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Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Manchester – England

Where to stay, where to eat, where to drink, what to see, what to buy and where to unwind in this football and music-crazy city

Overview

Manchester lies at the heart of Greater Manchester, in the north west of England. The city proper has a population of around half a million, while the larger conurbation, referred to as either Greater Manchester or Manchester City Region, has over 2.6 million inhabitants. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority was created on 1st April 2011 to administer Greater Manchester, whilst Manchester City Council is the local goverment body for the city of Manchester

Manchester is known by some for its influence on the histories of industry and music, and for its sporting connections. It has a large number of students. It is seen by many as the “capital” of the north of England, the second city of the United Kingdom and is home to the UK’s largest airport outside London, which is owned by the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester. Others view Birmingham as the second city, but it is not an official sanction and opinion is very much divided.

Accommodation

Raised on lofty ambition and not afraid to declare its considerable bona fides, Manchester is – by dint of geography and history – England’s second city (apologies to Birmingham), although if you were to ask a Mancunian what it’s like to be second they might reply: ‘Don’t know; ask a Londoner.’

Even accounting for northern bluster, the uncrowned capital of the north is well deserving of the title. It’s the world’s first modern city; the place where both capitalism and communism were given theoretical legs; it was here, during the Industrial Revolution, that the might of the British Empire was forged and the Age of Enlightenment was put through its first, tentative paces.

All of which accounts for the city’s rich historical and cultural heritage,easily explored in its plethora of noteworthy museums and galleries. History and heritage make Manchester interesting, but what makes it truly special are its distractions of pure pleasure. You can dine, drink and dance yourself into happy oblivion in the swirl of hedonism that is one of Manchester’s most cherished characteristics.

Activities

See

Cosmopolitan Manchester

  • Manchester’s Chinatown around George Street and Faulkner Street has been a feature of Manchester since the late 1970s. Of late there is much talk of its decline, as many middle aged people are taking their business to the suburbs rather than the centre, which many see as a place for younger people at night. AS a whole the area seems slightly run-down but interesting. You will find people on the streets of Chinatown speaking Chinese to each other and most of the signs are bilingual. It is home to many of Manchester’s east-asian restaurants as well as many traders in Chinese food and goods. There are a couple of good Chinese supermarkets. As night falls upon Chinatown, the neon lights come on, adding to the ambient feel of the area. There many eateries to try too, ranging from Chinese to Japanese; reaching out to a wide spectrum of tastes. There are also Chinese shops for the locals to buy items imported directly from China, such as newspapers, magazines, DVDs and medications. It also serves as a magnet for the Chinese population, from around the city region and beyond.
  • The Village, also known as the Gay Village, has built up around Canal Street out of the many cotton warehouses in the area. It is home to one of the oldest and most-established gay communities in Europe and is known for its tolerance toward all kinds of people. Many of Manchester’s most famous bars and clubs are to be found here, most of which are as popular with heterosexual party-animals as they are with the gay crowd. The Village hosts a major Pride festival every year (August Bank Holiday; the last weekend of the month), when this part of town is closed to the public for a charity fundraising weekend for gay and gay-friendly people. Many thousands of pounds are raised, each year, for various charities. There is a moving memorial service on the Monday evening to round the weekend off. Entrance is by wrist band. These are valid for the whole weekend or part of it, if required.

Historical Manchester

  • Castlefield is the site of the original Roman settlement Mamucium and has been known as Castlefield since Medieval times. The walls that still stand over two metres high are from as late as the 16th Century. It is the centre of Manchester’s canal network and a transport nexus of unique historical importance. The Castlefield Basin joins the Rochdale and Bridgewater canals, the latter being the first cut canal in Britain. The nearby Museum of Science and Industry contains Liverpool Road station, the first passenger railway station in the world. Very important in industrial times, it became run down in post-war times until it was completely regenerated in the 1990s and designated Britain’s first Urban Heritage site. These days the area is like a small country oasis in the heart of the city, with regular events and a handful of great pubs around the canals and the neighbouring streets. It is also the only place to see wildlife in Manchester’s centre.
  • The University of Manchester, on Oxford Road, where amongst other things, the atom was first probed by Rutherford, the first computer was built, and where radio astronomy was pioneered. It was here too that the element Vanadium was first isolated. The architectural style of the new curved visitor’s centre contrasts with the old buildings on the opposite side of Oxford Road, within which Manchester Museum is to be found.
  • Manchester Cathedral, in the Millennium Quarter. The widest cathedral in England with important carved choir stalls (school of Lincoln) and pulpitum. The recently finished Visitor’s Centre provides an initmate experience for newcomers to the cathedral. This is near to Harvey Nichols, Urbis and Victoria Station.

