Is Glasgow Still the European Capital of Culture?

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Words: Ava Scott Nadal (she/her)

I want to preface this article by saying I’m from London, therefore my experiences of Glasgow have been very different compared to students who have come to university from towns or smaller cities. In fact, most of the time, you can hear me ranting to my London friends that there is nothing to do here, while I make the weekly trip to Sugo. 

However, the research for this article has forced me to reevaluate my opinions and contextualise my weekend activities, which exist solely inside the bubble of the West End and the occasional mission to the city centre. There are a few things that still allow Glasgow to retain its status as the 1990 cultural capital of Europe, even if it’s not THE cultural capital in 2024. First of all, the art scene. In my first and second years at university, I was quite heavily involved in GMAC Film, a charity focused on increasing diversity and providing opportunities to underrepresented groups in the screen sectors. Through this, I developed my foundational video editing skills and eventually landed a video production internship. Glasgow also has a fair amount of art exhibitions, including the GOMA, Kelvingrove, People’s Palace and Burrell Collection. However, as someone who doesn’t own a car, I’ve never been to the latter couple. 

I know everyone’s thinking: ‘Ava, why don’t you take the bus?’. Again, this may be my London-isation, but if I cannot guarantee that the bus will pick me up, I won’t go. It is hard for me to imagine how a city can pride itself on the culture it produces, when that culture is inaccessible if you don’t have access to private transport. I vividly remember going to SWG3 for a Peach event and deciding between walking the 45 minutes home in the rain or paying for a £12 Uber for a 10 minute ride. After the £10 cocktails I was subjected to inside, it’s safe to say I wasn’t too keen. 

As for music, Glasgow has also retained its headlining position. In 1990, Glasgow was in part granted the title because of the big acts that came to play in the city, including Luciana Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra and The Rolling Stones. Every major artist doing a global tour will at least do one night in Glasgow, meaning this year I’ve seen Ne-Yo and friends of mine have seen SZA. We definitely aren’t in a cultural desert like Cardiff and Durham, but there are unsatisfied desires on a smaller scale. It feels like the same DJ is playing every club night and only now has the pool begun diversifying, with events like Glitch and clubs like Exit and Stereo. But with the death of Bonjour, things aren’t looking that good. Although the city may have a great indie culture, the queer, alternative, POC culture has been concentrated to single night events only happening every few weeks, or so it seems. 

Finally, the main thing that has stood out to me as a London-native is the lack of a riverside restaurant and café culture by the Clyde. I know it’s baltic in Glasgow, but come on, at least get a table outside. One of the things that really grounds London as having a culture that ebbs and flows, therefore allowing much more diversity of options, is the Thames. Not only does it allow Londoners to compartmentalise the cultures of different areas, but it’s much easier to walk around and happen upon great cafés, restaurants and exhibitions when you know the nearest tube station. I can’t help but think that Glasgow is missing out on the ease of access that makes London a walkable city. When the buses are so volatile and the subway seems to be a shuttle for Glasgow university students travelling to the centre, it’s hard to disseminate culture from hubs like the West End. 

What actually makes Glasgow a cultural capital is the people. It was the people who earned the title in 1990, and it’s the people who should retain it. While London can be cold and atomistic, Glasgow is warm and community-centred. Overall, I think Glasgow is a great place to be with many options for mainstream entertainment. However, I think the public transport issues have done a disservice to the options that Glasgow offers, but if this was resolved, it could be a much stronger contender for THE cultural capital position today. Glasgow seems to be full of concentrated pockets of activity which means if you’re not from there, you can miss out on really great stuff on the road less travelled. Glasgow, get some riverside restaurants going and a bus system that is actually comprehensible, and your amazing people and culture will do the rest.


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