IF you want to get an idea of what Newcastle Gateshead could potentially look like in 10 to 20 years time, then take a trip to Glasgow.
Stunning architecture, glorious parks and gardens, internationally-acclaimed museums, galleries and visitor attractions, stylish bars, a burgeoning restaurant scene – and some of the best shopping to be had in the UK.
It really is a stunning short-break destination and the run-up to Christmas is the perfect time to see for yourself.
The roots of Glasgow’s transformation go back 20 years when it became European Capital of Culture.
Newcastle Gateshead can’t lay claim to the same accolade, of course, but we all know where the 2008 crown should have been placed – and it wasn’t on the head of Paul and Ringo.
Newcastle is now in a similar place to where Glasgow once was – and with the right strategic planning, investment and determination it could easily follow the same ascending path as the Scottish city.
Last month’s publication of the book, Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2009, which captures the world’s hottest travel trends, destinations, journeys and experiences for the year ahead, listed Glasgow as the only British entry in the Top 10 Cities section. It saw Glasgow sit alongside the likes of Chicago, Lisbon and Sao Paulo – with the words fun, chic and stylish featuring prominently in the write-up.
From a cultural, historical and archaeological point of view, Newcastle Gateshead is well placed to rival Glasgow, and we are possibly ahead in terms of riverside development.
Where we lag behind, however, is in the range and quality of our pubs, clubs, restaurants and shops and the diversity of entertainment on offer in our city centre.
You can walk through the heart of Glasgow during the day and not only be spoiled for choice as to where to have lunch but also notice … well, fewer baseball caps and less Burberry, if you know what I mean.
At night, the pubs and clubs are bustling but you don’t see the same ‘packs’ of drinkers that stumble around the Bigg Market and Quayside. Shopping is the one area where Glasgow is streets ahead of its rivals. No, it can’t match London – but it does cram a lot into a relatively small space.
The city centre is a square mile of shopping nirvana, where you can find specialist retail outlets, independent boutiques, antique emporiums and everything from Armani to Zara and Primark to Prada in a compact, walkable space.
I say square mile, it is often referred to as the Golden Z, comprising of a zig-zag route from Sauchiehall Street, down Buchanan Street and along Argyle Street – all mostly pedestrianised.
At the junction of Sauchiehall Street and Buchanan Street sits the Buchanan Galleries precinct and at the bottom sits the St Enoch shopping centre, currently undergoing a massive upgrade.
Along the way you can drop in to the upmarket Princes Square, an elegant Art Nouveau-inspired arcade with five floors of ethereal wrought iron and glass providing the backbone to some fabulous stores and fashionable bars, cafes and restaurants.
Princes Square really comes alive during the festive season, hosting a giant Christmas tree that stretches up through all five floors. In fact, the entire city centre makes the most of the season to be jolly. Glasgow On Ice is a once-a-year opportunity to skate beneath the stars in the centre of the city, on an ice rink in George Square surrounded by Christmas lights, a funfair and Santa’s grotto.
That is open from November 22. The day before sees the opening of Glasgow’s Traditional Christmas Market.
Running parallel to Buchanan Street is Queen Street where you can find something more unusual in shops such as Osiris and Hellfire. And from Queen Street you can turn in to Ingram Street, which is fast becoming the city’s designer avenue with famous names such as Ralph Lauren, Crombie, Jaeger and the ultra-hip clothes store All Saints.
Ingram Street leads you to the Italian Centre where the first Versace shop in the UK outside of London opened its doors a few years ago.
If you want to break away from the Golden Z, then the cutting-edge Merchant City is only a few minutes walk away and the bohemian West End is a short Subway ride away.
It is this diversity that resulted in Glasgow last year being named the UK’s top Christmas shopping destination outside of London by business directory Yellow Pages.
Research shows that 26% of visitors say that shopping is the main reason they come to Glasgow and 28% say the quality and variety of shops is what keeps them coming back.
For me it is the fact that there is no shortage of quality city centre hotels to stay in and you keep chancing on cafes, bars and restaurants that you want to go in to.