48 hours in active Manchester

Host to the Commonwealth Games, Manchester has been spruced up and is the perfect place to enjoy a feast of sport
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The Independent Travel

Why go now?

It will be a summer of sport and entertainment in Manchester. The city hosts the XVII Commonwealth Games from 25 July to 4 August. Seventy-two nations, from St Helena to India, will go for gold. Besides the sport, there will be an abundance of cultural events to mark the Games, including traditional Zulu dancing, the Commonwealth Film Festival and a programme of "urban world music" orchestrated by the British jazz star Courtney Pine.

Beam down

Manchester Piccadilly station is connected to many British towns and cities, with relatively fast services from Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London Euston on Virgin (08457 222 333, www.thetrainline.com); services will be disrupted at weekends from 10 August. British Airways (0845 77 333 77, www.ba.com) flies to Manchester from leading British airports. Return flights cost from: Heathrow, £64; Southampton, £155; and Edinburgh, £129 (all £5 more for non-internet bookings. BMI (0870 6070 555; www.flybmi.com) flies from Heathrow for £59.40 return. Manchester airport is 10 miles south of the city, frequent trains to Piccadilly station costing £2.20.

Get your bearings

Manchester city centre has undergone a facelift since being selected as the venue for the Commonwealth Games. Much of the gentrification of the area has been about re-inventing the old industrialised waterways. Rochdale Canal runs east-west through the south of the city centre; Castlefield, on the north bank of the canal, has been extensively redeveloped. The River Irwell marks the north-west boundary of the city centre; beyond it is Salford, with the new Lowry Hotel. Deansgate is Manchester's main shopping street. St Peter's Square is the centre of the city. The helpful tourist office (0161-234 3157, www.manchester.gov.uk/visitorcentre) is here, in the town hall extension on Lloyd Street.

Check in

For anyone arriving in the city by train, the Malmaison Hotel (0161-278-1000, www.malmaison.com) is handily located at the foot of the approach to Piccadilly station. Doubles cost £137.50 a night including breakfast. This trendy hotel has a small gym offering complementary facials, massage and manicures. Equally handy for soccer fans is Monroe's Bed and Breakfast (0161-236-0564), almost adjacent, which offers double rooms for £36. It's well located for trams to Old Trafford, home of Champions' League hopefuls Manchester United. Take any Metrolink tram from Piccadilly heading towards Eccles or Altrincham. The Castlefield Hotel (0161-832-7073, www.castlefield-hotel.co.uk), on Liverpool Road, has doubles with breakfast for £61 – plus extensive sporting facilities, including the only inclined running track in Manchester. You get free use of a pool, sauna and rugby fives courts.

Take a hike

Start from outside the Town Hall in Albert Square. Head down Princess Street to the city's small but busy Chinatown, vault past the hurdle of Chorlton Street Bus Station and into the Gay Village that fringes Canal Street. Cross the canal and jog along Whitworth Street, passing the Palace Hotel, crossing the canal again to check out the GMex Centre, home to the wrestling theatricals during the Games. Then take the marathon shoppers' handicap along Deansgate and its continuation. In Victoria Street lies the Manchester Evening News Arena. During the Games it will host the gymnastics, netball and judo; the rest of the time, it is home to the Manchester Storm ice hockey team (0161-737 0444).

Lunch on the run

Health-conscious visitors should be grateful for the way the cafés of the Gay Village have raised nutritional standards. The first on the block was Manto (46 Canal Street, 0161-236-2667), which offers salads and wraps, along with art exhibitions. The vegan dishes served at the café downstairs at the Manchester Buddhist Centre at 16-20 Turner Street (0161-834 9232) are also excellent.

Take a ride

The Manchester Velodrome – also known as the National Cycling Centre – is a bus trip (number 216) or a cycle ride away at Stuart Street (0161-223 2244). It is one of the finest indoor cycle tracks in the world, and offers one-hour racing taster sessions for £6.50.

Window shopping

King Street is the location for the highest concentration of designer stores; a new Harvey Nichols store is set to open close to the Arndale Centre. Both Manchester soccer teams have stores selling everything for the loyal fan.

An aperitif

A good place to start is Oldham Street, at the Dry Bar (0161-236 9840) or the Castle Pub (0161-236 2945), which offers nine different ales from the local Robinson's Brewery. The Revolution Bar (14) (0161-237 5377) on Oxford Road offers 60 kinds of performance-enhancing vodka.

Dining with the locals

Marco Pierre White's new restaurant, The River Rooms (0161-827 4041), is part of the Lowry Hotel (2). The set menu starts at £25. South along the Wilmslow Road, Rusholme is full of South Asian restaurants, earning it the nickname of "curry corridor"; locals argue about the best, but Darbar (65-67 Wilmslow Road, 0161-224 4392) has won awards for its lamb kormas.

Sunday morning: go to church

No sporting visit to Manchester is complete without a trip to the Temple of Football, Maine Road (0161-232 9009, www.mcfc.co.uk). Manchester City will be moving to the Commonwealth Stadium in 2003, so this is your last chance to see the Blues' historic ground. Guided tours are run on match days, and on Tuesday and Thursdays as well. Tickets cost £3 for adults and £2 for children. Or visit Manchester United's Old Trafford ground (0161-868 8631, www.manutd.com) instead. A 70-minute tour costs £8.50 for adults, £5.75 for juniors or £23.50 for a family ticket (two adults and up to three children).

A walk in the park

The Commonwealth Games' lawn bowls competitions will be held in the new sports zone in Heaton Park, the largest municipal park in Europe. There is also a golf course which offers spectacular views over the Pennines. The park has 10 listed buildings to admire including Heaton Hall, home to the Earls of Wilton. It is open Thursday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm, admission free.

Bracing brunch

The Britons' Protection pub (Great Bridgewater Street, 0161-236 5895) is an excellent venue for brunch whatever the weather. In tribute to Manchester's notorious climate, the bar counter has a pair of heating pipes as its footrails should you be caught in a shower. If it's sunny, however, there is a pleasant beer garden in which you can enjoy kangaroo, ostrich or wild boar pies.

The icing on the cake

Sports fans can wallow in nostalgia by admiring one of LS Lowry's most famous paintings, Going to the Match. It is on display at The Lowry complex (0161-876 2000, www.thelowry.com) along with more than 300 other paintings and drawings. If you get fed up with matchstick men, there is also a theatre and displays of contemporary works of art. The centre is in Salford Quays, the venue for the Games' triathlon. The closest Metrolink tram stop is Harbour City. The centre opens daily, and exhibitions are free.

Cultural afternoon

To mark the arrival of the Games, the Cornerhouse (16) (0161-200 1500, www.cornerhouse.org) on Oxford Street is running a free exhibition called "Spectator Sport", in which a number of international artists respond to the idea of televised sport in a variety of mediums.

Write a postcard

Lancashire County Cricket's Superstore at Old Trafford has a range of postcards featuring players past and present. You might like to write one while watching England play Sri Lanka in the Third Test in June or the one-day international the following month. Tickets cost from £15 per day for the Test match or £20 for the one-day game.

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