“everyone’s funny – just go to the pub”

A Good City Guide to gritty Glasgow’s books, booze and grime

Glasgow has “shocking levels of friendliness” | Image by TOPIA

A Booker Prize-longlisted author, organic beer producer and Scotland’s premier grime platform founder are our friendly guides to Scotland’s largest and most vibrant cultural city

I love the idea that when you’re out and about in Glasgow, you’re never far from a fox.

Graeme Macrae Burnet

Glaswegian comedians are known to give their city a hard time. “The great thing about Glasgow is that if there’s a nuclear attack, it’ll look exactly the same afterwards,” is how comedian and actor Billy Connolly paid tribute to the city of his birth. “As the plane lands in Glasgow airport, passengers are reminded to set their watch back… 25 years,” is comedian and author Frankie Boyle’s equally biting take. 

They’re not really doing Glasgow down. Self-deprecating humour is part of what makes Scotland’s largest and most culturally vibrant city tick. And these comedians know that, like a good friend, the city can take a good, if barbed, joke. It’s also a city that’s big and tough enough to take a few knocks. 

Glasgow was known as the ‘second city’ of the British Empire during the Victorian era, something that would no doubt makes many of today’s Glaswegians and Scots baulk, given the strength of feeling against the festering pool of corruption, lies and incompetence that is the current British government. Glasgow voted in favour of independence in the 2014 Scottish referendum, and likely would do again, given the opportunity. 

There’s more pride in the city’s industrial past as a world-leading shipbuilder, with shipyards on the River Clyde that cuts across the city.  

Today, Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city, both in size and population, and it’s cultural ‘beating heart’. I lived in Glasgow for more than a decade, and regularly heard Glaswegians repeating versions of the same slight against the country’s capital: “Edinburgh has the pretty buildings, but Glasgow got the people.” That might be a little harsh, as Edinburgh has plenty of its own cultural life, but there’s enough truth to it that ‘People Make Glasgow’ has become the city’s official slogan. 

Certainly, the city can give London and Manchester a run for their money as the UK’s most exciting music city, giving rise to bands such as Primal Scream, Orange Juice, Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Chvrches, Biffy Clyro, and The Delgados. A UNESCO-listed City of Music since 2008, the city’s live music scene is still thriving across the city, from the Barrowlands to The 13th Note music venues, with hip-hop and grime increasingly making their way into the Indie-dominated space, while clubbers will find diverse nights at The Arches, Sub-Club and other venues. 

Some of the UK’s most original literary voices come from Glasgow – from novelist Alasdair Gray and James Kelman and Janice Galloway to poets Edwin Morgan, Liz Lochhead, Carol Ann Duffy – and the city is still producing the goods when it comes to the written word, theatre, ballet, opera and stand-up comedy clubs, including the long-running The Stand.

While some perceptions of Glasgow’s food and drink scene might still be limited to clichés of deep fried Mars bars and Buckfast (a potent tonic wine), the city has more than 2,000 eclectic restaurants and bars, diverse culinary scene, from Michelin-starred fine dining to Indian and Vietnamese, and was singled out by animal rights organisation PETA as the UK’s most vegan-friendly city.

It’s a city with undeniable problems, including poverty and drugs. It isn’t always beautiful, though it frequently is – a great city to walk around, with parks, rivers, botanical gardens, grand 19th century architecture and the sense that you never know what you’ll find. 

For this month’s TOPIA Good City Guide, we spoke to some of Glasgow’s cultural figures helping push the proudly original city to build on its reputation as one of the UK’s most progressive, creative and welcoming places. They also share their tips for less obvious places that visitors shouldn’t miss.

The hidden brewer

Rachel Suttle is the founder and director of Hidden Lane Brewery on Hidden Lane in Glasgow’s thriving Finnieston area. The city’s only organic beer shop produces a range of organic, vegan beers and offers brewery tours and Pro Brew Days with their master brewer.

What does Glasgow mean to you?

Glasgow is Scotland’s own version of New York – a real melting pot of people not just from across Scotland but from around the world. We welcome people from every corner of the globe, and, Glasgow being Glasgow, we’ve welcomed those people and integrated their culture as part of our own. The term ‘People Make Glasgow’ is one of the most prolific, yet simple, phrases ever used.   

people make glasgow

How has Glasgow changed in the time you’ve lived there?

