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The Best Places to Visit in North West England

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4 weeks ago

It should come as no surprise to hear that there’s a whole lot more to England than London. Our capital city is, of course, an amazing place to visit and has so much to see and do; it would be impossible to bore of London in a lifetime. But to truly appreciate the ‘real’ England, you need to venture further afield.

The North West of England is home to some of the country’s best scenery and most fascinating history. From the rolling hills of the Lake District to historic Blackpool and the vibrant, diverse entertainment scenes in Manchester and Liverpool, the north has plenty going for it. If you ask the locals, they’ll tell you the north is a million miles better than the south.

As a southerner living in the north, I’ll let you make your own minds up on that one! And we’ve also got you covered if you’re looking for the best places to travel to in the north of England generally.

The Best Cities in the North West

Manchester

Once the gritty hub of the industrial revolution, Manchester is now a cultural hub: lively, youthful and progressive.

Famous the world over for its two Premiership football teams, a visit to the home of football has to be on the list for any sports fan. If red’s your colour, Old Trafford is open for tours every day except matchdays. Be sure to book in advance! Tours often sell out.

Day time

For Manchester City fans, tours of the Etihad Stadium are available several times per day, with limited availability on matchdays. Just like Old Trafford, tickets do sell out quickly, so guarantee your spot by booking in advance.

Away from the pitch, Manchester hides an intriguing history. The People’s History Museum in the trendy Spinningfields area is, by its own claim, “the national museum of democracy”. It tells the story of the struggles for equality that made the United Kingdom what it is today.

For slightly more conventional history, head to my favourite place to visit in Manchester: Chetham’s Library & School of Music.

Housed in a glorious medieval building dating back to 1421, the library was founded in 1653. It’s the oldest library anywhere in the English-speaking world! Visit as part of a walking tour of Manchester to hear some of the tales held in its walls.

The Science and Industry Museum, Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester City Hall in bustling Albert Square are just a few of the city’s other top attractions.

If a spot of retail therapy is on the cards, Manchester is home to some of the best shopping malls in the country. The Arndale Centre, right in the city center has over 200 stores, whilst the Trafford Centre on the outskirts of the city (not far from Old Trafford) has The Orient, Europe’s largest food court.

Night time

With over 120,000 students in the city, it’s hardly a surprise that Manchester becomes a party playground after dark. What I really love about Manchester’s nightlife scene is that it caters to all.

Whether you want a cocktail served in a refined atmosphere (try Cloud 23 at the Hilton Manchester for the best views), a pint in a traditional pub (Tudor-beamed The Old Wellington is a must) or to party the night away in the diverse, canal-side Gay Village (G-A-Y is the all time favourite here), you can do it in Manchester.

For a unique night out, head to Alcatraz. This peculiar take on a cocktail bar makes you work for your drinks. You’ll find yourself getting locked up in ‘Cell Block Three-Four’ where the longest-serving inmates will turn contraband into delicious cocktails.

Where to stay in Manchester

With such a fun nightlife scene it would be a shame to miss out; an overnight stay in Manchester is well worth it. My all-time favorite Manchester hotel is The Midland, a grand Victorian railway hotel. If you prefer a boutique hotel, check out Hotel Gotham or The Abel Heywood.

Plus, there’s a load of great day trips you can take from Manchester: the Peak District, Chester and Liverpool are some of the best.

Liverpool

Manchester’s closest rival, Liverpool was for decades plagued with poverty and social issues, but in recent years, it’s turned a corner. 21st-century Liverpool is vibrant, exciting and full of stories to tell.

Day time

The recently redeveloped riverside showcases Liverpool’s grandeur perfectly. The Royal Liver Building and the neighboring Cunard Building are two of the city’s most famous landmarks and (possibly understandably) often confused.

I’ve even heard a tour guide claim that the Royal Liver Building was built to be the head office of Cunard, the transatlantic shipping company. It wasn’t. It was built as a headquarters for Royal Liver Assurance, an insurance company, which it still houses today.

You can discover the story for yourself with a tour of the building’s tower and viewing platform, a great way to see some of the best of the places to visit in north west England.

