The Merchant City & the East End

Start: Central Necropolis.

Finish: Royal Exchange Square.

Time: About 1 to 2 hours.

Best Time: Daytime.

Worst Time: Late at night.

Walking Tour: Merchant City & East End

This walk takes in Glasgow's historic heart, whose medieval districts were first lost to the designs of the city's initial "New Town" developments in the 1700s - the beginnings of the area now known as Merchant City. But there are hints to the past, and Merchant City is almost to Glasgow as SoHo is to Manhattan, with loft apartments and trendy bars.

Start the walk at:

1. The Necropolis

As big graveyards go - with monuments, crypts, and views - Glasgow's Central Necropolis is difficult to beat. Fashioned on Paris's famous Père Lachaise, it was the third of its kind in Britain, opening in 1833 (after St. James's in Liverpool and London's Kensal Green), although a Jewish burial ground had been established at the base of the hill 3 years earlier. The most sought-after plots of the day were near the monument to John Knox, which had been standing on the hill since 1825.

Cross the bridge to Cathedral Square and:

2. Glasgow Cathedral

The Cathedral is considered one of the best examples of medieval religious architecture in Scotland, although there's unfortunately no evidence of the settlement that once surrounded it. Across High Street, the building known as Provand's Lordship was built in 1471 by Bishop Andrew Muirhead. It miraculously managed to avoid demolition during Glasgow's robust urban renewals of the 19th and 20th centuries. The tall and modern buildings beyond it to the west are part of Strathclyde University.

Walk south on High Street to:

3. Glasgow Cross & Tolbooth

Down gently curving High Street, the red sandstone tenements you pass are exemplary of those constructed in the late-Victorian era by the Civic Improvement Trust. After crossing Duke Street comes the College Bar (nearly opposite the High Street railway station), whose name is a reminder that the original Glasgow University campus was nearby. The towering landmark at the base of the street and historic Glasgow Cross is the eight-story Tolbooth Steeple, completed in 1627, around which traffic up and down High Street snakes today.

At the steeple go east (left) and walk along the:

4. Gallowgate

"Gate" in Scottish essentially means "road to": Today, the Gallowgate is one of the main avenues leading to the working-class bastions of Glasgow's East End. If it's a weekend, visit the Barras (or Barrows) market, full of antiques, collectables, junk, and Glasgow character. The old dancing ballroom called Barrowland has become one of the most famous and popular places to see rock bands in Scotland. Also worth noting is the Saracen Head (or as the locals say, Sarry Heid) pub. It has historic connections to an inn of the same name that hosted Johnson and Boswell and also Wordsworth. Alas, it is only open sporadically these days.

Walk south from Gallowgate, crossing London Road to:

5. Glasgow Green

Running along the River Clyde, this huge stretch of green became a public park in the middle of the 19th century, although paths had been laid and shrubs planted out 100 years earlier. Its landmarks include the red sandstone People's Palace social history museum and adjoining Winter Garden, Doulton Fountain, and Nelson's Monument. To the east, the influence of the Doge's Palace in Venice is obvious in William Leiper's colorful facade of the old Templeton Carpet Factory, which has a great brewery/bar, WEST, on the ground floor. The southern side of Glasgow Green offers walks along the river as it begins its upstream meandering and the northwestern flank now features modern apartments opened in the late 1990s as the so-called "City for the Future."

Walk west on Greendyke Street, turning right (north) on Turnbull Street to:

6. St. Andrew's Square

Styled after St-Martin-in-the-Field, London, and indeed once surrounded by open space, the impressive sandstone St. Andrew's parish church was completed in 1756, making it the oldest post-Reformation kirk in Glasgow. Today, it houses a center for traditional Scottish music and dance. Around the corner, the only remaining bit of 18th-century residential property is no. 52 Charlotte Street, now available as overnight accommodation from the National Trust for Scotland.

Make your way back to Glasgow Cross and proceed west on the Trongate to:

7. Tron Steeple

The steeple with arches through which pedestrians can walk on the south side of the Trongate dates to 1592, although the original Tron or Laigh Kirk was founded 8 years before Columbus sailed to the New World. The tron was a beam used for weighing goods. The Tron Theatre, which occupies the site today, favors inventive new plays, as well as hosting musical events. The theater's modern bar (facing Chisholm St.) and Victorian-style pub and restaurant are well-known hangouts for creative people. This neighborhood also now boasts the new cultural center called Trongate 103.

Cross the Trongate and go north (right) on Candleriggs to Bell Street and the:

8. Merchant Square & City Halls

The old covered markets of Glasgow have been converted into trendy gathering spots. The old Cheese Market is now a bar and nightclub, while more of the original character of the former Fruit Market has been retained by the Merchant Square development. A diverse array of bars and restaurants share the communal and cavernous interior space on the cobbles. Just north of it are the renovated City Halls, with acoustically celebrated performance spaces. Since the 1980s, warehouses in this area have been turned into loft apartments, while newer flats have been constructed more recently.

From the east exit of Merchant Square, cross Albion Street and stop by:

9. Café Gandolfi

In a bit of the old Cheese Market, Café Gandolfi (64 Albion St.; tel. 0141/552-6813) is one of the more popular places in Merchant City. It is relaxed, friendly, and at times very busy. But with a bar on the top floor, you can almost always find space. Food is Scottish and European.

Return to Candleriggs and continue north to Ingram Street and the:

10. Ramshorn Theatre

This is another former church (St. David) that has been turned into an arts venue, hosting mainly student productions. Round the side and to the rear of this handsome Gothic revival by Thomas Rickman (built in the 1820s) is an atmospheric graveyard that dates to 1719.

Go west on Ingram Street to John Street and the:

11. Italian Centre

Shopping, anyone? The facade of this mid-19th-century warehouse has been retained while an interior courtyard, apartments, and retail space for flashy clothing shops were created in the late 1980s. The Italian Centre is now home to Emporio Armani, while car-free and cobbled John Street is where outdoor dining and drinking are possible. At the corner of Ingram and John streets is Hutcheson's Hall, designed by David Hamilton in 1802 to combine French neoclassical with English baroque.

Walk north on John Street, turn left (west) on Cochrane Street, and continue to:

12. George Square

This is the city's main civic plaza, dating to 1782. More recently, it was repaved in a red, spongy material--and the color is oddly appropriate as this is the historic focal point of militant left-wing demonstrations. Rising majestically at the eastern side of George Square is Glasgow City Chambers, designed by William Young in 1882 as the seat of municipal authority. Facing the western end of the plaza are attractive Victorian and Edwardian-era buildings, which were originally uniform in height. Inside Queen Street railway station, the arching iron roof over the high-level platforms is impressive, but the exterior that faces the square is an eyesore. The square's statues include Robert Burns (whose plinth includes reliefs depicting a few of his tales), the bulky Cenotaph (honoring war casualties), the seated figure of Scottish engineering pioneer James Watt, and the towering monument to Sir Walter Scott.

Leave George Square from the southwest corner and go south on Queen Street to:

13. Royal Exchange Square

Invariably, the statue of the Duke of Wellington in front of the city's Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Royal Exchange Square will be wearing an orange traffic cone on his head. No one knows who started this tradition, but invariably some student makes certain it's there: Symbolic perhaps of Glasgow's irreverent side as well as a bit of Dada-esque art itself. The pile that Wellington guards was originally built in 1778 as a mansion on what was then farmland. In 1832, architect David Hamilton converted the building into the Royal Exchange. He added an imposing classical portico to the front and a matching "newsroom" to the back. The building sits squarely in the middle of the square, surrounded by cafes with outdoor seating and shops.

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.