Cultural Manchester

There are many theatres and concert venues in Manchester, (The Opera House, Palace Theatre, Royal Exchange, Green Room, Dancehouse Theatre, Library Theatre, and The Contact, not forgetting The Lowry at The Quays, which has three theatre spaces). Further afield, The Bolton Octagon, Bury Met, Oldham Coliseum, the lovingly restored 1930’s Stockport Plaza with a wonderful 1930’s tearoom overlooking Mersey Square are worthy of note.The Plaza shows films and hosts theatre productions and stages what are becoming very popular pantomimes at Christmas. The Garrick in Stockport as well as The Gracie Fields Theatre in Rochdale are all worth a mention too, as are university and RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music) venues. You can catch the likes of Madonna and Kylie at The MEN Arena, which is the largest of its kind in Europe and seen as one of the best such venues in the world. Other such venues include the Apollo, Bridgewater Hall, and the revamped Manchester Central.

  • Central Library & Theatre, near Albert Square. As mentioned above. An interesting, round building from the 1930s. This is closed for renovation and is scheduled to reopen in December 2013.The theatre company will cross the road, in due course, to The Theatre Royal building when it will end its time as a night club and be a home to live performances once more. Meanwhile the company plans to stage produtions elsewhere in the city.
  • Contact, on Oxford Road, is a brilliant theatre which often focuses on more contemporary productions than other theatres in the centre. These shows range from drama and physical theatre to music, circus and puppetry. It also features a lounge area serving great food as well as alcoholic, hot and cold drinks throughout the day/evening.
  • The Cornerhouse on Oxford Road. This excellent art house cinema has three screens, three floors of exhibition space and a great bar on the ground floor, with a trendy cafe above. The house festivals, courses, and a bookstore as well. It is located around the former administrative and goods areas of Oxford Road station. This is the gateway to the University Area.
  • Imperial War Museum North, at The Quays. Great museum with fantastic architecture, located in Trafford Borough, across the water from The Lowry, near Manchester United’s Stadium, and designed by Daniel Libeskind, who also designed The Jewish Museum in Berlin. The museum focuses on the people involved in war, whether it’s the people who worked in the factories in World War two, or the soldiers who suffered in the battlefield. Tours are offered and displays are updated on a regular basis.
  • The Lowry, at Pier 8 on the The Quays Home to the City of Salford’s collection of the paintings of L.S. Lowry. The centre also contains two theatres and a drama studio which put on everything from “Opera North” productions to pantomime, local works and quality touring productions.
  • Manchester Art Gallery, near Chinatown. Designed by Sir Charles Barry architect of the Houses of Parliament. The gallery has a particulary fine collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings.
  • Manchester Museum, on Oxford Road. Highlights include a fossil skeleton of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Egyptology, including painted mummy masks of the Roman era.
  • Gallery of English Costume, in Platt Hall Rusholme is now open once more and well worth a visit

Sporting Manchester

  • Lancashire County Cricket Club, located in Old Trafford.
  • Manchester City Football Club, located in Sportcity. Compared to their more-illustrious neighbours, Manchester City have enjoyed less success and are hence regarded as the second team of Manchester. However they were recently acquired by ADUG (Abu Dhabi United Group) and their new found wealth is expected by many to bring a return of the success that the club enjoyed back in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
  • Manchester United Football Club, the self-proclaimed world’s most popular Football Club, located in Old Trafford. The club is one of the most succesful in England, and are the first English club to become European champions when they did it in 1968. They have a very heated rivalry with Liverpool FC, considered by most football fans to be the biggest rivalry in all of England; a rivalry which stems from the traditional city rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool since the Industrial Revolution, and further fuelled by the fact that both clubs are the most successful English clubs in European competition. Matches between the two sides are always very charged affairs which attract sell-out crowds. Crowd violence is rare though, as there is always a strong police presence at big matches to keep things in order.
  • Sportcity is the “largest concentration of sporting venues in Europe.” It is located to the east of the city centre, about 30 minutes walk from Piccadilly Station. It was built to host most of the events for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and is home to the National Cycling Centre, Manchester City FC, and other important sporting venues, as well as the tallest sculpture in the UK, which is to be dismantled in spring 2009, for reasons of safety. Some are happy but many will miss it, it is reported.
  • Manchester Phoenix Ice Hockey Club, located in Altrincham, are the newly formed (2003) team to replace the once most supported team in European Hockey, Manchester Storm. The Phoenix also host the UK’s most sucessfull ice hockey player in the form of Tony Hand the team’s player/manager.

