Note: Travel and accommodation was provided by Visit Britain
"It's really hard to get lost in Manchester," our walking tour guide Jean advised us as we walked this most walkable city. "And you can always find a pub to sit down at and have a pint if you get tired."
In a nutshell, it describes this reinvigorated yet historic city. Nicknamed the "Original Modern City," Manchester strives to protect its past -- incorporating the many cotton mills which were the main source of industry in the city for many years, into its current cityscape -- while transforming itself into a city of art, culture, cuisine and sport. The best examples of this are the two English Premiere League football (soccer) teams, Manchester United and Manchester City. Extreme rivals, their stadiums are housed at opposite ends of the city, the sport comes together at the Football Museum.
The downtown core houses a population of only about 50,000, (versus the greater Manchester area, which is over two million) as there weren't traditionally residences located in what used to be a fairly derelict area until the mid-90's. Now, buildings have been renovated specifically to attract a younger demographic of students and newly employed graduates. The city is booming with restaurants, boutiques, and a vast array of vintage clothing shops. The most well-known is Afflecks, which has vintage and gothic clothing, jewelry, piercings and tattoo offerings spread over five eclectic floors.
The arts scene is thriving as well, with museums and galleries offered free to the public, including the renowned Whitworth Gallery.
The food scene in Manchester has exploded beyond the traditional pub, from the Curry Mile, to the Alice in Wonderland themed Richmond Tea Rooms, and to the authentic tastes of Malaysia at the fabulous Ning Restaurant.
Historic sites are protected and adapted across the city; most notably the Printworks Building, once home to the Daily Mirror, which relocated to London. This cavernous building's façade is still in tact, with an indoor dining and movie complex built as a faux outside street. Locals and tourists alike can take advantage of walking through on a rainy night, visiting bars and friends, without getting wet.
One "historic" site which will not be preserved is the original studio site for Coronation Street, the world's longest running television program. The Granada Studios are still intact, and the sold out tours give fans the opportunity to see many of the show's original sets, including Britain's most famous pub, the Rovers Return. Many indoor sets have been left as is, including The Kabin and Jack and Vera Duckworth's living room. The tour continues through to the production booth, where Christmas decorations are still hung from the last days of filming, giving it a ghostly feel. Stepping out onto the street where the buildings are not quite full size proves surreal for fans, some of whom have been watching for 50 years.
Filming of Coronation Street moved to the new Media City in 2013, and after a short period of offering set tours, the Granada Studios site will be demolished in 2016 to make room for hotels, theatres, and 2,500 apartments. The last tour is scheduled for December 31, 2015.
Air Transat flies to Manchester from Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.
An excerpted version of this article was originally run in the Metro News.