- Manchester: Not As ‘Grim’ As You Might Think
When cash is tight but the travel bug hits, many UK residents look closer to home for the perfect weekend getaway, ditching passports (and usually sunscreen) for a cheaper way to see somewhere new. In the search for a weekend of fun and adventure many flock instantly to the South. London, for the city experience, Brighton for its edgy seaside charm, and Cornwall for its cliff tops and fish and chips. But what about the North?
‘It’s grim up North,’ they sneer. Apparently it’s cold, wet, gritty and grey. For decades, the North has been permeated with this regionalist cliché. Whilst admittedly the North of England ‘ain’t no sunshine coast’, with its cheaper prices and everything from breweries to beaches, I’m here to convince you why we should all pack our bags (and umbrellas) and head up North.
First up on the list, it’s my hometown, Manchester, or as I like to call it ‘The Capital of the North’. Whilst I admit I may be a little biased, the following five reasons to visit are sure to pull your heartstrings right up in the Northern direction.
1. The Northern way of life
Famous for its rainy days, Manchester is home to some of the UK’s greatest indoor museums, from the Museum of Science and Industry to the Imperial War Museum. My favourite is in the industrial centre: any Harry Potter fan will find themselves in their element at the John Ryland’s Library. Almost incognito amidst the busy area of Spinningfields and modelled on the traditional Oxford Library but put together on a Manchester scale, this Neo-Gothic shelter should be on your list of places to see if you like architecture, history, or anywhere slightly reminiscent of Hogwarts. It’s home to over 250,000 items spanning five millennia. Individual tours offer you the chance to delve in, and to top it off, it’s free.
2. Get your dancing shoes on
Manchester is famous for its vivacious open-all-night bar and club scene. With a proud musical heritage nicknamed Madchester, championing the alternative rock tunes of big hitters from The Stone Roses to New Order, your ears will be in heaven. If it’s the Madchester vibes you’re after, head to 42nd Street (Bootle Street). Originally opened in 1963 by Manchester legend George Best, 42nd street will have you dancing into the night to Madchester’s finest. If you’re not looking to dance the whole night away but still get groovin’, Corbieres (Half Moon Street) and Jimmy’s (Newton Street) offer a similar atmosphere but with a bar-over-club feel.
Top tip: book yourself onto the guest list at 42nd Street to avoid disappointment. As one of Manchester’s busiest clubs you’ll feel smug to avoid the long queues.
3. Kick into the spirit
If Mancunians are remarkably passionate about one thing other than ‘chips ‘n’ gravy’, it’s their football. With a city divided between the Red Devils of Manchester United and the Sky Blues of Manchester City, there are plenty of ways you can get stuck in to sport in the city. Whilst game tickets are hard to come by, booking in advance on club websites is a sure way to get in. Wanting to experience the passion but not the game itself? Head to Sinclair’s Bar pre-game on Cathedral Approach where you’ll find the local congregation of fans. If you’re looking for something different, stadium tours of each football ground start at around £15. Also, Manchester’s Football Museum in the heart of the city centre holds an array of delectable Manchester football memorabilia, and with free entrance it won’t hurt your wallet.
4. Make time for some nosh
Far from needing the nod of approval from London, the Manchester food scene does its own thing and does it well. To experience the city’s diversity, make a point of eating out and take yourself on a tour of the best locations in the city. For breakfast head to Manchester’s Camden, aka the Northern Quarter. With an assortment of independent cafés and restaurants it’s a delicious place start the day. I would highly recommend New Zealand Café Federal as it’s a personal favourite of mine, but in a neighbourhood with an independent Instagrammable brunch spot on every corner your options are wide open. For lunch, try the Edwardian Corn Exchange, previously a shopping centre and now filled with restaurants. Grab some Indian street food at Mowgli or some authentic Vietnamese food at Pho, and if you’re not too stuffed from your day of eating, head to China Town for dinner. Manchester has the second largest China Town in the UK, and you won’t be disappointed. If you’re into photography, pay a visit to the China Town’s gate for a great shot.
5. The great outdoors
Whilst I can’t promise the weather is going to be on your side, if you’re fortunate enough to be in Manchester on one of its rare sunny days, you’re in luck. Spend some time in Heaton Park, the biggest park in the North West, which is so good even Pope John Paul paid a visit in 1982 (check out his papal monument). Heaton Park offers you a spot of greenery in Manchester’s industrial heartland, and with an animal centre housing Shetland ponies and piglets, an 18th century hall designed for Thomas Egerton and the remainder of Manchester’s first town hall, it makes an ideal free day out on a warm day. If that doesn’t float your boat, also passing through the city is the Bridgewater Canal. Taking your pick from boat hires to cycling, the canal strip is one of the most relaxing places to enjoy the sunshine. Who needs Barcelona?
So, rather than despairing at your inability to travel abroad (at least for now), give Manchester a try. It may not be New York, Paris, Rome or even London, but don’t let that put you off – there’s a good reason it’s so popular with students and you can be sure that you’ll spend a lot less up North than in the UK’s capital. Hopefully when you visit you’ll come to love this city as much as I do, and maybe even agree that ‘up North’ isn’t quite that grim after all.
Featured image © Stacey MacNaught