So you want to make the journey worthwhile and add on some vacation time in the UK? Manchester is a pretty good place from which to discover the parts that international visitors often miss. It has great rail and bus connections both North/South and East/West or you can pick up a rental car and be on the motorway network within minutes.
Where to go? First of all, forget the London-Oxford-Stratford circuit. At this time of year, these places are crowded and expensive. If the weather is hot, all of them have high humidity and pollution levels. Within two hours travelling time, you have a great choice of other destinations that will be fresher and less besieged. You will still be well-advised to make reservations ahead because it is peak holiday season after all. Here are five brief suggestions.
North Wales: This is what passes for mountain country in the UK with lots of scope for hiking. However, you can have a less strenuous time – Snowdon, the highest peak, can be climbed by mountain railway. In fact there are mountain railways all over the area which give access to many of the most scenic areas. Push on to the coast and you find a chain of castles, Portmeirion, location for the cult TV series, The Prisoner, and some great beaches. Probably best to rent a car for this one.
Lake District: The other bit of mountain country and tends to be busier. Hiking would be a bigger component of a vacation here, although there is some Romantic literary heritage and the strangeness of the estuary at Cartmel with its shifting sands. Go east across the M6 into the Forest of Bowland and find some of the best gastropubs in the country. Take the train up to Oxenholme and rent a car from there.
Peak District: Less mountainous but the historic lung for the industrial cities of Manchester and Sheffield. Lots of pretty stone villages with nice pubs and easier walking. Buxton is a good base. The Opera House has a Gilbert & Sullivan Festival for the first week in August.
Yorkshire: God’s Own County. Think Texas with friendly natives. York gets very busy so think about staying in Leeds, which has great dining, markets and shopping, and taking a day trip over on the train. If you don’t want to rent a car, Leeds is a pretty good base to explore Yorkshire by rail or bus – don’t forget the ride up towards Carlisle which is one of the highest and wildest routes in the country. Scarborough is a fun resort with good fish and chips, although the best are to be found at Whitby – the Magpie Café is legendary – which is easier to reach by bus than train from the south. The hidden gem, for which you need a car, is the Wolds, which lie east of York towards the coast, See the places David Hockney painted as you go.
Northern Ireland: For the more enterprising, this is less than an hour by budget airline. Rent a car and do the Game of Thrones tour or visit the new Titanic museum. Beautiful countryside, great food and the warmest welcome you could imagine.
Happy to answer questions or post other suggestions.