Ideas Scotland: Sometimes, I have people tell me that they’re surprised I’m British. It could be my hodge-podge, ridiculously malleable accent that tricks them, but then I wonder, did you read this or this?
Here in Korea, I can’t really write much about my beloved homeland, which is why when the lovely Josh of The Mighty Khan offered to do a guest post on Scotland for me, I readily accepted. Granted, the last time I was in Scotland, it was when I was ten years old on a school trip to Edinburgh, but I’ve made it a point to get up there when I’m back in the UK in March – I’ll be near enough anyway (in Alnwick) for my best friend’s wedding!
Without further ado, I present you Josh’s tips for enjoying a non-stereotypical time in Scotland.
I’m Scottish (not “Scaughtish” or “Scotch” as some misinformed foreigners might mispronounce it), and like the vast majority of young Scots, I like to milk the stereotypes: kilts, bagpipes, haggis, William Wallace. This is what is referred to as “Shortbread-tin Scotland” – a romanticized fairy tale world that, if it ever existed, hasn’t done so for several centuries. This is NOT the real Scotland.
Yet tourists still arrive in their droves to see this fabled land, “doing” Scotland in a day or two and only visiting the historic cities of Stirling and Edinburgh (pronounced “Edinburgh” or “Edinburgh”, not “Edinburg”) and failing to grasp what Scotland actually is or the modern Scottish culture that most, if not all, Scots know and love. As it happens, contemporary Scottish culture is largely Glaswegian culture, so if you want to experience the real Scotland, your first stop should be Glasgow.
Scotland is renowned for its contribution to science, engineering, and medicine, historically (the Kelvin scale, the cure for malaria, screw propeller, paddle steamer…) and in the present day (MRI & ultrasound scanners, television, and video recording, the wind turbine…). The lists go on and on. Glasgow is a great place to find out about this history with many attractions related to its industrial past such as the Riverside Museum, the Titan Crane at Clydebank, and the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life at Coatbridge. Other nearby science and engineering-related attractions that are worth a trip are the Glasgow Science Centre (the site of the tallest freely rotating tower in the world), the Falkirk Wheel, Whitelee Wind Farm and Cruachan Generating Station.
Glasgow has world-class nightlife and can be substantially cheaper than a night out in London. There are hundreds of bars and a wide selection of clubs, so all tastes will be catered for. The city center is pretty lively, especially the area around Sauchiehall Street. For a more sedate night, the Merchant City and Ashton Lane in the West End offer good watering holes. On top of that, there are more than enough theatres, cinemas (including Europe’s tallest), music venues, and comedy clubs to tickle anyone’s fancy.
Scottish has made a profound contribution to music (and not just as far as pipe bands are concerned), with many well-known names beginning their careers in Glasgow including Lulu, Franz Ferdinand, Emeli Sandé, Biffy Clyro, the Fratellis, Paolo Nutini and Travis to name but a very small few. Venues can range from small to large, from small bars and clubs to the Sydney Opera House-inspired Clyde Auditorium (affectionately known as “the Armadillo”) and the upcoming Hydro (formerly affectionately known as “the S.H.A.G.”). Prices also vary from nothing for unknowns’ gigs, up to a very pretty penny for front row seats at the big international names. For big names, check online (e.g. at www.ebay.com) but for a small gig, just show up at any bar advertising live music – there are plenty to choose from.
After London, Glasgow is the second shopping capital of Europe. The main retail thoroughfare (otherwise known as the “Style Mile”) is Buchanan Street, with the Buchanan Galleries and Sauchiehall Street, and the St Enoch Centre and Argyll Street at either end, which provides all the high street and department stores you need. Looking for something a little pricier? Then Princess Square shopping center and the Argyll Arcade (which only contains jewelers) can also be found off Buchanan Street. Still, got money to spend? Then take a short walk into the Merchant City to the area around the Italian Centre where you’ll find more haute couture than the average woman can shake a stick at. With no Sunday trading laws in Scotland and late-night shopping in the city center on a Thursday night, you’ll find you will never be short of time to shop.
Not brave enough to sample haggis or deep-fried Mars bars? As the second city of the British Empire, Glasgow was a gateway to the rest of the world. Ingredients, recipes, and people from all over the empire arrived and worked their way into the culture. Glasgow’s curry houses alone are some of the best in Europe (some claim chicken tikka masala originated here), and there are many other options to choose from, no matter what your tastes or budget. The Merchant City offers a particularly good selection of eateries, as does the West End.