My opinion of Great Britain, like so many, used to be that it is full of gray, culture-less, industrial cities. A recent trip to Manchester and Northern England taught me that is not even close to true!
Certainly in its history there is a lot of manufacturing and industry in Manchester. However, NOW there are award-winning chefs, street art festivals, swoon-worthy boutique hotels and so much more….
How to Get to Manchester
To get to Manchester, where my eyes could be opened to the wonders of Northern England, I flew nonstop via Virgin Atlantic’s SFO to MAN route. This seasonal flight also departs from Boston and other gateways in the USA. However, since I now reside in California, SFO was the most convenient gateway, and, to make it even more convenient, Virgin Atlantic is set to debut a nonstop route from Los Angeles to Manchester in 2019!
The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at SFO is a wonderful place to start the journey. I recommend you leave enough time to really relax, order from the lounge’s full menu, take the time to sip a few different craft cocktails and chat up Justin, bartender and consultant extraordinaire, who has steered Virgin into collaborations with bars around the country. Currently, that partnership includes a menu inspired by San Francisco favorite Smuggler’s Cove. The group of six women that I traveled with tried more than half a dozen cocktails and not a single one disappointed any of us.
Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class made the nine hour journey to Manchester “fly by,” and if you’re not as charmed by the details in Virgin Atlantic’s superior cabin, then I think you probably need to check your heart. It was playful and comfortable. I arrived well rested and excited to explore Manchester with no need for downtime to catch up on sleep!
What to Do in Manchester
Spend some time in the hot tub and spa area of King Street Townhouse. The view is absolutely lovely. It’s in a setting a bit like a Scandinavian spa with a steam room, wood paneled relaxation room and the most fluffy, cozy robes and towels. I highly recommend a stay here when you do visit Manchester because the spa isn’t the only part of the hotel that’s fantastic. The room design and overall location were also wonderful!
Take a walk from King Street Townhouse to the Northern Quarter. It will be so easy to discover incredible, detailed facades and eclectic boutiques between these two areas of Manchester. If you like shopping, you will find places to shop. If you like to photograph architecture and street scenes, this walk will satisfy you as well. After only a half an hour, you should find yourself already in love with the city which has transformed itself from a mainly gritty, industrial city to one with spunk, elegance, modernity, a bit of hipster cool and a keen eye towards preserving the past.
If you like street art, take a tour of the Northern Quarter of Manchester with “skylinermcr” online aka Hayley Flynn. Perhaps no one else in the city of Manchester has the type of information or access that she does. Gleaned through authentic relationships with artists, hours of exclusive interviews and tracking down elusive ex-residents, she’s one of the most knowledgeable people I have come across in all my travels. Hers are the only tours north of London to be featured in the Telegraph’s “Incredible Tours.” The Quarter’s walls feature a mix of internationally recognized artists and homegrown talent. Flynn will explain and showcase pieces from ”Cities Of Hope” which is a convention of artists who use murals [not tagging] to raise awareness of social issues, challenge injustice and champion the voice of the powerless. Their own words on their site echo the drum beat of my heart: “From its beginning, Street Art has championed the oppressed, standing defiant in the face of injustice as the voice of the powerless. Their art echoes in our souls, whispering that hope is not lost, it was never lost.”
Take in a concert or sporting event at the historic Albert Hall. We happened to be able to watch England’s last game in the World Cup here and the mood was electric. It was a really fun way to get to know locals.
Where to Eat [and Drink] in Manchester
Foundation Coffee House has all the best espresso drinks, quite a few original concoctions plus a very Instagrammable-interior. Their matcha latte was solidly delicious, the espresso ice cream was indulgent and I wish I’d skipped breakfast the morning we visited. I wanted to try their avocado toast!
For lunch or dinner, order a custom Radler at Albert’s Schloss where your only trouble will be deciding whether it’s going to be a healthy [delicious] salad or a very European plate of schnitzel or sausages. Take time to stay and savor the interior. There are so many hidden gem corners.
Then for cocktails, make a reservation at Washhouse. It’s a true speakeasy but one that refreshes the trend toward the fun end of the spectrum. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.
If you can’t visit England without partaking in a classic afternoon tea, follow in our footsteps and reserve a table at The Midland. Try The Royal Tea, which comes with Champagne. If you’re overwhelmed by the extensive tea list, just go for ‘Jubilee’ – it was a hit with our whole group and the overwhelming favorite.
Where to go from Manchester
There’s SO much more I could share from what’s known locally as ‘MCR’ but it would all be from a list of things I just didn’t have enough time to get through. Three days in Manchester is a great start, but, for me, it wasn’t actually enough time. I hope to return one day for longer! It’s such a convenient gateway to explore Northern England with the nonstop flights on Virgin Atlantic. I really enjoyed taking the train over to Liverpool but I have still never been to York, Chester, the Lake or Peak Districts and, though I have already been to nearby Wales, I haven’t seen nearly enough of it to satisfy my curiosity.
I’ve spent most of my life exploring Southern England but I think it’s high time I specialize in the North. Would you like to see that happen?
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