Travel Blogs

Manchester: Why we are ‘mad for it’!

Written by Lynsey Oxton

Of course, it wouldn’t be long before I had to write about my hometown….

I have lived in Manchester for the past 12 years and I can think of at least 10 reasons why you need to pop it on your ‘to do list’ (well there’s lots more actually but I’d be here all day).

Manchester quite literally has something for everyone and here’s a bunch of stuff you can expect when visiting….

1. Manchester is buzzing, literally – come and visit our bees! 🐝

When you’re in Manchester, it’s near impossible not to spot one of our famous emblems somewhere around the city – from doorways and shop windows, to pavements and graffiti-covered properties. As proud Mancs, we also display bees on our car bumpers and travel with our bee-style suitcases. Yep, they get everywhere!

(If you love these suitcases, check out where I got them!)

The worker bee has long been the beloved symbol of Manchester. First introduced in 1842 as part of the cities coat of arms, it was given to celebrate Manchester’s industrial past of textile mills, known to be a ‘hive of activity’. The Printworks (a popular cinema and dining spot) even houses urban bee keeping, making its own honey – and you can go along and buy some if you want (of course you want!).

Following the devastating bombing on the Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017, the bee has also become the city’s symbol of unity and defiance – and a sign of Manchester’s strength.

In the Summer of 2018, Manchester was invaded by huge bee sculptures, each designed by a local artist and dotted throughout the city and its surrounding towns as part of the ‘Bee In The City’ trail. This was great fun for kids (and big kids like me) and raised lots of money for the Arena bombing charities.

Although most of them were auctioned off after the event, there are still some to be found around the city centre!

Tip: Try the lobby in Central Library or Sackville Gardens in the Gay Village. How many will you spot?

2. Whatever time of year you choose to visit, Manchester is full of life and it’s never short of a festival or parade!

From the spectacular Chinese New Year celebrations, the colourful Manchester Flower Show, the spooky Halloween Parade, Gin Festival, ‘Cheese Fest’ (I’m not kidding), right through to it’s very own ‘Manchester Day’ – there’s never a dull moment! We love nothing more than to find an excuse to dress up – or should I say, dress our city up. Yes, there always seems to be something going on in Manchester!

Perhaps the biggest and best festival is Manchester Pride, which is held annually on the August Bank Holiday Weekend. Manchester goes crazy for Pride Weekend, with giant rainbows painted all over the city.

Manchester always brushes up well!

The weekend is made up of a huge Pride Parade, Manchester Pride Live, the famous Gay Village Party, Youth Pride and the Candlelit Vigil. Everyone is welcome! Since Manchester is home to many TV series and soaps (more of that later), it’s not uncommon to spot a few famous faces on floats too.

You can read my Manchester Pride blog and watch my video by clicking here.

3. Calling all architects (and Harry Potter fans)….Manchester has some gorgeous buildings and an industrial heritage.

Manchester is brimming with stunning architecture at every turn; with all sorts of 19th and 20th century styles including Venetian Gothic, Art Deco, Neo-Classical and Modern. All of which are extremely insta-worthy! So when you’re walking around the city, make sure you look up and take it in!

And if you are a Harry Potter fan, you’re in luck….

Just look at that! The gothic John Rylands Library is named after one of Manchester’s most successful industrialists and was built in the late 1800’s. It stands proudly on Deansgate and is most certainly one of the most impressive buildings in the city. Since Harry Potter became a thing, the library is visited by thousands of die-hard Potter fans who visit to get a feel for what Hogwarts might have been like. Harry Potter was never filmed here – but we can all pretend. Potter fan or not, the library is a great place to visit, with a collection of books and manuscripts dating back to the 1400s (if not older). Entry is free – so what are you waiting for?

If you want to experience the history of Manchester’s industrial architecture then take a stroll along the Bridgewater Canal where you will spot old warehouses around the locks. During the Industrial Revolution the canal became the first in the UK to transport all manner of goods, making the city quite a wealthy place and producing many cotton mills and textile warehouses.

The wealth from this trade was then spent on engineering projects such as the Manchester Ship Canal. In fact, if you like boat trips, you can jump aboard and sail all the way to Liverpool and back, getting to see Manchester from the water (and the worlds only swing aqueduct to boot).

(Wondering what there is to see at the other end? Read my Liverpool blog to find out!)

4. Soap lovers rejoice! Manchester is home to the UK’s longest running soap opera, Coronation Street – and you can take a tour down the cobbles too!

Manchester and it’s surrounding area of Salford has a longstanding heritage of television broadcasting and has been given the nickname ‘Granadaland’ due to the successful programmes produced by Granada Television – with Coronation Street being one of Manchester’s most famous exports!

Corrie (as we call it) is the worlds longest running soap opera, having been on our screens since 1960 – and we love it!

