The Commercial Center

Start: Royal Exchange Square.

Finish: Charing Cross.

Time: About 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Best Time: Daytime.

Worst Time: Late at night.

Walking Tour: The Commercial Center

There is no definitive route to see Glasgow city center. For some visitors, it may be better to simply wander. Given the grid system, anyone with a map would be hard-pressed to get completely lost. The pride of the city is its Victorian architecture. Many -- indeed most -- of the city's stone facades have been cleaned of decades of grime. This stroll includes buildings by the city's two greatest architects: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Alexander "Greek" Thomson.


This walk begins at the west side of:

1. Royal Exchange Square

At the west end of the square, behind the Gallery of Modern Art, are two archways, both leading to Buchanan Street. Just past the southern one is a restaurant landmark: The Rogano. Its Art Deco interiors were fashioned after the Queen Mary ocean liner in 1935. The building between the arches is the former Royal Bank of Scotland (from Charles Wilson's 1850 designs), which faces Gordon Street, leading to Central Station.

Go through one of the arches, and north (right), walking up Buchanan Street to:


2. St. Vincent Street

Buchanan Street was turned into a car-free pedestrian zone in the mid-1970s, although it has long been a primary shopping street. At the intersection with St. Vincent Street is a bronze, table-high scale model of central Glasgow's streets and buildings. To the east (toward George Square) runs St. Vincent Place and its handsome late-19th- and early-20th-century buildings. Mid-block, the former Anchor Line office includes some maritime-themed interiors by the same designer who worked on rooms for the ill-fated SS Lusitania. Running west is St. Vincent Street. Its commercial architecture, which replaced terraced houses in the mid-1800s, has been rightfully called "monumental."

Continue north up Buchanan Street to:


3. Nelson Mandela Place

Just before St. George's Tron Church, on the left (west) side of Buchanan Street, is the attractive sandstone and Gothic facade of the former Stock Exchange by John Burnet in 1875. Roundels commemorate the contributions of Science, Art, and Engineering. The slender square (formerly St. George's Place and renamed in honor of the South African leader while he was still imprisoned) that engulfs the church dates to 1810. Mandela was awarded the Freedom of the City in August 1981.

Continue up Buchanan Street to:


4. Buchanan Galleries

Before the next intersection, after entrances to the underground, comes the southern wing of the rather unremarkable Buchanan Galleries shopping center. Indoors, it is equally predictable, a mall that could be almost anywhere in the capitalist world. Ahead is the modern and brutalist Royal Concert Hall, which now terminates Buchanan Street -- effectively cutting off a direct path to the bus station and Glasgow Caledonian University beyond. The concert hall's outdoor steps, however, provide a suntrap and offer good views down Buchanan Street toward St. Enoch Square and the River Clyde. Just in front of those broad stairs is a statue of Scotland's first First Minister, Donald Dewar, who opened the new Scottish Parliament in 1999 but died before his initial term in office was over.

Turn left (west) and proceed on:


5. Bath Street

Bath Street got its name from the public baths that opened here in the early 19th century. Today, it is home to several popular bars and restaurants. At the next intersection, West Nile Street, looking south (left), one can see the first of three buildings by Alexander "Greek" Thomson on this walk. Today housing a barbershop, this modest warehouse displays some design signatures of Thomson, Glasgow's underappreciated yet visionary Victorian-era architect. At the intersection after the next, again just south of Bath Street, is another minor architectural landmark at 172 Hope Street: The Lion Chambers. Now trussed in chicken wire after many years behind scaffolding, the eight-story gabled building resembles a Scottish castle keep. It is built on a plot measuring only 10 * 14m (33 * 46 ft.) with artist studios at the top.

At Hope Street, turn right (north) 1 block to:


6. Sauchiehall Street

Sauchiehall Street is probably Glasgow's most famous street. Today, for several blocks west of Buchanan Street, it is pedestrianized and popular for shopping. Beyond, it is a locus of drinking and dining with door-to-door restaurants and bars. Just over the rise of Hope Street to the north, one gets a glimpse of the Italian styling of the Piping Centre (formerly St. Stephen's church). Nearby is the Theatre Royal.

