The meaning of the term staycation is hotly debated, with one camp arguing it’s strictly a holiday from home and the other that it can refer to any UK-based break.
Putting pedantry aside though, staycationing is all about discovery, be it an unspoilt beach that’s right on your doorstep or a nearby nightlife scene you’d never experienced before.
According to Booking.com, Manchester is set to be the most popular British destination in 2023 – and with Glasgow, Birmingham and Newcastle next on the list, city breaks are firmly on the agenda.
Research by the provider also revealed how the cost of living crisis is impacting our travel plans. Of the 1,006 UK residents surveyed, 62% said they’ll be sticking to a budget on their next trip.
Over half will be taking advantage of deals, hacks, loyalty schemes and smartly-timed travel, opting to cut costs with careful planning, rather than missing out on what matters to them.
That means fancy hotels alongside free activities, luxury accommodation on a self-catering basis, a shorter break where you pack in the fun, or saving up reward points for a splurge further down the line.
It’s a philosophy those of us with wanderlust bigger than our bank balance can get behind, but I was wary it wouldn’t be achievable here in Britain. Train prices can be prohibitive, and that’s before you factor in the price of food, drinks and excursions while you’re away.
Thankfully, however, if you plan things right you can explore the country without going into your overdraft. So if you want to give this year’s top staycation spot a go, these are our top tips for a budget-conscious but action-packed night and day in Manchester.
Free parking in Manchester is pretty much nonexistent, so skip the car when you’re heading to the city.
Trains from London start at £26.70, but you can save more if you have a railcard. Go for off-peak times where possible, not only for a reduced fare but to (hopefully) nab a seat for the two-and-a-half hour journey.
Like 53% of UK travellers I booked my ticket in advance and advise doing the same. Set an alert with Trainline to be contacted when fares are available and don’t forget to check SplitSave on the app too.
Where to stay
There’s no shortage of accommodation in Manchester, so you can choose a location and vibe that suits you.
I stayed at The Alan, an unremarkable name for a hotel that defies expectations. It’s a favourite of critic Jay Rayner, who staff told me was set to visit the following week – always a good sign.
The decor is stunning, featuring exposed brickwork and industrial elements alongside plush velvet and reclaimed marble.
Special touches are everywhere too: 200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, Google Nest and Chromecast devices, and shoppable interiors made by local artisans.
The rainfall shower was a particular highlight, while the seasonal breakfast was faultless.
I can, however, imagine The Alan’s liquorice-scented Haeckels soap being a problem if you’re hungover. Yes, it’s organic and good for your skin, but it also smells exactly like the 3am sambuca shot you want to forget.
Rooms start from £80 a night, and you won’t have to fork out for a cab as it’s just a short walk from Piccadilly station.
What to do
Although I’d never been to Manchester before (ridiculous, I know) and love Joy Division and The Smiths, I wasn’t bothered about hitting up Salford Lads Club for that obligatory Insta pic.
Instead, I spent a day exploring the Science and Industry Museum. It’s free to get in (although donations are welcome and exhibitions cost extra) and there’s loads to do. Learn about the city’s history of textile production and pioneering industry, listen to early BBC radio broadcasts, or play about in the interactive Experiment area before a cake and a cuppa in the café downstairs.
If you love to shop, you’re spoiled for choice in Manchester. While the Arndale is colossal, head to the Northern Quarter for vintage pieces and bargains galore. Oxfam Originals and Pop Boutique on Oldham street are worth a visit, as is Blue Rinse, where you can buy preloved clothing by the kilo.
The John Rylands Library is also free to visit and well worth your time. Marvel at the Neo-gothic architecture or the collections of books, manuscripts, maps and artworks or simply take a moment to take in the atmosphere in the Historic Reading Room.
For those staying at The Alan, the Manchester Art Gallery is quite literally across the road. There you can see works from the likes of Gauguin, Turner, Renoir and Gainsborough.
What to eat and drink
No good holiday (however fleeting) is complete without sampling the local hospitality, something Manchester has in spades.
The Old Monkey is a nice central spot for people-watching and planning your mini-break over a pint, but head to Shambles Square for pubs that take you back in time. The Old Wellington, built in 1552, is renowned for its pies and has a roomy patio that’ll be ideal over the summer months. Just watch your head on those Tudor beams.
As I was visiting on a Sunday I thought it rude not to have a traditional roast, but choosing was a struggle among so many options. In the end I opted for Trof, a bar and restaurant that calls its offering ‘the best Sunday dinner in the world.’ I’m not sure I’m qualified to make that sort of judgement, but the lamb and pork definitely hit the spot, as did the cauliflower cheese.
Later on, my partner and I wandered over the canal to Bunny Jackson’s. The NFL game was on (attracting rival fans and providing some healthy raillery), the margaritas were aplenty, the pool table was free to use and the wings cost just 25p a pop. How’s that for a cheap and cheerful night out?
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