Manchester was never really a city I expected going to, but when I recently set out on a tour-de-force of northern English cities – I had 48 hours and should pick two cities to visit – I thought, which combination could be better than Liverpool and Manchester? We only had 24h in Manchester, which is merely enough to scratch the surface, but it was enough to fall in love with the city. Here is how I spent my 24h in Manchester.
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3pm: Arriving and check-in
Manchester was the second city on our itinerary and we arrived from Liverpool by train, which took just 45 minutes. There are two major train stations – Victoria and Piccadilly – and both are super close to the city centre.
Our hotel was in easy walking distance, and so we took off from Victoria station and walked down one of the city’s main high streets.
We had booked a room at Hotel Gotham, an incredibly thoughtful 5-star city hotel located in a former bank building. The name couldn’t be more suitable, because everything inside makes you think of the 1920s. The reception is located on the 6th floor, but as you enter on the ground floor you are already greeted by a uniform-wearing bellboy.
Our room was drop-dead gorgeous with two windows, lots of playful details like a hidden bar in the cupboard, the Great Gatsby on the nightstand and a guest directory camouflaged as a newspaper.
It’s a pricey place to stay, but if you’re into unique hotel experiences, it’s worth every penny!
4pm: Manchester Art Gallery
After stopping oh-ing and ah-ing at our hotel room, we actually managed to step outside again. Aimless we started wandering and came past the Manchester Art Gallery. The banner outside was advertising a photography exhibition, showing images of Great Britain from the past hundred years or so, snapped by internationally renowned non-British photographers. We were intrigued!
Needless to say, the exhibition was great. Not only was the artwork very well contextualised, but it also showed a great variety of locations, from a variety of decades and through the eyes of photographers from all over the world. It was maybe a bit London-centric, but there were also some great photo series from Glasgow, Birmingham etc.
5pm: Walk, walk, walk
Still aimless, but with an appetite we continued to walk aimlessly. Unfortunately the places researched on Happy Cow in advance to stop by for a bite to eat were closed, while others we walked in didn’t have any vegan options – food wise we weren’t off to a great start. It was also raining, so taking photos was a bit disappointing.
Nevertheless we came by some beautiful murals, walked along Canal Street and explored the lanes of Chinatown.
7pm: Pre-dinner drinks at Hotel Gotham
Back at the hotel, we decided to check out the rooftop bar and have drinks and snacks in advance of dinner.
The bar on the hotel’s 7th (top) floor has several terraces overlooking the city and serves great cocktails in its very stylish bar lounge. The decorators thought about every detail – from the golden pineapple symbolising hospitality on the table to the scent that fills your nostrils as you walk up the steps to the bar.
8pm: Dinner at Pizza Kitchen
For dinner we met up with old friends, and while in the UK Indian is usually the easiest choice to find vegan options, we really wanted to have pizza… Luckily we found out that Dough Pizza Kitchen in the Northern Quarter serves up vegan pizzas and so, a table was booked (which was absolutely not necessary as it was a Sunday night, but better safe than sorry).
The pizza was really good, and I was so surprised to see it come out topped with cheese, I actually had to ask to reassure myself that it was indeed vegan. Turns out, they use vegan melting cheese to sprinkle on top, so you don’t miss out on the cheesiness!
10pm: Drinks at From Dusk til Pawn
After a satisfying dinner we researched cool bars in Manchester and stumbled across From Dusk till Pawn – a speak-easy bar disguised as pawn shop.
The drinks were great and so was the music, even though the bar was a bit empty – as expected on a Sunday night.
As we returned to the hotel, we were positively surprised by a lovely turn-down service which may or may not have included some absolutely delicious cookies!
9am: Breakfast at Pot Kettle Black
The next morning we followed the recommendation of my friend Annapurna and had breakfast at Pot Kettle Black – not only very instagrammable, but also absolutely delicious! They serve vegan scrambledtofu-‘eggs’ and their Bircher musli is also vegan!
The cafe is located in a beautiful old arcade that is worth the visit alone.
11am: Vintage shopping on Oldham Street
Our 24h in Manchester were coming to an end soon, but after breakfast we had some time to kill before our final activity in the city – so we did what every body would do: check out the vintage shops.
While there are charity shops dotted all over the city centre, I was particularly impressed by the vintage shops along Oldham Street. My favourite shop was by far COW, which offered a great selection at unheard-of prices! No wonder the people of Manchester were so well-dressed…
12pm: Skyliner Street Art Tour
The highlight of our 24h in Manchester was definitely the private guided tour we did with Hayley Flynn from Skyliner, a local arts and architecture blogger who specialises in street art tours. You can join her public tours once or twice a month, but seeing that she didn’t have any tours scheduled for the duration of our stay, we simply booked her for a private tour.
Hayley guided us through the Northern Quarter, telling us the history of the neighbourhood, how it was re-invented as cultural centre of Manchester in the 1990s, and since is torn between its rough past and gentrified future. She also took us to Ancoats, a neighbourhood north-east of the Northern Quarter. Some of the most impressive pieces of the tour we founder, some of which less than a year old and commissioned as part of the global Cities of Hope project.
Street art is such a great communicator of local histories and social issues, and I can’t recommend Hayley enough as a tour guide!
2pm: Tea Time
Suddenly we were left with a little time before our train back home, so we decided to end our trip to Northern England as English as possible and sit down for a cup of tea.
If you fancy a fancy cup of tea – like the best tea you’ve ever had – and a huge range of cakes (some vegan) to chose from, head to Teacup Kitchen in the Northern Quarter. The rose bud tea is amazing!
While I wouldn’t recommend spending only 24h in Manchester, because there is so much more to explore (particularly the galleries and the food scene south of the city centre), but it is a great start. While I wasn’t taken by storm by the food, the street art and vintage shopping have burnt a deep hole in my heart, that another city will have a hard time filling!
So long, Manchester – see you soon!