the sunday guide to // short breaks in the uk
You don’t have to go abroad to experience a relaxing city break. We've pulled together Sunday Guides to three UK cities to demonstrate how you can relax and unwind amidst the hustle and bustle of city life.
It may not be the first place that you consider for a relaxing weekend away, but there is plenty to do in Manchester that doesn’t involve touring football stadiums and dancing into the early hours of the morning. All around the city centre you will find a network of delightful hidden passageways, independent shops and eateries, and a scattering of intriguing new architecture mixed among the old. Read on as we suggest how to spend a relaxing Sunday without having to negotiate the bustle of Market Street.
Nestled inside a former bank building in the heart of the city, Hotel Gotham is one of the city's newest boutique hotels and it's second five-star offering, opening less than a year ago to critical acclaim. The Art Deco-inspired interiors play upon the buildings history; briefcases, typewriters and money bags used as decorations, light-fittings and laundry bags for a fun nod to the many years that the Midland Bank was located here.
Make your way up to the rooftop private bar in the evening to sit out on one of the roof terraces and enjoy the view of the sun setting over the city.
The historic Whitworth Art Gallery reopened earlier this year to critical acclaim, boasting a £15 million investment, new gallery spaces and a series of exciting exhibitions. The unique setting of the gallery in the grounds of a park allows for an accompanying sculpture garden in the grounds and an impressive café with floor-to-ceiling windows that creates the impression that diners are eating amongst the trees. Recent exhibitions have included the likes of Cornelia Parker and Cai Guo-Qiang, with an exciting programme to look forward to in 2016.
Yes, Manchester has a secret marina! New Islington is the area just to the north of the popular Northern Quarter, where property developers have been busy converting disused wasteland and old mills into the city’s most exciting and as yet mostly undiscovered new neighbourhood. Three canals (one of them created especially for the development) and a city park pull the area together, providing space to sit and relax or stroll around and admire the boats that have begun to moor here.
Minutes away in neighbouring Ancoats, you’ll find a scattering of new restaurants and bars, including The Cutting Room and the soon-to-open Seven Brothers craft beer bar. With plans on the horizon to continue to develop the area into a city centre hub for socialising, relaxing and living, now is the time to discover New Islington.
You’ll be spoilt for choice for where to sit and relax with a cup of coffee in Manchester. Over the past year, an abundance of stylish coffee shops have sprung up across the city to accompany the likes of North Tea Power and Takk that have been local favourites for some time. There’s the original Grindsmith eco-pod on Greengate Square that’s great for coffee on the go, and the more recent addition of their Deansgate bricks and mortar coffee house.
Pot Kettle Black in Barton Arcade is a firm favourite for their attention to detail, with each cup served on a small silver tray with an accompanying glass of water and wafer biscuit. If you only have time for one coffee, however, ensure that you visit Foundation Coffee House on Lever Street. Their fusion of slick minimal interiors and delicious coffee is not to be missed.
Manchester is home to four stunning libraries, all with a rich history. Central library, at the top of Oxford Road, reopened earlier this year beautifully refurbished whilst retaining all of its original features. Chethams is one of the oldest public libraries in the entire country, with plenty of long dark corridors to explore and a vast collection of 19th Century literature to discover.
Then there is the grand John Rylands neo-Gothic library to discover, its historic reading room the showpiece of the building. Finally, seek out The Portico, hidden away above The Bank public house on Mosley Street. The library itself is only open to members, but a public exhibition space below an intricately decorated dome showcases both local art and exhibits with a literacy theme. All four buildings are the perfect place to while away several hours away from the city centre crowds.
The Cornerhouse gallery, cinema and café was a beloved institution in Manchester that sadly shut its doors earlier this year. Its spirit was thankfully kept alive in the brand new arts and culture venue, HOME, which combines all of the elements of the former Cornerhouse with the theatrical expertise of the former Library Theatre. Beautifully designed, the building plays host to a large gallery space alongside several smaller exhibitions along corridors and between floors.
The first-floor restaurant is the perfect place to eat before catching a film or play, but our favourite spot in the building has to be the outdoor roof terrace, where you can relax with a drink and watch the world go by from above.
It may be a half-hour tram journey out of the city centre (and technically in Cheshire), but Altrincham Market has been attracting attention this year for all of the right reasons, earning the title of Best Market in the UK by Observer Food Monthly. Refurbished towards the end of 2014, the indoor market hall has been transformed into a dining space with communal benches surrounded by permanent artisan eateries serving everything from wood-fired pizzas to loose-leaf herbal tea.
The adjoining outdoor covered market is open five days a week with a variety of stall owners selling their wares, and occasionally musical performances. Sunday markets are themed weekly, often including local creatives and delicious food. Be warned that the market gets busy around lunch time, and that the best time to arrive for a peaceful Sunday browse is around the opening time of 10am.
