An Introduction to Scotland’s Best

What to do, eat, and drink in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Scotland’s largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, are less than one hour apart—so there’s no excuse not to visit both on your next trip across the Atlantic The two seem to have established reputations: Glasgow is post-industrial, a little grungy, and Edinburgh is elegantly cosmopolitan. But that means they complement each other quite well for a well-rounded Scottish vacation.

Once you’ve booked your ticket, how do you divide your time? Comparing the all-important categories of culture, food, and nightlife, we’ll look at where each city stands out. And when you feel like you’re missing out on the other city, it’s good to keep in mind that they’re a mere 50 minutes apart.

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Glasgow’s fabulous art scene

Leading art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist dubbed it the “Glasgow Miracle.” From the city’s former stature as Britain’s industrial powerhouse, Glasgow emerged in the 1990s as one of Europe’s leading contemporary art capitals. Its epicenter still is The Glasgow School of Art, which continues to produce dozens of award-winning artists, architects, and designers. In 2018, the city will celebrate the 150th birthday of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Glaswegian renaissance man whose architectural achievements, artwork, and crafted furniture are world-renown and highly prized. Take a day to follow the Mackintosh Trail, a web of thirteen attractions that each hold a piece of Mackintosh history. A visit to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and Centre for Contemporary Arts are also worth a visit.

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History and glory in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is an undeniably captivating city, with layers of history exposed within its architectural landscape. You know a city is steeped in history when both its old and new towns are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Start with Edinburgh Castle, a 12th-century castle that’s built on top of a dormant volcanic crag: What could be a more imposing indicator of this city’s storied past? From St Giles’ Cathedral to Palace of Holyroodhouse, the monarchy’s official residence in Scotland, Edinburgh is filled with landmarks to keep you busy for days. And, as the birthplace of Harry Potter, you can go The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling scribbled her stories onto a bar napkin, among other Edinburgh locations that inspired the fantasy.

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Glasgow’s artisanal culinary treats

Glaswegians’ creativity also drives its culinary scene, which places high value on local ingredients and an artisanal point of view. Singl-end is a self-described community cafe and bakehouse that showcases local grains, superfoods, and homemade sausages. Cail Bruich offers an exceptional fine-dining experience, proudly foraging seasonal greens (like ramps) from the Glasgow Botanic Gardens across the street. Stravaigin, whose slogan is “Think Global, Eat Local,” uses Scottish ingredients that shine in dishes prepared with Asian techniques. The Gannet is an award-winning establishment that directly sources sustainable ingredients, like stalked venison from Arran, rare breed pork, and duck eggs.

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Fancy feasts in Edinburgh

Edinburgh oozes sophistication, and with some of the best restaurants in the UK, it’s a destination for fancy food. Afternoon tea at the glamorous Palm Court in The Balmoral Hotel is a decadent bite. For steak-lovers and scenesters, the recently opened Gaucho has outstanding Argentinian-inspired fare in a chic basement setting. You’re also spoiled for Michelin stars here, with four restaurants carrying the honor in 2018: Number One at the Balmoral Hotel, Kitchin, 21212, and Restaurant Martin Wishart.

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Nightlife fueled by young, creative Glaswegians

Home to several universities, Glasgow is a boozy city with great nightlife driven by students. This means a thriving music scene, wilder parties, and creative venue spaces. Head to Alston Lane, the famed cobblestoned backstreet filled with pubs that spill outside. Or Finnieston, an emerging neighborhood filled with hipster cocktail bars. Warehouses from Glasgow’s industrial past, like the riverside SWG3, are being transformed into impressive clubs and multidisciplinary art venues.

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Edinburgh’s cocktail culture and high-end hotel bar scene

With many glossy places to stay in Edinburgh, you can expect hotel bars to serve an excellent cocktail. The Balmoral Bar, and Scotch, its whiskey bar, are housed within the city’s landmark hotel. Both should be on your list for top mixology. Epicurean Bar at the Radisson Collection Royal Mile Edinburgh, formerly Hotel Missoni, was designed by the Italian fashion house and still has those clean lines and bright colors you would expect. Head to the Rutland Hotel, where Edinburgh Gin has a micro-distillery on premises. Its basement bar Heads & Tales has tons of house cocktail choices, which can be guided for you by the onsite distillers themselves. Ask for a brief history of Scotland’s gin production to garnish your drink.