Book a North of England Rover ticket from TransPennine Express and you can use it to visit some of the best cities in the north, with four days of unlimited travel over an eight-day period. This itinerary takes Manchester as its jumping off point, with recommendations for spending a day in Liverpool, Leeds, York and Hull using the TransPennine Express network – as well as top picks for exploring Manchester itself in between. Discover Hull’s vibrant cultural quarter, the story of the Beatles in Liverpool, Michelin-starred meals in Leeds and the life of the Vikings in York, with lunch and dinner recommendations along the way. This is a whistle-stop tour of some of the North’s best destinations – read on to find out more.
For day one in this eight-day itinerary, it’s breakfast in Manchester before catching a TransPennine Express train from Manchester Victoria or Piccadilly to Liverpool Lime Street. On arrival, head for the Walker Art Gallery, only a four-minute walk away: it houses one of the most significant collections of paintings in the UK. On Liverpool’s nearby waterfront is Tate Liverpool, home to incredible temporary exhibitions and a good spot for lunch. The eye-opening International Slavery Museum occupies another side of Albert Dock; alternatively, head to The Beatles Story, an award-winning showcase of the history of the Liverpool-based band, or to the British Music Experience for a wider exploration of the country’s music scene. Time for an evening meal: Bacaro combines Italian small plates with a Campari bar, or take your pick from the strip of excellent restaurants along Bold Street. If you’re up for getting a late train back to Manchester, check out the programme at the prestigious Everyman and Royal Court theatres.
No travelling on day two, so you can hit the ground running on Manchester’s Oxford Road Corridor. The first stop is the Whitworth, situated inside Whitworth park and the go-to gallery for incredible temporary exhibitions. Enjoy lunch at the café here and you’ll be eating amongst a canopy of trees. Nearby is the Grade II* listed Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, occupied by the author from 1850 to 1865 and a great spot for afternoon tea, as well as listed Edwardian swimming pool Victoria Baths, which is open for guided tours and special events. If you’re growing hungry, head to Mughli on the Curry Mile, or back towards the city centre and to Peter Street Kitchen at The Edwardian Manchester hotel. Should you have time to play with on the way, it’s worth stopping at Castlefield Gallery, a little way off the main thoroughfare – it’s small but influential and home to thought-provoking exhibitions.
Time to take advantage of your TransPennine Rover again: the great city of Leeds is next, reachable from Manchester Piccadilly or Victoria. The Henry Moore Institute, one of the largest sculpture galleries in Europe, is a must-visit, and easily paired with a spin around Leeds Art Gallery. Independent café Olive & Rye in the nearby Queens Arcade uses locally sourced ingredients to create inventive dishes – ideal for an interesting lunch. With its interactive displays and exhibits including a 3,000-year-old mummy, Leeds City Museum is a good way to spend the afternoon – particularly if you have kids in tow. Equally, Kirkgate, Europe’s largest indoor market, is not to be missed: set aside some time to explore the hugely varied traders here. These include food stalls, but if you’re after a sit-down evening meal, the options in Leeds are plentiful. The Michelin-starred Man Behind the Curtain is the place for absolute extravagance, The Reliance for contemporary dining and the in-house cinema. Alternatively, Leeds has a pretty epic music scene: gig venue Headrow House includes grill-fuelled restaurant Ox Club, while Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen is also nearby.
We’re based in Manchester again today, but heading out of the city centre for the morning. The UK’s largest indoor snow slope Chillfactore is a memorable way to spend several hours, with the ornate Trafford Centre nearby an unbeatable shopping destination. Alternatively, for more of the city’s greatest cultural attractions, travel to the world-leading museum IWM North and the superb galleries at The Lowry, both in Salford Quays. Lunch can be found at The Lowry’s in-house restaurant Pier Eight, or at The Botanist nearby before you head back into town on the tram. Now you have a choice: book into one of Breakout Manchester’s challenging escape rooms, or spend the afternoon exploring the independent shops in the Northern Quarter – including Oklahoma, Manchester Craft and Design Centre and Deadstock General Store. Finally, we recommend a pre-theatre dinner at TNQ Restaurant and a performance at the Royal Exchange Theatre.
The historic city of York is less than two hours from Manchester on a TransPennine Express train. Here, you can mix heritage sites such as the incredible, 7th century York Minster with more modern preoccupations at the Art of Protest Gallery. Independent tapas restaurant and sherry bar Ambiente is not only a great place for lunch, it’s also within minutes of the Jorvik Viking Centre, which brings Viking-era York to life through full-scale reconstructions. York’s award-winning Castle Museum is equally fascinating, while Medieval-style ale bar House of Trembling Madness is an essential stop on the way back to the station for entirely different reasons.
Spend the morning becoming acquainted with some of Manchester’s great innovations: the Science and Industry Museum, home to a replica of the world’s first stored-program computer, charts 250 years of inventions that originated in the city. Manchester is also the birthplace of the Labour Party and Trade Union movement, as well as being home to the People’s History Museum – the national museum of democracy. Lunch at the innovative Open Kitchen Cafe here promises to be both delicious and eco-friendly. For an unusual way to spend an afternoon, have a go at some axe throwing at Whistle Punks in the Great Northern Warehouse, or head to HOME for its cinema programme and contemporary art gallery. Finally, there are few better places for dinner in the city than Dishoom, which pays homage to the food of Bombay.
Last but certainly not least of these day trips from Manchester is Hull, a port city and site of an extraordinary cultural renaissance in recent years. Discover masterpieces by David Hockney, Stanley Spencer, Gillian Wearing and Helen Chadwick at Ferens Art Gallery, then explore the independent retailers at Paragon Arcade, a Victorian building dating back to 1896. These include Marla’s Eatery sandwich shop and Spanish and Latin American restaurant The Hispanist, both a top choice for lunch. Wilberforce House is your next stop: the birthplace of William Wilberforce, politician and abolitionist, the museum tells the story of the transatlantic slave trade. Hull’s cultural quarter, the Fruit Market, is on the city’s waterfront – don’t miss the galleries, independent businesses and special events here before heading back into town for drinks at historic pub Ye Olde White Harte and dinner at The Old House.
It’s the final day of this epic itinerary, and we’re concentrating on a small and easily walkable area of Manchester. Begin by admiring the city’s 600-year-old Cathedral, before exploring the world’s finest collection of football memorabilia at the National Football Museum. Sharing another side of Cathedral Gardens is the Corn Exchange, where you’ll be spoiled for choice of lunch locations, while The Printworks opposite is the place to play a few rounds at Treetop Adventure Golf. Last on the agenda is to sink into a seat at The Stoller Hall and enjoy one of the phenomenal performances taking place at this RIBA Award-winning concert hall.
By Polly Checkland Harding, Freelance arts copywriter and journalist