Known for breeding tough leaders like ex-Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson but also comedians like Billy Connolly, this city may have a steely exterior but it's soft at heart.

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland, eclipsing the country’s capital, Edinburgh. Straddling the banks of the River Clyde, in its industrial heyday it was the world’s shipbuilding yard but following decimation of its heavy industries, the city has spent the last 30 years reinventing itself. 

Today Glasgow is a leading example of “how cities can change their economies,” according to Scott Taylor, chief executive of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau.

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These days, beyond its 32,000-strong workforce in the tourist industry, Glasgow is a hub for low-carbon technology expertise. SSE, the UK’s biggest producer of renewable electricity, has its European green-energy HQ here, and Iberdrola/ScottishPower its global base for working on offshore wind-farm facilities. Other industries well represented in Glasgow include life sciences, with companies such as Life Technologies Corp, BioOutsource and SB Drug Discovery, and engineering, with global names such asBAE Systems and Thales Optronics.

Glasgow has also become a popular destination for Europe’s conference organisers, winning 3,323 international and domestic conferences and adding £1.2 billion to the local economy in the last decade, Taylor said. Key venues include the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre with its distinctive armadillo-shaped Clyde Auditorium and five exhibition halls, and the University of Strathclyde’s new state-of-the-art Technology and Innovation Centre.

Mercer’s 2014 Cost of Living Survey ranks Glasgow as one of the least expensive cities in the world to visit. Locals — known as Weegies or Glaswegians — are also fiercely proud of being hailed as the “friendliest city in the world” by Conde Nast Traveller magazine and travel publisher Rough Guides.

Cultural know-how

People bond over humour as much as over food.

In a city that appreciates plain-speaking, openness is valued. “In Glasgow it’s less about the occasion and more about the ability to connect and to have a social relationship. It can be over drinks or lunch or dinner. The important thing is that you’re able to bond,” said Steven Mail, a Jacksonville, Florida-based investor in digital and social media companies whose global travels bring him regularly to Glasgow. “The dry Scottish humour is part of that. People bond over humour as much as over food.”

In meetings, be prepared for everyone pitching in with ideas. “There’s less of a hierarchy and less pretentiousness,” said Mail. “In some parts of the world I would wear an expensive watch to meetings but in Glasgow that’s not necessary. People aren’t trying to impress the other person. They’re trying to connect, to find a solution and a way of doing business together.”

Airport

Scotland’s main long-haul airport, Glasgow International is 8 miles (13km) west of the city. It offers flights to around 110 destinations worldwide, including Canada, the US and the Middle East. A new direct route to Halifax in Nova Scotia has just launched and direct links to Munich and Prague will run from June onwards.

Step outside the main terminal and you’ll find taxis and shuttle buses, 24 hours a day. A cab ride to the city centre with Glasgow Airport Taxis takes around 20 minutes and costs about £23 ($35). Shuttle busses are a cheaper option. The Service 500 shuttle runs up to every 10 minutes, taking about 25 minutes into the city centre and costs £6.50 ($10).

The second airport is Glasgow Prestwick, 32 miles (51km) southwest of the city, serving European destinations. It’s the main base for budget airline Ryanair. Cabs cost £50 to £60 ($76 to $91) into downtown and take around 40 minutes. The airport also has its own train station with up to three trains an hour into Glasgow Central mainline station, taking 50 minutes and costing £7.80 ($12).

From Glasgow Central, Manchester is 3 hours 20 minutes away by train and London about four and a half hours.

Money matters

Scottish bank notes have the same value as Bank of England notes and are legal currency throughout the UK. However, since they have different designs, they are sometimes refused outside Scotland and when changing abroad. The best plan is to swap your Scottish bank notes for English ones before leaving.

Hotels

A few steps from Glasgow Central railway station, the five-star Radisson Blu is an airy contemporary hotel with concierge service, valet parking, express laundry, high-speed internet, access to a swimming pool and sauna. The entire first floor is dedicated to meetings and events, including audio-visual equipment and private-function bars. Downstairs, the soaring atrium area with bar-lounge service is a useful drop-in rendezvous. 

Planted on Finnieston Quay, two minutes’ walk from the SECC, the recently refurbished Hilton Garden Inn is a four-star establishment offering rooms from £68/night ($104), with free wi-fi, in-room Apple computer, fitness centre and river views.

Dinner for one

For Scottish fish and seafood, paired with French wines, go to Rogano, a few steps from the stunning Gallery of Modern Art and the fashion boutiques on Buchanan Street. With its authentic art deco interior, this restaurant and oyster bar offers the elegant flair of a Clyde-built luxury liner of the 1930s. Meals are also served in the bar where you can eavesdrop on the gossip of the local media, legal, business and showbiz crowd.

More chat, and if you’re lucky — live traditional music at the open fireside — are on the menu at Babbity Bowster. Housed within an eighteenth-century building in the Merchant City, music sessions are scheduled twice weekly in this lively bar, but also tend to happen spontaneously. A three-course meal in the first-floor restaurant, including Scottish fare such as haggis, costs from £22.50 ($35).

Off the clock

To explore Glasgow’s shipbuilding heritage, visit Riverside Museum on the banks of the Clyde. Beneath the zigzag roof of this Zaha Hadid-designed museum you’ll also find a fascinating roundup of twentieth-century transport, from trams, trolley buses and locomotives to vintage cars, buses and motor bikes. Moored outside is The Tall Ship, the last Clyde-built sailing ship still afloat.

To immerse yourself in the art nouveau world of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, join a freeguided tour of the Mackintosh House within the Hunterian Art Gallery.The furniture and interiors have been re-assembled exactly as the Glasgow-born architect, designer and artist decreed for his own home between 1906 and 1914. The Willow Tea Rooms are one of the most popular stops on the Mackintosh Trail.

Special considerations

When you’re out and about, don’t be offended if you’re addressed as ‘pal’ — whether you’re male or female — and bombarded with direct questions. Glaswegians really love to chat and aren’t known for being shy. 

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