About a year from now, Glasgow gets to show off its goods during the 20th Commonwealth Games -- a showcase of summer sports from swimming and cycling to lawn bowling and table tennis that occurs every four years among 71 Commonwealth nations.
It's been a long time coming. Living in the shadow of both Edinburgh and London, Glasgow has been somewhat overlooked by travellers. Yet this thoroughly Scottish city on the banks of the River Clyde is Scotland's largest, with a rich ship-building history, a multitude of museums -- most with free admission -- an eclectic art scene, innovative architecture, the United Kingdom's most vibrant shopping scene outside of London, and the Style Mile which, even if you don't like to shop, you simply have to walk.
First, the Games. Scheduled for July 23 to Aug. 3, Glasgow is pulling out all of the stops, transforming existing athletic venues, and building new and interesting ones to host this multi-sport event, a pre-cursor for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Glasgow 2014 will feature 17 sports in 11 days of competition, with 261 medal events on show. The Games will play host to 4,500 athletes aided by 15,000 volunteers, and will sell 1,000,000 tickets.
Sir Chris Hoy -- six-time Scottish Olympian and double Commonwealth Gold Medal cyclist -- says: "Glasgow 2014 is the biggest sporting celebration coming to the U.K. next year, the biggest sporting occasion ever seen in Scotland, and the next opportunity to see a wealth of top athletes and the next generation of superstars in action."
Among the most notable Games venues is "The Hydro," a huge new arena styled after a Roman amphitheatre that will host gymnastics events. When construction is complete, every one of The Hydro's 12,500 seats will offer unobstructed sight lines.
The new landmark is part of the larger regeneration of the Glasgow's Clyde Riverside area, and is a new neighbour for the Clyde Auditorium -- a popular concert site resembling Sydney's opera house and nicknamed The Armadillo -- and the new Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, a 250-metre track for the Games' indoor track cycling.
On the other side of the spectrum is the Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre, which will host lawn bowling competitions (a Scottish tradition since at least 1595). Situated near the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Glasgow University, the Victorian-style centre will no doubt be used as a scenic backdrop by many of the TV personalities who will report on the Games next summer.
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one of Glasgow's most treasured spots. The imposing Spanish Baroque pink-hued stone edifice houses 22 themed galleries exhibiting work by French Impressionists and Scottish artists. Salvador Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross is there, along with a Spitfire fighter plane suspended from the ceiling, and a weird yet wonderful exhibit of hanging heads. Visitors shouldn't miss a chance to slip next door to Glasgow University to pause in The Cloisters below Bute Hall -- an experience that is Old World, collegiate and calming.
Several places in the city, including Kelvingrove, have dedications to Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a Glasgow architect, designer and artist who influenced European design more than a century ago. A contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, Mackintosh's exterior and interior designs were innovative for their era, and included everything from built-in bookcases and leaded-glass windows, to artistic light fixtures and interior wall stencils. There are many spots to view his work, including the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh House, the Willow Tearooms, and the gracious House For An Art Lover.
Glasgow was once an industrial powerhouse and home to captains of industry, who built fantastic mansions. The River Clyde, which runs through the city, once housed a thriving ship-building industry (Cunard's iconic Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary ships were built there). Today, the black smoke of industry no longer spews from smokestacks and the stained buildings are gradually being scrubbed clean as the city experiences its 21st century renaissance.
Shopping areas include tony Byres Road, the pedestrian Sauchiehall Street and Buchanan Street, part of The Style Mile. Mega stores like H&M and Monsoon mix with mom-and-pop shops selling kilts and Scottish tablet (candy). Shoppers are entertained by kilt-clad musicians busking on the precinct (pedestrian walkway).
If you visit during the Games, plan excursions outside of the city as well. Glasgow is within an hour of pretty Loch Lomond, home to the historic Cameron House and Doug Carrick's new golf course, The Carrick. The Hebridean Islands are also within easy reach, as well as the imposing Stirling Castle, home of Mary, Queen of Scots.
NEED TO KNOW
A limited release of tickets for Glasgow's 2014 Commonwealth Games are available to Canadians through Executive Travel until Sept. 16. See executive-trvl.com/commonwealth.
Citizen M Hotel Glasgow is an eclectic, budget-friendly hotel in the heart of the city. Upscale boutique hotel Blythswood Square has marble baths and one of the city's best spas. About 45 minutes from downtown Glasgow on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, Cameron House Hotel is luxurious yet family friendly.