You’ll find every kind of cuisine imaginable in Manchester, with a new restaurant seemingly popping up every week. But if it is a fine dining experience that you are seeking, make a reservation at Manchester House to sample Head Chef Aiden Byrne’s exquisite tasting menu. Choose from either the 8 or 15 course menu and be prepared to be astounded by not only the surprising flavour combinations, but by the impeccable presentation. After dinner, take your drinks outside to the roof terrace to admire the lights of the city below.
As you would expect from a city that once boasted one of the country's most legendary clubs (The Hacienda), Manchester has plenty of options when it comes to drinking and dancing, whatever your taste. Seek out the most vibrant scene in the back streets of the Northern Quarter, known for its independent bars and gig venues. Head to Stevenson Square to discover a variety of cocktail, tiki, subterranean and hidden speakeasy bars, including GBA, Soup Kitchen, Hula, The Fitzgerald and Dusk Til Pawn.
If the idea of stumbling across hidden bars is tickling your fancy, give The Washhouse a call and leave a message stating how many 'loads' you wish to book in, then head to Shudehill to seek out the bar hidden behind a faux launderette.
Head up north of the border to Scotland and spend a long weekend enjoying the fusion of cobbled streets, gourmet restaurants and spectacular scenery that Edinburgh has to offer. You'll find the best of both worlds here, with the abundance of fresh air and old stone buildings creating the impression that you're exploring a much smaller town, but plenty of luxury eateries, boutiques and spas to satisfy dedicated urbanites.
Perfectly located in the heart of the city’s historic Old Town, Hotel Du Vin is situated in the unusual choice of a former asylum. Don’t let the history of the building put you off, as the four-star luxury accommodation is one of the most stylish in the city. Bedrooms retain original features, roll top baths offer the opportunity for tranquil soaking and Egyptian cotton sheets line the beds.
If you’re in need of fresh air, slip into a comfortable pair of shoes and head out for a brisk walk to the summit of Arthur’s Seat. There’s not many European cities that boast an extinct volcano in their centre, making the domineering feature of Edinburgh’s landscape an anomaly begging to be explored. Located within leafy Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is a relatively easy climb, and you will be rewarded with breath-taking views over the city once you reach the top.
If you have to take your work with you, there are plenty of cafes to choose from to settle down with your laptop for a couple of hours. Head straight to Brew Lab to find the city’s best coffee to fuel you whilst you work, with two filter coffees brewed fresh every day. There’s unlimited free wifi, so settle down on one of the well-loved leather sofas and keep ordering fresh cups of coffee as you work.
Wrap up warm and don’t forget waterproofs; Edinburgh is not known for its sunny weather. Ensure your mahabis are packed and ready for cosy evenings in by the fire.
After a busy morning exploring Edinburgh’s winding streets, retreat to One Spa at the Edinburgh Sheraton Hotel for a relaxing spa experience. The epitome of luxury, the spa offers a diverse selection of treatments and rooms, including a rooftop hydropool, a thermal suite, mud treatments, rainforest showers and fragrant steam rooms. If you have time, indulge in the recommended 11 step process, which guides guests throughout the spa with ultimate relaxation in mind.
Plan your visit for August to coincide with the world-famous Edinburgh Festival, the largest and most extensive arts festival in the world. Whether you choose to sample the highbrow official festival, with its diverse programme of classical music, theatre and dance, or the ever popular Fringe Festival, it’s essential to book in advance to secure tickets and accommodation during this busy period where the streets of the city come to life with musicians, dancers and marching bands. The diverse programme features over 50,000 performers ranging from comedians to circus performers and poets, supplying something of interest for absolutely everyone.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a book to enjoy during your time in Edinburgh; the city is famed for its diverse calibre of authors including Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle and Irvine Welsh. JK Rowling also famously wrote her Harry Potter series from the comfort of the cities many cafes. We recommend picking up an Inspector Rebus tome by Ian Rankin, as the author delves into the cities hidden streets and alleyways with such detail that there are specific tours that visit the destinations that he details.
Head to Gardener’s Cottage for an evening meal in an unusual setting, located within a quaint country cottage right in the centre of the city. The atmosphere is that of an informal gathering of friends, with two small rooms dominated by communal tables and lit by candlelight. The menu changes regularly, based on fresh ingredients grown on an organic garden just outside the city.
After dinner, Edinburgh’s infamous nightlife is begging to be sampled, with an array of traditional pubs, eclectic hang-outs and stylish cocktail bars just waiting to be discovered. As you are in Scotland, you should ensure that you sample some local whiskey, and cosy local favourite bar, Devil’s Advocate has one of the most comprehensive whiskey selections in the city.
