24 Hours in Manchester, England, including the Crystal Maze, Tea at Opus One, and the Comedy Store

After concluding our journey around Ireland, we hopped back on the ferry over to the UK, and then boarded a quick train back to Manchester. Unfortunately, we didn’t get in until nearly 11pm, so that only left us with one full day to explore the city before we’d have to head for the airport and head home.

For this leg of the trip, I booked 2 nights at the Renaissance Manchester City Centre hotel. Much like our other hotels this trip, we managed to book them completely free, using points. In particular with this hotel, we transferred Starwood points into Marriott points.

Renaissance Manchester City Centre Hotel Double Room

Renaissance Manchester City Centre Hotel Double Room

The bathrooms in the guest rooms of the  Renaissance Manchester City Centre.

The bathrooms in the guest rooms of the Renaissance Manchester City Centre.

And while the hotel was fine (especially considering that it was free for us) it certainly wasn’t as spectacular as our hotels had been in Dublin and Liverpool. We arrived late, and so despite having requested a King room, we were given a room with two queens. The beds were so overly soft and uncomfortable that both of us were complaining of back issues for days afterwards. And the bathroom looked like it hadn’t been updated in several decades.

But, we were there, it was “paid” for, and so we simply decided to spend as much of our time as possible outside of the room. And that wasn’t difficult — Manchester certainly had a lot to offer.

We started our exploration on a bit of a somber note. Our trip happened to occur just a week after the Manchester Arena bombing. There had been a makeshift memorial for the victims set up at the nearby St. Ann’s Church, so we went to pay our respects.

The memorial at St. Ann's Church for the Manchester Arena bombing victims.

The memorial at St. Ann’s Church for the Manchester Arena bombing victims.

A sign reading "Kindness" in flowers at the memorial for the Manchester Arena bombing victims.

A sign reading “Kindness” in flowers at the memorial for the Manchester Arena bombing victims.

The memorial for the Manchester Arena bombing victims stretched on for multiple blocks.

The memorial for the Manchester Arena bombing victims stretched on for multiple blocks.

And what we saw there was amazing. Flowers, balloons, cards and stuffed animals stretched for multiple city blocks. Workers continued to add to the accumulation, as a very visible police presence monitored the grievers. It was a very moving experience.

After the memorial, we headed South a few blocks to explore something completely different. Tucked behind the Museum of Science and Industry was an old television studio, where they had created a lifesize recreation of a nostalic British game show: the Crystal Maze.

Think “Legends of the Hidden Temple” meets “Let’s Make a Deal”. It’s really best to just watch an episode, though, if you actually want to understand the thing:

We got to go through the entire experience, including individual challenges, and about 2 minutes in the crystal with the fans. I even won both of my challenges! It was basically the very best an “escape room” type outing could ever hope to possibly be, and far better than the one-room entities we’ve seen in other areas.

 

Unfortunately, there were no cameras allowed inside. But The Crystal Maze has locations in both Manchester and London, and it’s totally worth checking out if you can.

After the maze, we headed over to the John Rylands Library, which is often favorably compared against the Trinity College Library that we saw in Dublin as one of the most beautiful in Europe.

While I think I do prefer Trinity’s library just a bit more, you definitely got the sense that the John Ryland Library was a working library for University of Manchester students, which was not the case with Trinity.

After the library, we got to enjoy a real treat: a proper British afternoon tea!

Gentleman's Tea at the Opus One restaurant in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Manchester.

Gentleman’s Tea at the Opus One restaurant in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Manchester.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, the hubby is actually a huge fan of tea. He loves the doilies and the clotted cream and the ritual of it all. But I managed to find something a little different for him this time. At the Radisson Blu hotel, they serve what they call a “Gentleman’s Tea.”

Instead of fussy petit fours or chocolate-dipped strawberries, this tea featured much heartier “manly” snacks: mini fish and chips portions, fried chicken sliders, beef and lamb meat pies. All served with the traditional scones, which, as the hubby pointed out, is the best part of tea anyways.

