A short break to... Manchester

From The Rover's Return to the gay village, the rainy city has reinvented its industrial past to become a truly modern millennial metropolis, says Nicholas Taylor

Why go?

Manchester is still a city in revolution. From local hero Richard Arkwright who, in 1783, set up the first steam powered mill, launching the industrial revolution, to the building of the Bridgewater canal, the first artificial waterway to exist in Britain, Manchester's wheel has been powered by its watery lifeblood. Manchester might be the rainy city of cheerful loss but it still flies the flag as one of England's top centres.

When to go?

As the city is unstoppable, you can be guaranteed of an active and cheery welcome whenever you decide to pop by for a cuppa. Summer plays host to festivals like In The City, The Summer Proms and at the end of August, gay Manchester's Mardi Gras.

How to get there

British Airways offers a network of 10 European and five domestic routes, including 20 services each weekday. A return flight from Heathrow costs pounds 68. For details and booking call 0345 222111. The airport rail link, which operates 24 hours a day, will have you in the city centre in 20 minutes.

National Express coaches serve more than 1,200 destinations across the UK, from the coach station at Chorlton Street, near Piccadilly (tel: 0161- 228 3881). Information and booking on 0990 80 80 80. For further information contact the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport executive on 0161-228 7811.

Manchester has two mainline railway stations, Piccadilly at the east of the centre and Victoria in the north. A super saver return from London Euston costs pounds 39.50, while a saver costs pounds 46.50. Journey time is two-and- half hours. Information is on 0345 484950.

Arriving by road from the North will involve entering the city on the M61 from the M6 and from the South on the M56 again from the M6.

Inside the city centre, there is a maze of trams that weaves from the centre out to the airport and suburbs.

Where to stay

Malmaison, Joshua Hoyle Building, Piccadilly (0161-278 1000). This modern hotel would not be out of place in Manhattan, but instead sits conveniently opposite Piccadilly train station. An existing Victorian building has been extended with a huge block at the rear, providing perfectly suited hotel rooms, all en suite with television and stereo. The hotel has a bar, restaurant and health suite, all in sublime tones of art nouveau discretion. A room for two people costs pounds 165 per night, with breakfast at pounds 10.50 per person.

Midland Hotel, Peter Street (0161-236 3333). This listed Edwardian building where Rolls first met Royce provides residential splendour for a high- class visit. The exterior is a wonderful mess of chimneys, stucco and fret work, but the interior has been modernised to provide everything that the deluxe visitor might require. The Midland has more than 300 rooms and also contains a hairdressers and two restaurants to choose from. Cost is pounds 150 per room.

YHA Manchester, Potato Wharf (0161-839 9960). Situated in the rejuvenated Castlefield, the updated hostel provides residence on a slimmer budget, but all rooms come with en suite facilities. Parking is available for 50 cars, and a room costs pounds 40 per night.

Cordells Hotel, 138 Manchester Road, Swinton (0161-794 5330). A friendly and small hotel located on the peaceful outskirts of the city centre, which makes it ideal for visitors who want to dip their foot in the centre while staying out of the hustle and within easy reach of the surrounding countryside. There is limited parking facilities and the standard rate is pounds 46 per room.

What to see and do

If Manchester refuses to bathe its visitors in glorious sunshine it makes up for it with landmark sights, historical interests and a strong cultural quiver. An eclectic mix of tours are available from the Blue Badge Guide, helping you to see the parts of the city that appeal the most. For walking tours in and around the region call 0161-969 5522.

The reclamation of old for new that makes up Manchester's polished Castlefield district provides an assertive and unique landscape from which to view the city's industrial past and vibrant present. The world's first railway warehouse and passenger railway station form part of the massive Museum of Science and Industry, open 10am-5pm daily (0161-832 1830). At the museum's rear can be found the cast of houses that together make up Coronation Street. Tours of the Granada Studios include a fairground ride and the chance to relive your life as soap opera. The one-stop visit for information on all Castlefield attractions and facilities is the Castlefield Centre, open Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat, Sun, Bank Holidays 12noon-4pm (0161- 834 4026).

Manchester's gothic Town Hall dominates Albert Square. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse and opened in 1877, the building has a similar grandeur to its architect's other grotesque folly, the National History Museum, and houses an impressive series of murals in the great hall by Ford Madox Brown. Manchester's Cathedral is situated near Victoria railway station and dates back to the 15th century. It is in the perpendicular style and is acknowledged as having the widest medieval nave in Britain.

The Pump House People's Museum is worth a peek, while in 2000 the Lowry Museum - the national landmark millennium project for the arts comprising the Lowry collection, two theatres and an interactive children's gallery - will open.

