Looking for a way to combine two of England’s best cities into one exciting weekend? It’s not as difficult as it sounds!
FRIDAY — MANCHESTER
Arrive in Manchester early Friday afternoon and immediately get out and about. Use the remainder of the day’s light to do a bit of outdoor exploration in the city’s Northern Quarter.
In the early 1800s, Manchester became the world’s first industrialized city, and those roots are evident as you walk along the streets. But in the 200 years since, the city has modernized and is now abuzz with creative energy. In the Northern Quarter, street art is always in sight, there are plenty of cafés to pop into for a cup of coffee, and adorable boutiques and artisan shops abound. For a glimpse into Manchester’s creative community, stop by the Craft and Design Centre to see handcrafted offerings in 19 different studio spaces.
When it comes time for dinner, head right to the Mackie Mayor. Newly renovated, this Eagle Street restaurant has become the go-to place for a drink after work or a lively bite to eat. The Mackie Mayor may be a newcomer to Manchester’s food scene, but with a variety of food vendors and room for upwards of 500 people, it’s certainly keeping up with seasoned veterans around the city.
After dinner, head HOME. No, not back to your hotel — to the HOME community center. With several theaters for live performances, cinemas for both popular and independent films, exhibition spaces, and a bar and café, HOME has something for everyone. Their commitment to fostering independent, contemporary artwork from up-and-coming artists both in the Manchester community and beyond makes it the perfect place to go for an evening of fun.
If you’re still looking for a bit of action before bedtime, grab your bowling shoes and make a break for Dog Bowl. This funky bowling alley and restaurant features canine-themed decorations, house cocktails, and five lanes for you to test your form.
After the tenth frame, head back to your hotel for some rest. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep — you’re going to need all the energy you can get for your jam-packed Saturday!
SATURDAY — HALF AND HALF
Start your day with a Bohemian breakfast at Albert’s Schloss, a Bavarian-themed restaurant right in the heart of Manchester. A rotating bier garten, café, live music venue, and cook haus, this locale is always stunning. Albert’s Schloss has a golden, shiny interior and delicious coffee and pastries.
Get to the John Rylands Library at the best time to visit — right when it opens to the public at 10 a.m. The architecture of this gorgeous late-Victorian Neo-Gothic library bears a strong resemblance to that of Hogwarts, so much so that you’ll likely find yourself looking for a boy wizard at every turn. While the library is still somewhat empty in the early morning, take time to explore the main Reading Room. Notice the soaring arched ceiling, towering stained-glass windows, quiet reading alcoves, and ample ancient texts on the shelves — it feels just like magic.
After you tear yourself from the library, wander around Manchester’s city center. Walk through Barton Arcade, a lovely indoor shopping center that dates back to 1871. Pop in to see the pink-hued interior of the Royal Exchange Theatre, a former commodities building renovated to include a unique theater space for live performances. Then continue along New Cathedral Street to Shambles Square, behind which you’ll find the unassuming Manchester Cathedral. Head inside to check out the massive organ, panels of stained glass, and swooping architecture.
Plan to take a midday train from Manchester Piccadilly train station to London. Book a seat with Virgin Trains and watch the English countryside slide by on the two-and-a-half-hour ride to the capital.
When you arrive in London, drop your bags off wherever you’re staying and freshen up, but don’t dilly-dally — make the most of the daylight and start seeing the city. Use the afternoon to visit whichever major London attraction calls your name — the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, or the London Eye.
Before you head to the theater, grab dinner in the Covent Garden area. Given that it’s a weekend and you’ll be dining during the popular pre-theatre period, make reservations to ensure that you get a table. My personal recommendations include Bocca Di Lupo for Italian, Fire & Stone for pizza, Bill’s for homemade meals with a culinary twist, Balthazar for upstyle chic, and Greenwood if you’re in the vicinity of Victoria station for your show.
London has one of the most well-known theatre scenes in the world, and rightly so. West End plays and musicals are both varied and spectacular, with a rotation of long-running mysteries and new favorites. Check out what’s on and buy tickets for the show that stands out most — be it the revolutionary “Hamilton,” magical “Matilda,” spooky “Woman in Black,” or classic “Phantom of the Opera.”
If, after the applause dies down, you’re still up for a drink or two, make your way to Kingly Court for a cocktail at Cahoots. Those with a fondness for the London Underground will be particularly charmed by this Tube-themed establishment, and those with a swing in their step will appreciate the jazzy music selection. Make a reservation for guaranteed entrance, and enjoy a journey back in time to the 1940s!
SUNDAY — LONDON
Don’t hit snooze when your alarm goes off — instead, get up and beat the crowds to Columbia Road Flower Market. Every Sunday, a short stretch of Columbia Road blooms with flower buds of every variety. Pick up a bloom (or two), sneak into the shops that line the street, and make your way up and down the market as many times as you want — it’s always free to look at the colorful flowers!
After Columbia Road, head over to Brick Lane Market, just a 10-minute walk away. You won’t see many plants there, but you will find just about everything else. Search for trendy threads at the Vintage Market, handcrafted goods at the Backyard Market, and an international bite to eat at the Boiler House. The small antiques shops, vinyl stores, and quaint cafés along the street aren’t too shabby either!
Around midday, head to the British Museum. Its permanent collection is one of the most comprehensive in the world, featuring around eight million pieces from cultures and civilizations throughout history. The building itself is worth a look as well — with gorgeous rooms and an impressive Great Court that host over five million visitors every year. Just don’t get lost while exploring!
Afternoon tea is an institution in London, as important a cultural component as the Union Jack. For a lovely afternoon tea experience, head to Scoff & Banter. Not only will your photos be polka-dotted perfection because of the adorable tea sets, but the full afternoon tea experience includes so much food you likely won’t need dinner. Plus, with an entire menu full of loose-leaf teas to choose from, there’s a flavor to please any palate.
Finish off your time in London with one of the best free views of the city — the Sky Garden atop the Walkie-Talkie skyscraper (as it’s known to locals). The Garden is a magnificent indoor green space that overlooks the entirety of the city. With plants all around, an outdoor platform, and no fewer than five places to grab a drink, you can’t go wrong here. You’ll have to book your free ticket in advance, but it’s worth it.
Though it’s time to head home (for real this time), reflect on your time spent in both Manchester and London, and make plans to return for a second jam-packed weekend — I know that’s what I’m doing!