This weekend, the family who I lived with as an au pair in summer last year visited us in Manchester. Initially, I was quite worried about how Manchester would ever compare to Valencia and I was absolutely praying for it not to rain. On Saturday we had sunshine and temperatures of nearly 20 degrees, so either the sun came over with the Spanish family or my prayers worked!
We began our tour in Victoria station, which has recently had a new roof so is a good mixture of modern and traditional building. From here we walked to The Printworks, which used to be a huge printing press (hence the name) and is now home to restaurants and bars. I pointed out (but tactically skipped entering) The Arndale, Manchester’s biggest shopping centre where you’ll find everything from high street brands to a large indoor market.
In order to keep the niño interested, we headed to the National Football Museum. It’s free to enter and they do offer guides in various languages. Inside are many activities: FIFA exhibitions, table football, facts and information… For a couple of pounds you can buy tickets to play penalties (although we got this for free because the staff felt sorry for me being a translator!)
We spent some time in the field surrounding the museum as there was a concert playing and the children enjoyed the park, before heading to The Cathedral. There are also leaflets available here in many languages, and the staff are really friendly. It’s worth doing a circle around the outside as the prettier angle is around the front of the grounds, but if you come from the same direction as us you’ll reach the back.
After the Cathedral, we stopped for lunch at Katsouris, a deli style café that serves a bit of everything. They offer sandwiches, ciabattas, a salad bar, paella, meats, jacket potatoes… A safe option when you’re not sure what everybody likes, and cheap too.
Fuelled up from lunch, we ventured to the Royal Exchange Theatre. It’s an old building but still hosts plays, conferences and events. Inside is a ‘listening exchange’, which is a small shed with tins cans, shells and headphones stemming out that allow you to listen to the opinions of past audiences.
Next we headed to Market Street, the main shopping street of Manchester, where the men browsed the Manchester City store and I took the girls to the world’s largest Primark. Nearby is Affleck’s Palace, a 5 storey building filled with independent shops and stalls selling alternative, sometimes handmade goods.
From here we walked through Piccadilly Gardens, the central meeting point for transport including bus networks and tramlines. Here you’ll find the Tourist Office and a Souvenir Shop, offering full English breakfast postcards and Coronation Street magnets!
Personally, I don’t think Manchester’s Chinatown is too great, and the pictures of the arch that I’d seen in advance made it look far more exciting than it proved to be. There are plenty of restaurants to try out in the area and some Chinese supermarkets too. Close by is Gay Village, which is worth seeing at night time as there are plenty of lively restaurants and bars.
Afterwards came the part that, from my experience, all Spanish seem to love: el ayuntamiento (The Town Hall). I may have had a translation slip-up and told them that Harry Potter was filmed there (I tried to say it looks like something from Harry Potter). As my Grandma would say: “never let the truth get in the way of a good story!” It’s nice to go inside the Town Hall as it’s there’s a fancy café and some interesting decoration to match the neo-gothic building. There’s also books of condolences, which were quite emotional to read as we visited shortly after the Westminster attack.
From here it’s a short walk to John Rylands Library, another neo-gothic building which has merged with the University of Manchester library and is now home to one of the largest special collections in the UK. The entrance to the library is close to Spinningfields, an open area with a mixture of restaurants and bars. It’s definitely worth a wander through if you’re a fan of pretty places.
After Spinningfields, a right turn onto Deansgate will lead you down to a Spanish area of Manchester, where Instituto Cervantes is situated, along with plenty of tapas restaurants (and a Santander, which just adds to the Spanish feel!) You’ll also see the Hilton Hotel most clearly from here, which is currently the tallest building in Manchester and home to Cloud 23 bar.
Our final stop was MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry). This museum explains the history of Manchester, including its industrial revolution and the importance of the canal to the cotton trade. There’s also an air and space hall, a centre for steam trains and more modern inventions, and an area full of scientific experiments and activities for younger children. This brought the niños back to life a little after a hike around the city!
Overall it was a great day out and I enjoyed being a tourist in my own city. Having only visited Manchester to shop and work, I feel like I’ve never fully appreciated all it has to offer, but I was genuinely interested in the places we saw and I now have quite a list of paces that I’d like to visit for food and drinks in the future…