Much like my weekend in Liverpool, I ended up spending time in Manchester at the end of 2017 (and indeed the start of 2018!) because of football. Mr S is a Manchester United Season Ticket holder, and often finds himself in the area for work, away from me and sequestered up there at least once a week. I too have spent quite a bit of time in the city due to work and so it became our unofficial second city.
After our most recent trip, we are making that second city status completely official.
Whilst I am a born and bred Southerner, the North-West of England appears to be calling me up on the regular. There is something about the industrial revolution vibe, the regeneration in recent years and the food – oh god yes the food – that keeps me enthralled. There was no better place for us to spend a couple of nights relaxing into the New Year, and trying as many independent eateries as humanly possible before the clock ticked over into a new year.
Here’s how we spent the last few days of 2017 and how you should plan your Manchester itinerary if you decide to visit!
Getting around during a weekend in Manchester
Manchester is such an easily traversable city, that it makes the perfect place to spend a weekend. You can walk the city with ease, but the tram lines are super convenient (and inexpensive), especially if you want to take a trip out to the suburbs of Altrincham or Salford Quays.
We arrived by car (which takes about three hours on a good day from London), but super fast trains from the capital from Virgin take only two hours, and it is easily accessible on the mainline from other major cities such as Leeds, Liverpool and Birmingham. In fact, the train has always been my preferred route when staying in Manchester, simply because parking in central Manchester is pretty expensive and many central Manchester hotels don’t have car parking.
We stayed in the Piccadilly Gardens NCP Car Park, and pre-booked our car parking which cost £27.50 for 48 hours (pre booking guarantees the best deal). As an example, we spent one hour and twelve minutes in the Manchester Arndale Centre car park and this cost us £6.50!
Where to stay on a long weekend in Manchester
Manchester is full of incredible hotels to match every budget, but as with Liverpool I did find them to be a little higher over a Saturday night. That said, there are plenty of deals to be had and we opted to stay in the Travelodge at Manchester Piccadilly which is perfectly located for all areas of the city and for arrival by train. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, and they had a large bar and cafe on site.
However, on other occasions I’ve stayed in my favourite of all, the Malmaison (also located in Piccadilly and with an incredible on-site restaurant), the Mercure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel and Abode Manchester, and I’d recommend all of them for a comfortable and stylish stay.
There are two other locations I’d really recommend though depending on the type of trip you want to take. I stayed in the Macdonald Manchester Hotel on a work trip and it was a luxuriously unexpected delight. With an onsite spa and wet rooms (I will never forget the gorgeous steam room!) and excellent room service, you won’t be able to find much wrong with a stay here. On the other end of the spectrum is the Staycity Aparthotel, close the the main station. It has all the feel an amenities of a hotel, but with the space and facilities of an airbnb, so it’s perfect for a longer term stay.The industrial North-West is full of gems. Love street art + old architecture? Try Manchester!Click To Tweet
Districts in Manchester
- Spinningfields – home to Manchester’s financial centre, it was actually developed in the 2000s as a business, retail and residential development home to some of Manchester’s premier bars and restaurants.
- Deansgate – Deansgate is actually the main road through Manchester and is the oldest, running from the south of the city to the north. You’ll find John Rylands Library, Manchester Cathedral and the Beetham Tower all in this area.
- Ancoats – part of the inner city and to the north of Manchester it was known as the heart f the industrial revolution and has been called “the world’s first industrial suburb”. It’s now undergoing substantial regeneration with several restaurants and residential developments inside the old mill buildings.
- Northern Quarter – arguably the most famous part of the city, NQ is the alternative, bohemian epicentre full of street art, quirky cafes and lively bars.
- Canal Street – also known as Gay Village, it runs along the Rochdale Canal. Home to lots of gay bars and clubs, the area has been associated with the gay community going back to early last century when homosexuality was still illegal.
- St Peter’s Square – originally known as St Peter’s Fields, it’s known to be a civic area as the home of the Town Hall, Central Library and the Cenotaph. The square is famous for the Peterloo Massacre – where 60,000 protested for the reform of parliamentary representation in 1819.
- Castlefield – as well as being home to an old Roman Fort, Castlefield is the only Urban Heritage Park in the UK, with warehouses lining up along the River Irwell.
Things to do on a weekend in Manchester
Manchester is one of those places that just is – it’s not touristy, it’s a normal working city that you can hang out in as if you were at home. This is why, unlike most other places in the UK I could totally see myself living there one day.
But just because it doesn’t feel like a tourist location, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything to explore – quite the opposite. There is plenty to see and do if you allow yourself to wander and soak it all in – and here are some of the highlights.
Explore Manchester’s beautiful old buildings
Manchester is full of so much quirky architecture dating right back from Tudor times with that familiar white and black timber cladding that I loved so much in Chester. It’s great to walk around the different areas of the city to see old and new stand side by side, with the regenerated buildings, beautiful old style architecture and the old mills or warehouses yet to be repurposed into something new.
