Mad about Manchester

Travellers from GCC are spurning London and heading for Manchester

Manchester has some highly futuristic, edgy-looking buildings dotted around the city.
Manchester has some highly futuristic, edgy-looking buildings dotted around the city.

Travellers from the Gulf are spurning London and heading for the UK’s northern capital of Manchester instead. Monika Grzesik accompanied an agent fam to find out why it’s far from grim up North.

It’s home to millionaire footballers and of course Coronation Street, but when it comes to attracting tourists, Manchester, the capital of the north of England hasn’t always been a destination at the top of many people’s wishlists.

But all that is now changing, and the ‘capital of cool’ for the north of England is placing itself firmly on the tourist map — especially when it comes to attracting travellers from the Middle East.

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Connections with Manchester and the Gulf region are strengthening in more ways than one — ever since Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan stepped in to buy Manchester City football club in 2008, visitors from the Emirates are becoming a regular feature in the city and Manchester is gearing up to welcome them with open arms.

All the major Gulf carriers — Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad — are pouring capacity into Manchester. Emirates will add a third daily flight starting May 1, after existing services featuring an A380 superjumbo were consistently full. Qatar and Etihad will go double daily from Doha and Abu Dhabi from August 1 and June 1.

What to do in Manchester
Can Manchester really rival perennial Gulf favourite London as a destination in its own right? The answer is a resounding yes.

This vibrant, buzzing, energetic city has undergone an incredible urban transformation in recent years. Weaving in and out of the crumbling Victorian buildings in the city centre are some cutting-edge architectural designs — such as the silver-tiled Imperial War Museum, or the Urbis.

This sleek, glass building which looks like an iceberg is set to re-open later this year as one of Manchester’s biggest attractions, the National Football Museum. These kind of forward looking, futuristic developments give Manchester an edge, maybe even over London.

But aside from incredible architecture — both old and new — one of the best things about Manchester is that this is a city you can really get around. The compact size means that it’s easy to walk everywhere.

A free-of-charge Metroshuttle bus service takes you from one end to the other and leaves the centre almost entirely free of traffic.

Buzzing street life can be found on every corner, from trendy bars and boutiques to packed-out restaurants. Of course, for sports fan Manchester’s top attraction is a visit to Old Trafford, home to Manchester United, the world’s most famous team.

Even for those without much interest in football there’s huge excitement in taking a tour of stadium, the players lounge, dressing room, the tunnel and of course the Manchester United shop, with its red sea of merchandise (it almost makes up for the impossibility of getting a ticket to an actual game).

The regeneration of Manchester city centre means top restaurants and shops have followed and Manchester is a shopping destination which could easily trounce London. Shopping areas include the brand new Spinningfields with its luxury designer brands.

Or for a mega shopping experience, clients can take a trip to the out-of-town Trafford Centre — one of the biggest in the UK, housing almost every brand name under the sun, including major UK stores such as Selfridges and John Lewis.

For a day out of the city, Manchester is the gateway to the North of England, so stunning countryside in the Lake District, and the beautiful coastline of Blackpool and Lancashire is less than an hour away. Manchester is now actively pitching itself as an alternative destination to London for Gulf visors.

“Manchester offers everything for the Middle East traveller including value-for-money, high-end hotels and apartments, excellent shopping, lively nightlife as well and authentic cusine - particualarly Halal. The city has everything that Middle East travellers are looking for but with a different personality and charm from the capital,” says Anh Nguyen from Visit Manchester.

And it’s true. Manchester is trendy, glamorous and cool and is emerging as great city break destination in its own right that Gulf travellers won’t want to miss.

Top five things to do
1 Go on a shopping spree
Manchester is second only to London for designer shops, including Hermes, Armani, Vivienne Westwood, Mulberry, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger stores. Harvey Nichols and Selfridges are both located in the centre, and for a day of hardcore shopping head to The Trafford Centre, an out-of-town mega-mall and one of the largest in the UK with over 280 shops.

2 Take a tour of Old Trafford
For football fans, the Manchester United Theatre of Dreams museum is an experience to remember. Have a look round the Old Trafford, the players lounge and dressing room. You can even see the actual spot where David and Victoria first met each other. You will probably not be able to buy a ticket for a Manchester United home game. But in that case there’s always Manchester City…

3 Go to Urbis
Rising like a giant glass ski-jump in the city centre, the curved glass structure has an awe-inspiring modern design and is soon to reopen as the National Football Museum later this year.

