When Glaswegians plastered their cars with ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ bumper stickers in the 1980s (complete with a smiling Mr Happy), Edinburgh’s residents begged to differ. But with terrific museums, cracking nightlife and vibrant arts scenes in both cities, how do you choose between the two for your next trip?
Until it unearths remains of an ancient, advanced civilisation beneath the Gorbals, Glasgow is going to struggle to beat Edinburgh in the historic attractions stakes. With Edinburgh Castle (Castle Hill, +44 131 225 9846) slapped bang on top of an extinct volcano at the top of the Royal Mile and the Queen’s official Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse (Holyrood, +44 131 556 5100), at the bottom, there’s little contest. If you are looking for prehistoric sights in Glasgow, head to Fossil Grove in Victoria Park (Victoria Park Drive North, +44 141 287 5918), whose 11 fossilised tree stumps take you back 330 million years to pre-dinosaur days when Glasgow’s climate was tropical and steamy (yes, really).
When it comes to museums however, Glasgow gives Edinburgh a run for its money. On the east coast you have the National Museum of Scotland (Chambers Street, +44 300 123 6789), home to around 8,000 objects, from Dolly the sheep to the Lewis chessman. On the west coast, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (Argyle Street, +44 141 276 9500) equals that tally of 8,000, displaying a suspended Mark 21 Spitfire and an extensive collection of Glasgow Boys art. But where Glasgow tops Edinburgh is in its architectural marvel, the shimmering Riverside Museum, designed by Zaha Hadid (100 Pointhouse Place, +44 141 287 2720), that’s packed to the rafters with transport artefacts.
Think of Scottish cultural extravaganzas, and the Edinburgh Festival is likely to spring to mind. For three weeks in August, the capital buzzes with wacky street performers, big-name comedians, student drama clubs and internationally renowned orchestras. Glasgow’s West End Festival may be less famous, but its eclectic programme of music, theatre and exhibitions draws crowds to venues across the West End each June. Of the 400 or so events, don’t miss the Mardi Gras Parade, a kaleidoscopic display of flamboyant costumes and colourful dancing.
If you’re into cutting-edge contemporary arts, you might wander up to Edinburgh’s Collective (38 Calton Hill, +44 131 556 1264), which showcases up-and-coming visual artists in the City Observatory. Glasgow takes the lead in this subcategory, however, thanks to its impressive line-up of artist-run spaces. The Pipe Factory (42 Bain Street) is home to a cluster of artists and runs regular exhibitions, workshops and residencies in a Victorian clay pipe factory. Another converted industrial warehouse put to creative use is the Glue Factory (15 Burns Street), whose cavernous rooms house exhibitions and club nights.
Edinburgh does elegant well, but Glaswegians breathe style. It’s a close-run competition when it comes to shopping, but Glasgow just about has the edge. Hit Glasgow’s ‘Style Mile’ in the city centre, and choose from over 90 stores in the Buchanan Galleries, browse designer brands in Princes Square and the Merchant City, or splurge on diamonds in the Argyll Arcade. For a dressy night out, Wish Boutique (266 Clyde Street, +44 141 226 2426) stocks seriously glitzy cocktail dresses and frocks befitting a movie star. Over in the West End, vintage gear is all the rage – you can rummage for gems in Starry Starry Night (19 Dowanside Lane, +44 141 337 1837), or look for colourfully patterned kids’ vintage wear and retro toys in Rowdy Roddy Vintage (21 Dowanhill Street, +44 141 571 3892).
Back in Edinburgh, glamour hounds go for swanky designs in Scotland’s only Harvey Nichols (30-34 St Andrew Square, +44 131 524 8388), then sip cocktails at the store’s Forth Floor restaurant. George Street is the epitome of sophisticated shopping, with smart boutiques tucked into former Georgian townhouses. At number 87, Hamilton & Inches (+44 131 225 4898) has been creating handcrafted silver goods since 1866.
The jury’s out on this one. While Edinburgh bags the Michelin stars, Glasgow excels at casual eateries serving terrific food (and Glaswegians aren’t the types to be fussed about Michelin stars anyway). For high-end Scottish fare in Edinburgh’s New Town, book a table at Martin Wishart’s fine-dining restaurant The Honours (58A North Castle Street, +44 131 220 2513). Not to be outdone by its eastern cousin, Glasgow has opened its own branch of The Honours (278 West George Street, +44 141 572 1001) in the city’s Malmaison hotel, though the west coast version is more laid-back brasserie than upscale affair.
New to Edinburgh’s dining scene in 2015 is The Riparian Rooms (7-11 East London Street, +44 131 556 6102) in the East End just off trendy Broughton Street, where creative Scottish inventions are the order of the day (haggis lollipops anyone?). Meanwhile, Glasgow’s hugely successful brewery WEST has opened a second venue, WEST on the Corner (160 Woodlands Road, +44 141 332 0540), dishing up bratwurst and schnitzel alongside its signature brews.
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have more pubs than a millipede has legs. For traditional ales, malts and boot-stomping live folk music in Edinburgh, head for Sandy Bell’s (25 Forrest Road, +44 131 225 2751), though the pub may have met its Glaswegian match in the form of The Ben Nevis (1147 Argyle Street, +44 141 576 5204) in Finnieston. If illicit drinking dens take your fancy, Edinburgh’s Panda & Sons (79 Queen Street) is a Prohibition-style speakeasy concealed beneath the guise of a vintage barbershop. A fake bookcase door completes the secret entrance, behind which bartenders mix a tempting menu of cocktails.
Hidden inside Tabac restaurant in Glasgow, backroom drinking spot Panther Milk Bar (10 Mitchell Lane, +44 141 572 1448) opens on Friday and Saturday evenings, serving only chilled Leche de Pantera, a Spanish-inspired milk-based cocktail. As for big-name gigs, Glasgow tends to pip Edinburgh to the post, particularly since Foster-designed mega-venue The SSE Hydro (SECC, Exhibition Way, +44 141 248 3000) opened on the banks of the Clyde in 2013.
Still flummoxed over which destination to pick? The only solution may be to plan two trips.
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