ON the steep hill that rises above Sauchiehall Street, Garnethill sits in the heart of the city, though its historic streets offer a quieter, even tranquil vibe.
Home to Glasgow School of Art (GSA), the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Glasgow Film Theatre, it has long been one of the most artistic, radical and bohemian districts of the city, attracting people from all over the world. Today’s residents remain an eclectic and diverse bunch.
The last few years have been tough for this neighbourhood, largely due to two major fires at GSA, the second of which caused serious disruption for residents and businesses.
But this close-knit community is rallying round and picking itself up, and the area remains a must-see destination for Glaswegians and visitors alike to explore, with a great selection of cafes, restaurants and shops and a wealth of interesting architecture.
Garnethill, now a conservation area, developed from the middle of the nineteenth century as architects including Charles Wilson built the tenement blocks and terraces that give the area its distinctive feel.
The beautiful “cathedral synagogue” on Hill Street is the country’s oldest, built between 1879 and 1881. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s world-renowned Glasgow School of Art, his masterpiece, was erected on Renfrew Street in two phases, between 1897 and 1899, then 1907 and 1909. Jesuit St Aloysius Church, with its beautiful tower, was built around the same time, though the independent school of the same name has been in the neighbourhood since 1866.
Garnethill earned its bohemian reputation in the early twentieth century, becoming a base for artists, theatre actors and writers. GSA was an early creative hub for women, with pioneers including Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, her sister Frances, Jessie M King, Hannah Frank and many others flourishing and gaining international reputations. Many staff and students were involved in the fight for women’s suffrage. Glasgow Women’s Library, the UK’s only museum and archive devoted to women, was set up in Dalhousie Street in 1991. It is now has a much bigger home in Bridgeton.
The district was an early home for Jewish and Asian migrants, and in the Sixties and Seventies it became the centre of Scotland’s Chinese community.
These days the streets are home to students, academics, creatives and families from all over the world. It’s also known as the setting for Glasgow-based author Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy.
What to do
It takes time to get to know Garnethill properly, but even many Glaswegians are surprised by the sheer number of attractions. Walking the loop up Renfrew Street, starting at the cross of Renfield Street, returning via West Graham Street or New City Road, zig-zagging up and down the steep streets in between, provides exercise both for body and mind.
Glasgow Film Theatre, on Rose Street, which started life as the Cosmo in 1939, is not only a great place to see movies but one of the most striking art deco buildings in the city. Even if you don’t have time to watch a film, pop in for a coffee or drink in the bar.
Further up Rose Street, Garnethill Multicultural Centre has been at the centre of this community for a generation, looking after the welfare, educational and cultural needs of residents of all ages and backgrounds. If it’s an energising Tai Chi or authentic swing dance class you’re after, this is the place to be.
Sadly, GSA’s Mackintosh Building on Renfrew Street, the jewel in Garnethill’s – some would say Glasgow’s – crown, was completely gutted in the fire of June 2018. The School’s board has vowed to rebuild. GSA and visual art remain central to this neighbourhood’s identity, however, with students, practising artists and working studios all around. Soak up the arty vibe with lunch or a pint at The Vic, GSA’s much-loved student union, on Scott Street.
A bit further down Scott Street is the iconic CCA, the beating heart of Glasgow’s art scene for 30 years, and an exhibition space of international standing.
Heading west along Buccleuch Street, the Tenement House is one of Glasgow’s quirkiest and best-loved museums. Lived in by typist Miss Agnes Toward for more than 50 years, it offers a unique and authentic insight into middle-class tenement life in the early twentieth century. The house, which is looked after by the National Trust for Scotland, also hosts a year-round schedule of events – the current exhibition, featuring “wally dugs” drawn by local youngsters, is utterly charming.
Just round the corner on Hill Street is Garnethill Synagogue, still a busy place of worship. Stunning both inside and out, it is well worth visiting, especially during Glasgow’s Doors Open festival, which runs this year from Monday 16 to Sunday 22 September.
Walking back east along Hill Street’s grand terraces, take a quick detour down Garnethill Street to admire the colourful Community Garden, which runs regular family-friendly horticulture and food sessions. Keep going down until you come to the old Savings Bank on New City Road, still one of Garnethill’s most beautiful sandstone residences, and a landmark for drivers on the nearby M8.
Walk back up Dalhousie Street and explore Garnethill Park, one of the city’s most unique and relaxing green spaces, which mixes rocks, plants, mosaic and people – it even has its own bread and pizza oven for neighbourhood cooking – to great effect. Opened by Princess Diana in 1991, the park is a year-round oasis for residents, students, schoolkids and workers. Says Neil Gray: “I work nearby and it’s my favourite place to spend a lunch break. I especially love the wee historical anecdotes carved in stone all around the park. And I’m glad it’s still something of a hidden gem because it never feels too busy. Everyone gets a proper share of the space.”
And don’t forget to look upwards as you walk these streets. Lampposts adorned by sculptor Shona Kinloch’s “Chookie Burdies” are a particular treat.
Where to eat
Foodies are spoiled for choice in Garnethill. For brunch and afternoon tea, Singl-end café and bakehouse on Renfrew Street is hard to beat. This buzzy basement fills up fast at lunchtimes and weekends, so get there early. Anna Fraser says: “Anything on the menu with eggs and bread is delicious. And I don’t think I’ve had a better empire biscuit anywhere!”
The Bucket List Café on Cambridge Street also does a tasty brunch, while Project Café on Renfrew Street is a favourite with vegetarians and vegans, as is the CCA café.
The Wee Curry Shop on Buccleuch Street is a favourite with locals, as is Italian bisto Azzurro on Cambridge Street.
You can’t beat the Oxford for a fish supper, while if it’s Chinese food you’re after, it doesn’t get any more authentic than Chinatown, on New City Road. Yo! Hot Pot on Cambridge Street serves fresh and tasty seafood, noodles and dumplings. If you’d rather try making your own, there are a host of excellent Chinese supermarkets.
Where to Shop
On Dalhousie Street, Fire Works Studio sells the beautiful ceramics and pots made inside. Next door you can wash your clothes and show your work at the Art Laundrette.
In the CCA foyer, Welcome Home stocks eye-catching interiors accessories and gifts designed by local artists, while Glasgow Guild on West Graham Street offers a furniture restoration and upholstery service that is second to none.
Where to stay:
Funky: Citizen M on Renfrew Street is chic, stylish and affordable. Rooms from £76 a night.
Cheap and central: The easyHotel on Hill Street does what it says on the tin for £37 a night.
Grand home from home: There’s a lovely “1850s” main door flat in Garnethill renting on Airbnb from £85 per night. Sleeps three.
In the coming weeks I’ll be exploring Queensferry, Dumbarton and Pittenweem. Send your hints and tips to: email@example.com