Glasgow vs. Edinburgh

After living in Edinburgh, Scotland in fall of 2016 I learned about the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Yet I never understood the real root of it and joined ranks with Edinburgh lovers. However, after this summer I found that Glasgow was a gem that I had missed during my time living in Scotland. Other than a brief time at the Glasgow airport and trip to the bus station I largely had written it off. I preferred to go to the Highlands, see castles in the countryside, and visit the picture-perfect postcard settings such as the Isle of Skye and Iona.

Sarah with University of Edinburgh Views
Sarah with University of Edinburgh Views during Fringe Fest

While there is a mere two-hour drive between the two cities, they can feel a world apart. The tale of the two cities rivalry is age old and similar to the rivalry between Boston and New York City. The two have competed in sports, art, innovation, industry, and tourism constantly. After spending time in either city, you will learn just how proud the residents are of their respective cities because they will tell everyone that will listen.

As you may remember in 2014 there was a referendum for Scottish independence that lost with an outcome of 55% voting no. It reminded the world of Scottish pride and that although Scotland may share borders, enjoy haggis, and slagging the UK- the ideas of its’ citizens differ greatly.

Sarah Fay in front of the Glasgow Cathedral from Necropolis
Sarah Fay in front of the Glasgow Cathedral from Necropolis

No rift is greater than between Glasgow and Edinburgh. I learned living in Edinburgh that people from Scotland viewed life in Edinburgh as dull and snooty, while they viewed Glasgow as its’ edgier, creative, sister. The stereotype was that Edinburgh had a certain sophistication, that Glasgow could not be bothered to have. Glasgow was gritty, where the real Scottish lived and Edinburgh was a fairytale tourist attraction.

The stereotypes and perspectives of the two cities were a result of a classic class divide. Both cities are worth your time and I would take anyone’s opinion of either city with a grain of salt because each city has a lot to offer.

A Case for Glasgow

If you like getting your bang for your buck look no further! Glasgow is an amazing city from the food, to the creative art scene it is hard to be bored. Also, if you are searching for a walk in the park, you won’t have to worry. Glasgow has more green space per capita than anywhere else in Europe. Some of my top picks were Kelvingrove, Queen’s Park, and Necropolis.

View of Necropolis in Glasgow
Necropolis in Glasgow in August 2018

Gastronomic Wonder

Being a big fan of Anthony Bourdain, I knew after watching his episode of Parts Unknown in Scotland that I would love Glasgow’s gastronomic scene and would love the nature of the people. Scottish people say ” Glaswegians have more fun at a funeral than people in Edinburgh have at a wedding.” My experience was no different. In his memory, I wanted to visit some of the places that he visited when he came to visit Glasgow.

I found myself in The University Café after a few pints, having a deep-fried Mars bar that I was told I had to try by some locals in line. I was hesitant, but it was an experience I had to try. Bourdain said the hot and fried crispy batter was perfection and would not disappoint and boy was he right.

Not far from the West End, I also tried mouthwatering seafood at the CrabShakk, where I got the catch of the day, crab cakes, and a smooth local ale. The prices were not cheap, but being the seafood lover, I am, I could not resist. One thing I found in Glasgow and all of Scotland for that matter is some of the best freshest fish you will have in your life!

Diverse Food

With over 6,000 miles of coastline, I guess I should not be surprised by the seafood. However, I was astonished to learn how diverse the gastronomic scene was in Glasgow. For instance, I learned my favorite Indian Curry dish, Chicken Tikka Masala started there. I had to try it and decided to follow in Bourdain’s foot steps one more time walking through the door at Mother India’s Café.

With a modern take, this Indian restaurant serves its’ food in tapas style that allows you to try a myriad of dishes with your friends without bursting through your jeans. One thing I would recommend to anyone is try Indian food while in Glasgow, hands down it is some of the best in the world (outside of India, of course).

Glasgow will sure to leave your stomach happy!

Free World Class Attractions

One thing Glasgow has going for backpackers or anyone on a budget not wanting to break the bank, are wonderful attractions that are FREE!!!!

If you are a fan of museums, I recommend the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Not only do they have some amazing art, but they have an enormous organ with free recitals daily during the afternoon. Then check out the Gallery of Modern Art, the Botanical Gardens, and visit the architectural wonders of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Scotland’s famous architect that are scattered throughout the city.

