Touching down in Manchester Airport, football fans are within striking distance of two of the most famous football grounds in the world: Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium, homes of Manchester United and Manchester City respectively. Nothing is quite like watching a game played live, but even if you can’t make it to a match, a legends tour is an incredible experience offered by both clubs: meet a ‘legend’ – usually a former player – and be led on an intimate visit of the stadium, through the dressing rooms, out of the players’ tunnel and onto the pitch! Regular stadium tours are sold on the VisitBritain online shop, so you can book ahead. Right opposite Old Trafford is Hotel Football, home to Café Football; food here is inspired by ‘the beautiful game’, with dishes named after great players and the menu laid out like a football pitch!
Itinerary: North-West, South-West & Central England
From soaking up the atmosphere in the home of football to soaking up mineral-rich thermal waters in an ancient Roman town, this part of England has it all. Fans of ‘the beautiful game’ will be like kids in a sweet shop in Manchester, where two world-class clubs have their base, while, ‘kids in a sweet shop’ is an understatement at Cadbury World, an attraction devoted to chocolate. Luxuriate in thermal waters in spa-town Bath before taking the adrenaline-levels up a notch at Silverstone Circuit, behind the wheel of a vehicle that goes from 0-60mph in five seconds. Ready, set, go!
Day 1: Kick off with a football experience
After lunch, pick from Manchester’s cultural experiences, great shopping or… more football! The National Football Museum is devoted to the sport, with fascinating memorabilia and fun interactive experiences on offer, including the chance to try out a penalty shoot-out! Alternatively, visit one of the city’s many art galleries – The Manchester Art Gallery is fab – or hit the shops. Find designer labels and the Selfridges department store at Exchange Square or peruse the quirky boutiques of the Northern Quarter for independent designers and vintage treasures.
Manchester has a dazzling array of eateries to cater to every taste and budget, from a buzzing Chinatown to sophisticated restaurants such as Manchester House. Lay your head down at football themed Hotel Football, go for luxury at the King Street Townhouse or choose great-value option Motel One, located by the main rail station.
Day 2: The art of chocolate and street art
Rise bright and early to get behind the wheel and experience the meetha side of Britain.
Cadbury World, just outside Birmingham and approx. 2 hours by car from Manchester, is visited by half a million chocoholics every year. Discover the secrets behind Dairy Milk, which launched in 1905 and is still everyone’s favourite treat, and make sure you stop off at the chocolate-making station to smell the melting goodness, add marshmallows, popping candy or whatever else takes your fancy, and then have the all-important tasting!
You can either have lunch at the Cadbury Café – ideal for those whose sweet tooth still needs satisfaction – or pop into Birmingham for a warming meal in the Balti Triangle (about 20 minutes’ drive from Cadbury World).
Continue on your journey towards Bristol, about 1 hour 40 minutes from Birmingham. One of the coolest cities in the UK, Bristol has friendly population and an arty vibe – the famed street artist Banksy is from here and you’ll see his, plus many other street artists’ works out and about in public spaces. See how artists have used the city as their canvas on a Street Art Tour, ticking off some of Bristol’s most famous landmarks and Banksy’s best-known images in one go. The city is home to a fantastic zoo, the magnificent ship the ss Great Britain, and a charming waterfront collection of cafés, bars and restaurants.
Fancy a wild night? The Lodge at Bristol Zoo Gardens is a luxury hotel that offers a behind-the-scenes tour, four-course meal cooked by a personal chef and breakfast with the gorillas! Another out-of-the-ordinary option is Brooks Guesthouse, which has a selection of retro rocket caravans on its rooftop you can sleep in; or opt for a stylish bed and breakfast experience at Number 38.
Day 3: Bristol by balloon and on to Bath
See Bristol – and more of south-west England – from a new angle on a hot air balloon ride. Bristol is famed for its annual Balloon Fiesta, when hundreds of colourful balloons dot the skies; book a ride at any time of year and fly up, up and away, enjoying views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the ss Great Britain and even Bristol Zoo Gardens – spot its inhabitants from above! The Balloon Fiesta has a list of operators they recommend. Back in the city have a hearty bite to eat at Pieminster; now a nationwide chain, Pieminster began in Bristol and serves delicious vegetarian and meat pies with mashed potato and gravy.
