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If you're game for a city break Manchester scores top marks

By Martin Breen

Published 18/11/2015

Festive fun: The Christmas market in Albert Square, in front of Manchester's imposing Gothic town hall.
Festive fun: The Christmas market in Albert Square, in front of Manchester's imposing Gothic town hall.
Room with a view: The luxurious Hilton Hotel at the Beetham Tower.
The Cloud 23 Bar in the Hilton Hotel at the Beetham Tower.
Martin Breen outside The Rovers Return on the Coronation Street tour.

Sport, shopping and a soap —what more could you ask for on a city break!

Well Manchester, a city I truly love, has it all and, for me after a trip there last weekend, there’s no better feeling than walking down the famous cobbles of Coronation Street or sitting in the Theatre of Dreams at Old Trafford.

As a life-long Coronation Street fan I was looking forward to taking a tour of the original set — which sadly will be closing for good at the end of this year.

Staying in the amazing Hilton Deansgate a few minutes walk from the set on Quay Street, I was in the perfect spot to experience what Manchester — recently named by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 must-see cities to see in the world in 2016 — has to offer.

The Hilton is based in the lower 23 floors of the 168 metre high Beetham Tower, Manchester’s tallest building. Situated right in the heart of the city the rooms are ultra stylish. I found myself spending a lot of time just gazing out of the floor to ceiling windows at the brilliant view of the city.

The hotel’s trendy Cloud 23 bar on the 23rd floor seems to be one of the city’s most popular social destinations with long queues at the lifts for it but it is worth the wait for the views, not to mention the variety of drinks or afternoon tea.

If you can drag yourself away from the hotel, the hour long Corrie tour takes you through the corridors of the old Granada Studios where the green room, dressing rooms and sets used by the Corrie actors are all on display including some special artefacts from the show.

Highlights for me included sitting inside the Rovers Return where so many of the ITV soap’s scenes are filmed and where so many show memories were created.

You can have your picture taken behind the bar where several famous faces, including Ulster actor Charlie Lawson, have pulled pints of Newton & Ridley’s over the years.

Walking into Studio 1, where the show was filmed for 53 years up until December 2013 when a copy of the original set was built at MediaCityUK in Manchester (it isn’t open for tours), you feel the sense of soap history on your shoulders.

 You view sets such as the old sitting room where Jack and Vera Duckworth died, Gail Platt’s kitchen and inside The Kabin corner shop.

What is strange is just how small the Rovers Return is inside — a wall was often removed for filming to make it look bigger. There is no alcohol to be found anywhere inside the famous boozer — the pints are actually non alcoholic shandy with lemonade and the vodka and gin is water. Disappointingly Betty’s famous hotpot is cold lunch leftovers topped with mashed potato!

However these soap secrets don’t take away from what truly is a fascinating tour. You could sit for hours in one of the Rovers’ booths taking in the atmosphere.

Artefacts on display on the tour include Hayley Cropper’s flowery coffin, Roy’s train set, Hilda Ogden’s yellow rollers, the urns containing Jack and Vera’s ashes and most poignantly the glasses worn by the late Anne Kirkbride in her role as Deirdre Barlow.

Our guide Robert shared lots of other interesting behind the scene facts about the show. The Rovers on the original set had no back room nor toilets, the stairs in the Platt’s house went nowhere and the sweets in The Kabin were years old. The magazines in The Kabin were also somewhat unique — Hiya! magazine is Weatherfield’s answer to Hello.

Photos are not permitted inside (a picture is taken by your guide of you behind the bar of The Rovers), but visitors can snap away as much as they like once you step out on the street, where you can stay for as long as you like.

Walking out onto the cobbles from Nick’s Bistro was the best part for me. Having watched Coronation Street for decades it almost feels like home it is so familiar.

Sauntering around the street all the locations are there — Webster’s Auto Centre, The Kabin, Roy’s Rolls, Street Cars and of course The Rovers Return as well as the exterior and back alleys of all the houses. You can also buy a souvenir in the medical centre on Rosamund Street which is now the gift shop.

The Coronation Street tour is just one of many attractions to see in Manchester but if you’re a fan, now is the last time you will ever get to see it before it is demolished.

And just round the corner from the old Granada Studios is the impressive Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). It introduces visitors to the city’s innovative past, present and future.

Highlights include Baby, the first computer ever to run a stored program, the first cotton- spinning machinery and steam power that started the whole industrial revolution, to the first splitting of the atom by Ernest Rutherford in 1917 at the University of Manchester.

If you’re a football fan you can take a tour at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground or Man City’s Etihad Stadium. Being a fan of the red side of Manchester I have been on the Old Trafford tour a number of times and would definitely recommend it to find out all you need to know about the team and its history. I am sure Man City fans would say likewise of their stadium tour.

I managed to catch the United game against West Brom last weekend and was back in my hotel room less than 30 minutes after the final whistle blew as the tram takes you from outside the stadium and stops right beside the Hilton Deansgate, again making it a perfect location to base yourself.

In the run-up to Christmas and the New Year sales shopping will no doubt be on your itinerary. The sprawling Trafford Centre with almost 300 stores along three miles of granite and marble boulevards should have all you need but if not try the Arndale Centre which has 240 outlets and departments stores.

Manchester has brought a wealth of markets together under the Manchester Markets banner, (see manchestermarkets.com). The Fashion Market takes place in Tib Street every Saturday, with an emphasis on handmade clothes and accessories.

In the run-up to Christmas a series of great Christmas markets, with more than 300 stalls, are running at various locations across the city. The choice includes gifts, crafts, jewellery,  and an array of food and drink.

But for me the highlight was popular culture in the form of the Coronation Street tour.

It is such a shame it is being demolished but if you follow the tips on this page you might just be able to visit to say your goodbye to the Street.

WHERE TO STAY:

Hilton Manchester Deansgate:

Prices start from £129 for a double room.

Hilton Manchester Deansgate has a range of facilities including guest rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, champagne and cocktail sky bar, Cloud 23 bar, Podium restaurant, LivingWell gym, Clarety’s spa, and a 20 metre pool.

For more information or to book, please visit http://hilton.co.uk/manchesterdeansgate or call 0161 870 1600

WHERE TO EAT:

We dined in The Podium restaurant at the Hilton Deansgate where the food was a real winner. I would recommend the steaks and the fish dishes. I had hake with crab on a lobster bisque and cleaned the plate! The menu changes from month to month to use in-season produce.

TIPS FOR CORRIE TOUR TICKETS:

As Coronation Street The Tour is coming to an end on December 31 tickets are going fast. 

>> Weekends are largely sold out — There is little availability for weekends from now until December 31, there may be one or two here and there but if you are looking for more than two tickets avoid weekend dates. Why not try a weekday? — The best times where there is availability is during the week, either first thing in the morning around 9.30am or late afternoon/evenings from 3pm onwards.

>> Take a Christmas tour!  There is still good availability left for the afternoon of December 23, Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

>> Decide and Buy ASAP!  Tickets are still available but they’re going fast. Once you see the tickets you want buy them straight away! Book at ticketmaster.co.uk/coronationstreet.

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