London steals the spotlight when it comes to the best cities in the United Kingdom. But, if you’ve been there, done that on your last trip across the pond, it’s time to start exploring other hubs: and Manchester is the perfect next stop. With great restaurants, swanky new hotels, and a fascinating history, there’s plenty to do in this affordable Northern city sans the traffic and crowds. Here’s a quick guide on how to make the most of your time in Manchester, which is just a two-hour train ride from London.
Where to Stay
Manchester, which was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, is now undergoing a cultural revolution -- thanks to new investments in property and infrastructure. This transformation has brought loads of younger folks into the city for jobs, which, in turn, has created revitalized neighborhoods along with new restaurants, bars, and hotels.
The newest hotel in Manchester is The Dakota, which opened this past spring on a quiet street in the Northern Quarter (about 25 minutes from Manchester International Airport). Rooms are both sultry and cozy, with large soft beds and wool throw blankets. You'll also notice generous bathroom space, and a long desk that does double duty as a vanity table. Rates from 120 euro per night ($147).
Another hotel worth a stay is The Principal Manchester, which is just short distance from the Manchester Oxford Road train station and one block from The Palace Theatre. The property is housed in an old insurance company building, and its grand Victorian-era lobby feels a bit like walking into a scene from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The rooms were renovated in 2016 and feature neutral colors and contemporary furnishings -- although some of the suites still have wood paneling on the walls. But what really stands out about the hotel is The Refuge by Volta, a collection of bars and restaurants just off the lobby. There’s something for everyone whether it be fine dining, small plates and cocktails, or pints and foosball. Rates at The Principal (which is a part of InterContinental Hotel Group) start at 100 euro per night (about $122).
What to Eat, See, and Do
Tour It Up
The best way to spend your days in Manchester is by partaking in a tour that will give you insider details on the city’s history. If jet lag has you feeling pokey, opt for a 2-hour Manchester Taxi Tour with tour guide John Consterdine. This unique experience allows you learn about the city’s most interesting sites without expending too much energy. Prices vary on length of the tour.
Another way to see the city is through its growing street art scene. Blogger and historian Hayley Finn of Skyliner runs a walking tour through the Northern Quarter that’s equal parts history lesson and street art discourse. Tours start at 9 euro per person ($11).
If you love sports, you’ll be wowed by the tour of Old Trafford, home to the legendary Manchester United Football Club. Tours run daily and take visitors behind the scenes into the manager’s seat in the pitch’s dugout, into the press room, a VIP room, and look at the stadium’s memorabilia. Tours start at 37 euro (about $45) per person.
Food Hall Goodness
Mackie Mayor in the city's Northern Quarter offers a modern but casual food hall experience. Formerly a meat market in the early 1900s, the historic building now offers a wide range of food offerings, served out of individual stalls. Here, you'll find everything from from buns to tacos, to pizza, to traditional fish and chips. And, of course, proper pints and wines are served.
Another excellent way to learn about the history of Manchester is through the “Gin Experience” at the City of Manchester Distillery. The three-hour tour gives guests an in-depth lesson on the origins of gin, while also showing them how the spirit is made at this distillery. Guests can then go wild and make their own full-sized bottle of gin in the distillery’s lab (Bonus: It looks like a Hogwarts potion room.) All the while, gin cocktails are served and music plays in the background. Prices start at 95 euro (about $116) per person.
Rather have someone else do the mixing? Head to 20 Stories, a rooftop restaurant and bar in the city’s Spinningfields neighborhood, which is also where the Manchester outpost of London’s The Ivy restaurant is located. It’s a bits sceney -- and pricier than other spots -- but the nearly 360-degree views of the city are glorious.