Ni4kids Editor Nadia Duncan says forget far-flung places, for family fun look no further than across the Irish Sea and sail away to a place where the people make magical memories happen…
There’s nothing quite like a good road trip for some quality family time and bonding. I’ve always really loved those couple of hours all together, when we can cajole the kids into playing traditional car games – I spy will be the eternal favourite, closely followed by who can remember everything on the shopping list. This is exactly what we did on the just-less-than-two-hours drive from the Scottish port of Cairnryan up to Glasgow and that, along with taking in the stunning scenery along the way, meant we soon arrived to where the locals call their, Dear Green Place (a derivation of the Gaelic word for Glasgow). It’s a very apt moniker as Scotland’s largest city does have more green spaces per capita than any other city in Europe with over 90 parks and gardens.
Considering we were in another country by just past lunchtime, that Sunday morning had been completely chilled. Our 10.30am sailing with P&O Ferries from Larne was timed perfectly. We didn’t have to leave home in darkness at silly o’clock, the fast and smooth check-in and security check took less than 10 minutes in total and by 11am we were tucking into a delicious full Ulster in the comfort of the Club Lounge. One travel tip I would encourage families to seriously consider are the benefits of upgrading for just £12 pp (if booked in advance). For this bargain price you receive; free priority boarding for cars, access to the comfortable and peaceful Club Lounge, unlimited hot and soft drinks and snacks, a glass of wine and complimentary newspapers and magazines.
All passengers have access to free wi-fi on board, but as we discovered there’s lots of other entertainment options to keep you busy including the newly launched Junior Crew Kids Club in the play area which now runs on day time sailings throughout summer. We happily joined in the mask making crafty fun while watching Captain Underpants on the big screen – the perfect start to a fun-filled family break.
Doubletree by Hilton on Cambridge Street is a wonderfully convivial choice for family accommodation while in Glasgow. Their signature chocolate-chip cookie gift on arrival oozes as warm a welcome as the staff, but this hotel also scored a huge number of brownie points with us for its modern and spacious family room with two oh-so comfy double beds, stylish bathroom with a separate large walk-in shower and bath, flat screen TV, plenty of wardrobe space…we were already impressed but the icing on the cake is the free guest access to the on-site Juvenate Health and Leisure Club. After a splash in the pool and relaxing in the Jacuzzi, we felt refreshed enough to squeeze in some retail therapy on Glasgow’s famous Style Mile before dinner.
If a city-centre location is important then Doubletree will also top your wish list as it’s superbly situated just a short walk from many major attractions and a ten-minute stroll from bustling Buchanan Street. There you will find constant entertainment from the colourful collection of buskers who line it from top to bottom and ‘Scotland’s Favourite Building’ (the title was awarded after a public vote in 2016) Princes Square – a fabulous mix of retail and restaurants.
Darcy’s, on the ground floor, has been a long-time favourite spot for local families who rate the selection of freshly-sourced Scottish produce and thoughtful additional touches, such as the kids’ toy boxes. Apart from good food, another big advantage for parents coming here is the large central circular floor space which is perfect for some playtime after dinner for younger customers while mum and dad finish off that divine dessert they just couldn’t resist.
Talking of a full tummy, did you know that your digestive acid is strong enough to dissolve zinc? Neither did we until we spent the next morning exploring the wonders of the BodyWorks exhibition at the mind-blowing Glasgow Science Centre on the south bank of the River Clyde. You could easily spend an entire day here, particularly if you add in a visit to the on-site planetarium and Cineworld Imax (at a reasonable additional cost). A family ticket for two adults and two children at the Glasgow Science centre costs £42 (under 3s are free) and gives you access to hundreds of exhibits and unlimited workshops and shows.
Everyone is a scientist at this must-see family attraction which excels in its mission to make learning fun. Over three floors, we were Captain of our own cargo ship (watch out for sharks!), masters of puppetry, held an Olympic Games sprint final on a race track, learnt all about energy – and made some ourselves with a high velocity dance off to Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ – I’m still recovering. Our highlight? Inside the Wacky Salon we discovered the secret to one of life’s biggest mysteries which has baffled me from my teenage years – how MJ did that spectacular gravity defying lean in his Smooth Criminal video.