Finally, if you like views, take a stroll to the Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis up a hill that give you a view of the entire city below. There are many other free things to experience in Glasgow, but these were the most enjoyable during my time there.

Sarah in Kelvingrove Art Gallery in front of Organ
Sarah Fay in Kelvingrove Art Gallery for the Organ recital (it’s free)!
Horse statue with cone on it's head infront of the Gallery of Modern Art
The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow

Music on every corner

UNESCO was not lying when they named Glasgow, the UNESCO City of Music, with over 130 music events in the city per week I found it to be one of my favorite cities to catch a gig. It doesn’t hurt that one of my favorite bands CHVRCHES kicked off in Glasgow. Everyone has heard Chelsea Dagger, that came from the musical geniuses The Fratellis in the heart of Glasgow.

Any day of the week, head over to King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut to catch up and coming international bands (named one of the top live music venues in the world by industry experts Pollstar, 2018).  A little band called Oasis was founded here, so party where history was made. If you are into a more hipster music scene I would head over to The Glad Café and Stereo.

For something more traditional head to Glasgow in the winter time for Celtic Connections a Celtic Music festival. From old to new artists, Glasgow is a city with a vibrant music scene that will not disappoint music lovers.

Best Night of your Life

It is no wonder that with a bopping music scene, Glasgow would have an epic nightlife. After meeting up with my Couchsurfing host in August we decided to have a girl’s night out in the town. We went to Weatherspoon’s to begin that was packed with student’s and twenty somethings that wanted the cold stuff cheap.

Meeting people was no problem, so as a solo traveler you will never be lonely. With a young crowd, and numerous events going on every night you will be able to stay up until the wee hours if you fancy that.

We went to see a live band at Stereo, before heading to Sub Club for an interesting night filled with electronic music and a bouncy house. There is no going wrong in Glasgow if you are looking for a good time with good people. When the night came to an end we also went to a chipper before nodding off to sleep.

View of Glasgow from roof of Museum.
View of the City of Glasgow

Amazing Shopping

The boutiques and shopping in Glasgow definitely beat Edinburgh. Hipsters will be in heaven with the numerous boutiques in the West End. Or check out the numerous shops along Glasgow’s Style mile with the high-end shops on Buchanan Street.

I won’t focus on the shopping in Glasgow, since if you are on a budget this will surely break the bank. However, if you want the perfect outfit for a night out you will definitely find it here!

A Case for Edinburgh

Victoria Street in Edinburgh
Victoria Street in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is hands down the most beautiful, postcard worthy, fairytale-like city in the UK, Scotland, and Wales combined in my opinion. Not to mention, Edinburgh is the home of the famous Harry Potter series and is where J.K. Rowling wrote inspired by the mystique of Edinburgh. If you are worried about being bored on vacation, Edinburgh keep you busy with some of the most visited tourist attractions in Scotland. Three words ring true to me when I think of Edinburgh: History, Sophistication, and Tradition.

View of Edinburgh Castle From Princes Street
View of Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street

Tradition, Heritage, and Everything Royal

Edinburgh isn’t a UNESCO World Heritage site for nothing. The city is steeped in history. You haven’t been to Edinburgh, if you haven’t visited Edinburgh Castle (£17) where you can see the Scottish Royal Jewels firsthand. From Edinburgh Castle the city cascades down from the castle on the hill with history around every corner.

If you are a fan of shows like Outlander and Reign (like I am) you will be in paradise. Follow the Royal Mile, a cobbled stone road with tourist shops selling tartan and pubs surrounding you, all the way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse (£15) still serves as the Queen’s Royal Residence. This is my favorite castle because not only do you get to see rooms that are preserved from the Stuart monarch era, but you also get to see contemporary rooms used today for ceremonies of the Royal Family. While you are there do not miss Mary Queen of Scots’ chamber. Fun fact for all you tall girls out there: Mary was actually six-foot-tall a rare thing for a girl, especially in the 1500s.

Sarah Fay on the Royal Yacht
Sarah Fay on the Royal Yacht ringing the bell

Most recently, I went to see the former official Royal yacht the HMY Brittania (£16) of Queen Elizabeth II. It was full of grandeur and royal pomp. The yacht hosted Presidents, monarchs, honeymoons, and is steeped in contemporary history from 1952- 1997. The Royal tourist attractions are pricey on a backpacker’s budget, but if you are a fan of this sort of thing it is definitely worth it!

