Clydeside is a region around Glasgow in the Central Belt of Scotland, with a population in 2020 of 1,028,220. It more-or-less corresponds to Greater Glasgow, and half-a-dozen other names, but it's not a metropolis or other unit of local government. Informally "Clydeside" is used to distinguish the lower River Clyde catchment, heavily urbanised and industrial, from the more rural upstream river valley to the south, known as "Clydesdale".
Cities and towns
- 1 Glasgow is the booming heart of this region, a great city in every sense, with lots to see, do, eat and drink. Don't just rush through on the way to the Highlands - you need several days here to take it all in.
The industrial south & east: a series of small to medium towns, commuter-land for Glasgow, and long past their 19th century heyday. This, bluntly, is the least attractive and least interesting part of Scotland, and you wouldn't come just to see it. If however you found yourself here, there's actually a surprising amount to occupy you. Orbiting Glasgow anti-clockwise:
- 2 East Kilbride is an unlovely post-war New Town, yet its main attraction is the Museum of Rural Life.
- 3 Hamilton has a huge mausoleum and Chatelherault country park.
- 4 Motherwell has Strathclyde Country Park, a landscaped former mining area, and Scotland's only Theme Park.
- 5 Wishaw is a large commuter and industrial town.
- 6 Coatbridge has the Sumerlees Museum of Industrial Life.
- 7 Cumbernauld is a drab New Town with little reason to visit.
- 8 Kilsyth is a good base for exploring the Antonine Wall.
- 9 Kirkintilloch is also near the wall, and with a surprising history of ship-building: the "Clyde Puffers" were made along the canal.
- 10 Milngavie has Mugdock Country Park, and is the start of the West Highland Way to Fort William.
- 11 Bearsden has a Roman bath house, the best-preserved Roman structure in Scotland.
- 12 Paisley has a fine abbey-cathedral.
Downriver is also industrial but the view improves:
- 13 Dumbarton: pity about the ugly modern town, but castle rock marks the start of the Highlands, and the Firth of Clyde opens up to the west.
- 14 Balloch with Alexandria is on the shores of Loch Lomond: loch ferries and cruises run from here.
- 15 Greenock has a gallery and Fire Service museum.
- 16 Gourock, the start of the "Costa Clyde", is the ferry port for Dunoon on Cowal.
- 17 Inverkip has a large marina. A little way south is Wemyss Bay, ferry port for Rothesay on Bute.
This region is lowland and has good transport routes, although the Clyde was only navigable by small craft until the 1880s. It has fertile farmland but developed industry from late medieval / early modern times, based on coal and iron from local mines. Glasgow was just one small town among several until 1707 then grew rapidly with transatlantic and other colonial trade, though its shipping and ship-building was based downriver at Greenock. Then a navigable channel was blasted up to the city, and "Clydeside" became synonymous with cranes swinging over the shipyards of Govan, and fights in pubs. City merchants took care to build their mansions and endow public buildings at a little distance from the grime.
The quality of housing was poor for most people, even before wartime bombing, and post-war rebuilding was often ugly - both within the city (such as the Gorbals) and in the "New Towns" that sprang up around its rim. Meanwhile foreign competition took away smokestack industries such as ship-building, steel and car manufacture. Health statistics told a stark tale - "The Dying Scotsman" was a cartoon figure - and the region needed to re-invent itself. Glasgow itself from the 1990s has successfully done so, morphing into a year-round destination city. The other towns are works in progress, sharing the ups and downs of the overall UK economy, but simply scrubbing the soot off the Victorian buildings has unearthed a seam of rich ruby sandstone architecture. And nowhere on Clydeside is more than 30 minutes drive from moorlands, glens and lochs.
1 Glasgow Airport (GLA IATA), 8 miles west of the city, has direct flights from many European countries as well as North America and Dubai. It has domestic flights from London Heathrow, City, Gatwick, Luton and Southend; from Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, East Midlands, Belfast, and from several Hebridean islands plus Orkney and Shetland. Public transport from the airport to the rest of Clydeside usually involves taking the bus to Glasgow city centre then changing, but there's a direct bus to Paisley.
You might also fly in via Edinburgh or Manchester, both with good onward transport. You're unlikely to fly in via Prestwick as this only has flights to Med holiday destinations.
Railway routes converge on Glasgow's two mainline stations. The fastest trains from London Euston, Birmingham and Manchester run via Motherwell to Glasgow Central, as does the Caledonian Sleeper, and an occasional train from London Kings Cross via Newcastle and Edinburgh. Most trains from Edinburgh, and all of them from Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness and Oban, run to Glasgow Queen Street. Suburban and branch lines fan out from both Glasgow stations to all the main towns of Clydeside.
Long distance buses all run to Glasgow Buchanan bus station, 300 yards north of Queen Street railway station. They seldom stop elsewhere in this region, but some exceptions are:
- - Citylink buses to the western Highlands stop at the edge of Dumbarton and of Balloch then continue north along Loch Lomond.
