Travel Tuesdays: Manchester, England’s Northern Capital of Cool

by Julie Tereshchuk on June 16, 2015 in Travel,
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With its thriving restaurant, pub and club scene—not to mention first class shopping and a rich cultural heritage—Manchester is a must-visit destination for Texans venturing to England this summer.

From Texas, it’s one stop (Chicago or New York) to Manchester International Airport. If you’re planning on exploring further, MAN is a well-connected hub for both domestic and European flights. Making London your first stop? Then this northern capital is a quick 45-minute flight away. About two hours by train from London (four by car) and close to glorious countryside in the Peak District, Lake District and Yorkshire, Manchester is en route to Scotland if you’re planning a longer UK trip.

Manchester Town Hall credit S. Sputzer
Manchester Town Hall credit S. Sputzer

Several of the large hotel chains have a distinct local flavor in Manchester. The Marriott Victoria and Albert Hotel is in a converted Victorian canalside warehouse–complete with authentic beams and cobblestone courtyard. Close to the impressive Manchester Town Hall you’ll find the splendidly lavish and ornate five-star red granite Midland Hotel. A feast for the eye, the former railway hotel was built in an era when architects embellished everything. The 100-year-old hotel is steeped in history: it has hosted prime ministers, royalty and this is the spot where Mr. Rolls met Mr. Royce. A couple of blocks away lies the Radisson Blu’s Edwardian, which opened in 2004 in the re-purposed Free Trade Hall. It retains its original 19th century façade, heritage and famous artifacts plus it has the heart of this vibrant city on its doorstep. Prefer a smaller place to rest your head? Then try Great John Street — a Victorian schoolhouse that has been transformed into a luxury townhouse hotel.

Two of the world’s greatest soccer teams are based in Manchester, namely Manchester United and Manchester City. While getting tickets might take some advance planning (the UK soccer season runs August to May), tours like the one offered at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium get you behind the scenes and into parts of the stadium not accessible on game day, like the dressing room and the players’ tunnel to the pitch.

Long before the days of mega rich celebrity players, soccer (or should we say ‘football?’) was a sport played for and by the working class. Manchester has a rich history of fighting for democracy and workers rights, and the aptly named People’s History Museum celebrates that with exhibits and activities that will keep the whole family’s attention. When I visited, the glass-fronted textile conservation room, where I watched as staff painstakingly worked on one of the museum’s banners, intrigued me. (The museum has over 400 banners in its collection including probably the world’s oldest trade union banner, that of the Liverpool Tinplate Workers of 1821.)

I love textiles, so have to also mention Manchester Art Gallery’s Gallery of Costume in a satellite location at Platt Fields. A short bus ride south of the city center, it’s the perfect opportunity to try out Greater Manchester’s extensive public transport network.

manchester2

For Texans visiting Manchester, there’s an intriguing connection: imported Texas cotton helped Manchester’s first industrial boom back in the 18th century. Reminders of those days remain today with buildings like the magnificent Victorian-era Royal Exchange, where you’ll find live music events, free exhibitions, poetry readings as well as top-class theater housed inside one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. The seven-sided, three tiered, 750-seat theater module (which looks uncannily like a lunar space craft) is the largest theatre-in-the-round in the country and is suspended from four huge columns in the building’s Great Hall. Look up, and you can still see the historic trading board high above.

I always find something intriguing at the theater gift shop and the Round Restaurant is open to all, whether you’re dropping in before a performance or after a day’s sightseeing. Restaurants abound in Manchester, and it is known for its large China Restaurants.

Grill on the Alley credit HeatherOnHerTravels.com
Grill on the Alley credit HeatherOnHerTravels.com

Just steps from the Royal Exchange in either direction you’ll find a shopping for all budgets and tastes: there’s the Arndale Center indoor/outdoor shopping mall, home to Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and a host of others. Through St. Ann’s Square you’ll find elegant King Street. Just off King Street lies one of my favorite restaurants: Grill on the Alley, which prides itself on its wholesome ingredients and distinctive flavors. There’s always a lively atmosphere and it also offers live music.

Continue across Deansgate to Spinningfields and designer boutiques, hip dining and even a small outdoor skating rink mixed among sleek office and swish apartment towers.

Castlefield credit blogsession.co.uk
Castlefield credit blogsession.co.uk

For a vibrant bar scene, head to nearby Castlefield — built around once abandoned canals and wharves, this neighborhood was the first inner city mixed-use revitalization in Manchester and has proven to be a huge success. Pubs and bars are around every corner, next to apartment and condo buildings, such as Potato Wharf, that take their names from the original cargo. Castlefield was the terminus of the Bridgewater Canal, the world’s first industrial canal and still a key artery in England’s extensive canal network. It’s easy to see brightly colored boats going by, as the majority of today’s traffic is recreational. Intrigued? Step aboard on a canal tour.

Internationally regarded artist L.S. Lowry, who is best known for his scenes of working life in the mid 20th century, was born in Salford, Manchester’s twin city across the River Irwell. You’ll find his work at The Lowry, an art gallery and performing arts center built around Salford’s old docklands. Today, Salford Quays’ revitalization of a neglected industrial district into a tourist destination is typical of much of this vibrant area’s dynamic 21st century growth.

Manchester Town Hall credit Matt Wilson
Manchester Town Hall credit Matt Wilson

Visit Britain is a resource-rich website for planning a trip across the Pond, whatever season.

Feature Image Credit: Duncan Hull

By Julie Tereshchuk

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