Glasgow has had a lot to celebrate in 2014 after being the host city for a very successful Commonwealth Games in the summer, then continuing the party into the autumn by hosting the MTV European Music Awards. As the year draws to an end the city is looking more magical than ever as it sparkles under twinkling lights and the festive revelry begins.
When I was approached by Premier Inn to be their Glasgow city ambassador for the festive period and go on a Christmas themed expedition around the city for the day I jumped at the chance to share some of the best winter fun that is taking place over the holiday season. With the slogan 'Glasgow Loves Christmas' being used to promote the city I was keen to discover what extra offerings were available.
So this weekend I wrapped up warm, charged my camera and put on my special stripy expedition ear muffs before setting out with a vague plan. In case you were wondering my day ended up a going a little something like this...
An early rise, a flurry of snow and several thousand Santas ensured my day started off with a festive bang. The Glasgow Santa Dash is an annual event organised by Glasgow City Council and aims to raise money for nominated charities and good causes.
A sea of red swept through the city centre as Santas of every age and size, Including a few four legged hairy ones, made their way around the 5K route. If you are in Glasgow during December this is a spectacle you won't want to miss and you might even be tempted to take part next year!
Glasgow is already renowned as one of the best shopping destinations in Europe. With its style mile, designer names, traditional department stores, shopping centres and usual high street offerings there is no shortage of places to find the perfect present. However, Glasgow is also a retail haven for hand made Scottish goods from talented designers which can found at one of the many craft markets that take place around the city and of course at this time of year you can also hunt down some unusual goodies at the annual outdoor Christmas Market. I headed off with my pennies and my Christmas shopping list for some retail therapy at some of my favourite venues.
Frasers Department Store - The city's oldest department store is a much loved Glasgow institution, especially at Christmas time when it's shopping halls are adorned from head to toe in twinkly brilliance. Visiting Frasers at this time of year always takes me back to my childhood and I still find it just as magical an adult.
It really is a shopping mecca and I found myself spending a bit too much time (and money!) wandering around it's maze of floors brimming with tempting treasures.
Hamleys Toy Store - This is the only Hamleys in Scotland and a fun place to visit for imaginative children of all ages (even grown up ones). From old fashioned classics to hi-tech gadgets, I love the fact that I can get gifts for all the younger members of my family in this wonderland of play. I might have got a few this weekend but I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise by saying too much, ssshhh!
Princes Square - If you are looking for a stylish purchase then you will be spoiled for choice here with all the designer names. The quality cafes and restaurants are the perfect place to grab a bite to eat or sip a coffee on the terrace while you enjoy some people watching. This may not be the biggest shopping centre in the city but it is certainly one of the prettiest. Festive party goers may also be interested to know that it transforms into an upmarket pre-club venue perfect for late night drinks at the weekend.
No festive shopping experience would be complete without a visit to The Christmas Market and as I walked up Argyle Street in the city centre I was drawn in by the scents from the food stalls selling gourmet delights from around the globe. With traders from as far afield as Russia, Ecuador and even Lapland selling their wares from cute wooden chalets and a cosy Gluhwein House with Bavarian beer, it certainly felt as if the world had come to celebrate the holiday season in Glasgow.
As we would say in Scotland it was a rather dreich day and the hot food stands were very tempting, in fact I couldn't resist some Jamaican curry which I highly recommend and once refueled I was ready to continue on my blogging expedition.
I strongly believe in supporting local businesses and designers when I get the opportunity and two of the best weekend craft markets in Glasgow are Merchant Square Craft Fair and Sloans Craft Market. Both fairs run every weekend throughout the year, with extra dates as Christmas approaches. They are great places to find unusual and hand made Scottish gifts.
Sloans Craft Market takes place in the lane that runs between Buchanan street and Argyle street, you can also stop in for a drink at Sloans pub which started out as a coffee house in 1797. It still has many original features and a grand ballroom upstairs.
The Merchant Square Craft Fair takes place indoors surrounded by stylish bars and restaurants. The Merchant City is a historical quarter of Glasgow which is well worth visiting to admire the architecture during the daytime or to enjoy a meal or a drink at one of the many popular venues in the evening.
Gallery of Modern Art
When the hustle and bustle, weaving through crowds and queuing at tills became a bit too much I headed for The Gallery of Modern Art in Royal Exchange Square. This free museum provided an oasis of calm and I took some time to explore the latest exhibitions and art installments. Although this is the most visited modern art gallery in Scotland, the bright, open spaces means it doesn't feel crowded.
After some quiet reflection I emerged back into the whirling throng feeling much more calm and relaxed.
Afternoon tea in Glasgow is a must, although some places do it better than others! With the rain coming down heavy and my fingers starting to freeze I was glad to find a free table at The Glasgow Tearooms and duly ordered a pot of Scottish breakfast tea from their tea menu and generous slice of homebaked hot apple and caramel cake with cream and ice-cream. This family run tearoom is always busy and one of the better places to savour a traditional afternoon tea in Glasgow.
Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre
No Christmas expedition would be complete without a visit to the theatre and at this time of year there is no shortage of Pantos and Christmas themed shows at the many venues around the city. I opted to avoid the usual offerings and visit the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre instead.
One of Glasgow's hidden gems and certainly one of it's most unique attractions, I bought a ticket for the 45 minute afternoon performance which involves carved figures and pieces of old scrap choreographed to music and light, telling tales of the struggles of the human spirit.
It may all sound a little weird, however I prefer unmissable and magical. The works of Eduard Bersudsky are mesmerising to watch and all I can say is you have to see the show for yourself as words will never fully explain it!
Unfortunately photos are not permitted so I bought some postcards of a couple of the unique creations which I just loved. Audiences are limited to approx 15 and booking is highly advised, I sent an e-mail a couple of days beforehand to confirm my reservation which all went smoothly.
Most big events in Glasgow revolve around George Square and Christmas is no exception. With a fun fair and Scotland's largest outdoor ice rink it is a hive of activity during the day. At night time the Christmas lights are turned on and the festive fun really begins. I was keen to get a different perspective of the city at night and as soon as darkness fell I joined the winding queue for the brightly flashing Big Wheel.
From 35m above the square I had a great view across the city rooftops and down to the twinkling lights and ice rink below. I always say that Glasgow looks prettiest at night with the colorful lights that adorn the city and this was a great way to appreciate them.
Once back on solid ground I made my way past the traditional carousel, the distinctive smell from the candy floss stand and the giggling skaters which all summed up perfectly the city's festive slogan Glasgow Loves Christmas.
I am always being asked for recommendations for good quality Scottish restaurants and while I have a few favorites around the country I often find it hard to shortlist those in Glasgow. Having lived in the city most of my life I am well aware of the fantastic choice of cuisine available from all corners of the globe. It is probably harder to find bad restaurants in Glasgow than good ones. However, there are a few that really stand out for me and for those looking for a top quality Scottish seafood experience in the city, The Mussel Inn is highly recommended.
I couldn't think of a better way of ending my day than celebrating with a big steaming bowl of delicious Scottish Mussels!
I was amazed at how much I managed to fit in a day and with so much to do in Glasgow it is sometimes hard to narrow it down to a few highlights, however I hope this has given you some festive inspiration and ideas for visiting this amazing city.
To read more about the festivities in the city have a look at the Premier Inn Blog for Glasgow. To visit the Premier Inn website for Glasgow click here.
As always all opinions, experiences and love of Glasgow are my own.
Follow me as I search for the best and most original travel experiences in Scotland.