for tea lovers.