Hidden Manchester

  • Chetham’s Library is Manchester’s best kept secret – even most residents of the city are largely oblivious to its existence. Europe’s oldest English language Public Library is tucked away next to the futuristic Urbis just off Millenium Square. One of Manchester’s oldest buildings, it still has the original collection of books, all chained to their shelves. This is where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would visit while in Manchester and where Engels wrote the world-changing book ‘The Condition of the Working Classes in England’, a key influence on the development of Communism. You can still sit in the window seat where they would talk. The 15th century structure is part of Chetham’s Music School – despite the lack of signs, simply ask at the security hut and they will happily let you in for free.
  • St. Mary’s, The Hidden Gem, near Albert Square. The oldest post-Reformation Catholic church in the country, dating from 1794. It contains one of the greatest pieces of art in Manchester, and the altar is quite magnificent. This is a quiet refuge from the noise of the city.
  • The futuristic Trinity Bridge, designed by the Spaniard Santiago Calatrava, who was heavily involved in the designs for the Olympic village in Barcelona, is in the Chapel Wharf Area. This links the twin cities of Manchester and Salford, leading to the five star Lowry Hotel on the Salford bank. It is all a block behind Kendals, near The Freemasons’ Hall. A nice pleasant view.
  • The Hulme Bridge in Hulme and The Merchant’s Bridge in Castlefield, by Catalan Square, are also worth a look.

Airport, Bus, Train Station

By plane

Manchester Airport (IATA: MAN) (ICAO: EGCC). in the south of the city is the largest airport in the UK outside of London and is amongst the 50 largest airports in the world. Nearly 100 operators fly to and from hundreds of locations worldwide, including most major cities in Europe, along with services from the Americas, Africa, and Asia. It is owned by the 10 Greater Manchester Councils with Manchester City council having the largest share (55%) and the other councils 5% each.

Notable services include:

  • Abu Dhabi – Etihad
  • Amsterdam – KLM, bmibaby
  • Antwerp – CityJet
  • Atlanta – Delta
  • Athens – easyjet, Olympic Airlines
  • Barbados – Virgin Atlantic
  • Barcelona – bmibaby, Monarch Airlines
  • Berlin – easyjet (starting Oct 2011)
  • Bilbao – easyjet
  • Bremen – Ryanair
  • Brussels – Brussels Airlines, flybe, Ryanair
  • Budapest – Jet2.com
  • Chicago – American Airlines
  • Cologne/Bonn – Germanwings, TUIfly
  • Copenhagen – easyjet, Scandinavian Airlines System
  • Doha – Qatar Airways
  • Dubai – Emirates
  • Dublin – Aer Lingus, Ryanair
  • Düsseldorf – Lufthansa, flybe
  • Frankfurt – Lufthansa, Ryanair (Hahn)
  • Friedrichshafen – Monarch
  • Geneva – easyjet
  • Hamburg – Lufthansa, easyjet
  • Helsinki – Finnair
  • Islamabad – Pakistan International Airlines, Airblue
  • Istanbul – Turkish Airlines (Ataturk International IST)
  • Karachi, Lahore – Pakistan International Airlines
  • Larnaca – Cyprus Airways
  • Las Vegas – Virgin Atlantic
  • Lisbon – bmibaby, TAP
  • Madrid – easyjet, Ryanair
  • Munich – easyjet, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines (from March 28)
  • New York – Delta (JFK), United (Newark Intl), American (JFK)
  • Orlando – Virgin Atlantic
  • Oslo – Norwegian Airlines, SAS, Ryanair
  • Paderborn – Air Berlin
  • Paris – Air France, flybe
  • Paphos – Easyjet, Ryanair
  • Philadelphia – US Airways
  • Rome – Jet2.com, Ryanair
  • Singapore – Singapore Airlines
  • Stockholm – Scandinavian Airlines System
  • Stuttgart – Lufthansa
  • Tel Aviv – Jet2.com
  • Toronto – Air Canada, Air Transat, FlyGlobespa
  • VancouverS – Air Canada, Air Transat, FlyGlobespan
  • Warsaw – Ryanair
  • Washington, D.C. (Dulles) – United
  • Zürich – Swiss International Air Lines, easyjet

By train

Manchester city centre is served by two major railway stations, Victoria in the north (the area around the station has recently undergone extensive redevelopment with much more to come) and Piccadilly (transformed in recent years and voted the UK’s most popular station in 2007) in the south.

Piccadilly is the main destination for long-haul trains from around the UK (eg London, Birmingham, Leeds, York, Newcastle, Glasgow etc) in addition to a few local services (notably to/from Glossop and Buxton). Northern, TransPennine Express, Virgin Trains, CrossCountry, Arriva Trains Wales and East Midlands Trains all serve Piccadilly.

