By Caroline M. Jackson
A local tale about Scotland’s two biggest cities is said to epitomize the subtle character difference between the typical Glaswegian and the typical Edinburgher. If you’re passing through Glasgow and you drop into a friend’s house, you’ll be greeted with “Come away in for a wee cup of tea.” But if you are an unexpected guest in Edinburgh, the words of welcome will be “You’ll have had your tea, then…”
For decades, the capital city of Edinburgh has been the star attraction for overseas visitors to Scotland. And why not? It boasts a magnificent castle that casts its shadow over Princes Street, a mecca for North American shoppers who hunt for tartan items with the same fervour as they would stalk the proverbial four-legged haggis. Edinburgh was also known as a clean city where the dirtiest job was counting Scottish pound notes for the large banks.
By contrast, until the early 1970s, the industrial city of Glasgow was synonymous with economic depression and heavy pollution. But all this has dramatically changed. The shipyards that rang with the noise of riveters and welders along Glasgow’s River Clyde are now silent. Clients who have a head for heights can take a lift to the top of a new attraction, a giant cantilever Titan Crane.
With more than 70 parks and gardens, Glasgow boasts more green space within its city boundaries than any other British metropolis. In fact, its Celtic name Gleschu means “dear green place”. In 1988, Glasgow bounced back onto the tourist scene with an International Garden Festival, and then in 1999, was appointed as the U.K.’s City of Architecture and Design. A catalyst for the latter award was, of course, Glasgow’s famous Scottish architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Aficionados can admire much of his work throughout the city.
But being a Glaswegian, I must be realistic. Glasgow’s westerly location does attract a wee bit of rain, so itineraries should include some indoor sites. Clients who have a yen for history can visit the city’s 13th-century cathedral with its modern stained-glass windows and the tomb of St. Mungo, Patron Saint of Glasgow. For another indoor experience, shoppers can check out the chic boutiques in the classy covered malls at Princes Square or St. Enoch Centre. Glasgow offers the best shopping in the U.K. outside of London.
Glasgow’s Travel Information Centre is centrally located in George Square, and it’s here, perhaps more than anywhere else, that clients can appreciate how much the City Fathers have done to pull up the city’s tartan socks. The façade of the City Chambers is just one example of the many public buildings that have been sandblasted at a cost of millions of pounds. Built in the Italian Renaissance style, it is bestowed with priceless Italian marble, mosaics and Venetian leaded glass.
Favourite Museums In Glasgow
Who said the Scots were tight fisted? Admission to most of the museums below is free. www.glasgowmuseums.com.
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum has recently been refurbished. In the dreich winter months, I used to visit this magnificent red sandstone Victorian museum every Sunday afternoon. Here I could study the life of birds and animals in what is now called the Environment Discovery Centre. The museum lays claim to having the country’s finest civic collection of British and European paintings, a highlight being the dramatic painting Christ of St. John of the Cross by Salvador Dali.
- The Museum of Transport attracts more than half a million visitors a year and gives clients an atmospheric peek into the past. Displays include horse-drawn vehicles, caravans, model ships, locomotives and my favourite, the trams which used to rattle and clang as they took me take me to school.The Gallery of Modern Art is located in a neoclassical building in Royal Exchange Square. Right in the heart if the city, it is the second most visited contemporary art gallery outside of London.
- St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art explores the importance of religion from a global perspective.
- The Peoples’ Palace and Winter Gardens next to Glasgow Green, includes the story of the 18th-century tobacco trade and the temperance and women’s suffrage movements. Afterwards, clients can enjoy a pot of tea in the elegant Victorian glasshouse.
- Provand’s Lordship, built in 1471, is the only house to survive from the medieval city.
- The Burrell Collection is home to more than 9,000 objets d’art – medieval art, tapestries, Chinese porcelain and European paintings and sculptures including works by Degas and Cezanne. This treasure trove is located in Pollok Country Park where clients can also visit the 18th-century Pollok House.
Although Glasgow has much to offer today’s clients, there is no doubt that Edinburgh supercedes it for majesty and climate. Being on the east coast, Edinburgh attracts far less of the wet stuff, but the winds do whip along the Firth of Forth and it is advisable to pack a few woollies.
Less than an hour’s train journey between Glasgow and Edinburgh, clients arriving in Waverley Station will find themselves overshadowed by imposing Edinburgh Castle situated atop a craggy volcanic plug.
Princes Street Gardens separates the Old Town with its medieval cobblestone wynds (alleyways) and the New Town with its Georgian facades. Vibrant Princes Street is top of my list for shopping and always includes a visit to Jenners, a high-end department store with a self-service restaurant on the top floor.
Every client will want to walk the length of the Royal Mile, between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House. There is so much to see that clients could take a whole day exploring the old buildings that open up onto intriguing courts.
Edinburgh’s grey Georgian edifices are an abrupt contrast to Glasgow’s Victorian red sandstone buildings. For a peek into the daily life of this era, a visit to the Georgian House at 7 Charlotte Square is a must. Designed by Robert Adam in 1791, the house is now in the hands of the National Trust for Scotland.
Every August, Edinburgh is host to the Military Tattoo. Set in the Castle’s parade ground, the event is a fantastic spectacle of bands of the Scottish Regiments, with piping, Scottish dancing, music and drama. Tickets should be purchased well in advance.
The largest ever International Clan Gathering will be held in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park on July 25 and 26, 2009 as part of the major Homecoming Scotland festival. The event will include highland games, sports, music and dance with a commemorative clan pageant on Edinburgh Castle’s esplanade. www.thegathering2009.com.
Favourite Attractions In Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle offers unimpeded views of the city from its ramparts. Don’t miss the gigantic canon (Mons Meg), the Scottish Crown Jewels and the famous Stone of Destiny.
- The Royal Mile with a visit John Knox’s House.
- Palace of Holyroodhouse & Abbey. Take an official tour. It’s worth it.
- National Gallery of Scotland Complex – located in an imposing classical building.
- The Writers’ Museum is interesting for those who enjoy Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott.
- St. Giles’ Cathedral was built in 1126. Don’t miss the Thistle Chapel. I happened upon a kilted wedding and observed the celebrations from a Gothic pew.
- Museum of Childhood is the perfect place for senior clients who want to relive their childhood days.
- The Royal Museum of Scotland’s stern exterior belies its modern interior.
- Dynamic Earth is a tactile experience with a fascinating look at volcanoes, glaciers and earthquakes. It is an enjoyable place for both the young and the young-at-heart.
Visit Britain: www.visitbritain.ca/travel-trade, 1-888-VISITUK
Trade website offering commissionable deals: www.bookingscotland.com
Educational travel agent tool: www.scotsagent.com
Visit Scotland website: www.cometoscotland.ca