Just along the River Mersey, Albert Dock is another Liverpool success story. Originally built in 1846, it underwent major redevelopment in the early 2000s and was granted a royal charter in 2018, becoming Royal Albert Dock. The Tate Liverpool, International Slavery Museum and the Merseyside Maritime Museum are two of the main attractions here today.

Mersey Ferries operates pleasure cruises along the River Mersey, crossing the river to The Wirral from Gerry Marsden Pier. A 50-minute round-trip cruise should be on your Liverpool bucket list.

Special Mention: The Beatles

And then there’s The Beatles. The Fab Four started out in Liverpool in 1960 and left the city a legacy that lives on long after they split. Some of the Beatles’s most famous numbers like Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields Forever and In My Life were all written about Liverpool.

Head to The Beatles Story on Albert Dock to learn more about their life and works.

The Beatles aren’t the only hit band produced in Liverpool: Gerry and The Pacemakers, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The La’s, The Lightning Seeds and, more recently, Atomic Kitten all hailed from the city. Possibly more famously associated with Liverpool than any of The Beatles’s hits is Gerry and The Pacemakers’s 1964 top-ten single Ferry Cross the Mersey.

Night time

When night falls, Liverpool doesn’t sleep. There’s an electric nightlife scene, but one venue is more important than any other. The Cavern Club, where The Beatles performed in their early years, is the Liverpool place to go that you absolutely must visit and is one of the best places to in North West England.

Where to stay

When it comes to choosing a hotel, Hard Days Night is a Liverpool institution, named in honor of The Beatles’s tune and just round the corner from the Cavern Club. Other top picks include Titanic Hotel and Hope Street Hotel.

The Best Coastal Spots in the North West

Blackpool

Ranked as having one of England’s top 10 beaches by Lonely Planet, Blackpool has been a coastal playground since the Industrial Revolution. Back then, workers from Lancashire’s cotton mills would flock to the seaside during the little time off they were given. The Victorian era saw the advent of railways, and Blackpool’s popularity soared.

In the late 20th century, tourism began to stagnate with the rise of low-cost air travel (suddenly everyone is heading to Portugal for the weekend) and Blackpool became increasingly rundown. Thanks to heavy investment from the local council, businesses and tourism bodies, Blackpool has been given a face lift and is making a comeback. In 2022, almost 19 million visitors descended on the coastal town, and it is firmly one of the best places to visit in north west England.

Local tip: Although summer is a great time to head to the beach, the best time to visit Blackpool is during the Illuminations.

Every year from the end of August to early January, the seafront is lit up with thousands of themed light displays stretching for over six miles. The 2024 switch on is planned for 30 August 2024 so mark your calendars!

Blackpool has everything you’d imagine of the British seaside. Alongside miles of sandy beaches, top attractions include the Blackpool Tower, built in 1894 taking its inspiration from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Take the elevator to the ‘eye’ at the top of the tower to take in the views from 120m above the ground.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach is possibly the best known seaside theme park in England. Since 1896 it’s been providing thrills to children and adults alike. The showstopper, The Big One, is the longest rollercoaster in Europe.

Local tip: If you fancy a break from the hustle and bustle of Blackpool, take a ride on a tram to Fleetwood.

The market at Fleetwood boasts over 150 stalls. And then from Fleetwood, make sure you take a ferry across the River Wyre to Knott End and stop off for Fish and Chips at Knott End Café. It’s some of the best you’ll have!

Where to stay

There’s no end to the choice in hotels in Blackpool, with a number of chain hotels, budget guesthouses and some excellent upscale boutiques. Some of the best include Boulevard Hotel which is right next to the Pleasure Beach, The Imperial Hotel, and Delovely Hotel.

St Bees and the Cumbrian Coast

West Cumbria’s beautiful coastline is one of the North of England’s best kept secrets. Stretching 85 miles from Barrow-in-Furness in the south to the Solway Firth which marks the border with Scotland, the Cumbrian coast is full of surprises, and it truly is one of the most spectacular places to visit in North West England.

The village of St Bees is a true highlight and a great place to base yourself. It’s home to some of the region’s best hotels such as the beachfront Seacote Hotel and traditional village inn The Manor. St Bees also has an excellent choice of restaurants, from classic pubs like The Queens to beachside cafes, making this one of the best places to visit in north west England.

Local tip: You can’t miss Hartley’s homemade ice cream at their beach shop & café.

