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21st Century Finnieston – A Tourist Destination

By Robin McKelvie

Just a short decade or so ago it would have been hard to imagine Finnieston would become one of Glasgow’s blossoming tourist districts. In a remarkable transformation this once faded post-industrial landscape has been reborn with one of the UK’s most popular concert venues, an award winning museum and, centre stage, the spectacular Clydeside Distillery.

Finnieston’s first Golden Age came when Glasgow boomed as the Second City of the Empire. Those were halcyon days when Clyde-built ships sailed the world’s oceans and ‘Clydebuilt’ became a badge of honour. It was during this period that John Morrison worked to fashion the Queen’s Dock, an integral part of industrial, shipbuilding Glasgow. His family’s story is very much tied into the Clydeside Distillery. It is fitting that the former Queen’s Dock is now home to the distillery, which is both part of the renaissance and a symbol of it. For more on my take on the Clydeside Distillery see my first blog.

Within easy striking distance of the Clydeside is an awe-inspiring piece of avant garde architecture, a fulcrum in new Finnieston, Zaha Hadid’s remarkable, spiky steel Riverside Museum on the River Clyde. It now houses the city’s Museum of Transport. The Riverside was acclaimed as ‘Museum of the Year 2013’ by the European Museum Forum.

The Riverside Muesum and Tall Ship

The Riverside Museum is a truly remarkable oasis - you can easily spend half a day here with over 3,000 objects on display, from paintings to prams, ships to an, er, Stormtrooper. Some Glaswegians feared that the Museum of Transport would lose its magic when it moved here from its old home further up the River Kelvin. They needn’t have worried as they’ve done a great job of it. Highlights for me include the recreation of a historic Glasgow street, which you can actually walk through, popping into the shops and even a bar. Then there is the chance to hop on an old subway car.

My daughters are huge fans of the revolving display of ship models of vessels that were all built on the lifeblood river. It provides a really strong connection to the past with a window behind it where you can gaze out over the river where Glasgow’s story began. The museum is generally brilliant for kids with 90 large touch screens for them to interact with. My whole family loves playing the game where you battle to deliver the morning’s post in competition with each other.

Following the banks of Glasgow’s ‘other river’, that lesser-known Kelvin, from its mouth near the Clydeside Distillery upstream towards Argyle Street, lies another stellar attraction. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is regularly voted amongst the best museums in the UK and it is one of the most visited too. It’s easy to see why as even its setting is spectacular in a grand old sandstone edifice that first opened back at the turn of the century in 1901.

Kelvingrove art museum exterior
Robin and his family at Kelvingrove

Inside there is everything you can imagine spread across a whopping 22 galleries, from old school taxidermy animals and a Spitfire fighter plane, through to a volley of model heads suspended from the ceiling and a typically surreal painting from Salvador Dali. One of Glasgow’s great artistic talents is also celebrated with some fine examples of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s work.

Look out for the massive organ on the ground floor too and for regular organ recitals. There is an ever-changing array of temporary exhibitions at a cultural attraction that never rests on its hard-won laurels. Like the Riverside there is a café here, but I think it’s worth stopping by the café at the Clydeside Distillery. Their café is brilliant – their unique whisky glazed doughnuts made by Glasgow doughnut-makers, Tantrum Doughnuts, is a fantastic twist on a classic treat! They also have a great dram selection as well as whisky flights which offers a taste of regional malts.

Clydeside whisky flights

Back down by the banks of the Clyde we arrive back at the Clydeside Distillery then head along the river to the sparkling new SSE Hydro arena. This was a key venue during 2014’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games and has now become one of the UK’s most popular concert venues. Every weekend and many weeknights too it is packed to the rafters with 12,000 gig goers, which helps propel Finnieston’s lively nightlife scene.

Right next to the Hydro is Lord Foster’s creation, the ‘Armadillo’, which in turn sits next to its sibling, the hulking Scottish Event Campus (SEC). Both overlook a stretch of the river where a vaulting angular bridge crosses the river. This striking, curved link is officially grandly called the Clyde Arc, but no one in Finnieston knows it as anything other than the ‘Squinty Bridge’!

Casting a wise old eye over the Finnieston architectural newcomers is the hulking Finnieston Crane. This 53m high leviathan has struck for the skies here since 1931. It is a dramatic reminder of Finnieston’s golden shipbuilding past. It provides a tangible link to the historic in this hugely popular tourist district, which a glorious blend of old and new, the Clydeside Distillery, beating at its dramatic heart.