The soap is filmed at Media City in Salford Quays (a ten minute cab ride out of the city) and you can currently visit the set at weekends. A 90 minute guided tour costs £32 (less for kids) and will take you down the famous cobbles with a guide, see you visit the Rovers Return pub and have a snoop at the new set on Victoria Street. You can also see some of the props and archives (think wedding dresses and murder weapons from yesteryear), as well as a few interior sets. There’s also time to explore some of the ‘unlocked areas’ yourself so get your best selfie face on.

Whilst you’re over visiting the Corrie set, why not spend a bit of time exploring the rest of Media City too? The Metrolink tram service runs frequently between Media City and central Manchester, so it couldn’t be easier to get in and out.

Tip: If you’re a star-spotter, Corrie actors have been known to pop to the Quays on their lunch breaks, or for after-work drinks, so keep your eyes peeled!

If it’s a sunny, day, Salford Quays is a great place to take a waterfront walk and grab an ice cream. There’s also the Lowry Theatre and Art Gallery here, as well as a small outlet shopping mall, should you fancy some retail therapy.

Did you know? Granada and ITV shares its Media City home with the BBC. There are lots of programmes filmed here such as The Voice, Dragons Den, Mastermind and Match Of The Day.

5. Are you a Blue or a Red?

I’m neither. However, it goes without saying that Manchester is world-renowned for one thing – Football – and in particular, the rivalry between its two teams – City and United.

Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium is easy to reach by car, cab, bus or tram and it’s a must for fans. A standard tour of the stadium costs just £25 or you can choose to do the ‘Walk With A Legend’ tour for £50, where you can meet a former player and feel what it’s like to walk out onto the pitch. If you’ve made a special journey, why not go the whole hog?

Getting to Old Trafford is equally as easy using public transport or your own wheels. Tours allow you to go behind there scenes at the famous ‘Theatre of Dreams’ where some of the worlds most famous players once walked. The standard tour will set you back £35 and, like City, there’s the option to enhance your tour to something a little more bespoke. Manchester United fans can also get something to eat at the Clubs ‘Red Cafe’ too. I’ve never been so I can’t vouch for the food, but it’s more about the experience anyway, isn’t it?

The National Football Museum at Cathedral Gardens in the city centre showcases exhibitions including the 1966 World Cup, and over 2500 items of sports memorabilia, such as FA Cup trophies. Apparently it is the worlds biggest football museum, so it’s definitely worth if footy is your thing. Entry costs around £10 per adult or £25 for families.

Tip: If you love sport but football is not your first choice, Manchester is also home to Lancashire Cricket and Old Trafford Ground, with tickets relatively easy to acquire. It also has the first Olympic indoor cycling track – the ‘Velodrome’ – which offers sessions to amateur cyclists when not in use.

6. There’s no music scene quite like Manchester’s!

It’s a fact. Who else can claim the fame for producing the Bee Gees, Joy Division, the Smiths, the Happy Monday’s, theStone Roses, the Verve, Badly Drawn Boy, Starsailor, Simply Red, the Blossoms, Elbow and of course, Oasis?

MADChester – that’s who!

Manchester is recognised world-wide for its musical talent, perhaps most notably for its ‘Britpop’ scene which exploded in the 1990’s, making the Gallagher brothers a household name.

Music lovers can take one of a number of Manchester Music Tours dedicated to some of the most famous Manchester bands, where you will get to visit known haunts, hangouts and album cover locations such as the former Hacienda nightclub and Salford Lads Club.

The Oasis tour will also take you 15 minutes out of the city to Burnage, where you can see where the brothers grew up and visit the famous ‘Mister Sifters’ to buy yourself some vinyl. Tours start at around £30 per adult (cheaper for kids).

Tip: If you fancy planning your own Oasis tour, you can take a train from Manchester Piccadilly to Burnage Station. Liam and Noels childhood home at 1 Cranwell Drive is just a short 10-15 minute walk away.

The Manchester Evening News (MEN) Arena is Manchester’s largest and most impressive concert venue, hosting the top musicians from all genres and all over the world (as well as stage and theatre productions).

Why not see who is playing whilst you’re in the city?

For music fans who come out after dark, Manchester has a whole host of nightclubs to suit everyone – from the cheesiest pop at The Walkabout, to the to the grungiest metal at Rebellion. Whatever your poison, Manchester will accommodate.

And I can’t not mention the outdoor musical festivals that Manchester puts on each Summer, such as ‘Parklife’ in Heaton Park and Festwich – a free tribute festival in Prestwich – both of which are easy to reach using the metrolink.

Just remember your umbrella and wellies. It may be Summer, but we can’t promise sun (and nor do we often deliver).

7. Love eating and drinking? You’ll love what Manchester has to offer!

When it comes to restaurants, pubs and bars, Manchester has loads – and it’s growing all the time! With hot new restaurants and bars popping up all the time, you’re spoiled for choice!

Want Indian? Try Dishoom for a fancy twist on a curry – or take an Uber 2 miles South to Rusholme for some of the best authentic curries you’ll find. Wash it down with an ice cold Kingfisher!