After all that excitement, it was time for something else to get our hearts racing – a trip to the top of Scotland’s tallest tower. A Guinness World Record holder for being the tallest fully rotating freestanding structure on the planet, we climbed (okay went up in the lift) 127m up, which is approximately equal to 30 double-decker buses. Our reward was worth it – the most spectacular panoramic views of the city and beyond. But watch out! If it gets too windy the lift is out of action and there are 523 steps back down to the ground.
To refuel and find the energy to explore the 22 themed state-of-the-art galleries at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum later that afternoon, we step into Baffo, (directly opposite the entrance) a delightful newly-opened Italian eatery serving up authentic pizza (some say the best in Glasgow) and traditional dishes exactly how Mamma would have made them. Fresh, fast and friendly are the key ingredients here and if you do visit our top recommendations, along with your pizza, are the Catalana Bruschetta and (as our pizza and chocolate-mad 11-year-old proclaimed it was quite possibly the best dessert ever) the ‘Straccetti Baffo’ a signature dessert of sugar and cinnamon-coated pizza strips with Nutella and vanilla ice cream.
No visit to Glasgow would be complete without a visit to Kelvingrove on Argyle Street. It’s easy to see why it is ranked as one of the top 15 most-visited museums in the world and if nothing else, the cost of the entrance fee should be enough to tempt you in – it’s free! The extensive eclectic collections are home to an astonishing 8,000 objects ranging from the extraordinary to the just outright weird and wonderful. There’s so much to see, the kids darted around happily for the rest of the afternoon oohing and aahing over the displays of natural history, arms and armour, art and much more.
We return to the West End of the city later that evening for a highly memorable (in the very best way) dinner at Ox and Finch. I think the analogy that its location, Finnieston, is to Glasgow what Shoreditch is to London is pretty accurate, brimming over with trendy restaurants, cafes and bars. Spoilt for choice, Gourmet Glasgow is another nickname which could easily be justified, and this restaurant certainly won us (and the folks at Michelin Bid Gourmand) over with its superb seasonal tapas-style dishes. It was a really tough decision but we finally opted for seared scallops with ramsey’s black pudding, flat iron steak with chimichurri, confit duck leg with yellow curry and crispy rice and Italian sausage with smoked ham hough beans and sage. ‘Well tidy scran’ doesn’t seem compliment enough although I’ve been assured that’s Scotland’s very highest praise for a fantastic meal.
The next morning, after yet even more good food courtesy of a full buffet breakfast at the Doubletree, we set out promptly for our final Glasgow destination (slightly apprehensively) after being warned not to be late or we would risk facing the wrath of THE HEEDIE (gulp!). School may be out for summer but not at Scotland Street School Museum on the south side of the city. Designed by artist, architect and pride of Glasgow, Charles Rennie McIntosh, it opened in 1906 and mainly educated the children of those working in shipbuilding in the city. Now a museum, visitors can once again enjoy this incredible building filled with Mackintosh’s designs, and step back in time and into the classrooms of the past with a Horrible Histories style (sometimes fun, sometimes terrifying) interactive tour.
Our extremely knowledgeable guide Iain (aka Heedie) taught us what life was really like for the 1,200 schoolchildren who came from the surrounding streets by taking part in similar lessons – if you plan a visit make sure you brush up on your times tables or you just might end up wearing the Dunce’s hat like my poor husband – although this sight did crack the kids up for hours #TotallyWorthIt. And please make sure you wash your hair or you risk being dragged out of class for a visit to the dreaded nit nurse. Fascinating and full of laughs for all ages – this is a little gem of a chuck of local history really worth discovering and gives you a real feel for the city and its people.
Our 8pm P&O Ferries return sailing gave us plenty of opportunity to not only make the most of our remaining time in Glasgow, but also more super summer family childhood memories on the journey home as we said farewell to Scotland’s shores out on deck, took selfies and tried to spot some whales. Inside we hit the games arcade, shopped for after-dinner treats and souvenirs, then relaxed in the lounge with a drink reminiscing about all our favourite best bits.
We only stayed for two nights but packed so much in that it felt like a much longer break. Glasgow is vibrant, so much fun and always full of surprises. Add it to your family must-do list or regret it.
Trip Notes: For details of P&O ferry travel and offers visit www.poferries.com For more about Glasgow visit peoplemakeglasgow.com Visiting Glasgow with P&O? Share your memories @poferries #WhatNext @peoplemakeGLA #nextstopglasgow