Victoria is a hub for local stopping trains to/from West Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire and Liverpool, virtually all of which are operated by Northern.

Trains from Liverpool, Leeds, York, Sheffield and Nottingham may also stop at Manchester Oxford Road, which is convenient for the University.

Other stations in the city centre are Deansgate, and Salford Central, but generally only local services stop at these stations.

By bus

Chorlton Street Coach Station is the central coach station in Manchester, located close to the centre, between Chinatown and The Village on Chorlton Street. Coaches run from all over the country and are generally the most reasonably-priced way to get into Manchester. London to Manchester on the coach can take about four hours, but it depends on the time of day and number of stops.

  • National Express is a comfortable and frequent service which runs 24 hours a day from some cities, including London.
  • Megabus run services to London, Scotland, South Wales and the West. Fares start at £1 and must be booked in advance online.

Piccadilly Gardens bus station is generally for services to the south of Greater Manchester along with Wigan and Bolton. Shudehill Bus Station has services to the North of Greater Manchester. TfGM travel shops are located in both Shudehill and Piccadilly Gardens and timetables, maps and information can be found for all services here.

Events

  • Free Go to Cloud 23 bar on the 23rd floor of The Hilton, Deansgate. A pricey bar, but you can have a look at the skyline for free if you ask.
  • Visit the Trafford Area of this area of fascinating industrial heritage.
  • Manchester has a couple of big multi-screen cinemas located centrally, AMC off Deansgate (as cheap as £3.20 if you’re a student) and Odeon in the Printworks show the usual Hollywood fare; the Cornerhouse on Oxford Road tends to show smaller, independent, art house and foreign language movies. there is an Imax inside the Odeon in the Printworks.
  • Shows in Manchester [36], Manchester has many theatres and live music venues so see what’s on when and where.
  • Hire a supercar in Mancheste; Northern Ferrari hire offer self drive supercar hire in Manchester.

BUPA Great Manchester Run

The Great Manchester Run set up in 2003 and televised live on the BBC, this 38,000-strong race, held in May, has quickly become one of the most popular events in the British running calendar. Organised by the brains behind the Great North Run, Manchester was the natural choice to host a new 10k: the city renowned for football also excels in cricket, cycling, rugby – and running. And with a route typically taking in Manchester United’s ground, fleet-of-foot football fans get the best of both worlds.

The run attracts some of the world’s best athletes, with Haile Gebreselasse breaking records here since 2005. Even for the less energetic, the setting makes for a good day out. Both runners and spectators can enjoy the views at Salford Quays, with the route skirting the Imperial War Museum North. Strategically placed bands, classical musicians and DJs add to the atmosphere, while those wanting to make a weekend of it can watch their kids participate in the Junior Run at Sportcity on the Saturday, before making for the finish line themselves on the Sunday.

The only downside is the inevitable road chaos. If you’re planning on racing, ditch the car and take the tram, train or bus. And to make sure you get a place at the starting line, sign up for email reminders at www.greatrun.org  as early as possible before the race – entry is by ballot, with places allocated in January.

Manchester International Festival

Manchester International Festival, for years, Manchester’s global contribution to culture was largely based on three things: politics, football and music. That changed in 2007 when the city launched the ambitious – and often audacious – Manchester International Festival, a biennial arts bonanza that in its first year led Miranda Sawyer to describe Manchester as ‘the beating cultural heart of Britain’. Fast-forward four years and the festival shows no signs of slowing down. The 2011 line-up includes a new play by Victoria Wood, and the Hallé’s Mark Elder presiding over a ‘staged examination’ of Wagner’s four-opera Ring Cycle.

A few familiar faces are set to return too. Damon Albarn, the Blur and Gorillaz musician who lit the fuse beneath the inaugural festival with his circus- and opera-inspired Monkey: Journey to the West, presents a new work, as does the legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic. In 2009, Abramovic stripped the Whitworth Art Gallery bare before delivering an unforgettable four-hour incursion into performance art. This time, the performance is loosely based on her own life; it stars Willem Dafoe and ‘heavenly’ original music by Antony Hegarty. With each edition premiering around 20 new works, Manchester International Festival’s only real downside comes courtesy of its main selling point: it claims to be the only festival in the world that consists solely of new work – so you’ll see no old favourites here.

