Experience a fabulous, fun city break in Manchester
My sister June lives in South London and I am in Edinburgh. As we were not going to be meeting up for Christmas this year, she suggested that we plan a Girly weekend – in Manchester. The perfect destination roughly half way between our two homes.
I set off on the Transpennine Express from Edinburgh Waverley at 10.08am on Friday 14th November, heading south west via Lockerbie, Carlisle, Preston and on to Manchester in just over three hours. It was a long snake of a train en route to its final stop at Manchester Airport.
A comfortable journey all the way, during which I had morning coffee and bagel breakfast and later, an egg and salmon sandwich with a tiny 37.5ml bottle of wine for a picnic lunch. The time passed quickly as I read my murder thriller. Scenic views too across the Border country and Lake District with its wild moorland dotted with grazing sheep.
Meanwhile my sister had taken a Virgin train from Euston and we both arrived around the same time, early afternoon. Our rendezvous at Manchester Piccadilly Station worked well.
The Doubletree by Hilton is a fashionably smart, modern hotel just five minutes walk from the Station – a perfect location for the weekend. The lobby is bright and spacious with rainbow coloured sofas; two bars and City Cafe restaurant are also on the ground floor.
Our standard Twin Room was compact in size but offered all facilities for a short break: shower-room (baths are available in the Suites), quality toiletries, bathrobes; Mac TV, fridge – bottled water, Tea and Coffee tray.
Armed with a map, we ventured out for a stroll to get our bearings. Just ten minutes up Piccadilly is Market Street, the pedestrianised shopping area. It is very easy to walk around – there’s a free city centre hop on hop off bus too.
Friday night we had tickets for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Royal Exchange Theatre, the classic 1950s American play by Tennessee Williams. First, supper at Annies nearby at 5 Old Bank Street. The logo is a top hat over the capital A of Annies. Founded by the actress Jennie McAlpine (Fizz in Coronation Street), no wonder it has a showbiz mood.!
I warmly recommend Annies – for coffee, lunch, afternoon tea, evening meals. Upstairs is a cosy café and downstairs, restaurant and lounge bar where we sat in comfy armchairs for a cocktail as we studied the menu.
The cuisine is traditional British hearty food. Soup, Prawn Cocktail, Lancashire Rarebit, Sirloin Steak. I selected Fish and Chips with mushy peas – delicious, lightly fried fish and fantastic hand cut chips. June had Annie’s Hotpot, chunky lamb and vegetables followed by Sticky Toffee Pudding. We sipped a couple of glasses of House white wine.
Casual ambience, good soundtrack (Michael Buble, Jazz, Blues) and friendly service. And well done, the Ladies Loos have small towel flannels, (not a blast of hot air!). Live Music on Friday nights, Cocktail deals and seasonal menus.
The Royal Exchange theatre is like a glass and steel Spaceship inside the historic Great Hall. We had excellent seats near the front of the stage for a perfect, close up performance. (See review on separate page of Smart Leisure Guide).
Saturday, 9.30am – Hotel Breakfast. We were to be out all day so needed extra fuel to keep us going. Buffet for juices, fruit, cereals and hot dishes. Alternatively, your choice of eggs and omelettes, freshly made to order.
Time to hit the shops: Christmas markets near City Hall – arts, crafts, toys, candles, woolly hats, Festive Hog roast, mulled wine.
Manchester is fashion shopping heaven from Primark and H&M to Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Armani and Vivienne Westwood and all very near each other and if it’s a cold wet day, go inside the Arndale Centre with dozens of stores under one roof.
From Market Street, it was just a short walk to Spa Satori, the Holistic Health & Beauty Retreat. (112 High St). Our therapists, Devon and Maria took us to a warm, candlelit room with two beds for our treatment.
We experienced a relaxing and rejuvenating 90 minute Massage and Facial each with silky Eminence Organic oils and lotions. Perfect pampering!.
From the Spa, it was then off to Bill’s (8-12 John Dalton Street) for a late lunch. You may have come across another branch of Bill’s café-bar-bistro-delis across the UK, which have the tag line, “Serving delicious food from breakfast to bedtime”. Industrial design with funky, vintage decor sets the scene.
The menu is mouthwatering, a fusion of Mexican, Greek, American and British. We had two fantastic dishes, Mac ‘n Cheese with butternut squash, and Smoked haddock fish cakes with avocado salsa and chunky chips. This is seriously fresh, healthy and global home cooking with pizzazz. Please open a Bill’s Bistro in Edinburgh!
Later on after more shopping, back to the hotel for a breather and then glammed up with lippy and posh LBDs. Next port of call was Cloud 23, the ultra cool Cocktail bar at the Hilton Deansgate on the 23rd floor of Beetham Tower.
Reservations are recommended – often essential at night – as this is a sassy, stylish place for a drink with a skyscraper view. Very romantic for a couple – or reserve a corner lounge area for a small party of friends.
Signature Cocktails feature five iconic drinks to celebrate historic people and places of Manchester. The Stratospheric blends Tanqueray 10 with passion fruit and Champagne for a sparkling celebration of the Hotel’s Tower. Gold Phantom (Cognac, Honey, Pineapple) commemorates Henry Royce and his famous motor car.
Described as a Forgotten Classic, June sampled the 1930s Cosmopolitan – the original version of the Vodka and cranberry cocktail made famous by Carrie Bradshaw on the girls’ night out around Manhattan.
At Cloud 23, this is a pretty pink Gin with Raspberry Cosmo and tastes divine. Non-alcoholic drinks too such as the refreshing Cloud 23 Lemonade. The Bar-tender will make anything you fancy, such as my fresh, tangy Marguerita, (Tequila with fresh lime) and a Dirty Martini, straight up with a twist – which hit the spot.
A cab back to the Doubletree by Hilton hotel for dinner at the City Cafe. First a glass of bubbly in the gorgeous little Blue Bar which is a hidden gem. Gorgeous black and white portraits, soft sultry lighting, it has a touch of class.
After our aperitif we were taken next door to the Restaurant and seated at a window table. The Terrace outside here is popular on warm days for alfresco wining and dining.
The A la Carte menu is small but select. We shared a platter of bread and olives as a starter. For my main course I loved the seafood pasta – thick pappardelle ribbons with a mountain of prawns, squid and mussels. Across the table, my sister had an imaginative Chicken and chorizo Risotto. And to finish – Cheese and crackers and Pear Tart.
After our buzzing day of retail therapy, beauty treatments, cocktails, good food and wine, we were ready for bed before the bewitching hour.
Sunday morning, after a Continental breakfast (coffee and croissants), it was soon time to pack, check out and make our way back to the station for our train journeys home – north to Edinburgh and south to London.
Tried and tested on this trip, Manchester is a fun, friendly, Cosmopolitan city for the ideal short break. With traffic-free shopping areas, theatres, arts festivals, buzzing bistros and style bars, it has a lively European Café society style; with sleek trams trundling around street corners, we felt we were in Amsterdam.!
Wishing you a marvellous, magical time in Manchester ….wherever you may wander.
www.doubletree3.hilton.com – Manchester Piccadilly
www.wheretogomanchester.co.uk – Colourful city guide
www.bills-website.co.uk – Bills Restaurant.
www.cloud23bar.com at Hilton Deansgate, Manchester