A weekend break in Manchester

Thursday 13 June 2019

Manchester is a northern powerhouse of a city that's always worth a visit. Home to the annual LGBT festival Manchester Pride, and Manchester Food and Drink Festival, the city is also preparing for the Manchester International Festival in 2019, a cultural celebration that will take place in multiple venues and spaces, meaning there's plenty to see and do...

Manchester Arndale is Britain's largest city-centre shopping complex, with over 200 stores representing all the big brands. The city's Northern Quarter is known for its alternative outlook, and is home to independent shops, cafés, bars and cultural spaces. Significant new quarters include NOMA, with its landmark office buildings, and MediaCityUK in Salford, Greater Manchester, whose TV studios are home to shows including BBC Breakfast and legendary soap opera Coronation Street, as well as cultural attractions including the Imperial War Museum North and The Lowry arts centre.

Manchester Blue Tit Mural

Day 1 of 2

10:00 Fall in love with art

Transformed and extended thanks to a £15 million development project, the Whitworth Gallery forms part of the largest academic campus in Britain. Its collection includes historic fine art by the likes of William Blake and Rossetti, contemporary art and sculpture, plus an internationally renowned textile collection of 20,000 pieces dating from the 3rd century to the present. 

13:00 Treat yourself to a gourmet lunch

Despite a humble beginning in north-east England, Aiden Byrne attained Head Chef status by the age of 22, and worked in many Michelin-starred establishments in London. After several ventures in Manchester, he opened Restaurant MCR in December 2018 at the site of his former restaurant Manchester House. A 6-course and 12-course tasting menu use delicious local produce and take inspiration from Manchester’s rich and varied history

14:00 Source some Northern style, art, craft and culture

For the city's best independent shopping, head to the Northern Quarter. This once rundown area of Manchester city centre is now known for its hip stores, cafés, bars and creative spaces, offering a distinct alternative to the big brands found in the city's mammoth shopping malls like Manchester Arndale and intu Trafford Centre. A not-for-profit social enterprise, Manchester Craft & Design Centre is home to over 30 designer-makers who sell their handmade work direct from their studios. There's also an on-site café selling homemade soups, stews, curries and flatbread pizzas. Fig + Sparrow is an arty lifestyle store and coffee bar - many of the artworks for sale here are sourced from resident artists of Islington Mill, another of the city's creative hubs. Other recommended independent shops hereabouts include menswear retailer Oi Polloi, chocolate boutique Bon Bon, and beer specialists Beermoth

15:30 Take an independent, international beverage break

While in the Northern Quarter, be sure to stop and enjoy a delicious small batch roast coffee or loose-leaf tea at one of many hip and arty venues. Recommendations include Federal Café & Bar, an urban, Australian-style coffee shop aiming to bring some antipodean café culture to the area. Or try Takk, a Nordic-inspired artisan coffee house. Both are also great options for brunch or lunch. 

16:00 Learn more about Manchester via its libraries

Named a UNESCO City of Literature in 2018, Manchester was home to Britain’s first public lending library and gave the world the works of great writers including Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Burgess. The city has several impressive libraries worth visiting: to appreciate their impressive architecture as well as to peruse the books and historic collections. Manchester Central Library is a grand-domed rotunda whose design is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome. Part of the University of Manchester, the John Rylands Library is a red brick Victorian neo-Gothic landmark with a collection including medieval illuminated manuscripts and a Gutenberg Bible. Its Reading Room is a stunning two-storey cathedral to literature.

19:30 Cocktails and cuisine for all tastes

With its grand Edwardian interior, Hawksmoor Manchester is a handsome, traditional-style British restaurant specialising in fine steaks and delicious cocktails. A hip alternative in the Northern Quarter, Common is part bar/restaurant and part gallery space - so you can feast your eyes on work by local artists while enjoying cocktails, craft beers, burgers, house chilli, sandwiches and salads.

The award-winning Indian café group Dishoom launched in the spectacular setting of Manchester Hall in late 2018, bringing a delightful mix of food that takes inspiration from Bombay’s Irani colonial café scene. Or for a taste of luxury, venture to the heart of Spinningfields to feast on a mix of modern British and international dishes at The Ivy.