The dynamism feels like it’s a city that’s broken free from its shackles. The underground cultures of music, art and our beloved hospitality are flourishing. There’s almost an explosion of creativity at a mainstream level, whereas before it bubbled under the surface. It’s where it belongs: in our faces, in our ears and on our walls, in the food we eat, and in the glasses we ‘cheers’ with. Glasgow has become passionate and proud – proud to be different. It always was but now it’s celebrated.  

How did the idea of an organic brewery come about?

The city was changing for the better and so were peoples tastes and attitudes. The brewery idea had been in the ether for a while but it wasn’t until I saw the building that it all came together. As home to one of the world’s most recognised lagers, there was always going to room for a new kid on the block. With craft brewing growing in the city, I wanted to ensure we stood out and delivered a product that was for everyone. I’d worked on sustainability projects with some of the best bars in Scotland and it seemed only right to develop a product that could showcase the dynamic nature of the city as a leader in organic brewing. Hidden Lane Brewery was born. 

What are some of your favourite places in the city?

I always tell people to look up when they are in the city centre because the architecture and detail on the buildings is amazing. 

People should also get to the Barras Market. A lot of guide books will tell you about the traditional stalls, which are amazing, but they probably don’t realise the transformation that’s happened with cool street food vendors, boutique artists, craft workers and fashion that have all breathed new life into the market. You can still find a bargain, while enjoying a bao bun or a bacon roll. 

My favourite stroll opens up a different side to the city, starting at the Botanic Gardens and walking down along the River Kelvin through Kelvingrove Park. The Botanic Gardens are amazing but it’s the native trees, wildlife and tranquillity on this route that I love, as you meander along the river and over bridges, yet never far from a cafe or bar.  

Finnieston is a really cool area, with bustling bars, cafes and eateries. The one bar that keeps me coming back is The Finnieston, the heart of the area, housed in an old drover’s inn – but with a seafood restaurant and gin cocktail bar. Play your cards right and they’ll show you the best kept secret in the city – the hidden gin garden.

One of the coolest and quirkiest places to visit in Finnieston is the Hidden Lane, where our brewery is. If you can find this secret little hideaway, it opens up another world of artists, boutiques, studios and eateries like the Tearoom and Rafa’s, the ever-popular taco shop. There’s also a hidden gallery owned by Glasgow’s own philanthropist Joe Mulholland, who curates an ever-changing collection of art and artefacts with the most amazing histories. If you’re lucky enough to meet him there, he will no doubt share a story or two with you. 

The Booker Prize-longlisted author

Photo by John Devlin

Author Graeme Macrae Burnet’s latest novel, Case Study (2021), has been longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize, and shortlisted for both the Ned Kelly International Crime Prize and the Gordon Burn Prize.

What makes Glasgow such a unique city? 

It’s the shocking levels of friendliness here: the merest hint of eye contact in a bar is likely to lead you into hearing someone’s life story. Asking directions is sure to elicit an invitation to a house party. For me, Glasgow is quite simply home. I left Kilmarnock to study here, then lived in a few other places, but I always gravitated back here. I love the warmth of the city, the unpretentiousness and the creativity. I even like the unfairly derided weather.

How has Glasgow influenced your writing? 

I don’t think the city itself has directly influenced my writing, but, as a student, reading the work of James Kelman, Janice Galloway and Alasdair Gray, writers who came from or lived here, certainly made me feel that it was possible for me to be a writer, and that writing about things you experienced or observed for yourself was a valid thing to do – that literature was not something that came from elsewhere.

Now order Case Study

People say: “Edinburgh got the pretty buildings, but Glasgow got the interesting people.” Is there some truth in that? 

Scotland’s blessed with two wonderful but contrasting cities. Glasgow prides itself on its gritty down-to-earth humour. We don’t need a comedy festival here because everyone’s funny – just go to the pub. 

Glasgow also has an amazingly vibrant, grassroots music scene, which is not about mega-bands at the SECC or the Hydro, but folk putting on weird experimental gigs at the Old Hairdressers, Nice N Sleazy or The Glad Café.

What are the places to visit that many tourists might miss? 

I’d recommend Sharmanka, a truly unique museum of kinetic sculptures built from scrap materials by Eduard Bersudsky.

