We woke to another sunny morning (who says it always rains in Manchester!) and after preparing breakfast in our swish apartment at CitySuites it was just a short walk across to Exchange Square. From a machine at the tram stop we purchased two Metrolink weekend travel cards allowing us unlimited tram rides across the entire network for just £6.80 each. We’d bought our tickets on a Saturday morning but they are actually valid from 6.00 p.m. Friday until the last tram on Sunday evening. With Greater Manchester at our fingertips we boarded a tram to MediaCityUK via Cornbrook taking only 20 minutes.
Salford Docks, as it used to be known was opened by Queen Victoria in 1894 and soon became one of the busiest dockyards in the U.K. serving ships along the Manchester Ship Canal. Times have changed and now Salford Quays is home to MediaCityUK, one of the largest media hubs in Europe and where both BBC and ITV have recording studios,
On a previous visit we took part in the BBC MediaCityUK tour which you might like to read about at the bottom of this post. Its a real insight into the workings of the BBC and I’d recommend pre-booking onto a tour if you plan on visiting Manchester in the future. Please note though that due to the pandemic, the attraction is currently closed. If you’re a fan of Coronation Street like me then you can also take a walk down the cobbles on a studio tour. Sadly, this tour is also suspended but it’s something to look forward to at a later date.
Do you remember watching Blue Peter as a child? If so, you might be interested to learn that the Blue Peter Garden was moved here from London eight years ago. It’s free to wander through the Italian sunken garden and view its ornamental fish pond. In one corner stands a bronze statue of Petra, the show’s first pet who I vividly remember as she shared the limelight with presenters Christoper Trace and Valerie Singleton until her death in 1977.
The garden also includes handprints of the Blue Peter team along with paw prints of many of the programme’s pets including Shep the Border Collie, Goldie the Golden Retriever and Jack and Jill the tabby cats. We also discovered the Blue Peter Veg Patch and the Gold Badge Walk. Who needs the Hollywood Walk of Fame when you can have Salford’s answer! Built to celebrate the launch of the show’s 60th year, 44 gold badges engraved with the names of celebrities have been embedded into the footpath and include Mary Berry, David Beckham and Elton John.
Overlooking the Piazza are numerous cafes, restaurants and cocktail bars and whilst these have now re-opened for dining, an exciting new initiative has just been launched with the intriguing name of Box on the Docks.
For a unique dining experience, 30 ‘dining boxes’ have been erected in the Piazza gardens and along the waterfront. These self-contained dining pods are actually greenhouses and sheds that have been lovingly decorated by local artists. The idea is that if you don’t feel quite ready to dine in one of the nearby restaurants then you can book your own pod for your family group and enjoy a socially distanced meal out. There’s also an outdoor bar serving cocktails which can be sipped whilst relaxing on the brightly coloured retro striped deckchairs spread out on the lawn.
Two major cultural attractions face each other across across the Manchester Ship Canal at Salford Quays accessed by way of a footbridge. One of them is the Lowry theatre which along with all other theatres across the country is currently closed. The design of the theatre is said to reflect a ship steaming into the docks with the shades of the building becoming warmer towards the centre. Although I’ve yet to attend a performance at the Lowry, I have visited its gallery which is home to a large collection of drawings and paintings by L.S. Lowry. He was famous for his urban landscapes of Salford and surrounding areas which he populated with matchstick figures. Another wonderful place to look forward to visiting when it re-opens.
Across the footbridge stands the Imperial War Museum North, another unusual structure. The aluminium clad building’s fragmented design represents a globe shattered by war into three pieces. These comprise earth, water and air shards representing the effects of war on the land, in the sea and in the air.
Although our plan for the weekend was primarily to enjoy the outdoors we decided on the spur of the moment to visit the museum which had recently re-opened. As visitor numbers are now strictly limited it’s probably best to pre-book a timed entry slot (admission free) but as it was fairly quiet we managed to get in straightaway. The vast interior is intriguing as it is purposefully designed to present visitors with the unsettling nature of war making it slightly confusing to move around the galleries. The museum houses a permanent collection that considers the many ways conflict shapes society. Not to be missed is the Big Picture Show taking place at regular intervals in the main exhibition space. With surround sound and projected digital images it really brings to life people’s experiences of war immersing visitors in the midst of the action.
Upon leaving the museum, we wandered back over the footbridge and decided it was time for a spot of retail therapy in the Quayside MediaCityUk outlet mall Here we found numerous outlet stores, cafes and fast food restaurants arranged over two floors. We didn’t come out empty handed as we picked up a few bargains in both the Marks & Spencer and Gap outlets.
From there, we enjoyed a stroll along the tree lined promenade towards the Salford Quays tram stop. It’s a very pleasant place for a peaceful walk with seating overlooking the canal and views across to Manchester United’s football stadium.
We were feeling thirsty so called into The Quay House pub mid-way along the walkway. From our seats out on the terrace we were entertained by some water sports taking place in the canal basin before taking the tram back to our aparthotel for a late lunch.
An hour or so later and we were off out again making good use of our weekend travel passes. Our chosen afternoon destination being Didsbury Village, 4.5 miles south of the city centre and taking just 20 minutes by tram.
If you’re big fans of the romantic comedy Cold Feet like me, then you might possibly recognise Didsbury as much of it was filmed in this leafy Manchester suburb. I’ve visited Didsbury Village previously and always enjoy a wander along its high street and a look in its shops.
My favourites include The Cheese Hamlet, crammed full of delicious varieties of cheese and gourmet deli foods. The Art of Tea, an independent cafe adjoining the Didsbury Village Bookshop is another great place. In fact, the entire village is an absolute delight for foodies as it has so many tempting cafes and restaurants, nearly all with outdoor seating. There are also some lovely parks to explore but we didn’t get chance to visit them on this occasion, but there’s always a next time.
After a relaxing meal back in our lovely aparthotel, later in the evening we boarded a tram once again this time to the Deansgate Castlefield tram stop for a walk beside Deansgate Locks.
The Locks are famous for their trendy bars built alongside the locks and beneath the railway bridges and a perfect location for a nightcap to round off a day of city sightseeing.
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