[Written by Betty Henderson]
[Illustration by Betty Henderson]
Glasgow is a city that celebrates culture. A place that is buzzing with art, history, and the most incredible music scene. It’s a place that is loud, proud and oh so friendly – and although it may be home to some of the best art galleries and museums in Scotland, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is a city that thrives on art and eccentricity, and nowhere encapsulates this vibe more than the eclectic Trongate area. Here is my guide to the ideal way to spend an afternoon in the East End of the city, from vintage shopping to totally instagrammable cafes. There is something for the art lover in all of us.
103 Trongate, G1 5HD
My first port of call when I come to this area is always Trongate 103. This diverse space is comprised of art galleries and workshops, and is home to one of the most unusual visitor attractions in Glasgow: the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. Champions of contemporary art since their opening in 2009, Trongate 103 is a place for the artist as much as the art lover. Housed downstairs is the Street Level Photoworks, a gorgeous wee photo gallery with a beautifully stocked shop and production facility whose aim is to make photography accesible to all. Upstairs is the aforementioned kinetic theatre. This incredible hidden treasure was founded in Russia in 1989 and has found its home in Glasgow since 1996. Expect a spectacle of light, sound and intricately carved figurines acting out “the funny and strategic stories of the human spirit”. Shows occur once or twice a day Wednesday through Sunday and tickets can be booked online. Additionally, in the Trongate 103 building you will find a number of artist studios and production spaces as well as exhibition spaces that showcase a varying programme of art across the year. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for all of the interactive and educational talks, workshops and performances that also take place here!
63 Trongate, G1 5HB
Continue along the Trongate and you will come across the famous Tron Theatre. Home to the internationally respected and award winning Tron Theatre Company, the Tron Theatre is a hub of talent and creativity in Glasgow’s Merchant City. The Tron not only produces incredible contemporary theatre all year round, but is also host to the inclusive Tron Participation platform that encourages people of all ages to get involved in all aspects of theatre production; from playwriting to performing or costume design, you will find your niche here. Be sure to check their programme of events online for any courses or theatre productions you might be interested in. If that wasn’t enough, they are also home to the delightful and delicious Tron Theatre Bar and Kitchen, serving up locally sourced, seasonal food on their extensive pre-theatre and bar menus – the perfect accompaniment to an evening of culturally enriching theatre.
Trans Europe Cafe
25 Parnie Street, G1 5RJ
The most instragrammable lunch spot in the area, this gem has been a stalwart of the Glasgow cafe scene since 2005. A tiled map of the world covering one wall and repurposed bus benches create the unique aesthetic which makes this cafe so recognisable. You might know it from Channel 4’s series Lovesick or from the insta-feeds of many a happy diner but either way this is a treat not to be missed. The cafe is known for its hearty, simple and delicious brunch menu and great range of bottled beers (tying in with the European theme, of course) and with prices as unpretentious as its food, the Trans Europe cafe remains a firm East End favourite.
Billy Connolly Mural
118 Osborne Street, G1 5RP
If you continue on, around the corner from the Trans Europe cafe, you will find yourself face to face with a bright, 50 ft mural of the Big Yin (otherwise known as the national treasure, Billy Connolly). One of three murals posted across Glasgow for the comedian’s 75th birthday last year, this one is a large-scale recreation of a portrait drawn by the famous Scottish artist John Byrne. The other two, designed by Jack Vettriano and Rachel Maclean, can be found not far away on Dixon Street near St Enoch Square and on the Gallowgate near Barrowland Park respectively. These impressive pieces of art are just a few examples of the incredible street art dotted around the streets of Glasgow’s East End. Other murals include Glasgow’s patron saints, St Enoch and St Mungo, reimagined as modern day people amongst other wacky and wonderful designs. If you have enough time, be sure to check out the Glasgow Mural Trail map – available online!
Mr Ben Retro Clothing
101 King Street, G1 2RB
Across the car park from the Big Yin’s mural lies another Glasgow institution, Mr Ben’s Retro Clothing store. Established in the 90’s, this store is a treasure trove of eccentricities. Well stocked with an array designer brands and classic styles that span the decades, there is something here for everyone. You won’t miss its bold, yellow storefront and the jumble sale-esque rails of clothes that are often displayed outside. Don’t be put off by the sheer volume of clothes and accessories stocked here; dig a little deeper and who knows what gems you might stumble upon. This store is a must-visit for any vintage and retro fashion lovers, or for anyone just looking for a break from the homogeneity of high street fashion.
The Merchant City Clock Tower
12 High Street, G1 1NL
Last but by no means least, we come to the iconic Merchant City Clock Tower. Also known as the Tolbooth Steeple, this impressive structure was built in 1625 and is all that remains of the old Tolbooth building which used to hold the Town Clerk’s office, the council hall and the city prison in times gone by. This famous Glasgow landmark has a bit of a morbid history as it was outside this very building that criminals and witches were publicly executed by hanging and other corporal punishments were often handed out. The Tolbooth would have been a place to gather information as proclamations were read aloud from a platform in the days before the printing press and newspapers. It also served as a transport hub for travellers arriving in stagecoaches from across the country. As the city developed westwards, the Tolbooth was less frequently used and today it stands as a reminder of the Glasgow’s rich and varied history.
If you have a little more time on your hands, it is well worth venturing further eastwards to the iconic Barrowland Ballroom, a sight to behold in the evening with its dazzling neon sign – believed to be the largest in the UK. One of the most important music venues in the city, the stage at the Barrowlands has played host to a plethora of big names from Bowie to Biffy Clyro and it is every Glasgow musician’s dream headline this famous venue. A little further east yet and you will find the Barras, where every weekend an eclectic range of traders meet to sell their wares and, more recently, the Barras Art and Design (BAaD) has been established. A more upmarket, indoor space in the area, in BAaD you will find the A’challtainn Fish Restaurant and Bar, vintage and flea markets every Sunday and a number of unique events hosted throughout the year. Not far from the Barras is the sprawling green space by the Clyde that is Glasgow Green. The oldest park in the city, this green space is filled with monuments and reminders of its busy past, but if you’re not a history buff, it is also the perfect place to enjoy a sunny afternoon walk and escape from the hectic concrete streets of the city.