There are a few buildings that I would seek out as a first time visitor to Manchester. The Royal Exchange is a grade II listed building that now houses the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Royal Exchange Shopping Centre. The beautiful building was heavily damaged in both the Manchester Blitz and in the 1996 Manchester bombing, but repairs were made and the site now uses the last of what was the commodities exchange, used for cotton and textiles.
The Corn Exchange sits at a beautiful spot by the cathedral – another gorgeous grade II listed building that now houses a range of restaurants and bars. Next door you’ll find The Old Wellington – the oldest Tudor building in Manchester, built in 1552. It’s seen many different occupants – but in the 1800’s it became a pub, with the upper floors used as a fishing tackle shop. Due to the Manchester bombing in 1996, the building was dismantled and relocated 300m away with another Tudor building, Sinclair’s Oyster Bar.
On a different architectural note entirely, Manchester’s Town Hall is a Victorian neo-gothic building of huge proportions, with the city cenotaph located opposite. The looming clock tower houses the bell, Great Abel and the whole structure is considered the finest example of the gothic revivalist style.
Manchester is home to not one, but two gorgeous libraries that are well worth a visit. The John Rylands Library is another neo-gothic building in the Deansgate area which opened to the public in 1900. Whilst the outside is impressive, it’s the inside that is impressive with high ceilings and arches reminiscent of a cathedral. In contrast in the Manchester Central Library, which is said to be based on the architecture of The Pantheon in Rome – with its rotunda style and columns at the front.
Churches and cathedrals in Manchester
Like many cities, Manchester has it’s fair share of religious buildings. Manchester Cathedral (or the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George) is the seat of the Bishop of Manchester and finished in Perpendicular Gothic style. You can find late-medieval wooden furnishings amongst other things inside, and it has undergone a couple of restorations in the Victorian era and more recently after the Manchester bombings.
St Ann’s Church stands in contrast then, although it is just as impressive. Consecrated in the 1700s, it is based on a neo-classical style and was built quite simply although changes in the 19th Century led to things like stained glass windows being installed. Due to its proximity to the cathedral, there was a time when it was fashionable to attend “the old church” in the morning and “the new church” in the afternoon!
Located just opposite St Ann’s Church you’ll find the statue of Richard Cobden – if you are into your uk political history, you’ll know that name as being synonymous with two prominent free trade campaigns, the Anti-Corn Law League and the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty.
Finally, is the aptly named Hidden Gem of Manchester (or officially St Mary’s Catholic Church). It’s a tiny, but pretty church located in the back streets close to the Town Hall – it’s the oldest catholic church in Manchester.
Wander around Manchester’s Northern Quarter
For something completely different, away from grand architecture and fancy buildings, you need to head to Manchester’s Northern Quarter. It’s a quirky spot, with walls full of creative street art, rows of indie coffee houses and as much vintage as you could possible want – from clothes to vinyl and everything in between. We found ourselves eating there most often, and for me it is the most creative area of Manchester.
Outside of all those bohemian shops and bars, you find the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, and many changing exhibits at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art as well as popular unusual stores such as Fred Aldous and Oklahoma (I want everything in these stores!)
The name the Northern Quarter was actually only given in the 1990s as the huge regeneration of the city began, and despite its reputation for alternative culture, it probably is one of the biggest focal points for gentrification in the city, not unlike Shoreditch in East London.
Visit the People’s History Museum
How I didn’t know about this museum beforehand I do not know, because this museum is entirely up my street. And it’ll be up yours too if you are into the history of democracy, representation and UK politics. With incredible exhibitions dedicated to the journey to universal suffrage, workers rights and trade unions, feminism, strikes and the rise of the political parties we have today I was enthralled for the entire afternoon.
What’s more, the museum is completely free – and the quality of their interactive displays, video exhibitions and collection of rare protest banners would have you think otherwise. If you want a fantastic look at how the rights we take for granted today in this country have developed, spend some time here.
Take a trip to Salford Quays and Media City
Once you’ve tired of the great City of Manchester, there are a few places just a short tram ride away waiting for you to explore. The first of these is Salford Quays, a developing area just 20 minutes away accommodating Media City UK (prompting the BBC to move much of its operations to the North). Every time we visit here, something else has changed or developed, as the are gets busier and more populated.
You can take a wander around the area, which is home to the end of the Manchester Ship Canal (which in itself has an incredible history), and see the new studio buildings of Coronation Street, Blue Peter and many more. In fact, Blue Peter have some of their garden and the Gold Badge Walk on display, and it’s good to wander around some of our TV heritage.
Whilst here, you can also visit the Imperial War Museum North, the Lowry Theatre (one of my most favourite theatres in the whole of the UK), go on a self guided heritage walk and even get a Media City UK tour.
Visit the Theatre of Dreams (or Old Trafford if you aren’t a fan!)
