A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Northern UK, a region I had yet to visit but also definitely on my travel bucket list. With my traveling partner, Todd of HonestlyYUM, we conquered three very different parts of the UK - each so distinctive in culture, design, and food. First up on our UK adventure? Manchester. We hit the ground running as soon as we landed, straight off our direct flight from SFO. Despite feeling groggy and tired, we felt enlivened by Manchester's vibes and managed to power through much of the incredible city on foot . . . fueled on plenty of coffee and G&Ts, of course.
Originally built in 1872 for the Manchester Salford Trustees Bank, the King Street Townhouse opened in recent years with the help of local architect Edward Salomons. With only 40 rooms, each uniquely different rooms, the King Street Townhouse is just oozing with quaint charm and beaming with big personality. Each room is well appointed with a mix of modern and classic British interiors like buttery leather headboards, rich velvet curtains, vintage books and in select rooms, a free standing tub. The hotel's south-side rooms and rooftop infinity pool boast front and center views of Manchester Town Hall's clock tower and spires from the south. It's a pretty surreal view to come home to at night and wake up to in the morning! Convenience is just another reason why this hotel is a must stay - it's central location makes walking from one neighborhood to the next so advantageous. The King Street Tavern and lounge, which is open all day long, is the perfect spot to recharge, rest the feet and grab a pint before hitting the streets again. I highly recommend the larger rooms with tubs and views of the clock tower and then I dare you not to fall in love . . .
The history of Manchester dates back 70AD, when it was first established by the Romans. Needless to say, there is an overabundant amount of history and culture rooted in this city - one that has endured changes brought on by the rise and fall of the industrial revolution, the Great Depression, and World War II. Yet despite tough periods, Manchester stays resilient and manages to rise each time, to reinvent and regenerate itself. It's no wonder the city's symbol is the worker bee, a symbol of industriousness and hard work and a symbol that you can't help but spot on nearly every other street corner. There's so much to see in Manchester, I only wished we had more time to experience all the historical sites. Luckily, we had time to pop into two of the most impressive libraries I've ever visited: The John Rylands Library and the Chetham's Library. The John Rylands is a late-Victorian neo-Gothic library that opened in 1900 by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her husband, the owner of the largest textile manufacturing concern in the United Kingdom and Manchester's first multi-millionaire. Today it's has one of the world's finest collections of rare books and manuscripts and has merged with the University of Manchester.
Chetham's Library, founded in 1653, is the oldest public library in the English speaking world. And wow, is it a sight to see. It was established under the will of Humphrey Chetham, a prosperous Manchester textile merchant, banker and landowner. In his will, he stipulated that the library would be free to all - and since then, it has continued to be public library for more than 350 years. Some book here, chained to the shelves as they were in the 16th century, were once owned by Henry the VIII. And it is said that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels often met at this library, sitting on a window seat and reading from economics books.
MORE CULTURAL SIGHTS . . .
- Royal Exchange Theater: Manchester's Royal Exchange is one of Britain's best-loved and most distinctive theaters. Built in 1809 the site was originally used to trade yarn during the cotton boom and eventually saved from demolition by the theater company in 1976. Today, the theater puts on an average of 350 performances a year.
- Victoria Baths: Between 1906 and 1993, Victoria Baths were used by thousands of people for swimming, bathing, washing, dancing and relaxing. After closure by the city council and years of derelict, the baths were saved from demolition by The Friends of Victoria Baths. Today, events, concerts and guided tours are held here. Be sure to check their website for tour dates and times as they are few and far between!
- Elizabeth Gaskell's House: English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell's neoclassical villa recently reopened to visitors after a nearly $3 million dollar renovation.
- Manchester Cathedral: This gothic, late-medieval cathedral is in the heart of Manchester's City Center. It's stone walls have survived wars, bombings and Industrial Revolution, not to mention Henry VIII's reformation and Queen Elizabeth I’s spy, for centuries.
