The 2014 Commonwealth Games, and five other reasons Glasgow is still city of culture

Merchant City in Glasgow's east end is packed with trendy bars and independent shops

The Commonwealth Games opened in Glasgow last night and over the next two weeks tens of thousands of Londoners will make their way to the cultural heart of Scotland.

They come as Scotland edges ever closer – according to the polls – to independence, giving the international showcase even more significance.

But unlike other cities that have undergone dramatic transformations ahead of the event (vast swathes of Manchester, for example, were regenerated in the build-up to the 2002 Games), Glasgow has long been confident of its place as one of the most forward-thinking, cosmopolitan cities in Europe. Its main period of regeneration has already taken place, when it was named the European Capital of Culture in 1990, when the city centre was remodelled as a shoppers’ paradise to rival Oxford Street.

And while it’s not as obviously spectacular as Edinburgh, with its fairytale castle dominating the city centre, Glasgow is quietly beautiful; look above street level and you’ll see glittering sandstone buildings and the distinctive art nouveau stylings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (the man who designed the recently fire-damaged Glasgow School of Art building).
Glasgow’s reputation as the “sick man of Europe” is rapidly diminishing as the city becomes known for its bars, restaurants and nightclubs, which attract tourists from across Europe.

Whatever happens on 18 September, Glasgow will remain one of Europe’s finest cities, boasting stunning architecture, a thriving arts scene and the best nightlife this side of Berlin. Here are five of the best things to see:

Glasgow's Merchant City at night
Glasgow's Merchant City at night (Source: Wikimedia)

Merchant City
When urban planners masterminded the regeneration of Merchant City in the 1980s, they looked to London’s Covent Garden as a template. Three decades later, the area is more akin to Islington. Think elegant old architecture, independent shops and small bars where local bands play late into the night. The cultural centre of Glasgow, Merchant City has also been favoured by luxury brands opening up shop in Scotland for the first time. Versace opened its first UK outlet there, joining Emporio Armani, Ralph Lauren and Mulberry. The positive vibes were officially recognised in 2006 when The Academy of Urbanism awarded the area The Great Neighbourhood gong.

Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art
Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art in Royal Exchange Square

Gallery of Modern Art
Call 0141 287 3050 or visit museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk
The outcry following the Art School fire showed just how seriously Glaswegians take their art. The prestigious has produced 30 per cent of all Turner Prize nominees since 2005 as well as three winners. And Glasgow isn’t just a great place to study fine art, it’s also a major destination for gallery visitors. Located in the heart of the city, the Gallery of Modern Art (or GoMA, as the locals call it) is the most visited modern art gallery in Scotland and boasts a permanent collection including works by Andy Warhol and David Hockney.

SubClub in Glasgow
SubClub draws in crowds from across Europe

Sub Club
Nightclub: 22 Jamaica St, G1 4QD, visit subclub.co.uk
The unassuming basement club in the centre of Glasgow can take its share of the credit for putting Glasgow on the cultural map. It didn’t gain its plaudits with a mammoth dance floor or big-name guest DJs; it built up a cult following over years, developing its own distinct blend of house music and classic pop tunes. Former resident DJs Twitch and Wilkes filled the 500 capacity venue every Sunday for over a decade with their Optimo night, drawing in crowds from across Europe willing to queue in the Glasgow rain for a chance to dance to Blondie with added bass. This should be first on your Glasgow “to-do” list.

Rogano
Rogano is a Glasgow institution

Rogano
Restaurant: call 0141 248 4055 or visit roganoglasgow.com
Widely claimed to be the oldest restaurant in Glasgow, Rogano is as much of a landmark as any of the city’s statues or museums. Located just off Buchanan Street, the original owner wanted the restaurant furnished in the same way as the Queen Mary, a Cunard cruise liner being built on the Clyde at the same time. As such, the Rogano still has something of the spirit of 1935 about it and it specialises in fish and seafood fresh from Scottish waters. Local legend has it that table number 16 is reserved for when Rod Stewart’s in town.

Hotel du Vin Glasgow
The Hotel du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens

Hotel du Vin (AKA One Devonshire Gardens)
To stay: call 0844 736 4256 or visit hotelduvin.com for reservations
Discover a pocket of French haute cuisine in the heart of Glasgow’s fashionable West End at the Hotel du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens. This boutique hotel has only 49 rooms on a street of tree-lined Victorian terraces and it has welcomed an impressive celebrity clientele over the years, from Whitney Houston to George Clooney. Its oak-panelled bistro is a popular fine dining destination – Gordon Ramsay ran it until 2004 – and as the name suggests the cellar is pretty well-stocked, too. After dinner, sink back into a leather armchair and enjoy a Scotch – there’s over 300 to choose from.

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