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Suddenly bonkers for Glasgow

The ancient Scottish city has spun its music scene into a hipster mecca.

The Charles Rennie Mackintosh House, dedicated to the work of the famed Scottish architect and designer born in 1868.
The Charles Rennie Mackintosh House, dedicated to the work of the famed Scottish architect and designer born in 1868.Read more

GLASGOW, Scotland - Because the city is home to numerous bands and live-concert venues, Time magazine called it "Europe's secret capital of music." It boasts hip new restaurants, a thriving arts scene, stunning Victorian architecture, and enough rollicking pubs and clubs to satisfy party-hungry appetites.

Oh, yeah, and the men like to dress up in skirts.

Kilt-wearing blokes notwithstanding, Glasgow is a must-see destination. A onetime haven for shipbuilders and textile workers, this town of 600,000 has blossomed into a stylish city that even a hipster could love.

A number of boutique hotels have recently swung open their stylish doors. ABode Glasgow sports 60 guest rooms and a chef crowned with two Michelin stars. Instead of "standard" or "superior," rooms are categorized as "enviable" or "fabulous."

At Oshi Spa inside the Park Inn Hotel - across the street from the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall - guests are pampered with a variety of treatments, from pedicures to aromatherapy.

I was surprised to learn that after London, Glasgow is the United Kingdom's second-most-popular shopping destination. That's old news to the thousands of shoppers I saw marching along Buchanan Street each day.

Buchanan Street is a bustling pedestrian shopping lane. Retailers rush to join storefronts for the likes of Hugo Boss and the new Apple Store. In fact, Buchanan Street rental fees rank seventh in the world behind New York's Fifth Avenue, London's New Bond Street, Champs Elysees in Paris, and a few other stellar shopping haunts.

And yet there's a down-home feel to Glasgow's retail paradise. Somewhere between Russell & Bromley (shoes) and House of Fraser (department store), you'll see performance artists as they entertain schoolkids and grandparents, business types, green-haired punkers, and those quintessential Scottish men in kilts.

At night, an equally large and often inebriated crowd cruises Sauchiehall Street. Sauchiehall (pronounced Sa-key-hall) is a raucous gauntlet of pubs and nightclubs frequented by students from Glasgow's three universities.

Because I'm well past 25 years of age, I preferred to sip Guinness on Ashton Lane. Located in the West End, this cozy street is lined with pubs that cater to a less rambunctious crowd.

Rambunctious or not, the crowds are swelling in Glasgow. Since 2006, its two international airports have attracted 30 new routes, from Boston, Orlando, Toronto, Vancouver, and a number of European cities.

Between visits to George Square in the heart of the city and guided tours of the University of Glasgow (Scotland's second-oldest), tourists come to admire the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Like Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona and Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago, Mackintosh left an indelible mark on Glasgow. Born in 1868, the Scottish architect and interior designer favored smooth lines and geometric shapes over the ornate Victorian design of his time. Many of his innovative furniture designs are on permanent display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the most prominent museum in Glasgow and one of the finest in the United Kingdom.

Mackintosh's greatest architectural achievement, the Glasgow School of Art, is a stunning example of art nouveau design. The simple stone facade, expansive windows and wrought-iron gates helped pave the way for a new generation of designers and architects.

Glasgow-based bands like Franz Ferdinand and local supergroup the Reindeer Section play gigs at venerable venues such as King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, where Oasis was discovered. On any given night you can step into a pub and hear live musicians playing everything from folk music to rock and soul. For these reasons, as well as the growing success of local record labels like Chemikal Underground, Glasgow is often compared to Detroit during its Motown glory days.

And yet Glasgow is striving for more. A 12,500-seat Scottish National Arena is scheduled for completion in 2011. Scotland's largest hotel complex (a 300-room, four-star Holiday Inn) is under construction in the city center. And by 2014, the $2.4 billion Glasgow Harbor development will have converted 130 acres of derelict property along the Clyde River into offices, bars and restaurants.

By 2014, however, Glasgow might be a mandatory stop on everyone's European travel itinerary. I'm happy to have visited before the crowds showed up.

Visiting Glasgow

British Airways runs a one-stop flight to Glasgow from Philadelphia International Airport, and the recent lowest round-trip fare was about $1,040. Visitors from Philadelphia may find it less expensive to incorporate Glasgow into a United Kingdom driving trip, for which they fly in and out of London.

Celtic Connections festival.

From Jan. 16 to Feb. 3, Glasgow hosts the annual Celtic Connections, the premiere Celtic festival in the United Kingdom and one of the largest winter music festivals of its kind. For information,

» READ MORE: www.celticconnections



Visit the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Valley Tourist Board at