During the Celtic Connections music festival in Scotland, I found myself wedged into the Glasgow School of Art's sweaty student pub. Festival-goers and aspiring young artists were spilling beers and chatting while we waited for the next act. I was lucky enough to snag a seat, sliding in next to two women -- one maybe 20 years old and the other about twice her age. Both appeared to be more than a few pints deep.
"This is my mum," the younger woman told me, laughing as if it were the most novel thing she'd ever told anyone. "Can ya believe it? My mum is in the pub?"
"Look," the mom said with the same insistence you might expect from a burly, red-bearded man pointing a shot of whiskey at you. "If I'm gonna have a daughter with a flat in Glasgow, I'm going to come and fuckin' visit. This --" she said, motioning around at the pub, "you don't get this at home."
I asked if they partied together before the daughter headed to college.
"Ah, fuck no," the mother blurted. "But you don't have a place to stay in Glasgow and not come."
This heartwarming scene is why I tell you to put Glasgow -- Scotland's biggest city, and its densest, and its grimiest -- on your map for a no-bullshit urban cultural vacation. This one-time industrial hub of Britain has reinvented itself as an artist's paradise. Yes, it still feels like a place heroin addicts would call home. Not for nothing was the 1996 drugs-and-crime classic Trainspotting filmed here: The blanket of cold mist and gray skies and Iggy Pop-infused chase scenes are distinctly Glaswegian. But at a time when so many big cities around the world are starting to feel the same, Glasgow still gins up grit to go with its beauty.