Just 46 miles separate the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, yet they seem a world apart. Glasgow is gritty and industrial. Edinburgh is the majestic and beautiful set piece, commonly referred to as the Athens of the North. It was in Edinburgh's genteel suburb of Morningside that the fictional Miss Jean Brodie lived out her prime and aimed to turn her girls into the "crème de la crème." "When I go to Edinburgh," says Chris Hunt, director of the Glasgow communications firm Genuine PR, "I feel like I'm on vacation."
Not surprisingly, there's a healthy rivalry between the two cities. Paul Simmons, one half of the Glasgow-based design duo Timorous Beasties, tells an old joke: "What does Glasgow have that Edinburgh doesn't?" he asks. "A great city 45 minutes away!" Thanks to a two-decades-long face-lift, Glasgow is finally getting its due. In 1990, it was named European Capital of Culture, which proved a catalyst for its formidable rejuvenation. Nine years later Glasgow was given the nod as UK City of Architecture and Design. Today, banners throughout the town proclaim "Scotland with style." Along the way, it's developed into the UK 's second most popular retail destination after London. "People love shopping here, they like a bit of the glam," Simmons says. "In Edinburgh, they call it Glas-Vegas."
--> --> -->
--> --> -->
This summer will mark the opening of Zaha Hadid's Riverside Museum on the banks of the Clyde and, like the Iraq-born architect's work, Glasgow feels vibrant, hip, and happening. It has a lively music scene; it's spawned several top fashion designers, such as Christopher Kane and Jonathan Saunders; and it's also home to many Turner Prize–winning artists, including Douglas Gordon, Richard Wright, Simon Starling, and Susan Philipsz, who was honored this past December for her riveting sound installations.
Of course, Edinburgh has numerous claims to fame too. The 19th-century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli called it "the most beautiful town in the world." Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, was born on elegant Charlotte Square, designed by the great Scottish architect Robert Adam.
Writers Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott both lived in Edinburgh. It is also the seat of the Scottish Parliament and one of Europe's most important financial centers. The Italian fashion brand Missoni chose Edinburgh as the location for its first hotel. "It's a beautiful place that I have always admired," the hotel's creative director, Rosita Missoni, says. "It's a city steeped in historical architecture, but when the sun comes out, it's fun too." Edinburgh is especially entertaining during the month of August when the arts festivals come to town. Each year, some 2.5 million tickets are sold for the Edinburgh Festivals' official events. The city's New Year's Eve celebration, known in Scotland as Hogmanay, is one huge party, with live bands, fireworks, and 100,000 people singing "Auld Lang Syne." It's also the only night of the year when the clock on the façade of the stately Balmoral hotel is set to the correct time. The rest of the year, it's two minutes fast to help travelers catch their trains at the neighboring Waverley Station.
Visiting the two cities in one trip illuminates their sharp contrasts. Glasgow is relatively flat and spread out—you'll want to jump on a bus or the subway (the third oldest in the world) or call for a taxi (quite inexpensive for a European city). Edinburgh, on the other hand, is compact and mostly can be tackled on foot. That said, it is vertically challenging: Like Rome, Edinburgh is built on seven hills. The city is neatly separated into two distinct districts. On one side are the cobbled alleyways and hidden courtyards of the Old Town. The other side encompasses the gracious Georgian streets of the New Town. In between, on the site of a dried-up 18th-century lake, are the Princes Street Gardens.
The best starting point for any trip to Edinburgh is one of Europe's most famous streets, the Royal Mile, which runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and changes names several times along the way. Lined with souvenir shops selling classic tartans and cashmere, the Royal Mile has a touristy feel. Yet, it is also home to a number of magical sites, such as the ornately sculpted Thistle Chapel in the High Kirk of St. Giles and the 15th-century house of the Scottish Reformist priest John Knox. As for the Castle, it's worth seeing, if just for the stately views from its volcanic-rock perch.
Much more fascinating is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official Scottish residence of Her Majesty the Queen. From the audio guide, you'll learn that Queen Victoria warmed up the interiors with tapestries brought from Buckingham Palace. Sean Connery was knighted in the Great Gallery, and the Italian private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was brutally murdered just outside her bedchamber. A brass plaque marks the bloodstains where he was stabbed 56 times. Just a 10-minute taxi ride away is another symbol of the British monarchy's might—the Royal Yacht Britannia. After being decommissioned in the 1990s, it is now docked beside a popular shopping mall at the port of Leith.
