Top sights of Manchester in 24 hours.

Manchester, I’ve lived there for 13 years and I love it, there’s so much to do if you enjoy eating out, bars and clubs. Although there aren’t any stand out sights like in London, Paris or Rome there is so much history here.

Workers rights, the birthplace of communism, women’s suffrage and the industrial revolution. These are just some of the things to have spiralled out of Manchester.

Starting out as a Roman fort in 79AD, Manchester grew exponentially in the 18th century thanks to the many textile factories that sprang up, making Manchester the first industrialised City in the world and the birthplace of the industrial revolution.

Although it saw a decline after WWII it has now become the 3rd most visited City in the United Kingdom, and is famous for it’s vibrant music scene, two heavyweight football clubs in City and United and a renowned tolerance with a thriving LGBTQ+ scene.

Linked to most major Cities in the UK by train, usually from Piccadilly station, the airport is only 8 miles from the City and the train takes just 20 minutes. Manchester Piccadilly is located right next to the ultra hipster area of Manchester, the Northern Quarter.

Take your time to wander the through the streets here, stop for brunch at one of the many cool cafes and restaurants and marvel at the architecture. Marvel Studios filmed Captain America here for the 1940s scenes in New York! It’s definitely the place if you like quirky bars and vintage clothes of all kinds.

Step into Afflecks palace for a true journey through knick knack heaven, and admire the chaos of it all. Fig and Sparrow is a great place to get some breakfast and tasty coffee or tea, or Siop Shop is a fun Welsh themed cafe on Tib street.

Head past the Arndale shopping centre and you’ll find yourself in Cathedral gardens. You can check out the football museum, and take a wander through Manchester Cathedral.

The best spot here though is Cheetham library, the oldest free public library in the UK. It was established in 1653 and has been in continuous use since then. It’s free of charge but you must join up with a guided tour.

It’s so interesting and once you reach the library it’s a stunning place, my favourite part is sitting at the same table that Marx and Engels sat at while they researched the disparity between social classes. This led to the communist manifesto.

Once you’ve had your fill here head back past the cathedral and stop off at shambles square for a quick pint at one of the traditional pubs. These pubs were built in 1551, but in 1999 they were moved from their original spot after redevelopment of the area.

After this refreshment go down the hill and turn right at the bridge. Follow this road along till you pass under the railway bridge and look for a tiny restaurant called the Sparrow under the railway arches.

Stop here for amazing Tyrolean food such as Spatzl and Mezzelune, along with fresh salads, and some of the best wine from central Europe. It’s a real hidden gem and you won’t be disappointed.

If that doesn’t work for you, head into the Arndale and find hidden gems such as Blue Caribou, Wholesome Junkies and Pancho’s Burrito in the marketplace.

Back up into the City you can follow Deansgate street until you reach John Rylands LIbrary, a late victorian neo-gothic building opened in 1900.

The architecture inside and out is amazing and there are some seriously old classic works here such as a Gutendberg bible and editions of the aldine press. You’re right next to Spinningfields here, the financial district and a great place to grab an afternoon cocktail at one of the trendy bars.

Double back on yourself and you can walk up John Dalton street, past the cute St Mary’s church to Albert Square, in December this is filled with the Christmas markets, which is so festive it almost hurts. Definitely stop for a mulled wine and some delicious food.

There’s usually something happening all year round here such as the international film festival, so check the local media for more info before you go.

Walk through between the town hall and the library to get a little dose of Harry Potter vibes, and emerge onto St Peter’s square, the site of the Peterloo massacre when police cavalry charged into a crowd of 70,000 who were peacefully protesting for reform of parliamentary representation. Eventually this led to reform and improvement of workers rights across the UK.

The library itself is a great building and you can find a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst here, a British suffragette who helped women win the right to vote who was born in Manchester.

If you want you can take the metrolink tram from here out to Salford Quays, where you’ll find the end of the Manchester ship canal, the imperial war museum and the BBC building. It’s nicest in Summer when you can walk around the quays and enjoy the sunshine at some outdoor bars. This is also the home of Manchester United, and you can take a tour of Old Trafford here too.

Otherwise, you can check out the nearby Manchester art gallery for free, or head back down to Deansgate and go to the Science and Industry museum for some interactive learning. If you head there make sure you stop at the Hilton for a drink at Cloud 23, with panoramic views of Manchester. It’s currently the tallest building in the City, but that will soon change.

Once you’re done with culture, head back up to Piccadilly gardens and find the little steps down to Bundobust, an indian street food restaurant that serves vegetarian food and craft ale. The food here is incredible whether you’re a veggie or not.

Depending on your choice of nightlife, you can watch a show at one of the theatres, a band at one of the many live venues, or head to Canal street, Manchester’s gay village and one of the biggest LGBTQ+ areas in the UK for a great atmosphere and dancing.