Go left (west) on Sauchiehall Street and continue to:

7. Willow Tea Rooms


On the south side of Sauchiehall Street, between West Campbell and Blythswood streets, is one of the signature works by architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The spare white exterior, clean lines, and asymmetrically arranged windows certainly stand out from anything else on the street. The ground floor is now a jeweler's shop, but above are tea rooms in Mackintosh's ground-breaking 1904 design. Much of it has been reconstructed, but a few original details have been preserved, as well. Around the corner and north up Rose Street is the Glasgow Film Theatre, the city's dedicated art film and repertory cinema with an Art Deco design. In the other direction, two blocks away, is Blythswood Square, a tidy bit of open space that was part of a New Town development that dates to the 1820s.

Near Blythswood Square down some steps to:

8. Where the Monkey Sleeps


Where the Monkey Sleeps (182 West Regent St.; tel. 0141/226-3406) is no ordinary cafe. It is an atmospherically arty hangout and gallery space, serving excellent cappuccino and freshly prepared sandwiches.

Our walk continues west on Sauchiehall Street to Dalhousie Street, turning right (north), and climbing steep Garnethill to the:

9. Glasgow School of Art

Our second Mackintosh masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, is on the left as you ascend Garnethill via Dalhousie Street. Even from this approach, along the most austere side of the building, the ingenuity of its design is apparent. Completed in two stages (1899 and 1909), the building offers a mix of ideas promoted by both the Arts and Crafts and the Art Nouveau movements. Facing Renfrew Street, the wide facade offers huge studio windows. This is still a key campus building, so immediate public access is limited to the reception hall, shop, and a second-floor gallery space in a large landing beneath exposed timber beams. To see more, take a guided tour, which includes the impressive library: A place that anyone would happily spend hours in. Another room has original art and drawings by Mackintosh. Nearby on Hill Street is Garnethill Synagogue, the first Jewish temple built in Scotland. Before descending Garnethill, take in the views, particularly south toward the Clyde.


At the west side of the Art School, turn left (south) and come down Scott Street to the:

10. CCA

To the right as you come down Scott Street, admire the stonework, such as acanthus leaf motifs, so typical of Alexander Thomson's buildings. Redeveloped in 2001, the home for Glasgow's Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) is the architect's 1865 Grecian Building (although most of the detailing has more to do with Egypt). The structure incorporated one of the older villas built on the hillside and inside you can see the facade of that earlier building. Stand at the corner of Sauchiehall and Scott streets and look back up the hill: This is a unique spot in Glasgow, where works by both the city's most innovative architects stand almost side by side.


Cross Sauchiehall Street and proceed south on Pitt Street to:

11. St. Vincent Street Free Church

Only four streets away is Thomson's most impressive temple -- what some have called his "magnum opus." Built for the United Presbyterians in 1859, the stone church offers two classic Greek porticos facing north and south, aside which a clock tower rises decorated in all manner of exotic yet sympathetic Egyptian, Assyrian, and even Indian-looking motifs and designs. A similar Thomson church stands in inexcusable disrepair on Caledonian Road on the city's Southside, although there are promises to restore it.


Turn right (west) on St. Vincent Street to:

12. Elmbank Street

Looking west from the windswept corner of Elmbank and St. Vincent streets, visitors might begin to appreciate the impact of the M8 motorway, which passes noisily nearby. In the near but seemingly unreachable distance across the motorway, the prow of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church pokes up above the concrete infrastructure. Going up Elmbank Street, admire the figures of Cicero, Homer, Galileo, and Watt on the facade of the old Glasgow High School. At the corner of Elmbank Crescent, offices of the Scottish Opera occupy the handsome former Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders. If you go left here and cross the street, you'll be at an entrance to the Charing Cross station and can catch a train back one stop to Queen Street station and George Square.


Otherwise proceed up Elmbank Street to the:

13. King's Theatre

Over a century old, the red sandstone King's Theatre regularly stages comedy and light drama that appeals to a range of generations. On the opposite northeast corner is the Griffin pub (originally the King's Arms), whose exterior displays some recently repaired Glasgow-style Art Nouveau design.

Continue up Elmbank Street to Sauchiehall Street and:

14. Charing Cross

The boldly Art Deco Beresford, built in the 1930s as a hotel, faces back down Elmbank Street. This stretch of Sauchiehall Street is the one loaded with bars, nightclubs, and eateries. On the northern side of the street at the intersection with St. Georges Road (technically a motorway off-ramp) is the curving red sandstone Charing Cross Mansions by J. J. Burnet in 1889. Across Sauchiehall Street, Tay House is a rather brutal modern office building that bridges the freeway. The edifice was built on stilts originally designed for another flyover with high-speed traffic.


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.