The Skinny guide to Govan, Kinning Park, Cessnock & the Gorbals
Glasgow's riverside is a heartening mix of the city’s industrial past and its ambitious future – we pick out some highlights
This part of Glasgow has seen big changes in the past 20 years. In the minds of many Scottish people The Gorbals is still a byword for the type of deprivation that the city of Glasgow was once famous for. To residents of even just a few decades ago, the Gorbals of today would be unrecognisable with its penthouse apartments, 24-hour gyms and drive-thru coffee shops.
Government investment of close to £1 billion has transformed the southern Clyde waterfront area into a slick media hub. When the BBC opened its Scottish headquarters on the south bank of the river in 2007, it did not take long for big-money companies to line up alongside it. The Quayside today plays host to casinos, cinemas, restaurants and high-rise luxury chain hotels. Behind the shininess of the riverfront, however, these are still working-class parts of town. Immigrant communities from across Europe and the Middle East have settled here, and continue to do so. The shops, cafes, barbers, bars and restaurants reflect that multiculturalism. In many ways, this area of town paints a distinct picture of modern Glasgow. A heartening mix of the city’s industrial past and its ambitious future.
There are not many green spaces in the area. It is, after all, the city’s industrial heartland. A walk or bike ride along the river, however, will offer a whistle-stop tour of some of Glasgow’s most iconic buildings and structures, from Glasgow Science Centre and Govan Parish Church on the southern banks, to Glasgow University, the Finnieston Crane and the SEC across the water (as well as the squinty bridge across it).
For a spooky autumnal walk, consider ducking in under the large stone archway of the Gorbals Southern Necropolis (Caledonia Rd). A nod to the area’s grim history, this graveyard (founded in 1840) is the final resting place for over 250,000 Gorbals inhabitants. It is worth seeking out the famous White Lady monument. Just be sure not to walk around her ghostly statue three times or – legend has it – she will turn your body to stone.
Deeper south is Bellahouston Park – a vast and beautiful city park with terrific spots for running, cycling and picnics. There is even a dry ski slope. Within the park sits the unique House for an Art Lover, built in the 1990s based on 1901 notes left behind by Glasgow’s most prominent architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The large white mansion hosts exhibitions, weddings and is in some ways a curiously compromised example of the British Art Nouveau style – Mackintosh’s notes, for example, made no mention of a visitor centre or a cafe.
If you are looking for a more authentic Mackintosh fix this side of the river, you could do a lot worse than strolling past the imposing Scotland Street School (225 Scotland St), opposite Shields Road Underground station. The sandstone Victorian school building is a wonderful example of Mackintosh’s style. It is, at the time of writing, closed for a large-scale refurbishment, which will see it returned to its original purpose next year: educating young minds.
Food and drink
A fun foodie highlight is Govan’s The Big Feed (249-325 Govan Rd). This weekly street food festival takes place in a large disused warehouse on Govan Road, when a changing rotation of food trucks from across the country park up and get cooking. With a fully-stocked bar, live music, arcade games and so much good food to try – it is easy to spend hours here.
There is no better Lebanese food on offer in the city than the heaving plates of mezze available at the ever-busy Beirut Star (450 Paisley Rd W) in Cessnock. Unassuming (and underpriced, given the quality of the food). Similarly high quality, low price food can be found near the Glasgow Mosque in the Gorbals in the form of highly rated Afghan food at Namak Mandi (17-23 Bridge St), Middle Eastern cuisine in Palmtree Kitchen (22 Bridge St) and sweets from Turkey in Istanbul Cakes and Baklawas (63 Bridge St).
Nearby, Babylon Supermarket (3-5 Commerce St) is a large supermarket well stocked with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ingredients and even an in-house bakery. Aladdin’s (45 Commerce St) nearby is similarly good for hard-to-find ingredients.
The Good Coffee Cartel (12 Cornwall St) in Cessnock offer an on-site coffee roastery and cafe with a sustainable focus. In the Gorbals, vegan joint Zilch Bakery & Deli (124 Norfolk St) serve up a frankly astounding range of plant-based food, from NY cheesecake to charcuterie.
When it comes to drinking establishments, this area of town does a roaring trade in good old-fashioned pubs. Home to two of the city’s very best: The Laurieston (58 Bridge St) and The Old Toll Bar (1 Paisley Rd W). The Gorbals’ Laurieston is a Glasgow city icon, appearing in pop-art city prints, photography exhibitions and even a Fratellis music video. Old Toll Bar in Kinning Park dates back to the 1800s but was refurbished and redefined in 2017. The bones of the place remain the same: curved dark wood bar, reasonably priced draft beer, unpretentious crowd.
Things to do
Glasgow Science Centre (50 Pacific Quay) is an immersive experience year-round, commited to making learning fun in futuristic architectural surrounds. During COP26, it will host The Green Zone, where the public, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, youth groups, charities, academics, artists and businesses can have their voices heard through an extensive programme of events.
If you are in the area and feeling brave, you might want to pay a visit to Ibrox Stadium (150 Edmiston Dr). One of the oldest football stadiums in Europe (built in 1874), it is home to Glasgow Rangers, the blue half of the city’s world famous football rivalry with the East End’s Glasgow Celtic.
The area is bookended by the exquisite Govan Old Parish Church (866 Govan Rd). Free to the public, the site has been home to a church since the 6th century and houses the famous Govan stones. These Norse carved stones date back to 870 AD, when the Vikings raided the Clyde region and destroyed nearby Dumbarton. Their presence in the churchyard serves as evidence that the Vikings settled, at least in part, in Govan.