Manchester: The Right Place at the Right Time

Lizzie H. NUI Galway, Ireland

Date

February 11, 2016

This past weekend, two of my friends and I took our first weekend trip out of Ireland to Manchester, UK to celebrate our friend Sarah’s birthday. You may be wondering, why Manchester? Honestly, the location was pretty arbitrary. Sarah had never been to a proper concert before and we knew Hozier was touring Europe this spring. We did some digging to see if there were any tickets left to any of his shows near us, and he just so happened to have a Saturday night concert on Sarah’s birthday in Manchester with some unsold tickets waiting for us. Before we could fully commit, we had to see if there were any openings at a reasonably cheap hostel. Some quick Internet searching revealed several open beds at a Hostel in the cool part of town, so we made the decision to just go for it. We booked our hostel, got the concert tickets, and nabbed the cheapest flight from Shannon airport to Manchester that we could find.

We ended up spending two days and three nights in Manchester, leaving Friday afternoon and returning early Monday morning. Flights were much cheaper on Monday morning versus Sunday night, and a little math told us it was actually cheaper to stay another night at the hostel than to fly back on Sunday night. By the time we got to our hostel on Friday it was pretty late in the evening, so we settled for a quick exploration of the streets surrounding our hostel and some food at a small kebab place. Saturday was our big day of exploring the city and going to the concert that night, so we saved Sunday for exploring any places we couldn’t make it to on Saturday.

Before I tell you about how amazing our adventures were and offer my own advice about places to visit if you find yourself in Manchester, I feel as though I should offer a brief glimpse into hostel life from someone who was extremely leery of hostels after reading too many online horror stories about them. I’ll start with this: It was nowhere near as bad as I anticipated. In fact, it reminded me quite a bit of living in the dorms during my freshman and sophomore years of college. The people at the reception desk were super helpful, answering our questions and offering insights about the best parts of town, best bars, and even the best place to grab a slice of pizza. That being said, use some common sense when preparing to stay at a hostel in a room full of people you’ve never met. Bring shower shoes and your own towel, don’t bring anything you couldn’t afford to lose, and don’t leave your wallet/phone/other valuables unattended. Our hostel had a locked luggage storage area where we could leave our bags during the day, but don’t count on being able to lock up all of your belongings. Leave your fancy camera, laptop, kindle, and nice jewelry at home. I packed incredibly light for the weekend, leaving nearly half of my backpack empty for souvenirs and anything I accumulated over the weekend. Think more along the lines of “just enough” instead of “just in case” when choosing what to pack.

Now, for the fun part where I get to tell you about all my favorite parts of Manchester along with how to make the most of your weekend trips! Before we left, I spent some time on Pinterest and Manchester’s tourism website making lists of possible activities, cheap places to eat, recommended shops, and free events. Manchester happened to have a free bus system that ran in the city center, something I would have never known without looking at their tourism website. Manchester also had several free museums, a gorgeous cathedral open to the public, some great architectural landmarks, and free walking tours of the city every weekend. It was through reading other travelers’ blogs that I was able to find out about some of the coolest places we explored over the weekend. It was a blog of “hipster eats” that told me about my new favorite restaurant in Manchester that only serves grilled cheese sandwiches. Another blog talked about Canal Street, Manchester’s gay community, and the phenomenally powerful memorials at Sackville Gardens.

Despite all of my lists and preparation, some incredible parts of our weekend happened simply because we were in the right place at the right time. While we were wandering the city on Sunday, we stumbled across the Chinese New Year parade. We arrived only ten minutes before the parade started and were able to take part in the celebration and snap some photos of the dragon. We also accidentally stumbled into Afflecks, a giant hipster market filled with really unique shops and cafés. All in all, Manchester was a wonderful city to visit for a weekend. If you’re planning a weekend trip, be sure to do your research, but leave yourself some wiggle room in case you stumble across some hidden gems.