St Bees is also really well connected to the rest of the region, with direct train services running hourly to Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness with stops in many of the coastal towns. The train journey is scenic, and it’s a great way to see the coastline.

Local tip: Take a walk along the clifftop to Fleswick Bay, a quiet beach protected by St Bees Head.

Whilst you’re there, head along to St Bees Lighthouse which has been assisting ships since 1822.

St Bees Priory is the village’s top place to visit and sits alongside a 900-year old church. It’s open daily, all year round. Outside St Bees, some of the regions attractions include The Rum Story in nearby Whitehaven, Ennerdale Water – the most westerly lake in the Lake District – and Hillsborough Castle, all of which come together to make St Bees one of the best places in north west England.

The North West’s Best Countryside

Keswick & The Lake District

The Lake District has to be on your England bucket list. The mountainous Lake District National Park covers much of Cumbria and includes England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike. It’s home to 16 major lakes, and countless smaller ones and tarns. Of the places you must visit in north west England, the Lake District is unmissable.

Windermere, the largest lake in England, is the most famous. It’s an amazing place to visit and a must for Beatrix Potter fans. But be warned: in summer, it’s overrun with tourists, which is why I recommend basing yourself in Keswick.

The market town of Keswick sits in the north of the Lake District, hemmed in by Derwent Water to the south and Bassenthwaite Lake to the north. Interestingly, Bassenthwaite Lake is the only lake in the Lake District with ‘lake’ in its name.

Keswick’s most famous attraction is Derwent Pencil Museum. As niche as it sounds, it’s surprisingly interesting. And when in the Lake District, you absolutely must go on a boat trip on Derwent Water. Derwent Water is stunning, tranquil and a wander along its shores is always calming. Star Wars fans might recognize Derwent Water: the lake and surrounding areas were the filming location for Takodana in The Force Awakens.

The Lake District is great for outdoor activities. There are plenty of options for water sports and hiking whichever way you turn. One of my favourite activities in Ghyll Scrambling.

There’s an endless array of hotels nearby to suit all budgets. Crow Park Hotel is best for views of Derwent Water whilst the Royal Oak and Keswick Park Hotel are the most centrally located. Keswick is not on the rail network, which is one of the reasons it doesn’t see as many visitors as Windermere; however, access by bus is very easy. Buses run from all over Cumbria, with frequent services to Penrith train station.

Clitheroe & The Forest of Bowland

Another of the North England’s hidden gems is the Forest of Bowland which covers a large area of Lancashire and a small part of North Yorkshire. Often described as one of England’s last areas of wilderness, the forest has been left undeveloped and nature allowed to rule.

The small town of Clitheroe is a handy place to base yourself to explore the forest. The name Clitheroe, which understandably is the butt of many jokes, actually comes from the Anglo Saxon word Clyderhowe, meaning a ‘rocky hill’. So if anyone sniggers when you tell them you’re going to Clitheroe, you can rebuke them with knowledge.

The town has plenty of amenities, including some top restaurants. Dilraj is one of my favorite Indian restaurants of all time. The choice of hotels is excellent too. Upscale boutique 1823 Spinning Block is the top recommendation and offers surprisingly good value.

For a traditional English coaching inn experience, book a room at the Swan and Royal. It’s worth booking your Clitheroe hotel well in advance as rooms do sell out quickly here.

The Forest of Bowland is all about exploration, so get out into the hills and valleys and discover the beauty for yourself. Hike, bike or drive – however you decide to explore, you won’t be disappointed. Make time to stop in Slaidburn, a picturesque, grey stone village in the heart of the forest.

Despite the region’s remoteness, trains run hourly between Clitheroe and Rochdale via Manchester. The forest is also served by local bus services which connect Clitheroe with Slaidburn and Settle in the Yorkshire Dales.

Planning your Adventure to the North West of England

Many travelers try to see as much of the UK as possible in one visit, and that almost always involves passing through the North of England. A great itinerary is to do a circular trip from London, journeying up the east coast and going back down the west coast.

This is a great way to see the country, and allows you to combine your England visit with a trip to Glasgow or further afield. If you do this, make sure to spend some time in Edinburgh, and when you do, check out our suggestions for a day in Scotland’s capital. This way, you’ll also get to experience the best of the North West and the North East of England.


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