When Visit Britain and Visit Manchester asked me to travel to Manchester, U.K. for a short weekend trip, I jumped at the chance. 1. because obviously, 2. I have a soft spot for the U.K. and 3. I got to fly there on one of my favorite airlines, Virgin Atlantic. This is definitely one of the cooler partnerships I’ve ever done, so pop some popcorn and pour yourself some wine because you’re coming to Manchester with me.right.now.
Ok, wait. There’s one thing that I want to get out of the way so we can focus on my trip. Yes, I was in Manchester during the Ariana Grande Concert bombing. Yes, it was scary. And no, this does not define my trip.
The attack was an egregious act against many innocent people, but having learned about the tenacity of the Mancunian people earlier in the trip, I knew they already had a bond that will pull them through this horrible time.
The bombing occurred on my last night in Manchester and I was totally safe in my hotel a half mile away. While I was safe, it was an eerie feeling being so close to such a tragic event. I was unfortunately about a mile away from the Boston Marathon bombing in 2015. Having been close again doesn’t make anything easier, but I do know how cities unify in times like that.
There isn’t much more that I could say about this right now. My heart goes out to Manchester, the 22 innocent people who lost their lives and their family and friends. Now, let’s talk about my trip to their beautiful city…
My flight over was a piece of cake. Virgin Atlantic now flies directly to Manchester from Boston. So that made things so freaking easy. AND I get to fly out of the international terminal at Boston Logan Airport. Which is my favorite terminal mostly because I know that all those people are heading off on some crazy cool adventures. Plus, the lounges. 😉
After making my way through security, I found my way to the Virgin Atlantic lounge. A little pre-flight champy and snack were very much needed after security encounter. (Note to everyone with an Away suitcase: take the battery out before you go on an international flight. It will save you the headache of having your bag scanned like 50 times.)
The lounge was lovely and I could have happily stayed there for a few more hours if needed. But I had places to go. I had upgraded my ticket to Premium Economy and I couldn’t wait for my flight experience. I have flown this class only twice but on another airline, and I couldn’t wait to check it out on Virgin Atlantic.
Spoiler alert: it’s awesome.
Champs on arrival, lots of leg room and the meal selection was pretty great. My flight wasn’t sold out so I moved my seat after we took off and had a whole row to myself. I could spread out and watch as many movies as I wanted. I was pretty happy.
The Lowry Hotel was my home away from home while I was visiting Manchester. It’s a stylish and modern hotel that overlooks the River Irwell. The Lowry is supposedly where all the celebs and football stars stay when they are visiting MCR. I think I saw a few footballers, but I can’t say for sure because I know nothing about football. Cool story, huh?
I scored a beautiful room with modern amenities like some very retro chairs and lamps, a massive tub – and a king size bed. 🙂 I was incredibly comfortable during my stay and even managed a few tub soaks to re-cooperate from my explorations.
The restaurant is located on the river side of the building. It’s a beautiful space with comfortable booths and delicious coffee.
My breakfast was included in my stay and let me tell you – it is legit. You could have a full English breakfast or something simple like toast and fruit. I decided to try everything. I mean, I HAD to right. People need to know. Right?
I was so excited to explore Manchester. I didn’t know much before I left and I was looking forward to learning all about her rich history.
I started off on a tour called A Modern History of the Northern Quarter hosted by Haley from Skyliner. The tour focused on the recent history of the Norther Quarter neighborhood as told through its street art. Haley is a badass. Her travel blog is awesome and she is really involved in her neighborhood and community. I just want to give her a shout-out for not only curating and leading the tour but doing so while carrying her adorable daughter in a Baby Bjorn the whole time. Bad-ass.
The vast majority of the street art is politically motivated – with a large part of it commenting on US politics or movements. I was surprised to see the number of Trump pieces but I was even more surprised to see the number of Michael Brown portraits. It was fascinating to see how the world views the current state of America.
