They talk about the rain a lot in Manchester. It’s like a running joke that locals shrug and laugh about whenever you get chatting.

I suppose it’s like people in Oxford apologising for the traffic on the Botley Road, it’s just a local trait that you accept is part and parcel of spending time there. Virtually every barman, doorman, receptionist and shopkeeper makes an apologetic joke.

I was thinking about this while watching a shower cascading on to the pavement as we sat in the cosy tapas bar in the city’s vibrant Northern Quarter. I say shower, it was like watching someone upending three Olympic-sized swimming pools and hurling the contents at the street.

Locals are easy to spot in this situation, they nonchalantly unfold brollies and flip up hoods with practised ease while tourists scatter like burglars caught in a security light, huddling in doorways and checking their weather apps.

This wasn’t our first trip to the city but it was our smoothest, thanks to a superbly efficient Flybe flight from Southampton, an effortless tram ride into the heart of the city and a short, shower-dodging stroll to The Townhouse Hotel, a magnificent Grade II-listed former cotton warehouse handily placed a short stroll from Chinatown and the Northern Quarter.

Oxford Mail:

The last three decades have seen the city transformed from industrial heartland to an eating, drinking and shopping Mecca. A huge influx of commerce and art has brought the money and the population hungry for a good time and it is out there to be found just about everywhere you go.

The Northern Quarter’s former warehouses and factories are now home to a host of independent shops, vintage stores, bars and restaurants. Perhaps its most famous destination is the legendary Affleck’s Palace – four floors of artists, craftsmen, poster sellers and more vintage emporiums.

On every corner it seems there are pubs bursting with so much northern charm they make the Rovers Return look like a Surbiton wine bar. Gullivers and The Castle Hotel are two such examples. In among the students and latter day hippies are gritty characters you’d swear used to be Ena Sharples’ lodger.

After a day in the Northern Quarter, The Townhouse was a welcome place to come home to. Many of its 85 rooms are larger than you’d expect because of the quirky design of the building. Many of them also have a rainfall shower and a huge bath, as well as a Bose sound dock and Nespresso machine. The hotel also has an excellent brasserie and a bar that serves a mean mojito.

Oxford Mail:

If our first day had been dogged by showers, the second was like waking up in a different city. Bright sunshine and blue skies greeted us as we took a short tram hop down to Salford Quays, the former dock area at the end of the Manchester Ship Canal.

For decades ships from all over the world would unload their cargo into the towering warehouses that lined the canal basin. Once the ships stop coming and the docks fell into disuse, the area was transformed into the network of canals and rivers it is today.

Manchester United’s Old Trafford is at one end and the stunning Lowry theatre and gallery at the other. Close by is Media City, home of the BBC and ITV and dozens of other production houses. You can get to both by tram but the walk by the side of the water, especially on a sunny day, is just stunning.

After the walking, the eating. The tram took us into the city centre and to Spinningfields, another area transformed by huge investment to become the ‘Knightsbridge of the North’. Manchester’s court house and the Manchester Evening News’ office have moved out to be replaced by upmarket stores like Armani and a plethora of restaurants, including the four-storey The Ivy. In truth it is closer to Canary Wharf than Knightsbridge but on a sunny day it is wonderful to wander around, if only to come across the stunning John Rylands Library, a gothic edifice full of beautiful reading rooms, free exhibitions and beautiful artwork.

Manchester loves artwork, whether it is the brilliantly-detailed graffiti in the Northern Quarters, the stately statue of Queen Victoria in Piccadilly Gardens or Thomas Heatherwick’s futuristic B of the Bang sculpture in Beswick.

It’s a modern, confident city, as diverse and vibrant as London but somehow more down to earth, friendlier and, yes, wetter. We packed a lot into 30 busy hours but we’ll be back because there’s so much more to see.

The essentials

GO: We flew to Manchester from Southampton with Flybe in an hour. Flybe operates flights from Southampton to Manchester up to five times a day, with fares available from £31.99 each way including taxes and charges. Book now via

STAY: We stayed at The Townhouse Hotel, Portland Street, a Grade II-listed hotel near Chinatown @hoteltownhouse