Last Tuesday, I did something ‘outrageous’ and entirely out of my comfort zone. I spontaneously booked return coach tickets to Manchester, because:
a) I was a little bored. Sheffield is a lovely city, but it isn’t large by any means, and there isn’t a whole heap to do when there isn’t much classes on for the week and you end up with a five day weekend (student privileges).
b) Manchester is a major city in the UK and is only located 90 minutes away.
c) I managed to snag return trip tickets for only £7.80. Bargain!
I saved my tickets on my iPad, along with a map of the city, and waited for the big day. Thursday came along, and I was ready to roll.
I was actually quite nervous, because, it was technically my first time solo-travelling. Prior to coming to England, all my other trips were either holiday trips that I took with my family or with friends. I had never been to another city for travel purposes alone before.
While it would have been nice to have some company, I decided that trying out solo travelling would actually be a great experience – there would also be no fuss as to what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, and how I wanted to spend my day.
My bus was due to arrive at Manchester at around 2.30 in the afternoon, and I would give myself until 7.45 in the evening before I had to take the coach back to Sheffield. I figured that this would give me enough time to explore the city, and it wouldn’t get dark until 7pm anyway. It was the cheapest fare too, so all was good.
The coach was comfortable, and the bus driver was good natured and made some humorous jokes along the way. We drove past mostly countryside, and small villages, and a beautiful lake at one point. The coach eventually pulled into Manchester Coach Station, which is conveniently located in the city centre, and we all parted ways.
I had inspected the map beforehand and worked out what looked like the most logical route to see attractions, and Chinatown had been the closest to the Coach Station. It still surprised me though to find out that the Chinese Arch was literally just one turn away, and across the street! (I would later find out that everything in the city centre is quite compact and easy to get to, but I’ll touch on this in a bit).
Manchester’s Chinatown is the second largest in the UK, but I’ll admit it didn’t seem that large in person! It has a nice archway and an assortment of Asian eateries and restaurants, but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try any out for myself.
Town Hall and Albert Square
The next closest attraction was the Town Hall, which was a few streets away. I passed by the Central Library on the way and took a few snaps of the pretty cylindrical shaped building and laneways. Already I could sense that the city had a very different vibe from Sheffield and I was excited to see what else I would discover.
The Central Library
When I got to Albert Square, it was lively and packed with people, food, drinks and live music as the annual Manchester Food & Drink Festival was currently running. There were lots of food trucks and vending stations selling churros, crepes, cocktails and curries (hey! they all start with ‘c’).
The Town Hall and Albert Memorial
Myself and crepes!
I took some photos and then went to hunt for other tourist spots, but came back to the Square later to try a ham and cheese crepe which tasted as good as it looked!
John Rylands Library
This was definitely my favourite attraction that I visited and the most memorable. The John Rylands Library is a neo-gothic library that is open to the public for a free visit and is home to some of the finest collections of manuscripts and rare books in the world.
The library is commonly used by students at the University of Manchester for private study which both surprised me and made me envious that they had such a breathtakingly beautiful environment to study in!
The library has several rooms dedicated to exhibitions of precious manuscripts, in which visitors are not allowed to photograph, and also has beautiful historic stairwells and hallways which make you feel like you’ve been transported to a completely different era!
My favourite area to explore was the Historic Reading Room, which is laid out like a historic church, with high ceilings and pretty stained glass windows, but is open to anyone to use for study within the delicately partitioned alcoves.
The National Football Museum
I still had some time left after to explore a museum of choice, so I decided to head over to the National Football Museum. Despite not being a football fan, I still loved the displays and atmosphere of the museum. There were several floors, one of which was a mini arcade filled with old game machines including table football, and other vintage games, and another level dedicated completely to art displays of celebrated Brazilian soccer superstar Pelé.
The museum is well thought out and filled with interactive displays and football memorabilia dating from historic to new. Entry is free also, so it’s worth a drop by whether you’re a fan or not!
This was one attraction that I hadn’t planned on visiting but stumbled upon anyway on my way to the Museum of Science and Industry (which unfortunately was closed by the time I arrived at it). The city of Manchester was founded upon the ancient ruins of a Roman fort, which has since been partially reconstructed and overlooks a small, peaceful park in Castlefield.
Overall I had a lovely day in Manchester – the weather and atmosphere were great and the day went by smoothly. Everything was quite easy to locate with a tourist map and all attractions were easily within walking distance in the city centre. I noticed, however, it was a bit quiet that day even in the city, probably because it was a weekday.
I would suggest arriving a bit earlier in the morning of afternoon than I did, because many museums and attractions close by 5pm (e.g. I didn’t leave enough time to explore the Museum of Science and Industry!), especially if coming in winter, where it gets dark earlier.
Manchester is definitely not a city to miss if coming to the UK! Hope this post helped bring back some fond memories or inspired you with planning your trip.