annabelbenton
24th May 2022

Navigate the North by train

Escape day to day life in Manchester with our recommendations for the best train travel in the North of England.
Navigate the North by train

Continuing our mini-series on UK student travel, we explore the North by Train. For anyone looking for a quick Manc escape, this is the guide for you. Find picturesque affordable getaways and day trips only a short train ride away!

York

We have to start the list with York, which one of the best destinations for a mini-break in the country. York combines rich history with coffee culture and independent venues. There’s enough to see/do here for either a day trip or a longer visit.

Photo: Clifford’s Tower by Annabel Benton @ The Mancunion

Our top recommendations would be to walk or cruise along the River Ouse, stroll through historic streets such as the Shambles, and picnic in the pretty Museum Gardens. There are of course landmarks to explore like Clifford’s Tower and York Minster – which boasts the largest stain glass window in Europe.

Additionally, there are plenty of ways to see the city, ranging from bus tours, boat rides and the newly launched electric scooters. I’m too scared to try one but I’m sure it’d be a fun way to speed through the sights!

York also has excellent spots for evenings out. As a native Yorkie, I recommend Spark, an outdoor venue comprised of independent food and drink outlets in shipping containers (think Manchester’s Hatch). There are also plenty of bars lining the River Ouse, as well as a great selection of restaurants in the city centre.

One final activity would be a walk along the historic city walls, even if it’s just one section. The walls not only give you an insight into York history, but they offer great views of the city, comprising some of York’s oldest architecture.

Leeds

Although not thought of when thinking of the beautiful Northern destinations, Leeds needs to make the list purely for its vibrant culture.

Start your day shopping in the Victoria Quarter’s Arcades or the independent shops of the Corn Exchange. In the afternoon, picnic in Roundhay Park and grab your fix of culture in Hyde Park Picture House, one of the UK’s oldest cinemas.

Leeds equally has a bustling nightlife, so the trip would be perfect for students wanting a change from drinks in Squirrels or a night out at 42s. There’s almost 30 nightclubs to choose from, as well as plenty alternative nights out such as live music and quirky bars. If you’re going for a night of drinking, the famous Otley Run is popular with students in the city – fancy dress is a must.

If you don’t mind a train connection, I’d also thoroughly recommend a visit to either Harrogate or Knaresborough from Leeds. Both are picturesque and can be explored in under a day, with beautiful green spaces for relaxing and plenty of cafés for lunch.

Chester

Photo: Chester shot by Rachel Hannah @ Unsplash

Despite being on the border of Wales, Chester is a similar size to York and offers a similar picture of historical landmarks within a walled city. Once again each street represents its historic path, with Cathedrals and medieval walls lining the city.

Chester has a lot of hidden gems stemming from its past. When I visited, I found lots of cute cafes and old-fashioned bookshops within the city walls themselves, so be sure to check them out. Boat tours are also available on the River Dee for an alternative angle.

For more attractions, stroll along the Historic Chester Rows and the nearby Roman Amphitheatre. Further out of the city is Chester Zoo, one of the largest zoos in the country and something not currently offered in Manchester. Animals in the zoo range from cheetahs and flamingos to meerkats and frogs, so certainly something different from the day-to-day of student life.

Hebden Bridge

This hidden gem is nestled between Manchester and Leeds and is a lovely example of a Northern village. The village is known for being an artistic hub, which is certainly evident in its independent shops, historic cinema and the market which springs up four days a week. You could even plan to visit specifically for either of the annual Hebden Bridge Art Festival or Handmade Parade, which take place in April and June respectively.

There’s also amenities such as pubs and a nice Rochdale Canal walk, yet the town is small so would probably only warrant a day trip rather than a longer getaway. However, if you do have the extra time, a walk to the nearby village Heptonstall is a good addition. Its churchyard is the burial place of American poet Sylvia Plath, and the climb also rewards visitors with views of the Pennines.

Liverpool

Photo: Albert Docks, shot by Mark Stuckey @ Unsplash

Another Northern City makes the list, and Liverpool is a popular day-trip destination with Mancunians for a reason. The city certainly has soul, and can you can get a return train from Manchester for as little as £4. The low cost of the trip leaves plenty of spare money for taking in some of the sights or grabbing some cocktails.

The hub of the city can be found around the Royal Albert Dock, where you’ll find Tate Liverpool and the Maritime Museum. The waterfront itself is well worth a visit for the river Mersey and the famous buildings lining its banks – you can enjoy for £11 via a boat cruise. There’s of course also the history of the Beatles to explore, and this can be done by a visit to either (or both) of the Beatles Museum or the Beatles Experience. There’s plenty of references to the Fab Four around the streets of Liverpool, with the riverside statue making the perfect photo opportunity.

Windermere

The final destination on the list takes us to a more rural setting, more specifically to the stunning Lake District. Windermere shares its name with the largest lake in the National Park, meaning there’s plenty of opportunity for water sport activities. For example, you can take a lake cruise to really soak in the scenery, or get more active with kayaking, boat hire and even sailing courses. Local activity centres offer everything from the water sports to tree-top climbing and bike hires, so you really are sorted for an alternative to city breaks.

The town is a good base for exploring more of the local area, and taking a trip to nearby Ambleside for a visit to Beatrix Potter’s house would make a quaint day out. There’s also impressive hiking opportunities for those who like something outdoorsy, and I’d recommend the climb – the views were panoramic when I visited. However, the landscape can equally be viewed by taking the steam train which runs between Haverthwaite Village and Lakeside Pier on the lake itself, with any good day out in the countryside finished off by a visit to the pub.


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