Because of this, ‘you can never predict what’s going to happen,’ says festival director Alex Poots, though with two successful festivals under his belt, it’s safe to assume that the 2011 affair will again demonstrate its by-now trademark mix of high art, entertainment and Mancunian flair. As an example – and perhaps one of the best events at the 2009 festival – was when Mercury Prize-winners Elbow teamed up with the Hallé. The subsequent gig at Bridgewater Hall left many in the audience on their feet, shouting for more. It’s this combination of the unexpected, the joyously Mancunian and the beautifully delivered that makes Manchester International Festival one of the city’s must-dos in 2011 and beyond.

Great Manchester Cycle

The Great Manchester Cycle is expected to attract 8,000 entrants. Starting and finishing at Etihad Campus, the 13-mile loop will give participants the chance to see the city from a whole new perspective as they pass landmarks such as Old Trafford and ride along roads in a traffic-free environment, including the iconic Mancunian Way, normally off-limits to cyclist.

The event caters for all abilities, from club cyclists to families who wish to take on the challenge together. Riders have a choice of three routes: ‘A Great Day Out’ over 13 miles, ‘Rule the Roads’ over 26 miles, or for the more established riders, ‘Break Away from the Pack’, over 52 miles.  Entry for each route costs £20 for adults and £5 for kids. Children aged 3-7 can take part for free.

Food & Beverages

FOOD

  • Fish and chips — deep-fried, battered fish (usually cod or haddock) with chips (french fries in America), best from specialist fish and chip shops (very different article from “fish and chips” on a general restaurant or pub menu). Available throughout the UK (see that article for more information on finding perfect fish and chips).
  • Roast dinner (also known as the “Sunday roast” due to the day it is traditionally consumed on) is available between lunchtime and early evening in virtually any English pub serving food. Quality will vary greatly depending on how freshly cooked the food is (home cooked is invariably better).
  • Yorkshire Pudding — a batter pudding served with a roast (usually beef); originally used instead of a plate and eaten with the meal. Giant version often appears on (not very refined) pub menus as a main meal item, with a “filling” (Giant Yorkshire Pudding filled with beef stew).
  • Toad in the Hole — sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter
  • Steak and Kidney Pie — a suet pudding made with beef steak and kidneys
  • Lancashire Hotpot — a hearty vegetable and meat stew from Lancashire
  • Cornish Pasty (and other forms of meat pie around the country) — beef and vegetables in a pastry case
  • Full English Breakfast — (often abbreviated: do not be alarmed if your server at the hotel breakfast table asks you “Do you want the Full English?”) At its “fullest”, it might consist of fried bacon, fried eggs, fried sausages, fried bread, fried black pudding (blood sausage), mushrooms, scrambled eggs, baked beans in tomato sauce, and toast and butter – “washed down” by a large amount of hot strong tea or coffee with milk. An Americanised version is now emerging, with hash browns instead of fried bread. Served in less refined versions in truckers’ stops, and posher versions in hotels (where there will often be a buffet of these items to “help yourself” from). It is sometimes said that this meal is only a legend foisted on tourists, because the English are now too busy for breakfast. Typically, however, the English perceive the ‘fry-up’ (as it is known) as a suitable meal to consume when hungover after a night of drinking or as a weekend treat. Any inexpensive café (of the type with day-glo price stickers in the window, and whose name is pronounced “caff” in northern England) will have “all-day breakfast” on the menu (for the finest examples, look for the EBCB website).
  • Ploughman’s Lunch — Typical in the West of England. A cold lunch consisting of cheese, chutney and bread. Additional ingredients include ham, apples and eggs.

BEVERAGES

Lager — Predominantly the pilsner type: pale, fizzy and cold. Because of the popularity of this type of beer amongst the young, there are many mass-market national brands brewed in the UK (and widely advertised with “having fun” type ads) which may disappoint anyone wanting more than simply cold, fizzy, alcohol. Some national brands are much better, and often stronger, and may be sold in bottles as well as on draught. Purists often prefer imported European-brewed lagers.

Bitter — The most common example of the English type of beer technically called “ale” (see below). They are typically darker than lagers – they are called bitter because they have more hops than mild (another less-common kind of ale). Again, there are well-advertised national brands for the mass market, usually less strong than lagers. Most are now not “real ales”: they are not matured in the barrel; they are often called “smooth” or “cream” (which means that they are infused with nitrogen to give a small-bubbled head) and are often served very cold from a small tap on a tall, illuminated stand.

Stout — A dark, heavy, usually very bitter beer. Originally called Porter, Arthur Guinness decided he could do better and made Guinness which he branded a Stout Porter. Guinness is one world-famous Irish brand that is available almost everywhere in England, often in “normal” and “extra cold” versions.

All of the mass-market types above can be bought in cans – often with a “widget” that when the can is opened, forces nitrogen bubbles through the beer to simulate “draught” beer.