I also like Voltaire & Rousseau, the utterly chaotic but richly atmospheric bookshop tucked down Otago Lane in the West End.

Then there are the canal paths – hire a bike and you’ll find yourself in rolling countryside in half an hour. There’s also a surprising array of wildlife. If you’re sharp-eyed, you can spot kingfishers on the banks of the Kelvin. And if you wander around for long enough after dark, a fox will casually wander across your path and fix you with a “what-are-you-doing-out-at-this-time?” stare. I love the idea that when you’re out and about in Glasgow, you’re never far from a fox.

The grime manager changing the face of Scottish rap

Sami Omar is the founder of Up2Stndrd, a music platform and media production company that focuses on hip-hop and grime music in Glasgow and across Scotland. He works to provide opportunities to underrepresented youths and genres of music.

What is Glasgow’s music scene like today?

Although maybe not as big as city such as Manchester or London, the unique characteristics of Glasgow as a city can definitely be found in its music scene. Different circles definitely exist. But the small size of the city means things tend to overlap a lot – no one can truly be defined by only one type of sound.  

Glasgow’s status as the cultural capital of Scotland has generated the development of a number of different facets of sound. We’ve recently seen a resurgence of jazz spearheaded by a number of conservatoire students, a growth in the electronic scene with a number of local producers and DJs not being afraid to take risks, and, of course, an erupting hip-hop scene with a number of MCs taking pride in their Scottish heritage. 

What are some of the Glasgow artists people should know about?

Through our platform, we’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with various artists from the central belt and surrounding areas. To name a few: artists such as Bemz, Joell, 77, AB and Clarissa Woods are all bringing diverse sounds, and Oakzy B, Sherlock, Melrose and many others are holding down the true Scottish heritage.

How did Up2Stndrd get started? And what do you hope to achieve? 

Up2Stndrd is a media company focusing on ensuring a platform for underrepresented youths and hip-hop genres of music in Scotland. We offer affordable recording services, a space for all artists, and, through various content, provide a spotlight on a demographic who lack access to opportunities within the creative industries. 

Originating as a recording studio in 2018, we quickly expanded into mixed media. We’ve successfully created a series of online shows where we showcase artists to expand the reach of their music, which has helped establish a following on our social media platforms. We wanted to create these platforms for these artists, further allowing us to highlight the emergence of hip-hop in Scotland on a bigger level.

What are some of your favourite places in Glasgow that people should check out? 

Stereo is definitely one of the best venues right now with people from all different music scenes gathering there for the best in live music. 

Stereo believe in the transformative power of communal experiences

Also, @Glasgowjazz on Instagram is an amazing tool, giving updates and news on the Glasgow jazz scene. 

Queens Park, located in the south side of Glasgow, is a highlight. There’s always something for everyone going on there, especially during the summer. And right next to Queen’s Park, Some Great Reward Cafe has a great selection of records and some of the finest coffee in the south side. It’s also the current home of Radio Buena Vida, a newly founded radio station pioneering spaces for the wide range of sounds Glasgow has to offer. 

Radio Buena Vida – the sound of collective action | Photo by Elaine Livingstone

What’s so good about this?

Glasgow has long been known as an original, lively creative city to anyone who’s visited or spent time there. but it’s good to see there are still so many new and interesting ideas being put into practice, pushing the city into other creative spaces – plenty of reason to go back for anyone who knows and loves the city. And plenty of reasons to go if you’re a first-timer.

Meet the writer

Graeme Green is a photographer and journalist who’s been travelling the world for 20 years reporting stories and photographing wildlife, people and places for international publications including The Guardian, BBC, The Sunday Times, New Internationalist, Wanderlust, British Journal of Photography and Digital Camera. He covers subjects ranging from wildlife and conservation to human trafficking. Graeme is also the founder of the award-winning international wildlife conservation initiative, newbig5.com. His first book, The New Big 5: A Global Photography Project For Endangered Wildlife features essays by Jane Goodall, Paula Kahumbu (Wildlife Direct), Wes Sechrest (Re:wild) and more. You can follow his work at graeme-green.com and on Instagram @graeme.green.

Sign up for

A World of Good

Subscribe to our free fortnightly newsletter for a kaleidoscopic look at culture, nature and positive impact