21:00 Get into Manchester's music scene

The city's music scene has produced many internationally renowned artists. One of Manchester's long-established music venues, Band on the Wall, has witnessed all kinds of music genres, from jazz to punk. Famous local post-punk bands Buzzcocks, the Fall and Joy Division have graced its stage. It's also known as a place to spot up-and-coming talent: Mick Hucknall performed here pre-Simply Red, while an unknown Björk sang backing vocals here in 1982. Now a not-for-profit venue run by registered charity Inner City Music, performances on the main stage help to support the charity's school and community education endeavours. 

John Rylands Library

Day 2 of 2

10:00 Immerse yourself in the beautiful game

Home to 140,000 pieces of footballing memorabilia, of which more than 2,500 are displayed at any one time, the Manchester Football Museum is a celebration of the beautiful game and its impact on wider society. The world’s biggest football museum features exciting interactive games and guided tours, and a new exhibition for 2019 looks at England on the World Stage, showcasing the progress made by the nation’s men's and women’s teams through the generations. Keep an eye out for the Jules Rimet trophy and for the football used in the famed 1966 FIFA World Cup final.

12:00 Have a GREAT time in Greater Manchester

Head out of the city center to see what Greater Manchester has to offer. Just 30 minutes west of the centre by bus or Metrolink tram is Salford Quays. This rejuvenated quayside quarter is home to cultural landmarks The Imperial War Museum North, a striking modern building designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, and The Lowry arts complex - admission to both is free. Also part of the redevelopment is MediaCityUK, home to major BBC and ITV television shows including BBC Breakfast, reality show Dragon's Den (known as Shark Tank in some countries), and legendary British soap opera Coronation Street.

Or... football fanatics may be prefer to visit another nearby landmark: Old Trafford, home to one of Britain's best-loved and most successful football teams, Manchester United Football Club. Fans can go behind the scenes on a stadium tour - including a state-of-the-art interactive museum documenting 130 years of the Beautiful Game - and pose for photos amidst the numerous trophies.

13:30 And enjoy a great lunch

There are numerous dining options hereabouts, whether you want a quick snack or a full meal. Enjoy contemporary British cuisine and dramatic views across Salford Quays and Manchester Ship Canal at Pier Eight, The Lowry's stylish restaurant and bar.

Or... kick hunger to the back of the net with lunch at Café Football. This football-themed eatery is part of the four-star Hotel Football, overlooking Old Trafford stadium. Kick off with appetisers such as nachos, chilli squid or chicken satay, before scoring with comfort food like burgers, pizzas and pies.

Café Football

15:00 Time to escape?

Head back into Manchester city center to play Breakout, Manchester's real life escape room game. A team of 2 to 5 people have 60 minutes to escape a locked room by finding clues and solving puzzles. Manchester now has two Breakout centres, offering several themed rooms to choose to escape from, including the office of a famous detective, a missile control base, and a Wild West saloon.

16:15 Don't lose your head at a mad tea party

A traditional English tearoom with an eccentric Alice in Wonderland twist, Richmond Tea Rooms takes you on a trip down the rabbit hole to a delectable world of mismatched china and mouth-watering cakes. Options range from the basic Alice's Tea (scone, clotted cream, jam, and pot of tea) to the Queen's Tea (including finger sandwiches and extra cakes) - and you can even add champagne for extra sparkle. Breakfast and light meals are also served.

18:30 Enjoy local craft beer in a historic pub

The city has several pubs serving their own craft beer. The Marble Arch Inn, the flagship of Manchester's regarded Marble Brewery, is a stunning old Victorian pub. Beers include Earl Grey IPA and Dopper IPA, the latter of which has just returned to brewing having been retired in 2016. There's also a menu of great British pub grub.

Getting here:

Manchester is in north-west England, two hours and 15 minutes north of London by train. Britain's third busiest airport, Manchester Airport, is served by international airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates, plus budget airlines easyJet, Ryanair, FlyBe and Jet2.

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