The Best Northern City To Visit This Winter

I am in my third year at Durham University. Anyone else who is in (or has been in) this position will understand that, despite only being in the fifth week of teaching, there is already a mountain of work that just seems to pile up and up. In fact, all of us studying at Durham, whether in first year or fourth year (and beyond) will inevitably feel like the Durham ‘bubble’ is getting a tad stifling right now – especially since essays don’t tend to write themselves. Personally, I think that the most effective way to banish the University blues is to visit somewhere a little bit removed from our quaint little city. One of my personal favourite places to escape to is home to (too much) football, Coronation Street and the Gallagher brothers. That’s right – we’re hopping on a TransPennine Express train to Manchester. 

Artwork outside the Arndale Centre. Image by Ellen O’Rourke

Despite clocking in at just over two hours away from Durham by train, Manchester is simply the perfect destination for those wanting a day out in a city that isn’t Newcastle (a lively city well worth visiting, but we’ve all been there and done that). When you disembark from the train at Victoria Station, a brief 11-minute walk will take you to a hipster’s/foodie’s/cool-shop-lover’s favourite place: the Northern Quarter

Just meters from the infamous Arndale Centre, this section of Manchester’s city centre represents all that’s cool, vintage and colourful. They say that the best way to explore Venice is to just get lost; the Northern Quarter follows the same rules. Start the day wandering the streets and admiring the cool art which seems to curl around every corner. Explore the shops with an open mind: dispersed among the higher-end stores are several vibrant craft-type shops, where you may have to argue with yourself as to whether or not a pack of wooden dog and cat hair grips is a necessary buy. This definitely wasn’t a real dilemma that I had…


A colourful staircase inside the Afflecks Palace. Image by Ellen O’Rourke

A must-shop spot is Afflecks Palace. This hipster’s treasure-trove provides a stark but welcome contrast from Debenhams and Primark: shops sell vintage clothing items and posters, lots of different types of jewellery and, if you can find one, you can even play on a retro arcade machine! Window shopping here is a must, especially as the interior is so colourful and richly Mancunian in style – think bees. Lots of bees. If you’re looking to update your wardrobe (especially if you want to buy pre-loved clothes instead of relying on that all-too-easy ASOS order), or to simply think about doing so, then this is the place for you.

For lunch, try Northern Soul Grilled Cheese – you can find them in two locations: on Church Street in the Northern Quarter, or a stone’s throw from Manchester Piccadilly Station (bonus: from November 9th – December 22nd, a stall can also be found in the Manchester Christmas Markets! Don’t say I don’t treat you, dear reader). I don’t feel as though I need to hype this wonderful place up too much; I will simply tell you my order: one grilled cheese sandwich with – get this – a mac ‘n’ cheese filling. Yep, you heard me. They also featured on an episode of Man v. Food, so that tells you all you need to know about portion sizes. Convinced yet?

Manchester Christmas Markets 2018. Image by Iwan Hopkins

It would be rude of me to ignore the Manchester Christmas Markets now that I’ve name-dropped them. I refer to them as ‘them’ and not ‘it’ for a reason – according to, these festive stalls will be spread across not one, but ten locations across the city this year! 2019 marks the markets’ 20th anniversary, so there will undoubtedly be an impressive multitude of stalls, experiences and decoration this festive season. The Manchester Evening News have cited an ice tiki bar and a snow globe bar as two of this year’s special highlights, so, as the night draws in at an absurdly early hour, wrap up warm, grab a steaming cup of mulled wine (you can keep the festive cups for a small deposit!) and forget that it’s still November – now that Bonfire Night is done, Santa Claus is coming to (Manchester) town!

The best thing about this bustling city is that, despite my best efforts, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all it has to offer. Whether you want to discover cool restaurants serving wacky and wonderful food, scope out interesting places to have a drink (or five), or you simply want to see what hidden gems you can find in amongst the chaos, Manchester just doesn’t seem capable of disappointing. The best way to gain a new-found appreciation for your home, in my opinion, is to spend some time somewhere completely different. Manchester certainly fits the bill if you ever need to burst the bubble – you will come back to our lovely city feeling refreshed, even invigorated, by the inexplicable community-feel which seems to emanate from Manchester. Trust me – even if you love Durham and don’t ever really feel the need to escape, visiting Manchester will be a two-and-a-bit hour journey that you’ll want to take again and again. 

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