Ale — This is not simply another word for “Bitter” or “Beer”. Technically it simply means any beer other than lager (ie it is a beer brewed at cellar temperatures using floating yeast, ie bitters, milds and stouts). However, these days “ale” is often used a little self-consciously, usually either as a “matey” word for any type of beer (“Anyone fancy a few ales?”) or in a consciously “traditional” way (“Try a pint of good old English ale”). To ask for “A pint of ale, please.” would sound like a line from a period film. However “Real Ale” is an accepted term, so to ask “What real ales do you have on?” would be quite normal.

Real Ale — The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has been a very successful consumer campaign, its aims have been to ensure that mass-market beers do not completely force out beers made in the traditional way. CAMRA created the term “Real Ale” to summarise the type of beer they wanted to keep alive: it must be allowed to continue maturing after it leaves the brewery (ie not be pasteurised or filtered to remove living yeast; be stored and served without additional gas (ie does not have carbon dioxide or nitrogen forced into the beer); and be served at the appropriate temperature for the style: traditional ales are not generally served warm, as many people believe, but at the temperature of the ‘cool’ cellar they have been maturing in for several days (ideally, 8–12°C) . Most real ales are served from the distinctive “handpumps” which allow a pint to be “pulled” from the cellar by several full-length strokes requiring visible effort on the part of the server. Most “real ales” served in ordinary pubs are bitters, but these come in a wide range of strengths, colours, and bitterness. A majority of pubs now serve at least one or two national brands of real ale, and perhaps one or even two local ones.

“Real ale pubs” — At a pub which especially caters to lovers of real ale, or at a beer festival, there will be more local brands (and “guests” from some distance away) and a wider range of bitters, and even a good choice of other types. Expect to see summer ales, winter ales, exotic beers (containing ingredients such as heather, honey or ginger), light milds, dark milds, lagers, stouts and, increasingly, porters (like a stronger dark mild, or a lighter, sweeter stout). These will be served from a long row of handpumps or (even more traditionally) straight from barrels sitting on the bar or (especially at beer festivals) in racks. There will also be a wide range of “bottle-conditioned” beers (“real ale in a bottle”) usually either versions of English bitters, often called “pale ales”, or very strong beers from France or Belgium. There will also be several ciders and perries.

Cider — In England this means an alcoholic drink made from apples (often much stronger than beer). These are generally brewed in the West Country (Somerset, Devon & Cornwall) but not exclusively so as Herefordshire is also another region famous for its cider. The more commercial brands of cider, served from pressurised kegs and so available at any pub, are clear, fizzy and cold , and quite strong (they are usually moderately or very sweet, so the high alcohol content may go unnoticed by a novice). A real ale pub will usually sell at least one “real”, unpressurised, cider, perhaps from a barrel sitting on the bar. This may may be clear or slightly cloudy, but will be almost certainly be still, not too sweet, and very strong (7% alcohol is only average for this type of cider). The most traditional cider is called Scrumpy and is usually very strong, very cloudy and possibly (but not always) rather sour. Some commercial ciders have “scrumpy” in their name, but these are not quite the same as a gallon jug bought at the farmhouse door.

Perry — Similar to cider but made from pears (is sometimes called pear cider, especially if imported). Farmhouse perry was always difficult to get hold of outside the West Country, but this is improving, and there will nearly always be some available at a beer festival. Keen perry-spotters might notice the sweetish “undercover” commercial versions : advertised nationwide with a “girls night out” theme and sold in wine-shaped bottles with “inexpensive white wine”-type labels bearing the legend “Perry” in small letters.

Getting Around

England is well serviced by domestic air, land and sea routes.

There are taxi firms everywhere (many are by booking only – find the phone number of the local company and phone ahead), and every town has a bus service. ‘Black Cabs’ are also common in cities and can be hailed from the side of the road. Sometimes in city centres, usually just after the nightclubs have closed, there will be queue for taxis which will sometimes be monitored by marshals or police.

To be safe, make sure you take a registered taxi or black cab; despite government action, many unlawful unregistered private taxi drivers exist – these do have a reputation for being unsafe, particularly if you are a woman.

England has one of the highest densities of railway lines per square mile in the world. There has been much improvement and investment in recent years to the railway network and rolling stock but delays and cancellations do occasionally occur. Overcrowding can be a problem in large cities, especially at ‘rush-hour’ times (7AM – 9AM & 5PM – 7PM, Monday to Friday) so it is best to avoid these times when tickets can be expensive as well. See also Rail travel in the United Kingdom.

Buses are numerous, frequent and reliable in most of the larger towns and cities and an ideal way of getting around. Rural areas are less well served and hiring a car is often the best option to explore the countryside and villages.

