- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

GLASGOW, Scotland — A funny thing happened on my way to a museum in Glasgow. As a traveler who’d much rather tour a local city hall or hike a historic trail than go shopping, I got sidetracked — by shopping.

Time for tourists to leave their money behind is usually built in to most organized tours, but in this case, our tour guide had failed to mention just how much of an activity this could be in the center of this quite cosmopolitan Scottish city.

Properly scolded by a number of excited shoppers in his charge, he clued us in to Glasgow being “the second-largest shopping area in the United Kingdom, second only to London.”

Tour guide Gordon Tait says buildings that used to house banks and shipping offices, now house shops, restaurants and nightclubs. Many of those buildings are beautifully restored Victorian structures.

Glasgow is a very walkable city, set out on a grid system. Pedestrians rule in the city center, in an area known as the Golden Z, for the three main streets, all filled with shops and malls, form a Z pattern.

Saucheihall, Buchanan and Argyle Streets are all off-limits to vehicle traffic. Pedestrians fill the streets to frequent shopping malls such as Buchanan Galleries, Princes Square, the St. Enoch Centre, as well as department stores, high-end retail establishments, specialty shops and boutiques. Turn off into the Argyle Arcade and you’ll be dazzled by the displays from about 20 jewelry stores, many specializing in diamonds or watches.

In one store, I ran into a woman who said she’d come from Norway to shop.

Moira Dyer, with the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, wasn’t surprised to hear that. “It’s become very fashionable now to nip across to Glasgow for a shopping break,” said Miss Dyer, thanks to low-cost carriers serving Glasgow’s airports.

A lot of Scandinavians come to shop, as do people from the north of England, she said.

“I’ve heard it described as Manhattan with a Scottish accent,” said Miss Dyer.

Although she is paid to be a Glasgow booster, it’s hard not to agree with her claim that Glasgow is “very much seen as a city of style.”

Banners flying outside the City Chambers, or city hall, in George Square, proclaim “Glasgow: Scotland with Style,” and advertise a Web site for visitors to find out more: www.seeglasgow.com.

Yes, homesick Americans can find a street corner with familiar sounding fast-food restaurants on each corner, a KFC, Pizza Hut and a McDonald’s. But we pretended that last one was a Scottish name, like McGregor, and noted that there are influences from all over.

One shop, called “Soxx in the City” was next to a restaurant advertising “authentic Italian pizza,” and beside another with a special for scones and tea. A mix, for sure.

One of my favorite stops was Thorntons confectionery. It was hard to pass by without sampling local favorites including butter tablets, clotted cream fudge, chocolate-covered gingers or a “vanilla velvet” ice cream bar.

Unless you are the Armani or Versace type (which have stores here as well), the dollar’s poor showing against the pound wasn’t a hindrance.

Many of the clothing and shoe shops had sales or two-for-one specials, to draw in shoppers already laden down with shopping bags.

Past the distraction of all that shopping, there is the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall at the top of Buchanan Street. My initial destination, the McLellan Galleries, proved to be an interesting mini-exhibit of treasures from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, which is closed for renovations until June.

Art enthusiasts may also enjoy a visit to Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, the Glasgow School of Art, the Burrell Collection or the Museum of Transport.

An American connection is part of the history of Merchant City, considered one of the coolest places to shop in Glasgow. Funky boutiques, bars and restaurants are housed in buildings that used to be home to the tobacco lords who made their money importing tobacco from Virginia in the 18th century.

• • •

Buchanan Galleries: One of many shopping malls in the city center of Glasgow. By underground, take the Buchanan Street Station exit. If arriving by train, Central Station is a five-minute walk away.

McLellan Galleries: 270 Sauchiehall St. Free admission.

City sightseeing Glasgow: www.scotguide.com. Tours depart from south side of George Square. Passengers may hop on or off at any designated stop around the city.

For more information: www.seeglasgow.com or www.visitgla.com. To order brochures by phone or for help in planning a trip to Glasgow, call VisitBritain, 800/462-2748.

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