We added a bottle of champagne to our service, but you can also order a variety or beers or….actual tea. The service and selection was great, and as the large picture windows faced out onto a busy street, it was also great people watching.

Fortified by our gentleman’s tea, we decided to walk along the series of canals for a while, and explore some of Manchesters famous locks.

There wasn’t much traffic on the water on this particular day, but if we’d had a little more time in town, I would have loved to take a boat and see the city from the water.

The Castlefield park, near the canals, in Manchester City Centre.

The Castlefield park, near the canals, in Manchester City Centre.

Near the locks, we also stumbled upon what looked to be an old castle wall bordering on a park, known as Castlefield. Reading the insignia, we learned that it was actually a reproduction, but it did stand around the excavated footings of buildings dating to the Roman period. Pretty cool!

While this was our last day in Manchester, it was also a Saturday, and by 4pm or so, it was clear that Mancunians were getting ready for a wild night out. We joined in the fun at the very scene-y bar, The Alchemist, for some happy hour cocktails brought to life with molecular mixology.

The Russian Spring Punch at The Alchemist in Manchester.

The Russian Spring Punch at The Alchemist in Manchester.

We opted to split a pot of the Russian Spring Punch, a vodka and berry flavored concoction bubbling away with dry ice in a copper kettle, served with a beaker of champagne to top off your brew. Other diners sipped at beverages that foamed, smoked, and fizzed. And it was completely packed; by 5pm there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, and several hen parties seemed to be queuing to find a table.

Leaving the cocktails to the hens, we headed over to our next stop, dinner at Australasia, one of the top rated restaurants in Manchester, serving sushi and other Pacific fare. And we weren’t disappointed.

Dinner at Australasia in Manchester, from top L, clockwise: sushi nigiri, pork wontons, hand dived scallops, and Cambodian beef skewers

Dinner at Australasia in Manchester, from top L, clockwise: sushi nigiri, pork wontons, hand dived scallops, and Cambodian beef skewers were just a few of our dishes.

And they also gave us a sweet reminder, on our last meal of this vacation, of why we had booked this entire trip in the first place: our 4th wedding anniversary.

Complimentary dessert from Australasia in Manchester

Complimentary dessert from Australasia in Manchester

After our delicious dinner, there was just one more stop on the agenda…we headed down to the Comedy Store Manchester, to take in some hilarious British and Irish comics.

The Comedy Store Manchester neon sign.

The Comedy Store Manchester neon sign.

As we’d booked seats in the front row, and were some of the only Americans in the crowd, we definitely got a bit of good-natured ribbing. But it was a great show, and a fantastic way to end our vacation.

Which Manchester activity would you most want to participate in? Tell us in the comments. 

Whitney

  • I’m thinking about doing not 24 hours in Manchester but 36 hours in Manchester so it’s perfect you wrote this. It’s good you got the hotel stay free with the points, nothing beats a free hotel, it’s a shame the beds weren’t so comfy though. I used to love The Crystal Maze as a boy so I’d definitely check out this attraction. The gentlemans version of afternoon tea at the Radisson Blu looked delicious!

    • The Crystal Maze was honestly one of my favorite things not only just in Manchester, but of the whole trip. We were paired up with some guys having a stag do, so they made excellent fun teammates (though a couple were perhaps a bit hungover…not so sharp on the physical challenges, haha.) We even got to slide down the giant slide in the Amazon zone. It was awesome!

  • Sabina

    I’ve always wanted to visit Manchester, and now even more after reading your post. I am going to book a trip to London, and Manchester would be the next on the list 🙂 I’ll definitely consider all of the activities you mentioned here!

    Sabina | I’ve Got Sunshine

    • You can definitely do both in one trip – 24 hours was a little quick, but I think a weekend in Manchester would be about perfect.