If you like to imbibe your creative spirits in a more visual context then the Cornerhouse Gallery is Manchester's home for contemporary visual art: replete with cafe and bookshop, while other modern works can be seen in the Castlefield Gallery. The Salford and Whitworth galleries also house interesting collections of watercolours, textiles and sculpture. Major refurbishments at the City Art Gallery, home to a seraphic Pre-Raphaelite collection, means Art with a capital 'A' will be on hold until the elegant classical exterior is polished and refurbished and open for visitors again in 2000. Lovers of sport will find all their dreams fulfilled at the Manchester Velodrome, the National Cycling Centre, and holder of the world's fastest cycle track epithet. The forthcoming Commonwealth games to be held in the city in 2002 will bring a new 48,000-seater stadium as well as a swimming and diving complex.

And then there's the football... Just head for Old Trafford or Maine Road depending on whether your colour preferences rest with red or blue.

Shopping

After the Arndale bombing there can be only tree-lined avenues, as a Marxist theorist might well have said, and Manchester's retail white elephant that was the Arndale Centre is being remodelled into a new civic square (complete with leafy trees) which will link the city's historic heart with the inescapable and expanding shopping culture. As the first Marks and Spencer opened here in 1894 it is a fitting tribute that the chain's largest store is due to open in spring 2000. Joseph, Patrick Cox, Diesel, Vivienne Westwood, DKNY and all the rest hawk their wares on or near King Street.

There's also more home-grown talent (potters, weavers, etc) found upstairs at the Manchester craft centre and the voluminous market emporium of Affleck's Palace still furnishes its inimitable brand of hippie chic. For something more new than unusual, the Arc provides a crescent for the lo-fi trend scavengers who populate the Northern Quarter.

Where to go out

Manchester is a catwalk city in which to see and be seen. It is a place to recline in cappuccino bars amid the drifting continental waves, to party twentyfour/seven and to watch the cutting edge of fashion feed into the mainstream in a cauldron of style, character and easy, ready defiance.

Smart design-concept cafe bars like Atlas and Quay bar come essentially recommended, while Mash and Air hosts evenings of all-black chic for what look like the cast of Hollyoaks. The Northern Quarter once again delivers the novelty, albeit in a nine-year-old bar. Dry is a break from the stale predictability of club culture with experimental live music, easy nonsense and a renewed air of nonchalant despair and the stark raving funkiness of Molotov Pop should prove that the music scene is recharging itself as well as the city itself. And if all this feels too tired and tested, try Kicks opposite the Piccadilly Tower Hotel, for a night of pink neon and high-kicking. Wherever the night takes you, be sure to check up on Manchester's relative goings on in the listings magazine, City Life.

Where to eat

A myriad of international restaurants including Chinatown and Rusholme's Asian cuisine contrast with the modern European fare on offer in the newer venues.

Mash and Air (0161-661 6161). Oliver Peyton opened his original prototype at the edge of Canal Street and Chorlton Street two years ago. It is housed in a converted mill and contains two restaurants, the aforementioned Cheshire- set bar and fully functioning micro-brewery. A three course dinner for two will set you back pounds 60, but the fusion food which can put chinese duck on pizza and get away with it will be a resounding hit.

Barca at Arches 8 + 9, Catalan Square (0161-839 7099). Mick Hucknall's award-winning bar-restaurant in a stylish modernisation of two huge Victorian railway arches entertains a select crowd and creates a menu that draws on contemporary Mediterranean, Pacific Rim and North African styles of cooking at pounds 25 per head.

Reform, King Street (0161-839 9966). Huge, opulent in purple and scarlet and with an air of genteel insanity, Reform looks and feels like a psychedelic gentleman's club. The food is as bold and assertive as the decor: quirky twists on traditional English eating but resolute in a magnanimous manner. Sturdy servings complement the feeling of dining aboard the last sailing of the great banking house dream. At pounds 40 per head, this is a top notch treat worth tasting.

Simply Heathcotes, Jackson Row (0161-835 3536) is the perfect place to settle in for brunch and wait for Sunday to pass you by. The brainchild of leading British chef Paul Heathcote, it serves traditional haute cuisine with a livid modern twist at around pounds 30 per head. The closely guarded recipe for bread and butter pudding is incentive enough to visit this light, graceful dining palace.

Information

Staff at the Manchester Visitor Information Centre will endeavour to be as helpful as possible with any enquiries you might have about the city. They are located at the Town Hall Extension, Lloyd Street (0161- 234 3157) and the centre is open Monday-Saturday 10am-5.30pm, Sundays and Bank Holidays 11am-4pm.

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