I was so excited to be spending a weekend in Manchester as it’s one of my all time favourite cities and somewhere I visit often. Five long months seemed much too long to be away and as our train approached Victoria station even the sun broke through the clouds to welcome us back.
We’d arranged to stay at CitySuites just a five minute walk across the River Irwell footbridge from the station so we didn’t have very far to go. As it was at least an hour before check-in time we were just expecting to drop off our bags but the welcoming receptionist handed us our key cards straightaway and we were soon taking the lift up to our spacious one bedroom apartment on the 14th floor.
First impressions count for so much and as soon as we opened the door we knew instantly the suite was everything we expected and more. From the large living area and bedroom windows we enjoyed breathtaking views across to the cathedral, Harvey Nichols and the city centre rooftops beyond. CitySuites provides luxury apartment style rooms with fully fitted kitchens, and with the added benefit of a huge indoor pool and gym solely for hotel guests, it was unlikely that we would ever want to leave.
We’ve never been good at travelling light even on a weekend break, so it was pleasing to discover that there was lots of storage space for our belongings. After unpacking, we prepared cups of coffee from the Nespresso machine and made ourselves comfortable on the sofa, turning on the huge television for a few minutes to watch the Cricket Test Match. It was so relaxing just sitting there in our home from home, but there was a wonderful city waiting to be explored so we dragged ourselves away from our gorgeous suite to see what we could find.
We didn’t need to walk far as the cathedral located in the heart of the medieval quarter was practically on our doorstep. It’s free to visit and and with some of the finest late medieval wood carvings in the north of England is certainly worth a visit. It was the first time I’d been inside a church since the era of social distancing and it was interesting yet somewhat strange to view the new style seating arrangements.
The cathedral is surrounded by attractively laid out gardens to one side incorporating a specially designed water feature reflecting the change of seasons. At the end of the Cathedral Gates passageway lies the half timbered Old Wellington Inn, the oldest building of its kind in the city. It’s always popular and with its large outdoor terrace overlooking Shambles Square there seemed to be ample space for everyone.
We’d now reached Exchange Square where old and new sit comfortably side-by-side complimenting each other. This modern square has tiered walkways and seating overlooking the magnificent Edwardian Corn Exchange. This impressive building was originally the Corn and Produce Exchange and has more recently been beautifully restored to offer a wide selection of dining options, many with outdoor seating.
At one end of the square lies The Printworks, once the Withy Grove Printing House back in 1873 producing what is now the Manchester Evening News and the Daily Mirror until its closure in 1985. It’s now a lively entertainment complex comprising cinemas, pubs and restaurants.
Facing the Corn Exchange is the huge Arndale Centre, a mecca for shopaholics like me with a branch of almost anything you could wish for. Adjacent is Selfridges with its huge metal sunflower like sculptures and coal wagon structures adorning its exterior.
Our tour of the square then led us onto New Cathedral Street where Harvey Nichols and a host of other designer stores are to be found. Along with Exchange Square, this modern pedestrianised street was the result of a massive rebuilding programme following the devastating 1996 IRA bombing of the city centre. A red postbox survived and was one of the few things left unscathed after the huge bomb blast.
We continued along Deansgate which has recently been partly pedestrianised with planters added featuring the emblem of Manchester, the worker bee. The bee demonstrates the Mancunian hard work ethic and the city being a hive of activity. Let’s hope it won’t be too long before it becomes a thriving hive of activity once again.
Next on our list of districts to explore was the Spinningfields Quarter located between Deansgate and the River Irwell. It’s the city’s Central Business District and Manchester’s answer to London’s Canary Wharf with its numerous gleaming high rise glass and steel office blocks.
Its not all office blocks though as Spinningfields boasts some of the best casual dining the city has to offer with its array of cocktail bars and restaurants including The Alchemist and The Ivy. Along LeftBank there are even more bars and restaurants and with their riverside location some attractive alfresco dining possibilities.
You can’t keep me away from shops for very long so I was in my element as I wandered along The Avenue lined with luxury retailers including Armani and Mulberry. Shopping over, it was time to move on slightly further, this time to Castlefield, formerly the industrial heartland of the city. Located on the south western end of Deansgate it’s home to some picturesque canals, old mils, bars, pubs and restaurants. To me, this is the most beautiful part of the city centre to take a waterside stroll along the canal bank stopping off for a drink at one of the many inviting bars.
Castlefield derives its name from the Roman fort called Mancunian which was established as far back as AD79. The fort has now been partly reconstructed and is free to visit with useful information boards added to document its history. In Victorian times Castlefield became a working dock for barges transporting goods such as cotton along both the Bridgewater and Rochdale canals. They would have then continued their journey onto the Manchester Ship Canal towards the port of Liverpool for export to the wider world.
Nowadays it’s one of the liveliest parts of the city, especially in the evenings when the Castlefield Quarter really comes to life.
Tasteful bars and restaurants have sprung up in what were for a long time derelict old mills and warehouses, some imaginatively built under the old railway arches and many with waterside views. Its a delightful spot for a breath of fresh air and stroll at any time of day. At the end of this post I’ve included a link to a walk along the Rochdale Canal that I’ve often enjoyed
After enjoying a drink on the terrace of The Wharf we felt rested and continued our walking tour of the city centre along to Piccadilly Gardens, a green open space in the city centre surrounded by shops, cafes and offices. The square is one of the biggest in Europe to be covered in grass and is a popular place to sit and relax in sunny Manchester.
Just before making our way back to the hotel there were still two more places we wanted to check out. The first was neighbouring Chinatown located west of Piccadilly Gardens between Portland and Moseley streets.
The Imperial Chinese Archway on Faulkener Street was a gift from the Chinese people to Manchester. The ornate arch is decorated with ceramics, lacquer and gold leaf.and is adjacent to a square containing an oriental pagoda. Manchester Chinatown is the second largest in the UK with a wide choice of authentic restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets, not all of them back open yet but still plenty of activity which was reassuring to see.
We returned to the Aparthotel along Canal Street, the home of Manchester’s vibrant gay village centred on a narrow road beside the Rochdale Canal. Nearby in Sackville Gardens we came across the Alan Turing memorial celebrating the revered gay University of Manchester mathematician and WWII code breaker.
Finally back in our gorgeous aparthotel suite we opened a bottle of wine and prepared a light supper in our well equipped kitchen. Later in the evening we popped on the luxuriously thick bathrobes provided and took the lift down to the hotel’s huge 18m long swimming pool which has a jacuzzi at one corner.
It was the first time that we’d been swimming since the lockdown so dipping a toe into the lovely warm water felt extra special and a memorable experience. Both the pool and well equiped gym are solely for the use of hotel guests making them lovely and quiet when we used the facilities.
The end of a lovely first day back in Manchester. Stay tuned to find out what we got up to on days 2 and 3.
If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also like: