Glasgow's a city of bars, restaurants, shopping, clubs, culture and Charles Rennie Mackintosh sophistication. Then you have kids! And I was unsure how they'd fit into my Glasgow dreams.
So, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Glasgow loon Charles Rennie Mackintosh, we took the kids to explore the key sites linked to this iconic artist, architect and designer. Some attractions worked better than others, some were spot on, so here’s the lowdown.
Scotland Street School Museum
This school building was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh between 1903-1906. The process involved colourful wranglings with the council over decorative features, as creative genius and budget-conscious public body collaborated. The finished product is a practical school building with flourishes of Mackintosh detail.
As a school it’s been assaulted by children over the years, so rest assured your kids are in safe territory. Children are fascinated by the segregated boys and girls doors, stairwells, cloakrooms and playgrounds. In each cloakroom tots can dress up as Victorian boys or girls before parading and flouncing around the building.
The Victorian classroom is stark and regimented, with a Dunce’s hat at the front of the class. Changed days indeed, what a humiliating way to learn. The World War II classroom features gas mask cases, as children were evacuated from this school to the countryside to evade the notorious bombings of Glasgow and Clydeside. Again, we couldn’t begin to contemplate these scenarios.
The 1950s/60s classroom felt a little lighter, it included a reading corner, and the books were a bit groovier. But it is still felt so raw compared to the colour and toys in modern classrooms.
Displays told the story of school life – from jannies to medical inspections. And a display room was dedicated to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s creation of the school. Here, an interactive tile board allowed kids to design their own school, and this kept my tots occupied for around half an hour, which is how I actually managed to read many of the information boards!
Best of all the museum is free. And situated across the road from the Clockwork Orange (tube) so it’s handy for public transport too. FREE
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Perennially popular with children, this vast museum covers everything from stuffed animals and the odd dinosaur, the Glasgow Boys artworks and the iconic floating heads installation, to suits of armour and a display about Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Free, spacious and quirky, this museum can be visited time and again, and you’ll always find something new. We also managed to catch the 1pm Organ Recital, which was pretty powerful stuff.
A simple café is situated on the ground floor for refreshments. The museum is next to a spacious, scenic park, with an excellent playground.
House for an Art Lover
If you want to indulge in Charles Rennie Mackintosh design, then head to Bellahouston Park where you’ll find the House for an Art Lover. It’s so beautiful, calming and serene that weddings are held here on a regular basis. But from a parents’ point of view you can relax, as it’s not decorated with original pieces of art or furniture.
Essentially Charles Rennie Mackintosh entered a competition in 1901, set by German design magazine “Zeitschrift Fur Innendekoration”, to design an “Art Lovers House”. To cut a long story short his entry was commended but disqualified, due to technical breaches of the rules. CRM’s design lay gathering dust, until the bright idea dawned to create this wonderful house. It was a labour of love, and Mackintosh’s vision comes alive, but visitors can photograph the rooms, touch the furniture and be comfortable in this beautiful space. Our eldest listened to the audioguide as we walked from room to room, and I envied the couple about to get married in the Music Room in a few hours time!
Eat at House for an Art Lover. The downstairs café dishes up stylish and healthy lunches, and a decent kids menu. And, as an added bonus the House is set in Bellahouston Park, so ample opportunity for little legs to run off steam after lunch. It’s more convenient to use private transport or a cab to reach this attraction. FREE
Mackintosh at The Willow
What a place of beauty, what an escape, what a setting, what a delight. The newly restored and newly opened tearooms on Sauchiehall Street combine dining and cake with art and design. Miss Cranston’s original Mackintosh at The Willow Tearooms at 217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1903. In fact, this is the only tea room where Mackintosh was in control of the exterior and the interior, and he arranged the internal spaces and designed the furniture.
In terms of taking children there, our kids were made welcome. We simply ordered afternoon tea for two adults, and there was ample food to feed the four of us, so the only extra cost was two glasses of fruit juice for the boys. If I could have savoured this experience child-free then I would have preferred that, but if you’re choice is attend with children or miss out, then don’t miss out!
The tearoom serves much more than afternoon tea, so browse the menu here.
Centrally situated, just off Buchanan Street on Mitchell Lane, this building was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first public commission. It originally housed the Herald Newspaper, but now it’s a beacon for Scottish art and design. The displays and artworks on show aren’t particularly aimed at children, but they do reveal a lot about the life, times and work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
What may appeal to wee ones is climbing the building’s famous Water Tower. Round and round a spiral staircase they ascend, till they reach a viewpoint over the city of Glasgow. What an achievement for little legs, and grand views for all ages.
[At time of writing, another renowned CRM attraction, Hill House, is closed for essential maintenance and restoration, but several pieces of Mackintosh work from this property are on display at The Lighthouse.] FREE
The Mackintosh House at the Hunterian
One for hardcore Charles Rennie Mackintosh fans here. This is the real deal, the house and many contents of Mackintosh and his equally talented wife Margaret Macdonald have been meticulously reassembled from the couple’s original Glasgow home.
It’s so authentic in fact, photography isn’t permitted, and it’s not really suitable for young children, as they simply have to manoeuvre around priceless furniture. Older children may appreciate this slice of the CRM story. Ticket prices are here.
Where to Eat
For a very central and very family friendly dining experience try D’Arcy’s in Princes Square. With toy boxes, children’s menus, swift service and complimentary balloons for kids, what’s not to love?
For a grown up children’s menu I was impressed with the Hanoi Bike Shop in Glasgow’s West End. I’ve visited this informal, on trend Vietnamese restaurant with pals, and never perceived it as a kid’s venue. But the children’s menu is cleverly Vietnamese, but adapted for wee ones. Not a chicken nugget in sight. It also offers a Gluten Free and Vegan menu.
Where to Stay
We were accommodated in the Double Tree Hilton Central Glasgow, just off Sauchiehall Street. The family room was extremely spacious. It’s a central hotel, with free wifi. Guests are welcomed with utterly divine chocolate cookies. The breakfast buffet is of notably high quality. But a high point has to be the swimming pool. We started both mornings with a post-breakfast dip. Floats and armbands are free to borrow, and the kids went nuts for an hour or so.
Overall, I enjoyed having the theme of Charles Rennie Mackintosh to pursue. It took me to venues I hadn’t considered before, but if you wish to combine CRM sights with other attractions, then click here for a range of other Glasgow activities for families, and cherry pick the Glasgow selection that suits you.
We opted for the car, driving from Aberdeen to Glasgow. The Doubletree Hilton has onsite parking for £8 per 24 hours, which was quite reasonable and very convenient. In Glasgow we simply walked, used public transport or hailed the occasional taxi.