Want Chinese? Visit any of the restaurants in Chinatown for another authentic experience and all-you-can eat feasts. Tsingtao? Yes please!

Fancy Mexican? You can’t beat good old Las Iguanas for tasty tortillas, great guacamole and the best churros West of Mexico. Not to mention their irresistible 2-4-1 cocktails! The decor is pretty nice too.

Want a bad boy burger? Of course you do! I’ve worked my way around the best burger joints and I always come back to Miller and Carter (drool). And talking of cocktails, they do a sterling French Martini – don’t miss it (it’s on the Happy Hour list too).

If cocktails aren’t your thing (though I find that hard to believe), nothing quite beats a good old English pub – and Manchester has them in abundance. You can’t go wrong with Tom’s Chophouse and The Deansgate where you can find beers from across the world, as well as the best of local breweries.

One thing is for sure: You won’t go hungry or die of thirst in Manchester – we are shameless feeders and we never let your glass get empty!

And before I move onto the next topic, if you fancy something just that little bit different for your dinner….

Take a closer look at Six By Nico which features in my blog.

8. Shop ’til you drop!

Manchester has all the shops you could ever want to keep you spending from dawn ’til dusk….and the best thing is that they are all located in close proximity (unlike some other cities). Yes, Manchester is not only fabulous, it’s also kind – it looks after your feet!

If you want international brands, fashion, electrical and homeware, the Arndale Centre and it’s nearby Market Street will cater for all your needs. It’s nothing fancy, but it has all the high street names, including Topshop, TK Max and a huge Primark. The Arndale also has an indoor market and foodhall.

If your tastes are slightly more ‘upmarket’, you will find the likes of DKNY, Mulberry and Belstaff around the King Street/ Spinningfields/ Cathedral Street areas. There is also the nearby ‘Jewellery Quarter’ for those special gifts.

The larger ‘best of British’ department stores such as Selfridges, Marks and Spencer and Harvey Nichols are found at Exchange Square, with a House of Fraser a few minutes down the road on Deansgate.

The Northern Quarter, on the other hand, has your small independents. This is a fun, urban, creative part of the city and a favourite with art-lovers and students alike, due to its countless vintage stores (such as Aflecks Palace Emporium with its retro fare), quaint boutiques, a cafe culture. It also has the one and only ‘Manchester Shop’ where you can pick up a multitude of bee-emblazoned goodies! You can easily spend an hour looking around the shops in the Northern Quarter and as an added bonus, if you like street art, you’ll find plenty here.

Did you know? The Northern Quarter is a popular filming location for shows such as Cold Feet, Peaky Blinders and The Crown – so not only is it a cool place, but it’s a film set too!

After a day on your feet, you’ll be in need of a well-earned shopping break – and I know the perfect spot – Central Perk in Primark (pretend it’s New York) – which serves up perfect pancakes and awesome americanos!

9. If you love Christmas, the Manchester Markets are right up there with the best in Europe!

If you find yourself in Manchester during the festive season, then prepare for a treat.

The Christmas Markets in Manchester are some of the best around (I should know, I’m a seasoned market-goer)!

You will be treated to hundreds of stalls all across the city, from those crammed into its traditional home in Albert Square, to the more spacious huts out in Cathedral Gardens by Victoria Station. It’s a good job there are so many and so spread out because as soon as the markets hit, Manchester becomes mega-busy!

If you’re after a nice Manchester souvenir, you will have your hot chocolate or mulled wine served in a collectable mug (which is yours to keep for £3).

Read more about what to expect at the Christmas Markets in my blog!

10. Last but not least – don’t let the rain defeat you!

Yes, Manchester is fabulous (glad you noticed) but nobody is perfect….

Manchester is known to rain – and not just a little but A LOT. So what can you do when the heavens open?

Lots, as it turns out.

I’ve already covered some ideas; you can shop through the storm, eat until it goes off, shelter in a museum or ride it out in a bar (my preferred option) – but here’s some other ideas, with the website links.

Or perhaps you might like to embrace the rain, grab an umbrella and take a walk! Manchester – especially the outskirts – has some lovely parks. Why not try Heaton Park, the Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden in Didsbury or take the Trans Pennine Trail in Stockport? All are really easy to get to by using the Metrolink (Heaton Park for its namesake, Didsbury Village for the gardens and East Didsbury for the trail).

So if you do have a couple of days in Manchester, you’d be daft to miss out on some of the wonders that lie outside of the city centre!

I think that sets me up nicely for my next blogs….

So now that you’ve decided you want to visit Manchester….

It’s so easy to get here, whether by plane, train or automobile. Once in the city, it’s super easy to get around on foot, on tram or on the free bus – who needs expensive ‘Hop On Hop Off’ tour buses anyway?

If you’re coming into Manchester by air, you can hop straight into the train that will take you into town in under 20 minutes, or jump onto the Metrolink if you’re staying just outside the city – see the map here.

Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, check out my other travel stories on my website: The Girl With A Suitcase

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