- Manchester Art Gallery: The Manchester Art Gallery is one of the city's premier galleries. After a $20 million extension, it now houses over 25,000 pieces that include a Victorian collection and revolving contemporary exhibitions. Fun fact: The gallery's architect, Charles Barry, also designed Downtown Abby!
- Old Trafford Stadium: The home of Manchester United, Old Trafford Stadium is the largest football stadium in the UK and the 11th largest in Europe. Worth a visit and a stadium tour, especially if there's a match!
If you love antiques and vintage, Manchester is where its at. Look no further than the Northern Quarter for the abundance of street art, bohemian bars, indie record shops and vintage clothing stores. I can only recommend walking around Manchester on foot. With so many incredible coffee shops, it's all you need to keep your buzz going and your shopping game strong . . .
MORE SHOPPING . . .
- Affleck's: Affleck's is an iconic indoor market in the city's Northern Quarter. You'll find music posters, a tattoo and piercing studio, quirky gifts, patches, and plenty of vinyl packed into tiny independent stalls and boutiques.
- Cow Vintage: There's tons of great vintage here - you'll find a lot of reworked pieces, like cropped Ralph Lauren polos and cut up American vintage tees.
- Pop Boutique: Find mod dresses and 70s vintage at Pop Boutique's oldest location in Manchester's North Quarter.
- Oklahoma: I dare you not to walk away with something from this colorful, eclectic and well curated gift boutique, so aptly named Oklahoma . . .
- Fred Adlous: Three floors of art, craft and design led products . . . enough said.
- Manchester Craft and Design Centre: Shop for ceramics, art and jewelry independent designers and artisans in Manchester Craft and Design Centre's beautiful and airy Victorian building.
- Form Lifestyle Shop: Tucked away in a quiet alley in the Northern Quarter is Form Lifestyle Shop, a small, minimalist boutique carrying ceramics, paper goods, candles, linens and glassware from mostly British makers.
- Barton Arcade (pictured to the right): Grab a solid cup of coffee from Pot Kettle Black, get a haircut or traditional shave from Barber Barber and shop some smart men's shoes from Jeffery West in this historic and stunning arcade.
- Stockport District: If you're a big antique buff, you'll want to make the 30 minute drive from Manchester to Stockport village, where you'll stumble upon antique shop after antique shop. The Vintage Village Fair is held every second Sunday of the month in the Victorian Market Hall. Other notable boutiques include Agapanthus, Levenshulme Antique Village and The Curiosity Shop.
The burgeoning food scene in Manchester is nothing short of exciting. From cafe inspired by Antipodean coffee culture to an elevated food hall with dishes from all over the globe, we literally ate and drank through Manchester. We even snuck in a good ol' steak pie at one of the oldest pubs in town. Our only regret? We missed the traditional Sunday roast . . . next time. Be sure to head over to HonestlyYUM for more food deets! In the meantime, let's admire all the gorgeous design details, shall we?
EATS . . .
Like I mentioned, there is so much to see, eat and drink in Manchester. I encourage you to explore as much as you can on foot. It's the best way to stumble upon some awesome street art, a cool, unassuming bar or simply just some beautiful architecture. One thing you must experience is a visit at Manchester Three Rivers Gin. If there is a brand that best represents the spirit of Manchester, it's Three Rivers. Plus, their gin is really, really good. After a two year long battle with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to earn the right to produce gin in small quantities, boutique distilleries have become on the rise in the UK in 2009. Thus, Manchester Three Rivers Gin was born and became Manchester's first ever Gin distillery, located in the resurgent Green Quarter. It's an area that is alive with industry, innovation and creation - a common theme we saw throughout our time here. We recommend booking "the gin experience" while at Three Rivers. Not only will you get an understanding of how gin is made, you can actually create your very own 700ml bottle of gin to take home, by distilling your own mix of over 50 different barks, berries, seeds, herbs in individual mini copper pot stills. It's an experience, indeed!