Hidden down a narrow alley opposite St Giles’ Cathedral, the huge outdoor terrace is a big pull in the summer months, but the warm and welcoming interior is just as impressive. Treat yourself to an inventive whiskey cocktail (we recommend the ’Howitzer’) and spend the night relaxing in style.
Full of character, history and it's own unique identity, Bristol offers a rich and diverse display of art, culture and architecture to discover. Known for being a European Green Capital and for its sustainability status, it's no surprise that there are a variety of outdoor spaces in which to enjoy the fresh air and get away from the bustling city streets. Ensure that you plan your visit to explore all of the different areas of the city, all of which offer a unique view into Bristol life.
Rather than resting your head in a busy hotel, why not treat yourself to a stay in a luxury serviced apartment where you have more privacy, kitchen facilities and outdoor space to enjoy? The Berkeley Suites are located within a Georgian townhouse in the exclusive Clifton area of the city, offering all of the services associated with a stay in a luxury hotel including room service and a laundry service. Expect stylish and modern interiors, Egyptian cotton sheets, monsoon showers and a welcome basket full of fresh fruit, coffee and biscuits to make your stay as comfortable as possible.
Home to Banksy and many other world-famous and up-and-coming artists, Bristol is famed for its abundance of prolific street art. Much more than mere graffiti, this is more akin to the art that you see hanging on the walls in contemporary art galleries, albeit often with obvious political messages attached. Head to Stokes Croft to seek out a riot of colourful art decorating the walls of buildings, ensuring that you stop to admire Banksy's Mild Mild West mural next door to The Canteen.
Don't neglect the art covering the rest of the city, however. Bedminster and North Street are street-art hot-spots, thanks to the yearly Urban Paint Festival which leaves giant murals on the exterior walls of cafes and bars.
Discover one of Europe's leading contemporary arts centres on the edge of the Harbourside area of the city.There's plenty of options for whiling away a relaxing afternoon at Arnolfini, including visual arts, dance, film, music and theatrical events. The centre boasts five exhibition spaces, an auditorium housing cinema and theatre spaces, a reading room, a bookshop containing an extensive collection of arts tomes, and a locally renowned cafe serving seasonal produce.
Nestled inside a Georgian courtyard in the centre of Clifton, The Lido is the perfect place to unwind and spend a couple of hours of downtime. The spa specialise in massages, utilising their own brand of essential oils, tailor-made for your specific needs. Alongside the spa treatments, you'll discover a heated outdoor pool, sauna, hot tub, steam room and pool-side restaurant where you can sit outdoors in summer.
If you're seeking a read that reminds you of Bristol's history as a port, association with voyages to America and tales of piracy, look no further than Robert Louis Stevenson's iconic tome, Treasure Island. The Harbourside area of the city is now thriving with museums, galleries, restaurants and bars, but it's not hard to imagine the ramshackle collection of taverns as detailed in the book.
The leafy and elegant area of Clifton is filled with independent boutiques, cosy little cafes and beautiful Georgian buildings, as well as playing host to one of the city's most famous landmarks. No visit to Bristol is complete without taking a stroll over the iconic suspension bridge and admiring the view of the River Avon down far below and the edge of Leigh Woods Nature Reserve nestled on the other side of the gorge. To the north of Clifton you'll find yourself in the ambient surroundings of The Downs, giving the impression that you have stumbled across a piece of the countryside within the city.
Bristol is one of the best areas of the UK in which to take to the skies and admire the view from above in the comfort of a hot air balloon. Visit during August to experience the International Balloon Fiesta, where over one hundred colourful balloons simultaneously take to the skies in flight. Ensure that you book a balloon flight well in advance to secure a place, and don't miss the spectacular Nightglows, where the balloons light up the night sky preceding a dramatic firework display.
photo: visit britain
The menu may be small at The Canteen, but the food is delicious and extremely reasonably priced. Located in the hip Stokes Croft area of the city, this is where locals like to meet to perch on the long communal tables, listen to free live music and get their fix of healthy freshly-made dishes. All main meals are preceded with complimentary vegetable soup and crusty bread, with the main menu changing daily to reflect the organically sourced ingredients available. Expect to find a couple of fish and vegetarian options each day.
If you're seeking the best cocktails that Bristol has to offer, make your way to The Milk Thistle, tucked away just five minutes from the busy Harbourside area of the city. Spread out over three differently styled floors, this stylish cocktail bar displays a 1950's aesthetic throughout, drawing in a well heeled crowd. Opt for one of their signature drinks from the comprehensive cocktail menu, or ask the bar staff to craft you your own personalised drink for something special.
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