- - Bus X74 to Moffat and Dumfries also stops at Hamilton.
- - Bus X24 runs from Glasgow Airport to Buchanan station then continues east to Cumbernauld, and across Fife via Dunfermline to St Andrews.
- Buses and trains run from Glasgow to all the main towns. Coatbridge and Airdrie have lost their direct bus, take the train.
- Crossing the region usually means travelling into central Glasgow and out again, but one train makes a slow loop of the southern towns of Hamilton, Motherwell, Coatbridge and Cumbernauld.
- Transport usually runs 06:00-23:30. There are night buses after midnight on Friday and Saturday (the early hours of Saturday and Sunday) from central Glasgow to East Kilbride, Hamilton, Motherwell and Paisley. Otherwise you'll need a taxi.
- Glasgow top sights include the cathedral and necropolis, Kelvingrove gallery, "People's Palace", and Rennie Mackintosh creations such as the Willow Tea Rooms.
- Churches and cemeteries: interesting examples beyond the city are Inverkip parish church, Greenock West Kirk, Hamilton Mausoleum, cemetery and old church, Motherwell cathedral and Paisley Abbey.
- Castles: several are tumbledown, but Newark Castle near Greenock and Dumbarton Castle are substantial. You can stay in a plush one at Castle Levan near Gourock.
- Museums beyond the city include the Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride, and Summerlee industrial museum in Coatbridge.
- Roman Scotland: they didn't stay long or build much, but the coast-to-coast Antonine Wall can be seen around Bearsden, Kirkintilloch and Kilsyth.
- Highland Games are held annually on a summer weekend in Gourock, Balloch, Bearsden jointly with Milngavie, and East Kilbride. Dumbarton hosts the Scottish piping championships, and the world pipe band competition is in Glasgow in August.
- Forth & Clyde Canal has a good firm towpath and is navigable throughout - check Scottish Canals for current status of locks and facilities. It starts near Dumbarton, has a spur into central Glasgow, then ascends through Kirkintilloch and Kilsyth. It then descends into West Lothian, where the ingenious Falkirk Wheel lifts boats into the Union Canal to Edinburgh.
- Go "doon the water". The Clyde is industrial until Greenock, further west the view improves, and Gourock marks the northern end of the "Costa Clyde", the string of little resorts along the coast into Ayrshire. Ride one of the ferries even if you don't intend to set foot on the other side.
- Football: the famous soccer teams are Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow. Other professional teams are Partick Thistle in Glasgow, Hamilton Academical, Motherwell, Airdrieonians and Albion Rovers in Coatbridge, Clyde in Cumbernauld, Dumbarton, and Morton in Greenock.
- Rugby Union isn't a big thing here compared to Edinburgh and the Borders, but Glasgow Warriors are a pro team.
- Golf: lots of courses, every town has one.
- Walk the West Highland Way which starts at Milngavie. The first few miles north onto Loch Lomond are easy going, then it starts to get interesting.
- Glasgow's got the lot, for cosmopolitan choice and for quality across a range of budgets.
- Beyond the city, the only standout is Cameron House Hotel, on the shores of Loch Lomond near Balloch.
- Every town has a strip of cheap and cheerful places, including pub food. There's always an Italian but those in Hamilton get better reviews than elsewhere.
- Auchentoshan on the edge of Glasgow and Glengoyne between Milngavie and Balmaha are two Scotch whisky distilleries that you can visit in this region. They both make very smooth, unpeated whisky that slides down every so nicely. There are some 120 whisky distilleries in Scotland so if you're wondering which to sample first, these are a good bet. There are several in the industrial parks of Glasgow and Vale of Leven that you can't tour, but they have well-known products (often blends rather than single malt) found in supermarkets throughout the UK.
- Most of the outlying towns have a JD Wetherspoon pub, open daily from breakfast till late. They score well for inexpensive beers, food, service and general environment. Other chains such as Greene King have only a minor presence here.
- Tap water is of high quality on Clydeside, as it's soft, drawn from highland reservoirs such as Loch Katrine that need very little chlorination. So don't be paying restaurant prices for bottled "spa" water.
- Same as elsewhere, watch for traffic and take care of valuables.
- Natural hazards are few, be dressed and shod sensibly on the hills. Loch Lomond is big enough for the waters to get rough, though other boat traffic (such as jet skis) can be a risk.
- "We arra pee-pul! - eh who are you lookin' at, Jimmy?" Aggressive drunks are no more common in Glasgow than in other cities.
- Glasgow and most of this region are within an hour by train of must-see Edinburgh. So it can be day-tripped, but you'll want longer.
- Ayrshire has Robert Burns' birthplace in Alloway just south of Ayr, and is the route to the charming Isle of Arran.
- The UNESCO World Heritage Site of New Lanark is an 18th century model community around a mill on the Clyde.