A weekend in Manchester
What to do during a weekend in Manchester and Salford
It vies with Birmingham for the title of England’s second city, although in my eyes there’s no competition. My alma mater is in Manchester (well sort of, but I’ll get to that later), so I spent three happy years living in this fabulous north-western city. A weekend in Manchester is a must for any Briton, surely – as well as anyone from overseas who wants to see life beyond London.
Don’t believe the hype. It’s far from grim up north – especially in the city’s vibrant Northern Quarter. Manchester has grit, yes, but it’s nowhere near grim. This is a city that rose from the ashes of a bomb that destroyed much of its beating heart; a city with a seminal place in music history. Why visit Manchester? Here’s why – and how – to do it.
Where to start? Where to stay for a weekend in Manchester.
The first thing anyone does on arrival in an exciting new destination is to drop their bags at the hotel, right? So the first step is choosing where to stay. Here follows a run-down of some of the best accommodation options for weekend breaks in Manchester.
Dakota Manchester, Ducie Street
This hotel is oh-so-central. It also has the wow factor, yet prices are a very pleasant surprise. It’s but a five-minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly train station, and offers boutique-style rooms within easy reach of Chinatown, the Northern Quarter, canals and central shopping areas. Another plus is Dakota Bar and Grill, which attracts high numbers of five-star reviews.
Didsbury House, Didsbury Park
Some people just prefer a quieter environment, and if that’s you then you might want accommodation in Didsbury, Manchester rather than the city itself. Located in a fashionable suburb, this small, stylish townhouse hotel is close to Didsbury Park and offers boutique accommodation as well as friendly, personal service. The area has great transport links, with various tram, train and bus travel options close by, and there’s free parking.
Cow Hollow Hotel, Northern Quarter
If you want to stay where it’s all going on, then this hip hotel in the happening Northern Quarter is where it’s at. Not only that, but this joint was once a textile warehouse. (Manchester was once famed for linen production – Australians even refer to bedding as ‘Manchester”.) Piccadilly train station is only five minutes away on foot.
When the idea of having a little more living space appeals, then this Aparthotel located within the listed Corn Exchange building might be just right. Rooms boast high ceilings and well-equipped kitchens, and if you don’t want to cook there’s a wide range of restaurants on the ground floor.
Hilton Garden Inn, Old Trafford
Not everyone’s idea of Mancunian paradise is a city centre pad – football fans in particular might want to stay close to their team’s hallowed ground. It’s great for drivers too, as there’s free parking. The hotel actually overlooks Lancashire Cricket Club, but is also within easy reach of Salford Quays as well as the home of Manchester United.
Hotel Gotham, King Street
The King Street area is lovely part of the city and this hotel is packed with character. Interiors are opulent and elegant, and housed within an original bank premises. An Art Deco theme is apparent throughout, and the accommodation is as clean and comfortable as it is quirky.
The Midland, Peter Street
The Midland is one of the grand old dames when it comes to Manchester hotels, and this is a large hotel housed in a listed building. If you fancy a spa weekend in Manchester, this is a great choice. Afternoon tea is an institution here too, and there are good restaurants. To boot, it’s located right in the midst of everything Manchester has to offer.
Premier Inn, MediaCity
Salford is often overlooked, but it’s certainly upped its game in recent years, largely thanks to the BBC’s MediaCity. I might be slightly biased – my dissertation supervisor ended up with some pivotal position regarding MediaCity – but staying in Salford means easy access to the tram network as well as local attractions. You can reach the heart of Manchester in 10 minutes, or walk to Old Trafford in 15.
Back to Didsbury, a lovely, leafy suburb of Manchester with a big park plus plenty of eateries, shops and bars. This boutique property offers smart, well-equipped accommodation in Didsbury, and is close to all the transport links you could need to see everything during a weekend in Salford and Manchester.
Lowry Hotel, Chapel Wharf
Stay in a spot convenient for Salford and Manchester by booking into the Lowry Hotel on Chapel Wharf, a riverside area by the Irwell on the boundary between the two cities that’s recently been developed. The striking glass-fronted exterior ensures rooms are bright and airy within.
Hotel Brooklyn, Portland Street
Back to the middle of Manchester and slap-bang in the centre of it all is Hotel Brooklyn. This stylish, contemporary establishment is superbly located for shopping, nightlife and eateries – particularly those in Chinatown. It’s also close to the city’s Gay Village.
Where to spend your time – & money – during a weekend in Manchester.
Being a big city, Manchester has a lot of distinct areas to discover, and in which to shop, eat, and drink. Then there’s Salford – a city in its own right that is joined to Manchester at the hip. The interesting thing about Manchester and Salford is that many parts of Salford are closer to the centre of Manchester than the larger city’s own suburbs. During my three years of study at Salford University, I could easily walk into Manchester, and often did.
Here is a brief guide to the areas you wouldn’t want to miss. Whichever of the two cities you’re staying in.
The HQ of Man U just down the road, and you can take a tour of Old Trafford. The team may not be quite so mighty these days as in their heyday, but still boast an impressive trophy cabinet, and of course former manager Alex Ferguson now goes by the title of “Sir”.
There’s always something happening at the vibrant BBC Manchester building, breathing life into Salford Quays (they were a little too quiet during my student days, apart from when there boat race was on). The Makers Market takes place during the last weekend of each month, and there you can find great food and drink, arts, crafts and vintage goods from local artisans and businesses. There are also cinema nights and interactive tours of the BBC studios.
I was in a pub in Castlefield a few years ago when I heard the dulcet tones of Craig Charles ordering a “pint please” from across the bar before actually spotting him. Castlefield is home to a canal network, old cotton mills and even the ruins of a Roman fort, Mamucium, for which the city is named. There are also many pubs, eateries and hotels in this area close to Deansgate.
