Manchester madness

Manchester: hop, skip and jump with BMI Baby

Fancy a shopping trip? A good night out? A premier league football match? Or even some culture away from Cork?

I visited Cork recently as the guest of BMI Baby and Marketing Manchester

Manchester is one of the UK’s biggest cities, with over twice the population of Dublin, and is well known for both its sporting glory and shopping potential. It’s ideal for a short break, and with BMI Baby flying regularly from Cork Airport, is quicker and probably cheaper than going to Dublin for a girls’ weekend.
With my knowledge of Manchester stretching about as far as the cobbles of Coronation Street and t’mills, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a vibrant, modern city that retains aspects of its industrial past but is clearly striving to become a cultural and retail destination.
Manchester is ideal for a shopping holiday. Weak sterling and the difference in prices at UK retail outlets mean that any avid shopper will bag a bargain. Now that Cork has many of the same stores, it’s interesting, and rather frustrating, to see the rip-off price differences in many of the bigger chainstores. With some of the UK’s biggest shopping centres including the city centre-based Arndale Centre and of course the Trafford Centre, there’s plenty of scope to shop ‘til you drop and naturally, we did. While many people think immediately of London, Manchester benefits from a cheaper cost of living – so food, drink and accommodation are all far cheaper than they would be in the English capital.
A trip on the Manchester Wheel (similar to the London Eye) provides a great birds eye view over the city, and is one of few traditionally ‘touristy’ experiences available. Corrie fans will be disappointed to learn that you can no longer tread the hallowed cobbles, and the lack of any Coronation Street attraction was our one complaint about the city!
The city has plenty to offer when it comes to eating out and socialising. We lunched at the delightfully quaint Mr Thomas’ Chophouse, which is located conveniently near the Arndale Centre, and serves a lot more than chops, much to my relief. Friendly service and excellent, hearty food (I had the fish and chips with mushy peas, which was fantastic) make this a must, and the old-fashioned décor is atmospheric. It’s always good to see a big lunch crowd and the mix of office workers and at least one couple on a date was encouraging.
For dinner, Manchester has a great range of options. The city’s size and diverse ethnic mix means it has something for everyone, and we visited Ning, a Malaysian restaurant in the city’s Northern Quarter. The food was among the best Asian cuisine I’ve ever tasted, and a perfectly chosen wine list complemented it well. Friendly staff and excellent service completed the experience.
As Manchester continues to be a massive centre of industry and commerce, it has a great range of accommodation to choose from. Business travellers demand a high standard, so the city is well equipped for these. We stayed at the Palace Hotel in central Oxford Street, which is well located across the street from Oxford Road Train Station, just 20 minutes from the airport. The hotel is imposing and really brings home to you just how much history Manchester has. It takes up almost a full city block and is situated in the former headquarters of Refuge Assurance, which was clearly a major player in the industry. A gothic red-brick façade, stained glass windows and a huge, pillared reception area with a glass dome in the ceiling must have made for some very intimidated life insurance customers back in its days as a financial institution. Nowadays it is a premium conference hotel and has recently been refurbished to a very high standard, with comfortable, spacious rooms and a modern, appealing décor within the rooms.
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