Manchester - travel review
Whether you are of the blue or red persuasion – or none at all – Manchester is a champion destination for a city break.
On match days, with City or United playing at home, Manchester is awash with football fans, but at other times and particularly at weekends, there’s a tangible carnival atmosphere about the city centre.
It certainly seemed to be in the running to be crowned the hen party capital of the UK when we paid a short visit, staying at the five-star Raddison Blu Edwardian hotel in the city centre.
Giggles and champers were the order for a party of a dozen women nearby in the bar as we settled down for our slightly more sedate afternoon tea in the grand arched entrance to what used to be Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in a previous life.
As they teetered off on their high heels to yet another venue I wondered if they were aware that they were walking, literally, in the footsteps of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, who is commemorated with a plaque on the building where she spoke.
The Free Trade Hall had a long and distinguished history as a social and music venue. It has paid host to politicians of all persuasions in the past, although I must admit that I was far more interested in the fact that one track from the first Genesis live album was recorded here in February 1973. Which way, I wondered, was the stage?
There are framed boards on the first floor signed by some of the famous guests who have stayed at the hotel, although, sadly, I never managed to bump into the hotel’s most recent superstar occupant. Clue: She’s Aussie, tiny and I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky!
The buiding has been modernised and extended outwards and upwards, with penthouse suites occupying the top, 14th floor. Our luxurious ninth-floor room featured a floor to ceiling glass wall across its whole width, giving dramatic views across the city skyscape.
Fully air-conditoned and featuring a tiled bathroom with inviting walk-in shower, it was the perfect base to recharge before hitting the city – and not a whisper could be heard from the streets below.
The hotel’s luxury spa and pool tried to call to me but the Brew Dog pub across the road was calling just a little louder. But if I was staying there for business – the hotel is adjacent to the Manchester Central Convention Centre and has an impressive range of business facilities – then I might be tempted to unwind in the spa after a busy day (and then hit Brew Dog afterwards!).
Manchester itself is home to myriad attractions. Shopping fans can head to the Arndale Centre, and the Trafford Centre is just a short trip away.
Culturally there’s loads going on, with a host of music venues, theatres and comedy clubs. Step away from the main streets and there are seemingly endless bespoke coffee shops, bars and restaurants.
But if waterside attractions are more your thing then Salford Quays, home to the BBC, ITV and Coronation Street at Media City, is just a 15-minute tram ride away. Football fans are also well catered for at the National Football Museum.
And nearby are two medieval pubs with the most incredible story. After the IRA bombed Manchester in June 1996, Sinclair’s Oyster Bar and the Old Wellington were lifted on stilts and then rebuilt brick by brick some 70 metres up the road in the shadow of the city’s cathedral.
When we arrived mid-afternoon the shared coutryard outside the ancient hostelries was rammed with revellers, generating an incredible, cosmopolitan atmosphere. It’s something that Manchester seems to specialise in.