Happy Hogmanay: Why Glasgow’s a Great Place for New Year

Glasgow's a great place to see in 2013

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Anthony Brawley / Demotix / Corbis

Cost cuts mean that November’s festive firework display, above, won’t be repeated on Hogmanay, but the celebrations will still have plenty of sparkle

Though the fiscally squeezed Glasgow authorities have curtailed the time-honored late-night revelries in George Square (winding them up at 10 p.m.), they’ve not managed to put a damper on the way Scotland‘s biggest city celebrates the New Year. Hogmanay, to use the Scottish term, has roots that date back to ancient festivals of the winter solstice. Though many of its customs are uniquely Scottish (like the giving of symbolic gifts of coal and salt), one practice — the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” — is popular among Anglophone communities the world over.

In Scotland today, Hogmanay is all about lively parties, long dinners and warming drinks in cozy old pubs. And while Jan. 2 is not a public holiday in the rest of the U.K., it is in Scotland, so the locals tend to see in the New Year with a bang. If you’re thinking of joining them, here are five places where you can get into the Hogmanay spirit, Glaswegian style.

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1. Ubiquitous Chip
With its art-bedecked walls and location in the heart of Glasgow’s trendy West End, the bar-restaurant Ubiquitous Chip (ubiquitouschip.co.uk) has long been a magnet for hipsters, barflies and anybody in search of a boho night out. Occupying the same spot on dinky, cobbled Ashton Lane since 1971, “the Chip” has proved popular with celebrities, with the likes of the Coen brothers, Mick Jagger and Kylie Minogue having been seen in its Victorian surrounds.

As a venue, it’s an alluring mishmash: there’s a leafy courtyard, a mezzanine, roof terrace, three bars, a restaurant and brasserie. The latter two will be the setting for a ticketed Hogmanay dinner, which costs $160 for five courses in the restaurant or $88 for three courses in the brasserie. Diners at both also get entry to the Chip’s street party on Ashton Lane. Tickets tend to sell out well ahead of time, so if you’re not in luck, try buying admission to the street party only by calling (44-141) 334 5007. The cost is $40.

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2. Pollok Country Park
Glasgu, the old Gaelic term for Glasgow, roughly translates as “Dear Green Place,” and happily the city still scores highly on that front, boasting over 90 parks. Pollok Country Park (www.glasgow.gov.uk) is the daddy of them all. This bucolic 146-hectare idyll, about 5 km southwest of the city center, is home to a hundred Highland cattle, the remains of an ancient fortress, the Burrell Collection of art housed in a purpose-built museum and Pollok House (the ancestral home of local nobles and bigwigs the Maxwell family). It attracts over a million visitors a year.

The Burrell Collection and Pollok House are closed until Jan. 3, but the park is open all year round — which is good news if you want to burn off that Hogmanay hangover. Weather (and sore head) permitting, you can join dozens of other plucky souls on a 5-km fun run on New Year’s Day, kicking off at 9:30 a.m. and held mostly on tarmac paths through the park’s North Wood. Organizers encourage the bringing and sharing of picnic items for a spot of post-run socializing. For details, visit parkrun.org.uk/glasgow, and click on “news.”

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3. Blythswood Square Hotel
The red lights in the front windows of the Blythswood Square hotel (www.townhousecompany.com) cheekily allude to the area’s notorious past as a den of prostitution. These days, however, urban regeneration has restored the square’s original 19th century cachet, and its namesake hotel, which opened in 2009, is the city center’s smartest accommodation.

Housed in an elegant 1820s building, the Blythswood Square hotel boasts 100 very chic rooms, including seven suites, the most expensive of which will set you back a cool $2,400 a night. Previous guests have included Paul McCartney, Coldplay and Sean “Diddy” Combs, who paid to have the spa, with its 930 sq m of moodily lit pools and steam rooms, all to himself and his entourage.

For Hogmanay, a standard room, a four-course dinner in the hotel’s Josper Grill and breakfast the next morning will set you back around $650. A jazz band and DJ will be performing during the evening.

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4. The Pot Still
Frank Murphy couldn’t look more Scottish if he tried. With his pale red hair, beard and kilt, he’s straight out of central casting. And if you’re looking for a traditional pub to see in the New Year, his tiny hostelry will meet the brief.

The exterior of the Pot Still (thepotstill.co.uk), on Hope Street in Glasgow’s theaterland, is utterly nondescript. Inside, though, it’s a glowing trove of whisky bottles — over 489 varieties, bearing names like Sheep Dip, Knockando and Pride of Orkney. Tucked away at the back of a mahogany glass cabinet is the most expensive tipple, a Strathisla 1953 Speyside Single Malt, selling for $86 a dram. Not bad for a 59-year-old whisky, says Murphy. “If you bought it straight from the distillery, it would be three times as much.”

The convivial clientele comes from far and wide: old regulars (including a master distiller from Japan), the odd actor and West End customers on their way home from work mingle with a global array of visiting business types. You can expect a good crowd at Hogmanay, when the Pot Still will remain open till 1 a.m. with haggis, live music, dancing and a traditional Celtic sing-along.

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5. The Lighthouse
If the New Year puts you in a reflective frame of mind, then the sweeping views of Glasgow from the top of the Lighthouse (thelighthouse.co.uk) may suit your mood — as will the perfect forms and cerebral structures contained within.

Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, to give it its full name, is housed in the old Herald building — the first architectural commission of Glasgow’s most famous designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928). He was responsible for just a dozen buildings but became the main proponent of Art Nouveau in the U.K. and had a considerable influence on European design. Gustav Klimt and Koloman Moser were among those who took inspiration from him.

Mackintosh’s legacy is the subject of a permanent exhibition at the Lighthouse, which also features the exhibition “Foundation Glasgow,” tracing the history of the city and environs from prehistoric times. Other galleries host changing exhibitions of Scottish architecture and design, including digital design and animation. Guided tours start at $8.

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