If you want something more low key, head through the Northern Quarter to the new Ancoats district, here you can taste some great local beers at seven brothers brewery and then try sample the 9th best pizza in the world at Rudy’s or fresh Vietnamese at Viet Shack.

If you get a minute, take the time to visit Sackville gardens to see a statue of Alan Turing, a WWII code breaker who is said to have helped won the war, who was later chemically castrated for being Gay and committed suicide.

If you fancy some independent cinema head to Home on first street, you’ll even get to see a statue of Engels, the aforementioned father of communism and get a delicious beer at The Gas Works.

The next morning you should definitely try Federal for a healthy breakfast, or Moose for something a little more hangover friendly. Then spend the last bit of your time in Manchester at the People’s history museum or wandering the canals of Castlefield. Unless you’re a Manchester City fan, in which case take a tour of the Etihad stadium.

VISIT MANCHESTER, YOU WON’T REGRET IT.

A Kiek in De Kok and Dark Tourism in Tallinn.

So today there were more than a few sore heads this morning, I needed food, so a few of us managed to drag ourselves up and out. I had heard of a pancake place called Kompressor and it did not disappoint!

We ordered potato balls, cheese balls to share and pancakes, check out the menu here. It was delicious, the garlic sauce that came with the snacks was amazing, and the pancakes were soooo tasty, just what we needed! Plus the price was so cheap!

Feeling partly refreshed, we were back on the sightseeing game. It was time to visit Kiek in de Kok, the artillery tower from 1475 with the amazing name. The name comes from early German, due to the ability to see into people’s kitchens from these tall towers. I think we must’ve said the name about 1000 times between us all.

The actual tower is impressive, the walls are 4m thick and you can spot cannon balls dating from 1577 stuck in the outer walls! Inside is a museum with some really cool features, lots of interactive moments including a medieval torture device you can test out! You can do a bit of dress up, and the views from the upper floors are immense, especially out of Toompea hill and the cathedral.

After stopping for a coffee we met up with the final members of the group, there’s a cute little train you can take around the town for those that don’t want to walk too much, very handy for a hangover. We checked out the Kalev Marzipan Museum, a very random shop selling every conceivable item made out of marzipan. It’s worth a little wander around and a fun gift for someone back home. They use molds that are around a hundred years old, and claim that Estonia were the inventors of the sweet candy treat!

Our next destination was quite the opposite of a sweet treat, we were heading to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom, I love learning about a countries history and I think it’s important to know what it’s citizens have been through till this point. It was really interesting learning about the occupation and resistance in Estonia. I will always love the story of the Baltic chain, when 2 million people held hands to form a line from Tallinn all the way to Vilnius in Lithuania as an act of peaceful protest against Soviet rule. Read more about it here.

Our last stop was the old KGB prison cells, at only 5 euros it’s small but very interesting and you really get an understanding of the horrors and suspicions that people faced everyday. It had a pretty creepy vibe too, it’s a top destination to visit for dark tourism, and I always find places like this really eye opening.

After this we went for dinner at a bad curry house, but sometimes you make wrong choices hungover! Everyone was up early the next day to travel onwards so after a little night time walk around Snelli park it was time to chill in the apartment together. Snelli park was actually really pretty, the water was all frozen over and couples were taking romantic walks along the banks. Plus the sight of the old castle and buildings up on Toompea was amazing, unfortunately my phone battery had died so I couldn’t take any pics.

The next day I was taking the star ferry over to Helsinki to spend a few days there, while everyone else took the bus to Riga to fly home. The report back that I got of the bus was really positive! Comfy seats, air con and in-seat entertainment for free! The ferry was really easy too, I bought my ticket at the terminal on the day and it was amazing travelling across the Tallinn bay and the gulf of Finland with ice blocks floating past. Apparently the Blatic has a really low salinity so it freezes over much more than other bodies of saltwater.

Caution! Radiation! Dark Tourism at Chernobyl

Today I was doing something that I was wholly unsure of. I was going to visit Chernobyl, the site of a nuclear power station that essentially went into meltdown and caused a huge nuclear explosion. The after effects of which are still felt now, and were felt for thousands of miles as winds blew radiation across Northern Europe.

This all happened in 1986 under Soviet rule in Ukraine but I was assured by various publications and tour sites online that it was now safe for humans to wander through, so I bit the proverbial bullet and went for it. I booked my tour online through Chernobyl-Tour, at first I was totally unsure if it was legit but you paid on the day and apart from handing over your passport it seemed pretty safe.

We met at 07:30am in Kiev, a motley crew of myself, an American family, a Spanish couple, a French guy and an Australian man. Lunch was to be included and we would make a quick stop to grab something for breakfast at a very well put together services on the way. All ready to go and passports checked we were informed there were two more travellers, and we would wait an extra ten minutes for them. At this point I just knew this couple would be trouble, they soon arrived around 11 minutes later, much to my consternation we hadn’t left them behind.

