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Glasgow is a reasonably compact and contiguous city - roughly the size of Amsterdam or San Francisco. As its 19th-century expansion was inspired in part by American cities such as Chicago, Glasgow's city center is laid out U.S.-style on a grid. Not very European, but at least the heart of the city is user-friendly. Most visits begin here, amid the rich Victorian architecture, whether it be 19th-century banks (many of which have been converted to other uses such as restaurants and bars), office buildings, warehouses, and churches.

Culturally, the options in the heart of Glasgow include architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh's School of Art, the city-owned Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), and the Tron Theatre. There is also the Gothic medieval Glasgow Cathedral and the splendid Victorian Theatre Royal. These attractions are all within a fairly short walking distance of each other. Three main boulevards - Argyle, Buchanan, and Sauchiehall streets - form a Z shape and have been made into predominantly car-free pedestrian zones, which offer a wealth of shopping opportunities.

Adjacent to the commercial center is Merchant City, where loft conversions over the past 25 years have created a hip, happening quarter with many lively bars and restaurants. The affluent and urbane West End has the city's top university, its most desirable homes, and plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops. This area is trendy and lively, with some of the city's best nightlife. Leafy and attractive, with the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum fabulously refurbished and now one of the most visited attractions in Britain, the West End is many visitors' favorite place to explore.

A river runs through Glasgow, and the modern city has yet to capitalize fully on the real potential of the Clyde. The shipbuilding industry that made the river famous is long gone. There isn't even an active, attractive marina for leisure boats today. At least, not yet. But bits of the waterfront have been improved and there is a certain urban charm to the riverbank, which has a national cycle path.

On the opposite side of the Clyde from the city center and West End, the Southside spreads out with well-established suburban neighborhoods. Some say this is the "real" Glasgow. While mostly residential, it is home to at least one major, arguably world-class, attraction - the Burrell Collection -- that merits an excursion south of the River Clyde.

City Center & Merchant City

The proverbial heart of Glasgow is George Square, at the doorstep of the seat of local government, the City Chambers, which Queen Victoria opened in 1888. The building's interiors have been used for movie sets (sometimes to represent the Kremlin), and the lavishly decorated Banqueting Hall is occasionally open to the public. Of the several statues in George Square, the most imposing is the 25-m (80-ft.) Doric column with Sir Walter Scott at the top. It was the first such monument built in the author's honor, about 5 years after his death.

You're Steamin'

A common euphemism for having too much to drink is "steamin'," as in the line: "I can't remember what happened last night, I was steamin'." Apparently this expression came from the experience of taking the steamships down the Clyde from Glasgow on a Sunday. These excursion trips were exempt from any restrictions on alcohol sales, a situation of which passengers took full advantage. One paddle steamer, the Waverley (tel. 0845/130-4647; www.waverleyexcursions.co.uk), still plies the Clyde on excursion trips.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.