Travel

These Italian Cafés Are the Hidden Gems of Glasgow

Go to Scotland for the Scotch; stay for the over-the-top sundaes
Photos: Todd Coleman
Italian Cafés in Glasgow, Scotland

Not widely known outside of Scotland, the quirky Italian cafés of Glasgow are an amalgam of down-home diner, dreamy ice cream parlor and boisterous central meeting place for both the city’s young and old. There’s nothing quite like them anywhere else in the world.

Colorful and zany, the food on offer at the cafés sounds like it’s from an undiscovered planet: tatties, Knickerbocker Glories, ice cream oysters, Bovril. The décor mesmerizes and delights in equal turns; it's posh Victorian waiting room meets Dr. Who. There’s a reason why a lot of them were used as locations in the filming of the cult classic film Trainspotting.

Most of the cafés have been in operation for over 100 years, but they're slowly dwindling in number due to changing tastes and times. After taking this visual tour of some of their highlights, you’ll want to quickly book a trip to Glasgow to bring it all to life for yourself—before it’s too late.

  • At the 100-year-old University Café, retirees from the shipping business meet often for breakfast in the “sitting room” to debate local politics and sup on peas, beans and chips, black pudding, and other classics.

  • The University Café draws an eclectic, multi-generational crowd, reflecting the essence of Glasgow. It’s been owned and run by the Verrecchia family since it opened in 1904.

  • This is the Knickerbocker Glory. Immortalized by J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter series, it is a formidable kitchen sink ice cream sundae that’s topped and doused with every sprinkle and syrup in house. Its towering height is in direct proportion to its supreme deliciousness.

  • This over-the-top sundae at Café d'Jaconelli, is replete with whipped cream, raspberry syrup and, of course, tassels.

  • The buttery and luscious “triple threat” at the 117-year-old King’s Café: meat pie, mash and baked beans.

  • The scenes at Queen’s Café are lost in time and often seem to be works of modern art. Pictured: a simple tomato and ham “sanger,” or sandwich, dripping with mayonnaise.

  • Dripping with flavor, the homemade ice cream selection at Queen’s Café includes salted caramel, passionfruit and bubble gum.

  • The exterior of the Queen’s Café follows suit with the other cafés in town, in their dedication to fantastical department store-like window displays, from giant papier-mache ice cream cones to glittery signs proclaiming "freshly cut sandwiches."

  • The famous "fish tea supper" at Val D'Oro, which has been open since 1875. Luigi Corvi (known as “Gee-Gee)—whose family has run Val D’Oro since 1938, is also something of an opera singer. He often belts out arias to go along with your crisply fried fish and chips.

  • Not content with ice cream and candy alone, the Langside Café displays an Alice in Wonderland-like case full of chunky fudge, thickly frosted carrot cake and oversized cookies.

  • Domenico Demarco, the owner of the 70-year-old Langside Café, arranges the candy selection at his front counter.

  • The classic "tattie" scones at the University Café resemble thick, creamy potato pancakes more than scones. Don’t skip out on dunking them in milky tea.

  • Italian immigrants to Scotland (much like the Greeks that opened diners in the states) have left an indelible cultural mark on Glasgow. The A Tomasso café is much more than a place to eat—it’s a veritable community center.

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