--> --> -->
--> --> -->
While Glasgow cannot boast such regal lineage, it does have the heritage of Scotland's most illustrious design icon, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A genius of the Art Nouveau movement, Mackintosh produced work hailed by an architectural critic of the time as exhibiting "an absolutely original character, unlike anything else known."
A number of buildings still exist. Among them is the intriguing Glasgow School of Art, recently voted Britain's favorite building of the past 175 years in a poll by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Elsewhere are reconstructions of other Mackintosh projects. Several rooms of the house he shared with his wife, Margaret Macdonald, have been re-created in the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, and his 1901 competition submission for a "House for an Art Lover" has finally been built in Bellahouston Park, thanks to the plans and elevations he left behind.
Other architectural treasures abound. There is Alexander "Greek" Thomson's masterpiece, Holmwood House, as well as some of the finest Victorian buildings in Britain. They include the People's Palace on Glasgow Green with its wonderful greenhouse and the nearby redbrick Templeton's Carpet Factory, which was inspired by the Doge's Palace in Venice. The West End, meanwhile, is lined with an eclectic mix of architectural styles and is home to Glasgow's burgeoning art scene. At the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the unusually varied displays include an ancient Egyptian mummy, a show on mental health care in Glasgow, and a propeller plane suspended above a stuffed giraffe. Nearby, the Hunterian holds the world's largest collection of works by Whistler. And in a charming park setting, the Burrell Collection houses more than 9,000 objects, from Roman artifacts to Impressionist paintings.
When it comes to shopping, Glasgow's city center is home to the big names in fashion— Ralph Lauren has an outpost there, as do Hugo Boss and Vivienne Westwood, among many others. The West End is the place to go for quirky and cutting-edge boutiques. Don't miss Timorous Beasties, famous for its fashionable, offbeat wallpapers and textiles and eye-catching accessories. Edinburgh may not be a shopaholic's paradise, but it does boast a Harvey Nichols department store and a number of charming shops along Victoria and Thistle streets that are packed with intriguing finds, from apparel to whiskeys.
Edinburgh is, however, a diner's paradise. The city is home to five Michelin-starred restaurants—the greatest number in Britain, outside London. At 21212, the talented chef Paul Kitching whips up such imaginative fare as deconstructed fish and chips (halibut with dried zucchini disks) and saddle of venison with sausage, dates, eggplant confit, and thyme sauce. The service at the 38-seat restaurant is top-notch and the decor is serene (glittering chandeliers, brocade-upholstered banquettes) while the vibe is low-key—coffee is served in paper cups and milk is poured from a cow-shaped jug.
For Kitching, Edinburgh is a city that captured his imagination from an early age. "I came here as a kid and thought it was just like The Lord of the Rings," he says. And a famous current-day fictional hero came to life in the city: Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling purportedly scribbled the first of seven Harry Potter novels while sipping coffee in the Elephant House on George IV Bridge. To finish the last volume in the series, she lived in suite 552 of the Balmoral, Edinburgh's most elegant hotel. In a corner of the suite's sitting room stands a small bust in a glass case. On it, Rowling inscribed the date on which she wrote the final words: January 11, 2007.
--> --> -->
The area code is 141, unless noted.
Look back. Perched on a hill above a medieval cathedral, the Necropolis is a picturesque 19th-century graveyard with obelisks, statue-topped columns, and ivy-clad walls.
Discover a design icon. One of the masters of Art Nouveau, architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh is probably the city's most famous son. A $25 pass gives access to several buildings, including the House for an Art Lover.
Shop 'til you drop. Glasgow is the second-biggest shopping destination in Britain, after London. International brands like Ralph Lauren can be found in the city center, while the West End is home to chic boutiques.
WHAT TO SEE
Glasgow School of Art, 11 Dalhousie St., City Center, 353-4526; : Take a student-led tour of the building many consider to be Mackintosh's masterpiece.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle St., West End, 276-9599; : Displays range from an Ancient Egyptian mummy to a Dyson vacuum cleaner. The painting gallery holds works by Monet, Picasso, and more.
