A weekend of Celtic Connections and Glaswegian Gallivanting

From 19 January – 5 February 2023, Celtic connections will celebrate its 30th anniversary! Each year thousands of folk musicians from across the world descend on Glasgow for 18 days of celebration of genre-defining folk music.

And the adventure begins….

I’d heard of Celtic Connections for many years but hadn’t managed to make it until last year.

The award-winning festival has become unmissable for any folk fan. Previous years have seen Robert Plant, Laura Marling, The Chieftains and many more perform to the 100,000 attendees who flock to the city.

Perfectly timed as Christmas and New Year’s celebrations had subsided and the worst of the weather had set in; Becky and I caught the train from Lancaster to Glasgow. We’d worked up a bit of sweat rushing to catch the after-work Friday night train bundled up in scarves and hats, Becky with violin in tow. Glasgow has a well-connected train line making travel there easy and quick. Even more conveniently Euro Hostel Glasgow (now closed Nov 2023)  is also just a short 5-minute walk from the station meaning you can be at your accommodation straight from the station in no time.

The Transatlantic session

We didn’t have very long to get to our first performance though and set off from the station straight to Glasgow Royal Concert hall for our first session of the weekend, the world-famous Transatlantic session. Each year the festival, within the transatlantic session, brings together musicians from Scotland, Ireland and the USA. The resulting performance is incredible. As each musician respected in their own right is accompanied by other musicians, a rich musical tapestry is created. Last year’s festival occurred just after a Covid lockdown and it was the first time we’d been in a room with so many people for quite some time. We made our way through the rainy streets of Glasgow arriving at the concert hall just as the long queue of people were making their way inside.

We were treated to a phenomenal performance by Paul Brady, Leila McCall, Sarah Jarosz, Dirk Powell and Siobhan Miller. Accompanied by 10 other instrumentalists. Having been used to small folk festivals, in fields in the middle of nowhere, the sheer scale and the number of fans (let’s face it folk doesn’t always have a massive following) was breathtaking. Forget beardy old men hand cupped to their ears this was folk at its most contemporary, fresh, diverse and young.

However, Celtic Connections caters for all and with over 300 events there’s something for everyone from more traditional Scottish folk to modern experimental folk.

Euro Hostel Glasgow (now closed – Nov 23).

We left the hall spellbound. We walked the short distance to Euro Hostels Glasgow, discussing each and every song and musician we had just seen and heard.

With a 24-hour check-in, we didn’t need to rush to get to the hostel and we were free to take in Glasgow at night as we strolled the wide open streets, watching little scenes of a Friday night play out in front of our eyes. After checking into our room in the hostel by the friendly and helpful staff, we went back out into the night inspired by the music and keen for more. With a whole host of pubs and bars with live music, we were spoilt for choice. The hostel itself even has its own bar with food and drink at affordable prices.

Having chosen a private room at the hostel we didn’t have to worry about waking anyone up as we snuck back in. The room was equipped with a tv and an ensuite toilet and one would be forgiven for forgetting they were in a hostel with a modern chic interior and convenient USB charging ports, this was a hostel well equipped for the weary modern-day traveller.

We woke up excitedly having decided to see what the breakfast was like at the hostel. I’m often somewhat skeptical about whether breakfast is worth it at a hostel, especially when you’ve got state-of-the-art self-catering facilities, but we weren’t to be disappointed here! There was a full all-you-can-eat breakfast including Haggis! Full to the brim with haggis and beans we woddled out to explore the many sites of Glasgow.

Exploring the city

With Glasgow being famous for the school of art (although unfortunately still closed due to the major fire it had in 2018) we visited Glasgow gallery of modern art. After a morning looking round the gallery which had art from all over the world and covered topics from the climate emergency to the refugee crisis. We then ventured round some more smaller galleries with equally as profound contemporary exhibitions. With Glasgow hosting the COP 26 UN Climate conference the whole city seemed a buzz, with moving and, at times, scary stories of the environmental crisis facing us. It didn’t just present the problems though through community-based art projects glimmers of hope was found in presenting solutions to the crisis.

Still trying to walk off the haggis from breakfast we decided to explore the city visiting the womans library on our way to Drygate brewery. The brewery had been recommended to us by multiple people and for good reason too. Not only does the brewery host sessions of Celtic connections it also offers some of Scotland’s best craft beers. Having sampled some of the many beers they have on tap we were finally ready for some food. Having saved money on our accommodation thanks to the affordable prices at Euro Hostels Glasgow we decided we could afford to watch another Celtic connections folk gig so headed back into town for some more music.

Euro Hostel Glasgow’s community vibe

We were exhausted by the end having had a long day of culture, politics and walking and decided to get an early night.  The liveliness of the hostel coupled with the community feel of the place (something which can be hard to achieve in larger hostels) would make it the perfect place for solo travellers wishing to make friends. We got talking to people from all over the world all experiencing Glasgow in a multitude of different ways. Some had been walking in the highlands and were making their way home but wanted to see Glasgow on the way, others were on university society trips, some had just arrived in Scotland and were searching for others to join them in exploring Scotland.

Overall, we had an amazing time in Glasgow. We left feeling refreshed and inspired by the community feel of the hostel, Glasgow itself and the lively spirit of Celtic Connections.

Euro Hostel Glasgow closed in November 2023.  For nearby hostels see our South Scotland page.