I’ll admit it: I’m totally a victim of analysis paralysis. When I plan a trip, the question I always struggle to answer is: Should I go back to a place I L-O-V-E or try something new? Case in point is England. There’s so much good stuff to see in London that I go back. And back. And back. So when I got the chance to travel to Northern England and explore Manchester, I was game.
Manchester (and all of Northern England) is a place I’ve long wanted to see but it only just happened. The first thing you should know about Manchester is it’s a slow burn of a town, meaning that it grows on you the more you see.
Maybe that’s because Manchester’s history is rooted in serious topics like the Industrial Revolution and political movements like the suffragette movement. Perhaps it’s because it gets overshadowed by the city to the south with more name recognition (ahem, London). But I think it’s because the Mancunians are so laid-back and kind that they simply don’t feel like they have to justify their city, because, well, they’re 100% aware that Manchester simply is great.
As a soccer (or football) fan, I’ve always had a soft spot for Manchester and the city’s legendary teams. I’ve also always thought of Manchester when playing tunes from some of my favorite English bands like The Smiths, Joy Division, and New Order, but traveling to Manchester made me realize that my city knowledge only scratched the surface.
Hang around Manchester enough and it becomes clear it’s a place with grit, determination, and some of the kindest people you’ll come across. Here are the things to do when you travel to Manchester to really get a feel for the city:
Stroll The Street Art
Yes, I could tell you that street art is hip and the way to view art right now, but in Manchester the street art also serves as a look into the city’s history. I highly recommend doing a street art tour with Hayley Flynn of Skyliner Tours. She’s got a ton of local pride and, as a writer who specializes in Manchester, she’s super knowledgeable on all the things. Her few hour street art tour schooled me in all things Manchester from the music to the politics to the history.
Hang In The Northern Quarter
If there’s one neighborhood you must visit on your trip to Manchester, it’s the Northern Quarter. This is a gritty neighborhood with a strong indie spirit that’s apparent in everything from the boutiques, cafes, to most notably, the street art. If you take a street art tour, you’ll likely end up in the Northern Quarter, so give yourself a couple hours afterward to explore places like the donut spot Siop Shop, French toast at Federal Café, a bite at food hall Mackie Mayor (more on that below).
Taste The Local Food
Speaking of food, I highly recommend visiting one of the city’s food halls for a crash course in the Manchester food scene. If you have more time, head out to the outskirts of the city to Altrincham Market. Or, if you’re pressed for time, visit the just-opened, mini version in Manchester’s Northern Quarter known as Mackie Mayor.
Watch A Football Match
As home to not one but two world-class Premier League football teams, it’s kinda a must that you see a match if you’re in town when they’re playing. I don’t like to play favorites, but I’m hoping to be in town when Manchester United plays one day!
If you’re not in town during the season, you can still get in on the football culture by doing a tour of either Manchester City or Manchester United stadiums and by visiting the National Football Museum.
See Live Music
Same goes for the music. As a breeding ground for so many of England’s top musicians — from Joy Division to Oasis — the music scene is something you want in on when you visit Manchester. There are tons of live music venues, though some classic spots are Albert Hall, Night and Day, and the jazz joint, Matt & Phred’s.
Another way to get in on the music is to shop the area known as “vinyl alley” in the Northern Quarter and hitting up record stores like Vinyl Revival and Piccadilly Records.
Get A Craft Cocktail
Yes, a lot of cities have great craft cocktail scenes these days but Manchester stands out from the crowd. At the oh-so Instagram-able Albert’s Schloss there are all sorts of fun twists on gin and tonics (like the above raspberry and tarragon take) and afterward you can wander the street, which has one of the most happening nightlife scenes in Manchester right now.
If you want super creative cocktails that give a nod to Manchester’s history, book a table at the Washhouse. And if you’re wanting to get super exclusive and get in on one of the best views in the city, you can join the membership-only Club Brass bar at the Hotel Gotham.
Spa Sesh With A View
Okay, true, a spa session is not a must do when you’re traveling, but I love to book a little pampering into our schedule. And when a spa has an incredible view like the King Street Townhouse Hotel in Manchester? Well, then you get your facial and photo opp all in one!
Book An Afternoon Tea
If you go to England and don’t do afternoon tea, can you even say you’ve been to England? Yes, of course you can, but, as food lovers, I try to do a tea on every trip to Great Britain. In Manchester, I headed to the Midland Hotel that had all sorts of delicious small bites and bubbly to go along with their house blends.
Clock In Some Culture
There are a lot of cultural and historic spots to see in Manchester and a few high on our list are the Victorian Gothic architecture at the John Ryland’s Library, the medieval vibes of the Manchester Cathedral, and the historic building known as the Victoria Baths (which no longer operates as a bath house but instead as a special events venue).
Stay in The Lowry Hotel
The five-star property along the River Irwell combines contemporary design with the convenience of being directly in the city’s center. Between the first floor spa and The River Restaurant (voted one of the best in the city), the intimate setting and the beautifully designed interiors, you’ll find it hard to leave.
Extend Your Stay In Northern England
It’s said that Manchester is the gateway to Northern England and it really is a great jumping off point for seeing the north of the country. I spent a long weekend in the Lake District, but you could also easily hit up Liverpool, York, Wales, or even Hadrian’s Wall.
How To Get To Manchester
Did you know you can book a nonstop Virgin Atlantic flight to Manchester from six destinations across the U.S? In the summer, you have the option of hopping the pond on a Manchester flight from Boston, San Francisco, and Las Vegas to Manchester. You can also get there from JFK, Atlanta, and Orlando year round. Coming in 2019, Virgin Atlantic will also be debuting a nonstop route from Los Angeles as well.
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