WHERE TO STAY
Blythswood Square, 11 Blythswood Square, City Center, 248-8888; : This 100-room hotel sets a new standard for luxury in the city.
Hotel du Vin, 1 Devonshire Gardens, West End, 339-2001; : A Glaswegian institution, it occupies five townhouses and offers cozy rooms, spacious baths, and a first-class restaurant.
Malmaison, 278 W. George St., City Center, 572-1000; : This stylish boutique hotel in a converted church has a lively brasserie and a handy gym.
WHERE TO EAT
Brian Maule at Chardon d'Or, 176 W. Regent St., City Center, 248-3801; : Glasgow's prime fine-dining venue serves locally sourced French-influenced fare.
Cail Bruich West, 725 Great Western Rd., West End, 334-6265; : Voted best new Scottish restaurant last year, this bistro offers refined cuisine at reasonable prices.
La Vallée Blanche, 360 Byres Rd., West End, 334-3333; : The menu at this rustic-chic spot highlights Scottish ingredients cooked with French flair.
WHERE TO SHOP
Galletly & Tubbs, 431 & 439 Great Western Rd., West End, 357-1002; : This pair of shops sells chic furnishings and unusual accessories, such as sculptural jewelry and Peruvian ceramics.
Princes Square, 48 Buchanan St., City Center; 221-0324; : The city's most stylish mall. Of note: Arran Aromatics, for Scottish candles and cosmetics.
Timorous Beasties, 384 Great Western Rd., West End, 337-2622; : Irreverent textiles and wallpapers are a specialty, including trippy toiles and over-thetop velvets.
The area code is 131, unless noted.
Take a stroll. The most famous street in Scotland—the Royal Mile—runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Stop by the High Kirk of St. Giles and its ornate Thistle Chapel and the 15th-century house of Reformist preacher John Knox.
Take in the view. Built on seven hills, the city offers spectacular vistas. The best are from the Castle, Calton Hill, and Arthur's Seat.
WHAT TO SEE
National Gallery of Scotland, The Mound, 624-6200; : The impressive collection includes a Rembrandt self-portrait, Da Vinci's Madonna of the Yarnwinder, and top Impressionist works.
Palace of Holyroodhouse, Canongate, the Royal Mile, 556-5100; : The official residence in Scotland of Her Majesty the Queen has been a royal palace since the early 16th century.
The Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Terminal, Leith, 555-5566: Britannia played host to four royal honeymoons (including that of Charles and Diana) before being decommissioned in 1997. Berthed next to the Ocean Terminal shopping mall, it attracts 250,000 visitors a year.
WHERE TO STAY
The Balmoral, 1 Princes St., 556-2414; : The grande dame of Edinburgh hotels offers stellar service, 188 luxe rooms and suites, and a first-rate Michelin-starred restaurant.
Hotel Missoni Edinburgh, 1 George IV Bridge, 220-6666; : The Italian fashion brand's first hotel abounds with its trademark colors.
Prestonfield, Priestfield Rd., 225-7800; : Formerly a private home dating to the 1680s and situated in a parklike setting, this hotel has wonderfully flamboyant interiors.
WHERE TO EAT
21212, 3 Royal Terr., 523-1030; : Inventive dishes such as trout risotto and lamb with melon and sweet potato served in a landmark townhouse.
David Bann, 56–58 St. Mary's St., 556-5888; : Voted best vegetarian restaurant in Britain, this inviting spot offers unusual pairings such as chili with chocolate sauce.
Restaurant Martin Wishart, 54 The Shore, Leith, 553-3557; : Fine French dining in a formal but intimate setting.
WHERE TO SHOP
21st Century Kilts, 48 Thistle St., 220-9450; : Howie Nicholsby has updated Scotland's national garment, offering versions in camouflage, denim, and leather. Lenny Kravitz is a fan.
Cadenhead's Whisky Shop, 172 Canongate, the Royal Mile, 556- 5864; : Scotland's oldest bottler offers a dazzling array of whiskeys, including ones from New Zealand and Tasmania.
Pam Jenkins, 41 Thistle St., 225-3242; : A jewel-like shoe shop with the latest from Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin.
--> --> -->