4 Take a trip to the countryside
Manchester is a the gateway to the North of England so perfect for escaping on a countryside retreat. The stunning coastline of Blackpool is less than one hour away as is the beautiful Lake District.

5 Town Hall
The city’s main administrative centre is the stunning Victorian Gothic town hall that dominates the main Albert Square. The interior is rich in sculpture and ornate decoration. You can take a guided tour.

How to sell
How to get there:
Gulf carriers Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad all have excellent connections to Manchester. Emirates flies an A380 to the destination and is adding a third daily flight from May 1. Qatar Airways and Etihad are adding a second daily flight from August and June.

Where to eat:
One of Manchester’s top Indian restaurants offering up authentic Punjabi cuisine in a contemporary setting on the riverbank.

The Room
Located on King Street right in the centre of town, the restaurant has a stunning Gothic interior but funky design. The food brings an exciting new twist to favourite British classics such as fish pie and chicken kiev.

Getting around:
Manchester has an excellent public transport system of buses, trains and the Mertrolink, a modern tram system that crosses Manchester from north to south and links most of the major attractions. Metroshuttle buses are free to get on and off.

What’s on:
The high profile Manchester International Festival takes place this year 30 June - 17 July.

Visit Manchester: / +44 161 236 4550
Manchester Tours and Guides: / +44 161 864 2640

What the travel trade said...

Prasad Shirke
Travel Trade, Visit Britain
Manchester is enjoying a new beginning; this city is vibrant and exciting. There is a buzz in the city, it’s full of life’s energy and creativity. Theatres that give the West End a run for it’s money; inspirational restaurants, big names in high street shopping, an effervescent entertainment scene, food and drink as well as arts, museums, world-class sporting venues and the list goes on and on.

Manchester would be a good add-on destination for visitors who wish to go beyond London and have a bunch of new experiences. Good connections from the UAE would facilitate visitors to fly out of the city on their way back if their first stop is London,

John Lobo
Abu Dhabi Travel Bureau
Manchester is one of Britain’s coolest cities. It has re-invented itself as a truly contemporary metropolis.

Above all it is home to the world-famous Manchester United Football Club. What is most attractive to see are the old buildings and the elements of Manchester’s industrial past.

The dramatic mix of old and new is what gives Manchester its uniqueness.
The city attractions such as museums and galleries are free, and the sports stadiums and music venues are also on offer for every visitor.

In my opinion, it will surely rival the reputation of London — even more so as a top shopping destination.

Raed.A El Hajj
Abu Dhabi Travel Bureau
Manchester has an exciting cosmopolitan atmosphere which offered a lot to see and do during the visit but due to time limitations, we were not able to explore everything.

The galleries, superb shopping and stunning Victorian architecture mixed with modern textures and on top of that the most famous English — if not European — football club makes it a real destination.

From the limited time spent there I noticed that the city’s compact layout means most attractions are within easy walking distance. I am willing to sell Manchester to our clients, and in my opinion I believe it would be appealing from the perspective of value-for-money.

When to travel
Manchester is known for its rainy skies, so be sure to pack your brolly.

January - March
Average temperature 8C.

April - June
Average temperature 16C.

July - September
Average temperature 19C.

October - December
Average temperature 10C.


Where to stay
Manchester Marriott Victoria & Albert
Located just a few minutes walk from the city centre on the banks of the River Irwell, the hotel located inside a revitalised Victorian cotton warehouse so it’s bursting with historical charm and character coupled with all the luxury features. / +44 161 8321188

Sample package: The Marriott Victoria & Albert Hotel has a shopping package on throughout the summer. £105/£115 includes room and breakfast for two adults and two children (breakfast free for children under 12 years). The package includes a Trafford Centre Voucher booklet with discounts for all the major retail and food outlets at the Trafford Centre.

Win A weekend break in Manchester!
The Marriott V&A is offering one reader the chance to win a weekend stay for two on the shopping package. Just answer the following question:
How many times a day does Emirates fly to Manchester?

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