The roads are of generally excellent quality (although can deteriorate in rural areas, with cheap materials often used to repair the roads, only for the workmen and resulting road closures to rerun soon later. Potholes are a huge nuisance to locals, as it can takes weeks or months for them to be repaired, although done cheaply using a method called “Patching”). Care should be taken on rural and minor roads, some of which are extremely narrow, twisty and poorly marked, while many are two way roads and only wide enough for one car, meaning a meeting situation can be unpleasant. The signs and markings on most roads are clear, although roundabouts make traffic slow to a crawl during “Rush Hour”. The main problem with driving in England is the sheer volume of traffic on the roads. Unfortunately this is not only limited to rush-hours and large cities, and even cross country motorways can slow to a stop as they pass urban areas. Prepare for travel times being longer than you’d normally anticipate in relation to the mileage. The speed limit, unless otherwise stated, is 30 or 40 mph in built-up areas, 50 or 60 mph (approx 95 km/h) elsewhere and 70 mph (approx. 110 km/h) on motorways and other controlled-access roads. Speed cameras and traffic police are numerous so caution is advised. The traditional British ‘reserve’ and politeness may occasionally dissolve under the stress of congestion on the major routes, especially with the traffic problems in some of England’s larger cities, but generally driving around Britain is an enjoyable experience and it is polite to acknowledge the courtesy of another driver with a nod or the raising of the hand as a form of thank you. Drivers will often flash their headlights to indicate that you are clear to pull out, or otherwise to give way to you, and it is considered polite to say thank you by giving a wave or a quick flash of your headlights. However, be prepared for drivers who do not agree with speed limits, especially newly created ones on roads where for example, the limit has been lowered from 60 to 30 after campaigns from locals. Even if you are driving at the posted limit, there is a chance you will be overtaken and this will be more frequent if you have a sticker in your back window, implying you’ll be sticking to it. Drivers with this attitude often spend ages driving behind you, while driving close behind as a means to make you speed up, even if it means breaking the law. Do not worry about this, maintain your speed, as they are most likely the sort who are already collecting speeding points on their license, while you are sensible and in the right.

Flashing your hazards (ie, both indicators at the same time) is only used as an indication of danger. Usually it’s used to indicate the car’s broken down or to warn other drivers that there’s a hazard up ahead. But flashing your hazards a couple of times is another way of saying Thank you.

Brown and white road signs indicate nearby tourist attractions, and the blue i sign denotes Tourist Information.

The UK isn’t as cycle-friendly as some other European countries, but it’s still a great way to get around. You’ll see a lot more from a bicycle, have the freedom to stop wherever you want, no parking headaches and once you’ve got the bicycle there is nothing to pay. It is unquestionably the fastest way around London and other major cities – it does have it’s dangers but it’s well worth the risk.

There are many lovely cycle paths where you can avoid the traffic and soak in the cityscape or countryside. Rough examples of journey times at moderate speed: Buckingham Palace to Tower Bridge: 20 minutes; Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle: 2 hours; Central London to Oxford city: 5 hours. A national online route planner can be found at Cycle Streets

You can hire a bicycle from some local bicycle shops, or purchase a decent one privately for between £0-100 second hand as the UK has a surplus of old bicycles. You must use lights if you plan to cycle after dark and can be fined by the police for failing to do so. A front white light and red rear light are required. Flashing LED lights or bulb based bike lights both meet the legal requirements. Helmets aren’t compulsory. A decent lock is also essential, particularly in the cities bicycle theft is a common problem.

Some of the London Underground trains and all London Overground accept cycles outside of peak hours. Local buses and trams don’t accept bikes. Mainline and suburban trains allow bicycles but normally have restrictions during peak hours on busy services. Policies vary from compulsory reservation of cycles space to no cycle during peak hours – its best to check with each rail operator or on the national rail web site for restrictions that could impact your planned journey. Folding bikes may travel at any time so long as they are collapsed completely. Long distance coaches will normally let you on with a bicycle, as long as they’re not too full. Arrive early for coaches so you get a space in the luggage hold.

By bus tour operator

There are many tour operators in England, which can take you around the country stress-free. There are options from budget larger groups in coaches to smaller group tours in luxury mini-coaches. The guides may provide an insight into English history and culture you may not be able to learn on your own.

Operators

 

  • Rabbie’s small group tours. Phone: +44(0) 131 226 3133 (lines open from 07:30 to 22:00 daily). The company provide tours of England’s tourist hotspots, such as the Lake District and the beaches of Cornwall, as well as taking you to off the beaten track attractions. They allow you travel stress-free and take you to places that are harder to discover on your own, all with local guides. Tours include one day tours of Oxford and the Cotwold villages to an eight day London to Edinburgh adventure. Tours departing all year and daily departures in peak season from Edinburgh and London.

