Word got out to one of my former coworkers about my itinerary-making skillz/obsession, so she asked me a few weeks ago to put something together for her. She was heading to Manchester, in the UK, on a work trip and needed some advice on how to spruce it up ever so slightly (because nothing spells excitement like a business trip…).
Winter can be a tough time to travel: there’s unpredictable weather, certain sites may not be open outside of the high season, and limited daylight hours can put a kink in your touring. But with a very small amount of planning — and a lot of stops for hot beverages — you can still have a wonderful time, even in chilly Northern England.
Again we’re following a day trip format, so off we go!
Accommodations: I’m interested in the Northern Quarter neighborhood, which is chock full of restaurants, bars, and funky shops. I found an Airbnb apartment on Piccadilly (priced at $115 as of today), steps away from NQ. It’s an elegant-looking studio with a Murphy bed, which I think is super fun. I can imagine I’m in a TV show where, like, Laverne and/or Shirley have to rescue me from a Murphy bed gone bad or something.
Breakfast (around 9am): You’re probably familiar with my love for all things Scandinavian by now, so I’m planning for breakfast at Takk. Takk is an Icelandic-style coffeehouse close to the Airbnb. It’s known as one of the top 10 Mancunian breakfast spots.
A morning stroll (10am-ish): The Northern Quarter is known for its many fun shops, but the most famous one is arguably Afflecks. This Manchester institution is the place to be if you need to get a tattoo or have your chakras cleared.
Late lunch (2pm): Strictly speaking 2pm is a tad early for teatime, but you’re on vacation and it’s chilly out, so you do you. Richmond Tea Rooms serves a lovely cuppah all day long, but more importantly, they serve all manner of sandwiches and savory pastries. And if you’re feeling particularly twee, you’ll love the Alice in Wonderland-themed decor.
Walk it off! (3:30pm): The possibilities are endless, and luckily the town is small enough that you can explore your options. Of course you can always go to a museum and get some culture, and the Manchester Museum has a wealth of archaeological, anthropological, and historical works. It made the news in 2013 when a security camera caught video of a small Egyptian statue moving on its own. Rumors of a curse spread fast, but were quickly put to rest when it was found that car and passerby traffic were causing the phenomenon — if you believe that sort of thing, anyway.
You’re also perhaps well aware of my predilection for libraries. There are two amazing ones here to check out! The John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester is known for its stunning beauty. It opened in 1900 and is said to house one of the greatest collections of printed materials manuscripts in the world.
Though, if you’re craving something a bit spookier, check out Chetham’s Library. As the English-speaking world’s oldest public library, it has a whole lot of history — and it still provides free access to over 100,000 books. But I promised something spooky, didn’t I? According to TimeOut, the audit room “provided a temporary home for Dr Dee, the celebrated Elizabethan mind […] who turned to the occult and lost favour with the court and the public. In this room you’ll find the very table at which Dee supposedly summoned the devil himself, with a hoof print burned into the wood the proof.” 😨
How are you feeling now, are you cold? Laggy? Whiny? I think it’s time for some more caffeine. Head to Grindsmith in Salford. This is a quirky, Kickstarter-backed pop-up coffee shop. It looks like a little cabin and is nestled by the river for maximum coziness.
CHRISTMAS MARKET TIME!! (5-6pm): What, did you think I wouldn’t get you here? Even though it’s the day before the holiday, there’s still time for Christmas marketing! Pop by one of the many locations, browse through the stalls, and sip on mulled wine (remember, it’s cold out and you need to save your strength).
Dinner (7-8pm): I hope you’ve worked up an appetite! We’re back to NQ for dinner, and there a few different ways you can go. If you really want to treat yourself, consider having an experiential dinner. The Man Behind the Curtain offers a 12-course tasting menu where the chefs have carte blanche to create whatever they desire. It’s 70£ a head (before wine), so it ain’t cheap, but it’s certainly memorable — also because all the cooking takes place in the dining room.
For a lower-key meal, The Northern Quarter offers innovative, seasonal cuisine in a relaxed setting. What’s more, on Sundays they follow British tradition and offer special roasted meals.
Drinks (10:30pm-ish): It’s the end of a long day, so wind down with a drink and some good company. You can head away from NQ to the posh Manchester House, which offers a view of the city and a massive cocktail list.
If you’d like to stick close to the flat but are still craving a handcrafted tipple, give Hold Fast a shot (hee!). It has more of a dive bar setting, but still boasts a large drink menu.
Lastly, if you’re just really into finding a traditional pub, English Lounge is the place for you. Have a pint (and maybe a bit of fish and chips?) and just soak in the UKness of it all. Cheers!