Manchester has come a long way since Mark Twain visited in the nineteenth century. His opinion that “the transition between Manchester and Death would be unnoticeable” was based on the terrible conditions its workers faced during the Industrial Revolution. Manchester was well-known in the textile manufacturing industry: its first cotton factory was built in 1781, and by 1913 the ‘Cottonopolis’ region was processing 65% of the world’s cotton.
The phrase “It’s grim up north” is often used when discussing Manchester, but the truth is that the city shook off its gritty, industrial shackles a long time ago. In the 1980s, as its manufacturing industry spiralled into decline, Manchester began a significant period of regeneration which was to completely change the face of the city. Nightclubs such as the Haçienda sprang up in abandoned warehouses while defunct cotton mills became bars, restaurants, loft apartments and design studios.
Present-day Manchester has retained its cosmopolitan atmosphere, and its vibrant music, arts and entertainment scene has propelled the city to second place on the UK’s most visited list. Over 160 miles northwest of London, Manchester is also a starting point from which to explore some of the northern reaches of the UK, including the cities of Liverpool and Leeds, and the beautiful countryside of the Lake District.
For an estimated 330 million people – a staggering 5% of the world’s population – Manchester is synonymous with one thing: Manchester United Football Club. Built in 1910, the club’s Old Trafford stadium, or ‘Theatre of Dreams’, and in-house museum attract over 300,000 visitors every year. Join other fans from across the world as you sit in the Stretford End and try to imagine the roar of 75,000 Red Devils fans.
Also well worth a visit is The Lowry, a museum complex which also houses two theatres, art galleries, shops, restaurants and bars. The museum is named after L. S. Lowry, a Mancunian artist known for his drawings of northern industrial towns inhabited by ‘matchstick’ men, and displays more than 100 of his works at any one time.
A staple of Mancunian cuisine is the fish and chip shop (affectionately known as the ‘chippie’); a takeaway outlet which specialises in battered fish served with vinegar-soaked chips, wrapped in a copy of the Manchester Evening News. If you want to try something different from the menu, another Mancunian delicacy is meat and potato pie with hand-cut chips, gravy and mushy peas. It’s stodgy but delicious. Don’t be surprised to hear people ordering muffins to go with their meal – in Manchester a muffin is a soft, savoury bread roll.
But Manchester is not all about the neighbourhood chippie – in fact the city has an established dining scene with over 300 restaurants in the city centre alone. Explore the street cafés and gastro-pubs around the trendy Northern Quarter, sample Chinatown’s dazzling selection of dim sum or visit the student district of Rusholme to experience the phenomenon of ‘Curry Mile’, a mile-long stretch of Wilmslow Road which features no less than 70 curry houses.
Nightlife in Manchester is equally superb. Dance music aficionados will enjoy Sankeys Soap, a refurbished soap factory which brings big name DJs to the city, while the alternative and live music scene at 42nd Street is popular with students and indie kids. Manchester is also firmly on the UK’s thriving comedy circuit with many of the nation’s favourite comedians hailing from the North West, and the city’s numerous theatres, such as The Lowry’s Lyric and Quays, host touring West End favourites such as Les Miserables.
For those seeking a contrast to Manchester’s urban grittiness, head north to the Lake District.
Located around 65 miles from Manchester, the “Lakes” are renowned as being among the most beautiful areas of the UK – and they have the tourist numbers to prove it.
Wandering among the hilly terrain of the Lakes, it’s easy to see why the landscape inspired the painter Constable to create some of his most iconic landscapes, or Beatrix Potter to write her world-famous stories. For fans of Peter Rabbit and his friends, the area offers plenty of opportunities for nostalgia, while others will be happy enough to drink in the rolling vistas.
The Lake District is also the destination of choice for fans of outdoor activities, with walks, bike trails and fishing spots in abundance. Sailing and water sports are of course also well-represented, although those hoping to set out onto Windermere – England’s largest lake – may find it somewhat crowded these days, although there are now plenty of alternative bodies of water to enjoy.