 

Safety

In any emergency call 999 or 112 (from a land-line if you can) and ask for Ambulance, Fire, Police or Coast Guard when connected. If you need more than one service that includes an ambulance (e.g. a road collision) then ask for Ambulance and they will contact the relevant services themselves.

England by and large is a safe place to live and visit, with violent crime against tourists being rare, however you should always use general common sense to ensure you keep out of trouble. In most of the major cities, you will find outlying suburban and inner city areas where poverty, crime and gang violence are common. These areas can be particularly risky (by western standards) and should be avoided. Again, common sense is the best way to stay safe, and it is unlikely a visitor would end up in such areas anyway. In a situation where you feel uncomfortable out on the street (for example, if a gang of youths block your path and are behaving in a rowdy manner), its usually fine to simply cross the road and walk past and not to respond to them as they are not generally interested in harassing people as they may appear and will ignore you in most cases

Crime rates are generally very low in rural areas, although some small poorer towns can be surprisingly rough. Take care when driving on country lanes as they can become very narrow and the lesser travelled ones are often in poor condition.

It is worth taking extra care on public transport at night, as loutish drunks can be a problem. Also, in some cities, there have been incidents of street gangs carrying out robberies on buses and trains at night. Visitors should not be too concerned, however, as these are very rare occurrences.

Some town and city centres should be approached with caution during the later evening on Fridays and Saturdays in particular, as high levels of drunkenness can be rife. Many English drunks can all too often become aggressive, and outbreaks of unprovoked violence have happened, but again, common sense can help avoid problems with drunken people. At night it is also recommended that you use licensed taxis or licensed mini cabs. Taxis are available at taxi ranks or by phone, while mini cabs are by phone booking only – asking at the bar will usually provide you with numbers. Unofficial/unlicensed mini cabs which cruise the street looking for fares have a reputation as dangerous for lone females and males; the most common incident is the passenger is driven to a secluded area, and then raped.

The age of both heterosexual and homosexual consent is 16 throughout the United Kingdom. British laws mostly support LGBT rights. You shouldn’t be discriminated against in any area of the UK for your sexuality although that it can occur and enforcement of the law is spotty. Some in British society are anti-gay. There are some areas where you may want to not be overtly showing your sexuality (very remote villages, ‘tough’ places such as football matches, Truro and the Cornwall area, Peterborough, bad areas of cities). Be careful and follow others around you. If they don’t show public affection, it probably isn’t safe to do that.

Shopping

Retail activity in Manchester centres on Manchester city centre. Historically, Manchester’s shopping district was situated in the Northern Quarter area of the city centre until the opening of the Manchester Arndale in 1975. Manchester’s retail industry is the fourth-largest in the United Kingdom behind London and narrowly Glasgow and Birmingham.

Manchester’s shopping district is one of the most diverse shopping districts in the UK and the majority of city centre shops are within reasonable walking distance of each other (15 minutes at most) and most are served by a metroshuttle service. Pickpockets can be a particular problem in Manchester city centre however so maintain an awareness at all times. Even in the most upmarket stores you are treated in a friendly manner, which many think is not the case in the capital. The recently redeveloped Arndale Centre is a 1970’s city-centre shopping precinct, with 280 stores across just under 185 000 m² of retail space making it the largest city centre shopping centre in Europe, including the largest Next store in the world. The place retains some of its 1970’s concrete charms and STILL some of the infamous yellow tiles that are a testament to bad urban planning of that era. It is connected via link bridge to the Marks and Spencer and Selfridges department stores adjacent in Exchange Square. Part awaits an update to the exterior, but the section modernised after the 1996 bomb is an improvement, although different to that of The Trafford Centre with a more modern simplistic feel compared with the grand exterior of the Trafford Centre. The inside has had a total revamp. It does get very busy at weekends and, unlike at The Trafford Centre, there are far too few places to sit down. If you do need to sit down there are a few benches on the lower floor around the staircase near the market.

There are a number of large shops aimed at bargain hunters ,including the largest Primark in the country, which is great for a bargain and much loved by US cabin crew when in town, and an Aldi food hall on Market Street (just off Piccadilly Gardens).

Shopping in Manchester :

  • Marks & Spencer
  • Trafford Centre
  • Affleck’s Palace
  • Manchester Craft and Design Centre
  • Harvey Nichols
  • Piccadilly Records
  • Tib Street Market
  • Rags to Bitches
  • Oi Polloi
  • Thomas St Post Office
  • Oxfam Originals

Manchester, United Kingdom


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