Manchester

Manchester is a cultural boom town, setting trends in the UK like no other city outside London. From the days of the Haçienda and "Madchester", it has been at the cutting edge of UK trends. But with its baggy trousers long since relegated, these days it's a modern metropolis, embracing fashion, technology and change, more like Barcelona than the coal-black heart of the industrial revolution. 

In modern Manchester, cool urbanites sip coffee at Salvi (the best espresso this side of Naples) and browse designer styles in the boutiques of King Street. The city is a discerning shopper's paradise. Drop into Oi Polloi for menswear, Selfridges for designer pieces and Eastern Bloc records to tune into the latest sounds.

If you're in Manchester for a night out, head to the Northern Quarter for achingly cool alternative bars - Common and Kosmonaut Bar are top choices. For something a little more fabulous, head to Epernay champagne bar in Great Northern Tower or Cloud 23 in Beetham Tower for swish drinks with a great view of the city.

 

Sheffield

Shrugging off its industrial past, Sheffield has blossomed as one of the most culturally relevant cities in the UK. The city is proud of its steelmaking history, but a solid musical heritage, including Pulp, the Arctic Monkeys and Warp Records, has cemented its reputation as a crucible of cool.

Creativity is the watchword for Sheffield's visitors. A trio of local theatres produce a buzzing programme of homegrown talent, while a wealth of art galleries, such as the artist-run S1 Artspace, display modern art from the Sheffield scene.

If you're in town for a night out, bypass the city centre and join the hipsters on Trippet Lane. Dada is a haven for Sheffield's arty crowd and offers a huge selection of locally brewed beer and a library of rare academic books. Follow this with some live music at the iconic Leadmill venue and you'll see why Sheffielders are so proud of their city.

 

Blackpool

Everyone knows what Blackpool's got to offer, right? The Pleasure Beach, the amusements, the Tower? It's the Goliath of English seaside towns, but there's much more to Blackpool than donkey rides and penny arcades.

The most charming thing about Blackpool is its commitment the weird and the wonderful. If you're in the market for a family day out, give the donkeys a break and head to Blackpool Zoo. There's a menagerie of beasts here, from the reptile house to the lion enclosure, and for something cuter, check out the meerkats. 

Fancy something a little weirder? Try Blackpool Bierkeller, an authentic Bavarian beer hall on the Central Promenade. This sprawling bar serves revellers huge steins of German beer and enormous Bavarian pretzels. After a tipple you might want to join the crowds in a spot of traditional table dancing to the oompah soundtrack. Bet you weren't expecting that on a trip to the seaside!

 

Liverpool

Once famed for tracksuits and perms, Liverpool has upped its game over the last few years, becoming a chic destination with heaps of hispter cred. While the docks are home to top attractions such as The Beatles Story and Tate Liverpool, you have to delve into the streets to get the best from this city. Head to the Ropewalk district between Bold Street and Duke Street for some of Liverpool's best independent shopping and, after a browse, refuel at the über-hip Bold Street Coffee.

Next, go to the sky-scraping Panoramic 34 restaurant for a meal with a view, or try Camp And Furnace for quality fare with a warehouse feel. For drinks, Leaf is popular with Liverpool's arty crowd and for something more extravagant head to converted church, Alma de Cuba.

 

Carlisle

Even if you've been to Carlisle a few times you could easily have missed some of its quirkier attractions. An unusual favourite for many is A World In Miniature. These 1/12-scale houses are rendered in breathtaking detail and the Houghton Hall Garden Centre setting only adds to their appeal. For some historic Carlisle culture, head to the unassuming Tullie House museum. It doesn't look like much from the outside but this is a Tardis of a museum, full of Pre-Raphaelite art, Roman history and some fun  interactive exhibitions. And if you fancy some fine dining, Carlisle boasts a plethora of great restaurants. You could book a table at Essen, where the chic go to eat, or dive into the artsy Lane Bar  for some homemade food and a quality local beer.

 

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