A City of Literature and Scholars

Dubbed as the number 1st UNESCO City of Literature, amazing tales both old and new originated in Edinburgh. Follow the Potter Trail, to see the beginning of my favorite childhood series at The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote the world-renowned series with a view from the window of Edinburgh Castle.

The Elephant House where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter.
The Elephant House where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter.

If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, Edinburgh is also home to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. From creatives such as Robert Louis Stevenson the author of ‘’Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’’, to philosopher’s, such as David Hume (A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739) there is a wealth of literature and culture to explore that makes you feel surrounded by history.

The University of Edinburgh where I studied abroad is a beautiful campus, established in 1582 and has produced some of the brightest scholars in history. When you go to Edinburgh you realize how old it is compared to the U.S. Being an avid reader it was an honor to study there. Famous alumni include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, David Hume, Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Darwin, Adam Smith (the Father of Economics), J.K Rowling, and many more that have contributed greatly to the advancement of society. One interesting fact that I loved about higher education in Scotland was that it is entirely free for Scottish residents. So, they are definitely doing something right!

The Royal Mile a street in Edinburgh
The Royal Mile

Festival Central

Not only is Edinburgh a City of Literature, but it is also the UNESCO City of Creativity! With so many designations by UNESCO, no wonder why Edinburgh citizens are proud.  Edinburgh is a city that has rich cultural activities and creative outlets for artist’s year-round. However, in August every year it transforms to a city of festivals with 8 festivals throughout the month.

Fringe performer at Edinburgh Fringe Fest playing with Fire
Fringe performer at Edinburgh Fringe Fest

Three of the most famous festivals are the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (burning man for the performers and standup), Edinburgh International Festival, and the Royal Edinburgh Military tattoo (think Scottish men in kilts with bagpipes).

My favorite of the three is Edinburgh Fringe, which lasts the entire month of August. The festival transforms the city and performers come from all around the world to showcase their new material. It is also a huge party. There are pop up bars, food stalls, and you can find something to do everyday till almost 5 am.

While it can be an expensive time of the year to visit Edinburgh, if you are a fan of stand up, dance, and the performing arts I implore you to attend. There are free shows to off set the costs of shows you pay for. Also, if you are tired of performing arts you could always check out the Edinburgh International Book Festival if that is more of your style.  The point is there is something for everyone in Edinburgh the entire month of August!

Get Outdoors

Mountains, rolling fields, and miles of scenic coastline around Edinburgh will take your breath away. Literally if you need a breath of fresh air you could head to the Meadows right behind University of Edinburgh and watch a game of cricket, or hike up Arthur’s seat.

There is no shortage of greenery within the city limits. Take a walk up Arthur’s Seat, an iconic hill with the best views in town. It towers above Edinburgh and Holyrood Park a 650-acre park attached to Holyroodhouse Palace.

Go to the Royal Botanic gardens, a beautiful and intriguing oasis- established as a scientific center for diversity and conservation. If you want to take one last walk down Potter lane, head to Greyfriar Kirkland, a graveyard where you can find graves that served as the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s characters, such as Thomas Riddell!

Nightlife and Grub

Teviot Student Center with bars outside for Edinburgh Fringe Fest
Teviot Student Center with bars outside for Edinburgh Fringe Fest

Glasgow has the music scene in Edinburgh beat. Don’t worry though. Edinburgh is a student town, which means the nightlife is young and upbeat. Want to stay up until the wee hours of the night? Then head to the Hive at 5am. Or if you rather stay sipping a fancy cocktail at Tiger Lilly go ahead. Edinburgh offers the best of both worlds, but errs on the side of sophistication, as compared to edgier Glasgow.

For a student budget there are not many options if you are looking to go out to eat with friends. However, if you want your late-night chipper or falafel you will have plenty of options.

The Winner is…

Glasgow and Edinburgh, both exhibit Scottish pride and I find them welcoming and friendly to tourists. Both cities promise an unforgettable trip. They each offer a unique allure that draws different types of people. I visit a place for the people, the food, and the culture. While Glasgow maybe gritty, and Edinburgh may seem overrun by tourists at times, both cities left me with amazing experiences. I recommend them both!

Which City Should You Visit In Scotland? Glasgow vs. Edinburgh
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