The Norther Quarter is a gritty neighborhood similar to Brooklyn or South Boston. In addition to the crazy street art, there are loads of cool shops and restaurants and quite a few community centers dedicated to bringing people together.
One of my favorite MCR restaurants is in the Northern Quarter, Evelyn’s. With a super cool vibe and food so delish that I ate here twice, Evelyn’s is a must if you’re in town. (If you go, get the veggie burger – holy moly!)
Refuge by Volta was one of my favorite places in Manchester. Not because it’s a very hip bar and restaurant, though that helps, it’s because I love my small plates and I actually had a gin drink that I liked. (Also, gin is HUGE in Manchester.)
While located in a hotel, it’s not an ordinary hotel restaurant. The small plate focused menu is incredible. Fresh ingredients paired with unique flavors. The vibe is pretty dope too. It’s like if Ace Hotel opened their own restaurant. The bar area is a great place to hang with friends or with a laptop. Or you can venture to the indoor courtyard to sit on a plush couch and chat. Or you can even head to the back of the restaurant and hang in the game room. A little foosball anyone?
The second walking tour I participated in was a bit more straightforward and focused on the history of Manchester. The Discover Manchester Walk toured us around the historical and cultural sights of the city. We covered quite a bit and our guide even touched on the 1996 IRA bombing which bonded the city together and eventually led to some of the resurgences of the city today. (With the help of the money to rebuild after the IRA bombing, the city was able to put in a failed bid to host the Olympics as well as the Commonwealth Games, which they won. Hosting the Commonwealth Games has led to more money for development, and as a result, the city is building, expanding and breathing new life into the city center.)
Fun fact about Manchester is that all of the museums are free. Yep, F-R-E-E. Free-99. Free.
The Manchester Cathedral was my first museum visit in Manchester. Built in the 13th century, the beautiful medieval Gothic cathedral has withstood two bombings – WWII and the 1996 IRA bombing. It is a Grade 1 building, meaning it is a building of “exceptional interest.” There was a choir singing when I visited and you could feel the history as I walked through the nave.
I also visited the Museum of Science and Industry and the Royal Exchange Theatre. The Museum of Science and Industry is comprised of 5 buildings, 2 of which are listed as Grade 1. It’s home to the oldest surviving passenger railway station and showcases the history of Manchester at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and as the “warehouse of the western world.” If you’re a fan of chemistry or of STEM, this is a can’t miss. And don’t forget to bring the kids.
The Royal Exchange Theatre is a modern stage in the round housed in a former cotton exchange. The interior of the cotton exchange is still intact while the spaceship looking theater is located in the center of the building. While I didn’t have the opportunity to see a show there, I would recommend it as I think it would an incredible experience.
I have to say, though, my two favorite museums were The John Rylands Library and the Whitworth Art Gallery. Opening in 1900, the massive Gothic John Rylands was built with no expense spared. The interiors are a sight to behold and I recommend visiting when you have some time to peruse their many historical collections.
The Whitworth Art Gallery is located on the University of Manchester campus and is home to many avant-garde contemporary collections. If you’re a fan of modern art, this place is for you.
As my time wound down, I reflected on my experience in Manchester. I didn’t go into this situation with any sort of expectation but I at the end of my trip I was surprised… by the people and character of the city. Everyone I met was genuinely excited to meet me and share the history of their home. The grit of the Norther Quarter and the history of the City Center gives such an interesting dichotomy in character.
If you are planning a trip to the U.K., I highly recommend a trip to Manchester. It’s a super hip city and a great way to spend a fews days before you head out to explore the rest of Northern England.
Manchester, you are wonderful and lovely. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
A million thank yous to Visit Britain and Visit Manchester for inviting me to visit Manchester and York! Shout out to Virgin Atlantic for my flights to Manchester and The Lowry Hotel for my hotel room in Manchester. If you’re interested in visiting Manchester, learn more at www.visitmanchester.com. All opinions and images are my own.