What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you tell people you’re traveling to England? Tea and scones. A British accent. And of course, the buzzing capital city: London. But this world-conquering nation has much more to offer and sometimes the best vacations come from non-mainstream destinations.
Manchester. Most popularly known for its soccer/football team Manchester United, and Mancunians sure are proud of their football history and heritage. Visiting friends in Manchester and vacationing in and around the second-largest commercial and industrial city of England taught me a lot about British culture – things that you would only get to know by willingly seeing more than just London.
Manchester town centre is best accessed by public transport (bus, tram, train) and best explored on foot. England is a country rich in history; as such, many of Manchester’s attractions – libraries, museums, art galleries and stadiums professing sports history – are academic in nature. From seeing the first computer “Baby” at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) to witnessing changes in women’s fashion trends at the Manchester Art Gallery to passing by The Curry Mile or going for a stroll in Gay Village, tourists will leave with their dose of fun facts and general knowledge. Architecture buffs – be sure to check out Manchester Central Library, John Rylands Library, and the Manchester Cathedral, which feature elements of gothic and greco-roman construction.
What is a British vacation without quintessential English food and drink! For vegetarians and vegans alike, Manchester offers plenty of options. One of my first traditional English meals was wild mushroom and asparagus pie with a side of mashed potatoes and mashed green peas – a bit bland for someone like me with spicy taste but a good start to the vacation nevertheless. Another favorite British meal or snack food is jacket potatoes, which is essentially a baked potato filled with your choice of baked beans or cheese. Definitely don’t miss an afternoon high tea experience at the beautifully decorated wonderland that is Richmond Tea Rooms: select your favorite tea infusion and complement it with sandwiches, quiche, and scones with clotted cream!
Summer holiday means long days but the nights are still young! London is not the only city with great nightlife – Manchester too has its fair share of bars, pubs, and clubs. Our first stop one evening was Matt & Phreds, where we listened to Dana Ali’s band from Atlanta, Georgia, as part of the weeklong Manchester Jazz Festival. After the first round of drums and drinks at Matt & Phreds, we headed over to The Fitzgerald, a classy bar with cooky Charlie Chaplin video clips accompanying the DJ’s tunes. Other nighttime places to check out in Manchester town center are Apotheca, which serves unique drinks and offers cocktail classes, Elixir Tonics and Treats (unfortunately it was closed during my visit), and The Alchemist, which I was unable to get to but will definitely visit next time around!
Had enough of city madness? Take a drive and experience the outdoors and rugged countryside of England. A lovely park to visit and enjoy a picnic lunch is Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a two-hour drive northeast of Manchester. Yorkshire Sculpture Park is home to many Avantgarde, abstract figurines amidst sheep grazing on the grassy plains. In the words of a Bollywood aficionada, I felt like I was in a Yash Chopra movie! You can easily spend up to half a day wandering through the walking trails in this park. Further north of Yorkshire Sculpture Park is the quaint Victorian village of Saltaire, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that used to house a cotton mill. Yorkshire and Saltaire are perfect countryside getaways from all the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced city life.