Travel: Glasgow's so great that you'll want to go back again with the family
A city break is quite an undertaking when you have children to consider but, just a short flight away and with loads for young and old to do and see, Glasgow is a fantastic family destination, writes Ralph McLean
TAKING Clan McLean on a short city break can be tricky enough. There was a time when my better half Kerry and I could jet off to Europe's cultural capitals at the drop of a single piece of hand luggage. Since the arrival of the offspring – Tara (12), Dan (10) and Eve (two) – however, even a couple of days away from the homestead requires the kind of in-depth planning and hardcore packing usually reserved for a full-blown military operation.
Trust me, finding a city to cater to all our needs with a couple of pre-teens and Tasmanian devil of a toddler in tow is no easy task.
That's where Glasgow comes into the picture. A city close enough to travel to without breaking sweat but one loaded with attractions and cultural diversions for all the family, it felt like the perfect option in every way.
One unfeasibly fast flight and a swift taxi ride later and we were rolling up at our base for our break, the beautiful Fraser Suites.
A bright modern flat in an impressively restored 1850's Victorian building, it had all mod cons and proved to be the perfect place to get ready for each day's activities and an ideal crash pad once everyone had returned, worn out and ready for bed in the evening.
Situated on Albion Street in the hip and happening Merchant City, it's a prime position to start a little exploring of all the glorious museums, art galleries and bespoke shopping emporiums the area has to offer. Taxis are the easiest mode of transport around Glasgow but if you've time on your hands, a stroll around its historic streets is certainly advised.
After sampling the buzz of the city's shopping streets, we headed for the plush Princes Square for dinner at Darcy's, a lovely little spot tucked neatly into a corner of the centre. It's that rare thing – a family eatery where the food is really good. We ate well from a varied menu and enjoyed a warm welcome that included a couple of cheeky little cocktails for Kerry and I and a selection of house special strawberry cream liquid desert treats for the eldest two that went down so well we were tortured for the entire weekend to return for more.
Saturday saw us spend half the day at the fabulous Science Centre on Pacific Quay. It's the kind of place where you can lose all track of time as you amble around five floors of fascinating scientific exhibits, live shows and workshops that are nearly all hands on and very much young kid friendly.
Make sure to include its planetarium experience on your visit. As the star-laden skies unfolded on to the domed ceiling above our heads our youngest Eve cooed her way through every constellation like a mini Brian Cox.
All the children, despite the differences in age and interests, were captivated by the place and by lunchtime some serious R&R was needed by everyone.
We found the perfect spot for lunch in the shape of Baffo on Argyle Street. A busy restaurant with an impressive line in proper pizza pleasure, it was the ideal place to recuperate and get ready for our next cultural assault course right across the road at the legendary Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
Despite our many visits to the place down the years – and I've been coming to Glasgow since my university years, while Kerry used to work for the BBC here – Kelvingrove never fails to amaze, with its vast range of galleries and freshly curated collections.
The kids were in awe of the stuffed animals that line the corridors and lapped up the stunning range of artworks that dazzle the eye from the moment you enter the main hall. It's a traditional museum experience that always leaves you gasping with wonder at what you've seen. From modern to ancient, all tastes are covered in this amazing place. With more than 8,000 objects to enjoy, it'll be getting repeat visits from us for years to come yet.
All that walking and cultural feasting led us back to the flat, where some home comforts like a little telly and some well-cooked snacks were enjoyed by Kerry and the kids while I slipped out to take in some live music at St Luke's over by the famous Barrowlands.
We were in town during the Celtic Connections festival so music was on every corner but Glasgow has always been a hugely musical city that practically hums with fresh sounds all year round, with a multitude of venues and bars catering for all tastes and styles.
On Sunday we rose early to sample the delights of the always popular Cafe Gandolfi on Albion Street. It's a great place to sample local Scottish produce, all sourced from small suppliers around the country, and it's a warm and welcoming meeting place for locals and visitors alike. You get a real sense of history from the place, housed as it is in the offices of the city's old cheese market.
Suitably refreshed, we hit the shops once again. No matter how tired we are as a team we can usually rustle up the necessary energy for a little retail therapy.
With all the big-name brands on the main streets and a wealth of cool little places tucked away down alleys and off the big squares, we were certainly spoilt for choice. Most shopping areas in the city open at around 10 or 11am on a Sunday so we happily availed of a final opportunity to enjoy those rain-drenched streets one more time.
Before we knew it we were piling our weary bodies and the decidedly heavier travel bags into a taxi and heading once again for the airport. Two days of great family time, magical cultural adventures and more good food and drink than you could shake a bagpipe chanter at had gone by in a flash.
As proper old-school family weekend breaks go, Glasgow's got to be up there with the very best.
:: Ralph and family flew from Belfast International Airport with Easyjet (www.easyjet.com)
:: They were based for their weekend break at the Fraser Suites on Albion Street (www.glasgow.fraserhospitality.com)
:: Glasgow Science Centre is at 50 Pacific Quay on the south bank of the River Clyde. It opens weekdays from 10am and closes at 5pm (www.glasgowsciencecentre.org)
:: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is on Argyle Street and opens weekdays at 10am and closes at 5pm (www.glasgowmnuseums.com)
:: Cafe Gandolfi is at 64 Albion Street (www.cafegandolfi.com)
:: For further information on Glasgow, visit www.peoplemakeglasgow.com