They then went into a big story about how one of them had left their passport at the hostel, to which they were told they wouldn’t be going on the tour without it. This began a whole rigmarole of leaving them behind, but waiting for them at the services while they took a taxi back to their hostel and then out to the services.

Anyway, we were soon on our merry way, making our hellos through gritted teeth at the new arrivals. The journey to the military checkpoint that required our passports and on to our first stop took around 3 hours, the route was scenic and we got a little background on what had happened and the itinerary for the day, we were also all given our own personal geiger counters and maps which was pretty cool and/or terrifying depending on your train of thought.

Once through the soviet era guard post – something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Pierce Brosnan era James Bond film, we were officially in the Chernobyl area. The three headed deer and giant glowing wolves that I had imagined in my head failed to materialise, instead we stopped and took a quick look around a small village called Zalissya that had been completely abandoned. It was eerie walking through the woods with glimpses of derelict houses, we explored a few of them, only finding bits that no scavengers would take.

Next on the agenda was another quick stop at the first exclusion workers site, here people live and work around the whole Chernobyl area, testing the radiation levels and performing maintenance. We looked at some of the equipment that had been used through the years to aid in sealing the nuclear towers off and learnt that they mostly hadn’t worked. There was a really endearing statue of origami swans in dedication to people who lost their lives due to the reactor.

The next part of the tour was really cool, and complete KGB/Soviet stuff, we stopped at a gated off area which led to a huge radar antenna which was completely hidden from the West and it was only discovered once people started returning to work in the exclusion zone.

It would have been used to assist in launching ballistic missiles. I thought it was amazing and I could’ve wandered through the bunkers, under the radar and around the abandoned vehicles for ages. This was truly an experience unlike any other. Geiger counters gripped in our hands we closely monitored the radiation levels and found control rooms straight out of films and TV.

Unfortunately time was limited and our next stop was the creepiest yet, the village of Kopachi. In the aftermath of the fallout the government didn’t really know what to do, so in some areas of high radiation the houses were bulldozed and buried.

This only led to the radiation seeping into the ground and water table around the village, making it one of the highest radiation spots we visited. The only building left was the kindergarten, with empty beds left behind and various creepy toys lying around.

It was now time for lunch, and we joined the exclusion zone workers in their cafeteria to enjoy the same food that they eat. I forgot to take pictures of this and I’ve completely forgotten what we ate so it couldn’t have been too memorable. We ate and chatted about the day so far before we were bundled back into our little minibus to view the actual reactor or at least the sarcophagus that now covers it.

They actually discovered that the original containment barrier was leaking radioactive rain into the soil and thus into the environment. So a new containment device was built over this, which allows nuclear waste to be safely removed and the old sarcophagus to be dismantled.

The next part of the trip was really exciting as we visited the nuclear City of Pripyat, this place was built for the huge population of workers that the nuclear station required, reaching a population of nearly 50,000 at the time it was evacuated. It truly represents nature taking back control of something built by humans.

Covered in greenery and buildings slowly crumbling to the ground from rain and plants, it includes the sports stadium, the amusement park with the iconic ferris wheel, which was only ridden on once and the whole park was never opened to the public.

It was actually due to open 5 ays after the disaster. It also includes the azure swimming pool – one of the cleanest and safest places in the exclusion zone, we found out to our horror that it was still in use up to 1996 by the men and women brought in to deal with the crisis!

It was starting to get dark now as dusk fell, and our second to last stop was the police station which was definitely like something out of a horror film with it’s abandoned cells. Our last stop was on our way out and had to be illuminated by the bus….it was the memorial to ‘Those who saved the world’ the firefighters that died putting out the fire at the nuclear power plant and the people who cleaned up the area after the accident. It was a fitting way to end the trip, but the drama had just begun.

Remember the two English lads who had caused a commotion at the beginning of the journey? Well they had started to get bored about halfway through and ceased showing any interest in the surroundings or what the guide was saying. Through the whole trip the one thing that we had been warned not to do was pick up any kind of ‘souvenirs’ from the exclusion zone. So obviously as we went back through the checkpoint and were checked for radiation and decontaminated something as amiss.

Turned out a wrench was left on one of the seats on the bus. Now not to point fingers but it was definitely these two lads. They acted like butter wouldn’t melt at the time and luckily for us the army guys let us go without taking us through questioning to figure out who it was, this was what could have potentially happened. Once the wrench had been returned and we were on our way they soon started joking that it might have been them. It was just so needless and embarassing for everyone after such an incredible trip. As we disembarked the bus back in Kiev they offered me the chance of a beer with them, I politely declined by informing them I’d rather drink the cooling water of the nuclear reactor than have a beer with two arseholes.

I did however head to the pub I knew and had a beer, contemplating the day and what a crazy experience it was. The tour cost around 89 US dollars and it was worth every penny. I’d remenber this for the rest of my life. Bucket list moment? TICK.