Just because I’m a born and bred Southerner that doesn’t mean I’m not enchanted by the North. There’s something about the northern industrial revolution vibe that I can’t resist. Don’t get me wrong, I love London, but it’s completely different to the North – and until very recently, I had never visited Manchester and exploring more of the island I live on is firmly top of my new years’ resolutions. So if you fancy a break from London, or just want to see another side to the UK, jump on a train up to Manchester.
It’s one of the UK’s largest student cities and has definitely put music back on the map. Although it’s a lot smaller than London (and you can walk around the centre in 40 minutes), it’s got a lot to offer without being touristy.
Conor and I arrived by car (which takes about three hours on a good day) but parking can be incredibly expensive and as many central hotels don’t offer parking, I’d recommend getting the train, which is by far my favourite way to travel. It’s incredibly fast to get a Virgin train from London which only takes two hours.
Where to stay
Manchester is full of places for every budget, but you’d be hard-pressed to find somewhere which tops King Street Townhouse. It’s a boutique hotel slap bang in the centre of town with an element of country chic. It even comes complete with a rooftop pool, a sauna, plus its own bar and restaurant.
What to do whilst you’re there
Wander around the Northern Quarter. It’s full of record shops, vintage boutiques, and original crafts. Pop into the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, which is housed in a former Victorian fish and poultry market and it’s been home to independent artists for over 30 years. It’s full of people selling textiles, jewellery, ceramics, prints and sculptures.
I’d also recommend popping into Oklahoma, it holds the title of the biggest independent gift shop in Manchester. It’s full of colourful trinkets, stationary and homeware, as Conor and I were wandering around I kept adding things to my mental list of ‘things to buy when I have my own home’.
Although Londons got an incredible music scene – it’s nothing compared to Manchester. It’s home to the likes of Oasis, The Smiths and The Stones Roses, who really put Manchester on the music map. It’s worth heading to a gig of any kind during your visit, check out Songkick for all the information you’ll need.
Where to eat and drink?
Go for brunch at Federal, which is located just across the road with Oklahoma. It’s a pretty popular spot, so be prepared to put your name down on a waiting list, but trust me, it’s worth it. Food-wise, it’s got everything you could ever want. It may be one of the best brunches I’ve ever had. I opted for the halloumi and shrooms – grilled halloumi which was served with roasted garlic, thyme mushrooms, poached eggs, spicy tomato relish, dukkah and sourdough toast. Conor hit up their special of eggs benedict with pulled pork and crispy shallots. We were definitely that person making mmmm noises in the corner.
Another place to add to your hit list is Bundobust, a place which brings together vegetarian and vegan Indian street food and craft beer. It’s an unassuming little entrance, but don’t let that put you off. When you eventually find it, you’ll descend the stairs into a cavern of delights. The restaurant itself is a large area, with long communal tables down either side. Definitely get yourself a portion (or two) of the okra fries – they were crispy and salty, but yet sweet because they come dusted with mango powder. Their beer selection is a homage to local craft breweries, and have about 10 different taps serving a complete range.
Speaking of craft beer, you need to go on a tap room bar crawl! Conor and I started at Alphabet Brewing, which is about a 10-minute walk south of Manchester Piccadilly. We then hit up Beer Merchants, Track (we only stayed for one here, as we didn’t really rate it), Cloudwater and then Seven Brothers. If you have time for only one, make sure you visit Cloudwater, they’re constantly voted in the top 5 for craft beers in the UK.
Soak up all that beer at Rudy’s Pizza, which served traditional Neapolitan pizza in an ex-industrial spare with minimum fuss. The pizzas come with a raised crust, with a flat moist base. The kind of pizza which you can rip with your hands and tear chunks off.
How much does it cost?
The average price of a meal in a restaurant without alcohol is £10, and a pint can be everything from £2 to £6 – it just depends if you live the Carlsberg life, or the Cloudwater life.