Located about 40 minutes by train west of Edinburgh, Glasgow is a tight-knit city built on the banks of the River Clyde. In the early 1900s, the river was home to over 50 shipyards and dozens of locomotive factories. The Queen Elizabeth, QE2 and Queen Mary oceanliners were all built in Glasgow. But like most post-industrial stories go, the Clyde fell into neglect. A once mighty economy slipped into darkness, another ghost of the industrial revolution.
Today, the Clyde is thriving once again. Pursuing a long term redevelopment plan, Glasgow is rebuilding the river banks with a barrage of high-tech, multi-use venues designed for both business and cultural events.
Aileen Crawford, head of conventions at Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, says the city attracts significant association group business due to the region’s exceptional value and accessibility, and the hands-on service her office provides. Check this long list of financial and organizational support offered by the DMO.
“When you look at the whole package and everything we offer to convention organizers, we’re really competitive and creative when it comes to hosting large events,” she says. “Glasgow has always been a very forward thinking, outward looking, international city because of the global shipping industry. So it has always been a city of innovation.”
CONFERENCES ON THE CLYDE
Considered among the world’s greatest architects, Zaha Hadid designed the jagged-roof Riverside Museum, which opened in 2011 to celebrate Glasgow’s history in transportation.
“We had one million visitors in our first six months, which was our 1-year goal,” says PR manager Gordon Boag.
The soaring lobby flows into a recreated cobblestone street scene filled with bootmaker, cabinetry and fish ’n chip shops, available for 150-pax receptions. There’s also an interactive exhibit describing Glasgow’s subway—the third oldest in the world after London and Budapest.
The main hall showcases train and shipbuilding technology with an amazing array of exhibits, including a restored 1944 Glen Douglas locomotive brought back from South Africa. CEOs have given speeches atop the coal car. There’s a one-of-a-kind ship model conveyor belt with video description about each ship as they pass by. Boag showed off some other ship models dating back to 1775 made by French POWs out of rabbit bones and human hair. And moored outside, the restored Glenlee tall ship hosts 300-pax receptions.
Upriver, the armadillo-shaped Scottish Exhibition + Conference Centre (SECC) is one of the UK’s largest integrated convention centers. In September, The Hydro entertainment arena will open on the SECC site with a capacity for 12,000 attendees. It was designed by the celeb architecture firm, Foster + Partners, and it’s expected to become one of the top five busiest indoor entertainment arenas in the world, with an estimated 140 events per year.
Directly across the river from the SECC, the Glasgow Science Centre is a special event facility with Scotland’s only IMAX theater and 250 scientific exhibits designed to spur lateral thinking. The titanium buildings feature a variety of spaces with nice views of the river for up to 380 delegates. Buyout capacity is 3,000. During our visit, a “mad scientist” facilitator performed a bunch of experiments while engaging the group. You definitely want that guy to help break the ice.
GLASGOW CITY CENTER
While touring Glasgow’s downtown “Style Mile” shopping district with Wendy Russell, sales manager with the DMO, she says, “Glasgow shopping is second only to London, so that’s not bad goin’.” The city core is entirely walkable with well preserved historic buildings, and the city’s development plan calls for UNESCO World Heritage designation.
At the same time, there’s a modern, youthful personality and some of the friendliest locals you’ll ever met.
“We’re very proud of our history but we don’t need to be covered from head to toe in red tartan with a bagpipe under our arms,” laughs Russell. She is particularly keen on Glasgow’s restaurant scene, the most varied in Scotland.
“If you want Mongolian, Khublai Khans is brilliant,” she says. “They have kangaroo haggis, wild boar, zebra, spring bock, ostrich…. You know, normally it’s like, ‘Am I going to have fish or chicken.’ But we have everything in Glasgow.”
The covered Merchant Square group of restaurants is great for dinearounds, next to some jazzy places like Boudoir Wine Bar and Metropolitan. We ate at Cafe Gandolfi where the farm-style decor feels plucked straight out of the Highlands. They’ll try to get you to order the “haggis, neeps & tatties,” but the Scottish lobster club is hard to pass up.
Definitely check out the 169-year-old Corinthian Club for tea and scones or dinner under the baroque ceiling and elegant chandeliers. Following a recent renovation, this is Glasgow’s most opulent restaurant and meeting venue.
The 100-room Blythswood Square in downtown was once HQ for the Royal Scottish Automobile Club. It’s one of the most admired adaptive reuse architecture projects in the UK, blending a high-tech spa, fine dining restaurant, two bars and chic rooms inside a protected building built in 1806.
“This hotel was the largest Harris tweed commission since the QE2,” says Hans Rissmann, managing director. “But we don’t want to be a theme park, so the design is more classic contemporary, with very few of anything off the shelf.”
There are old black and white vintage photos of rally cars on the walls, and the second floor bar is popular for fashion shows, product launches and afternoon tea. In the split-level basement, the cute Rally Bar hosts 150 for cocktails surrounded by rally car memorabilia. Meanwhile, the 10,000-sf Scottish-themed spa features nine treatment rooms, a hydropool, vitality pool, sanarium, laconium and tepidarium seaweed bath with fresh seaweed shipped in from the coast.
“We are always nominated among the best spas in the UK,” says Rissmann. “It’s a true urban spa experience.”
For VIPs, the 49-room Hotel du Vin, One Devonshire Gardens is breathtaking. The large suites feature clawfoot bathtubs in bay windows, fireplaces, Scottish antique armoires and high-tech electronics. The Bistro seats 78, divisible in four for private dinners with wine from the 600-bottle cellar.
Groups can lock off the fifth house with 12 rooms and four meeting spaces with grand fireplaces, tall bay windows and intricate plaster work and crown moldings.
Sales manager Nan Li says, “It’s very Scottish but not all heavy tweed.”
You’ll hear that a lot in Glasgow.