By Hannah Silverman
Manchester is renowned for big things and old stuff – from the UK’s largest football stadium to the world’s first passenger railway station. There’s also a little thing called the Industrial Revolution.
As one would expect of the country’s second largest city, Manchester is mighty proud of its heritage as well as its food and festivities, and since there’s no better time to eat and be merry than Christmas, mine was a very timely visit. When the morning frost begins to hint at the imminent winter ahead, Manchester distracts with a kaleidoscope of Christmas traditions as warming as its readily available mulled wines. And at the heart of said traditions are the famous Manchester Christmas Markets – the largest in England – which are currently celebrating 15 fairy-lit years.
I was in Manchester for work last weekend but took a day to soak up the Mancunian culture – when in Rome and all that jazz. As it was my first time in the Manchester I wanted a good bite of the city, but knew I wouldn’t have the time to enjoy a complete introduction. Nevertheless these Christmas markets I’d heard so much about were the first point of interest. The Christmas market idea is very European in concept, lending itself perfectly to the wintery conditions (of which this city is also very well known).
Glowing under a blanket of enchanting bulbs, the Manchester Christmas Markets at Albert Square offer rows of wooden chalets that sell everything from German food to bespoke gifts. Sure, much is overpriced but most of it is a selection of unique creations you could very well justify as priceless and are more than reasonable if you’re looking for quirky stocking fillers. Then of course there’s the Christmas paraphernalia taking form as cuddly bears, wooden charms and berry-woven wreaths. Rug up, mulled wine can only do so much.
Around the corner are a series of a spin-off markets, The first is directly across the road and offers more Bavarian-inspired food and beverage as well as inspirational, hippy-style and otherwise all-round creative homewares. At the nearby Manchester Victorian Christmas Markets artisan desserts, teas and vintage wares are all the rage. Unlike the Albert Square markets and its surrounds, this is undercover but every bit as darling. I didn’t stay long as the hall was still in early morning ‘I-need-a-latte’ mode, but I suspect it’s en-trend vibe and main road location make it a key attraction come night fall.
Visiting the Museum of Science and Innovation was another must do tick for me, and really the only other activity I would have time for that day. MOSI (pronounced Mossie, as in mosquito) serve up an education of engineering, textiles, physics and history. Quite an eclectic classroom mix when you think about it, but with a history so richly steeped in science and well, innovation, it’s a fascinating showcase of where this gritty city has been.
Among its five heritage listed buildings, MOSI houses a station platform preserved and promoted as the world’s oldest purpose-built passenger and goods railway station. The museum inside takes visitors through Manchester’s impoverished beginnings and eventually to its prosperous triumph at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and it’s Mancunian cotton roots. Meanwhile an underground exhibition below about water and sewerage through the ages is surprisingly pleasant.
Like all good museums a series of themed exhibitions rotate through its annual calender. On this November afternoon I visited the ‘Brains: The Minds of Matter’, which is a compelling investigation about how the brain works, including early theories on its scientific functioning and medical significance. It’s a little bit squeamish but worth stomaching the facts and photographs if for no other reason than a resin mould of Einsteins brain awaits you near the end. What? That doesn’t interest you? OK, just me and my inner-nerd then.
Dinner was at the scrumptious San Carlo, a favourite of A-listers including Rhiannon and and probably the whole Manchester United and City teams. Reasonably priced and a decadent in atmosphere, you can see why the creative heavyweights have agreed to pose with the owner for a wall full of framed photographs. You should book ahead or expect up to an hour wait for a table but there is a bar, and baby it’s cold outside. Once seated try the monk fish pasta, delizioso!
For me Manchester is all about energy, evolution and on this Christmassy occasion, eggnog. For the next traveller, the city will no doubt deliver a different trifecta, but it’s well worth at least a 24-hour immersion just what that will be.