The Curry Mile
Birmingham may have the Balti triangle, but Manchester has the curry mile in the form of Wilmslow Road, Rusholme. Don’t miss this area – a long line of neon-lit eateries serving up delectable dishes from the likes of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. There are around 70 to choose from, as as competition is stiff the standard is generally high. Ask a local for their recommendation – though in doing so you might well start a friendly argument!
Once more, folk might well argue over which Chinatown restaurant is best. Walk under the iconic arch to discover your favourite. A dinner of dim sum or simply battered sweet and sour chicken balls with egg fried rice is the ideal prelude to a wander around the Gay Village to pick out the perfect cocktail bar…
This colourful part of town centres on Canal Street, so you can sip a craft beer or elegant gin and tonic by the calm waters. One of Manchester’s best spots for people watching, as well as drinking and dancing till dawn.
The newly gentrified Northern Quarter is the place to see and be seen. This part of the city buzzes with creativity and bohemian style. Affleck’s Palace is at the heart of this region’s retail offerings, and features several floors of eclectic outlets selling vintage clothing, retro games, posters and even piercings. The shops nearby are also well worth an eye-opening look, and there are plenty of eateries to keep you fed and watered By night, the Northern Quarter really comes alive, being home to some of the city’s top nightspots. If you’re a fan of clubs, don’t miss Mint Lounge, which hosts the city’s longest established club night. Funkademia began back in the 1990s at the Boardwalk, a former ‘Madchester‘ music venue on Little Peter Street that is now decorated by a blue plaque – complete with the acid house smiley face.
Spinningfields buzzes with life no matter what time of the day or night you visit, as it’s home to large corporation offices as well as a vast array of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. The area enjoys a comely location on the banks of the Irwell, so there are some great spots for al fresco dining and drinking if the weather’s fine. Designer shopping can be found on The Avenue, and the John Rylands Library is housed in a breathtaking neo-Gothic building.
Shopping in Manchester
There’s all sorts of shopping to be had in Manchester – whether you prefer to grab a bargain from a high street favourite or unearthing a unique, unusual or vintage find. The city has a great selection of jewellery stores – as well as designer shops – and is also home to one of the world’s finest music retailers.
All the usual high street shops can be found at the Arndale Centre, along with a range of independent boutiques and eateries.
St Ann’s Square plus nearby King and Exchange Streets are home to a cluster of shops showcasing classic, vintage and contemporary jewellery designs.
Although it’s several miles from the middle of Manchester, those staying in Salford will be closer to the Trafford Centre. It has its own bus station, so it’s easy to reach by public transport from either city.
From The Avenue in Spinningfields to the well-heeled stores of Deansgate and King Street plus Selfridge’s on Exchange Square, Manchester offers plenty of opportunities to flex that plastic.
As well as Affleck’s Palace in the Northern Quarter, independent boutiques in Manchester abound in the central Royal Exchange. If you visit on the 3rd Saturday of the month, there’s the Manchester Vintage Fashion Market, held outdoors in Piccadilly Gardens. Don’t miss Piccadilly Records, either, which is now located in the Northern Quarter. It’s one of the best independent record shops on the planet and, dating back to 1978, is a Mancunian institution.
Galleries, Libraries and Museums in Manchester
There is a choice of world-class art galleries and museums in this important Northern city, including – but of course not limited to – the following. There is also the John Rylands Library.
Well of course I’m going to start with Salford. The Lowry is not only home to the local boy’s paintings, but showcases other artworks too. It also has three theatres, so there’s plenty going on here.
Manchester Art Gallery
In the midst of Manchester on Mosley Street is Manchester Art Gallery. This impressive gallery is free to enter and welcomes everyone, and has a stunning collection of pre-Raphaelite art and some William Blake drawings in addition to lots of other British art including photography and sculpture. It is open daily excluding several days over Christmas and New Year as well as Good Friday.
John Rylands Library
Perhaps you don’t need to borrow a book, but don’t dismiss John Rylands Library for that reason. This Manchester library on Deansgate is more like a cathedral or castle. It is a superb example of Victorian Gothic architecture. John Rylands library was commissioned in his memory in 1890, by his wife Enriqueta. The library also contains some rare artefacts, including the St John Fragment, the oldest existing part of the New Testament. There’s also a William Caxton edition of the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer dating from 1476, and some impressive, illuminated medieval manuscripts.
Science and Industry Museum
This is a great one for children and adults alike – not least as it’s free to enter. There are lots of engaging interactive displays, including cars, motorbikes and even aeroplanes to explore. You can find this intriguing museum on Liverpool Road in the Castlefield area, fairly close to Deansgate.
Imperial War Museum North
Close to MediaCity and The Lowry is the Imperial War Museum North. The museum has won awards for its immersive displays, and aims to tell the stories of wars that have taken place over a century. This engaging museum is jam-packed with exhibitions, special events and galleries.
What to pack for Manchester
A waterproof jacket and umbrella are a good idea! I found out during my three years in Manchester that it does indeed rain a lot here. For further guidance on what to pack for a UK weekend break, see my post on Visiting London which includes a UK packing guide.
A pocket-sized map is always a good idea. I have these pop out maps for several UK cities, and they fit into even a small bag or a pocket very easily. They’re great value too!
So that’s why weekend breaks in Manchester are such a good idea! It’s well worth several days of your time – or a shorter visit if that’s all the time you have. Whatever you do, just don’t miss the twin city of Salford when you spend a weekend in Manchester…
For more weekend break inspiration, check out my posts on 2 days in Edinburgh, Coastal Breaks for Couples in the UK or a 2 day London itinerary. And another Northern city with legendary nightlife is Newcastle upon Tyne…
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