London is one of the greatest cities in the world and is one of the top tourist destinations. All roads may lead to Rome but there are a lot of flights that go directly to London from major airports world wide so getting there is fairly easy. There is a lot to do and see in London and a lot of tourists don’t go anywhere else in the UK from there unless they have specific interests. Of course lots of people also visit other locations and attractions, cities and regions in the UK but it’s always London you hear about.
I’ve been to London a lot. It’s one of my favourite cities, due to the history initially, and all the other reasons why people visit. But I’ve also been to the second largest city in the UK, Manchester, nearly as many times. The reason I went there for the first time, in 2000 was related to Coronation Street, my favourite television show which is filmed there. I have a lot of friends I’ve made via the internet over the years who are Corrie fans and several of them live in the Manchester area. My first visit was as a part of a large group of Corrie internet friends who headed there for a week long get together to meet, greet and celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary. My next couple of visits were also related in a way, visiting those same friends.
Then I met my now-fiance who, coincidentally, also lived in the Manchester area, in the next-door city of Salford. We met online through a mutual Corrie friend who knew him online through the heavy metal music forums and boards. Things clicked and here we are, still conducting our relationship between two continents for the time being. Since 2004, I’ve been to Manchester yearly and have grown to know the city a bit better. We have visited museums, attended theatre, shopped, and dined out, all in the Manchester area. Manchester has lots of similar attractions to London though on a smaller scale. I didn’t mention football as we aren’t fans but the two football clubs there, Manchester United and Manchester City, are also big draws.
Manchester is a little over 2 hours by train from London Euston. It’s a city with a strong industrial history with a strong Victorian architecture presence. I find it’s similar to Glasgow in many ways as far as the look and feel goes. There’s a thriving university presence and therefore, plenty of pubs and clubs, especially around the Gay Village quarter. The city centre shopping is very good and there’s a huge shopping mall/centre in Trafford. There’s a natural history museum at the university, a National Football Museum near the cathedral, and a great Science in Industry museum in the city centre though there are rumours that it may be closed to redirect funding to London museums. A crime if ever there was one! There are a couple of good sized galleries as well as quite a few smaller ones scattered about.
There are several theatres that produce some very good productions at prices greatly cheaper than London West End prices and you can find restaurants from a great number of ethnic choices. Nearby in Rusholme is the “curry mile”, a stretch of road lined with Indian, Thai and Chinese restaurants and there are dozens of good places to eat in the Chinatown area of Manchester. The Greater Manchester area towns and villages also have some good places to visit, a short bus or drive away such as the huge Bury market. There is also an interesting Jewish Museum in Salford, an old Tudor mansion (Ordsall Hall), also in Salford and a transportation museum in Salford as well. Salford Quays has outlet shopping, the Imperial War Museum North and the Lowry theatre and gallery. The MEN arena puts on top class concerts and other events. Manchester has a nice catheral as does Salford and there’s even an observation wheel, though it’s much smaller than the London Eye (and cheaper!).
Manchester’s gay scene is hopping and it’s Pride events are reknowned. The Christmas markets in the city centre from mid-November to Christmas attract thousands. The Northern Quarter is where you’ll find the funkier side of Manchester. There are some lovely museums and galleries as well as some off the beaten track places to visit such as the medieval Chetham’s library, the Victorian John Rylands Library and the Hatworks museum in Stockport.
Manchester is also a good base camp for day trips to the Lake District, Liverpool, Chester, York, Blackpool, North Wales and the Peak District, all of which are a short train journey away or under two hours by car at the most.
Coronation Street is still filmed in Manchester, soon to be produced out of the new BBC Media City in Salford Quays (the BBC is sharing the space with ITV studios who produce Corrie), moving out of the old Granada Studios buildings this year. You never know when you’re going to bump into an actor from the show and with more BBC productions moving to the northern studios, star spotting will be more productive if you’re into that sort of thing.
Manchester might not be as exciting as London on the surface but it’s a friendly city, compact, pretty good transportation system around the city. If you’re looking to see more of the UK, the North is a good place to start and Manchester is a good starting point.
Photos I’ve taken in the Greater Manchester region
Photos I’ve taken at Granada Studios on the Coronation Street set
The Lake District