From Bristol it takes about 40 minutes to drive to Bath, another of south-west England’s most popular cities to visit. The story of Bath goes back millennia to when the Romans tapped into the thermal waters in this region and built a city based on indulgence and well-being… Save the history lesson for tomorrow and spend the afternoon indulging in some retail therapy: Bath has excellent one-off boutiques in its Artisan Quarter and Milsom Area, plus an excellent Fashion Museum for sartorial inspiration.
Bath is full of enticing restaurants, pubs and bars so just wandering the streets and following your nose is bound to lead you somewhere tasty. Meat-eaters and veggies alike will love Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen, while sharers will enjoy Same Same But Different’s small plates of tapas dishes from around the world. Sleeping options abound as well: for luxury, The Gainsborough is the ultimate, with its own thermal spa on site; meanwhile Dukes is an upmarket B&B with a great, central location.
Day 4: Roman history and modern romance
The city of Bath is one of Britain’s most romantic cities; you can’t help but get swept up in the romance of the gorgeous Regency architecture (built in the 18th century) and, of course, spending time together exploring Bath’s fascinating Roman past. Start the day at the Roman Baths. Here you can explore what was once a thriving hub of Roman social life and learn more about what life was like thousands of years ago. Stepping out onto the flagstones surrounding the Great Bath is a breathtaking moment: steam slowly rises from the central pool that is surrounded by magnificent columns and open to the skies. Walk in the footsteps of Romans and, at certain times of year, encounter costumed characters who bring the past to life.
There’s nothing more romantic than you and your loved one enjoying a pampering experience together at the Thermae Bath Spa. The practice may have been pioneered by the Romans, but Thermae Bath Spa’s facilities are thoroughly modern: refresh yourself in the aroma-filled steam rooms and drift around the pools that are fed by mineral-rich waters. The showstopper pool is on the roof, where you can watch the sun set over the city and surrounding countryside. There’s an on-site restaurant serving healthy lunches and evening meals as part of Twilight Packages.
Jane Austen fan? Don’t miss the Jane Austen Centre and its Regency Tea Room for a fortifying post-spa cuppa; find out all about the life of the author, who spent five years in Bath and which provides the backdrop for some of her novels. If you feel more like a cocktail than caffeine, head to The Canary Gin Bar, which serves drinks inspired by Austen’s works (‘Gin Austen cocktails’!): The Darcy –named after the romantic hero in Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy – is, as you would expect, delicious.
Day 5: A stately home and speedy cars
Head approximately 1 hour 30 minutes north-east of Bath toward Blenheim Palace. This exquisite stately home is set in amazing grounds designed by acclaimed English landscape artist Capability Brown. The palace was built in the 18th century and its 300 years of history have been preserved for visitors to enjoy. A key moment took place on 30 November 1874 when Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace; in 1908 he chose the Temple of Diana, by the Rose Garden, as the location to propose to Clementine Hozier, who became his wife. More recently the property has played host to stars of the silver screen, with key scenes of the Bond film SPECTRE filmed here, as well as several other movies including Bollywood hit Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Film buffs can take a dedicated trail of Blenheim.
If being at Blenheim brings back visions of the exciting car chase sequence from SPECTRE that was filmed there, you’ll be even more thrilled by your afternoon’s activity. About 40 minutes further north from Blenheim is Silverstone Circuit, the home of British Motor Racing. It’s here that Formula One heroes smash records at the British Grand Prix, with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher having burned rubber here. Get behind the wheel of a super-fast car on the Single Seater Thrill experience, which involves commandeering a majestic vehicle that goes from 0-60mph in under five seconds.
From here, your road trip can take you to Oxford in approx. 40 minutes to admire the city’s dreaming spires and walk into the world of Hogwarts (many Harry Potter filming locations are in Oxford); or head to The Cotswolds for a taste of quintessential English village life (40 minutes to Chipping Norton); or else set your sights on London, approx. 1 hour 30 minutes away.
Manchester and London are both served by international flights. London to Manchester is just over 2 hours by train.