Full disclosure – my husband is a Manchester United fan and season ticket holder, which is why we visit the city so often. I am not. But I can still appreciate what a great tourist attraction Old Trafford is, and I’ve been a handful of times. It’s an incredibly evocative stadium, and even if you don’t head in for a game, there are a few ways you can experience the magic.
We got a tram from the city centre out to Old Trafford (and then walked to Salford Quays), and we could appreciate the size of the stadium and the many tributes to players and managers past and present there, as well as a tribute to those that died in the Munich air disaster. For the super fan, you can also go on a stadium tour, which I’m told by my husband is excellent. You can also go on a “Legends Tour“, where you get to tour the stadium with iconic players – a gift that I gave Mr S for our wedding and which he still talks about!
Have a change of pace in the market town of Altrincham
For a slower pace and a foodie dream, head 20 minutes outside of Manchester to Altrincham, a quiet old market town which is currently undergoing somewhat of a food and drink renaissance. We actually stayed for a night there before heading to Manchester, spending time at probably their biggest attraction – the Market House, a covered food and drink hall full of indie food operators and artisan coffee.
There are plenty of other incredible places to eat and drink there (see below), and if you happen to be coming by car I can fully recommend heading to Dunham Massey – a National Trust property that has a deer park. An afternoon romp around a park full of deers in your wellies is certainly something different from the bustle of the main City of Manchester.
Where to eat + drink during your Manchester weekend
I’m writing a full guide to eating and drinking in Manchester, but for now here is a list of the fantastic places we found. There is such an amazing indie food scene in this area – and because Manchester is a relatively small city, it is so much easier to hear about and seek out the gems.
Brunch, breakfast and coffee in Manchester and beyond
- Federal Bar + Cafe – just on the edge of the Northern Quarter, this Australian/Kiwi cafe services up everything from eggs benny to avo on toast. With super friendly service on New Years Day, this was our favourite place to eat brekkie.
- Teacup Kitchen – an old favourite of mine that never disappoints. An inventive breakfast menu coupled with a late license some evenings of the week make this cafe in the heart of the Northern Quarter a home away from home. Do not miss their amazing homemade cakes!
- Blanchflower – Actually located just a short tram ride away in Altrincham, this recently opened cafe is an instagrammers dream with gorgeous interiors and a brunch menu to match. Make sure you try their sourdough!
- Fig + Sparrow – How could I not mention my namesake cafe in the heart of Manchester? Speciality coffee with design concept shopping. There is no hot food served, but with rye and fennel seed bread with organic peanut butter why would you need something warm?
- Evelyn’s Cafe + Bar – An exquisitely beautiful cafe, this popular eatery serves all day, but their unique take on breakfast and brunch is what makes them stand out. The kedgeree is awesome!
Lunch and dinner in Manchester and beyond
- It’s all about the market dining in this neck of the woods, with both Mackie Mayor and Market House Altrincham (both designed by the same people) on your doorstep. Mackie Mayor is the bigger of the two, but both provide indy dining at its finest with some great local tipples too.
- The Con Club – One of Altrincham’s premier bar/restaurants, it’s housed in what used to be the Working Men’s Conservative Club, opposite the market house. The cocktails are flowing and the menu is gorgeous, with a whole part dedicated to sushi.
- Luck, Lust Liquor + Burn – Californian style Mexican food brought to Manchester’s Northern Quarter, whilst the burritos are damn good, the fries are simply life changing.
- Rudy’s Pizza – in the next to be developed Ancoats area of the city, you’ll find the best Neopolitan pizza outside of Naples. I’d argue I’ve had the best in Naples, and this pizza competes. Hard. Be tempted by their friendly neighbourhood service and dedication to the aperitivo.
- Artisan – located in a huge warehouse building in Spinningfields you’ll find the bistro style dining of Artisan. Pizza sits alongside asian-inspired dishes, with exceptional service and live music on a Friday and Saturday.
- The Laundrette – one of three branches is located on the growing First Street development, and it is well worth the trip out if only for the incredible cocktail menu. They are fabulous. Their concept is cocktails and carbs, with a mix of burgers, pizzas, fish and sharing boards.
- The Alchemist – a well known bar brand in The North, we headed to the slightly quieter branch in Salford Quays where we enjoyed completely unique cocktails overlooking the water and Media City UK.
I knew I’d love Manchester as it has long been one of my favourite UK city destinations, but it was great to go there as a tourist as opposed to a worker to really soak everything up. Its charm is baked deep within its walls and its buildings – perhaps there are not as many stand out attractions as you might find in other UK cities, but there is something about the place, its spirit (and my word its food) that compels you to love it!
Perhaps the best way of summing up a trip to Manchester is to talk about the symbol of the city – the worker bee. Said to represent its industrial revolution past, the cotton mill work spaces were often referred to as a “hive of activity” full of “busy bees”. This hard working, industrious past is what makes its present so fantastic – now a city with a deep and rich pop culture and a musical history that has influence across the entire world, Manchester is a city that has worked for its place in the UK and deserves your appreciation.
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