Review: Northern Lights

Manchester’s Kimpton Clocktower Hotel offers the perfect blend of classic and cool with an unrivalled location.

As a born and bred Londoner, I feel very at home in big cities, and always enjoy the chance to get out of my own metropolis and enjoy the hustle and bustle of somewhere new. Manchester, only a couple of hours away by train, with a plethora of five-star hotels, award-winning restaurants, and world-class museums and art galleries, is the ideal destination for just such a weekend away.

I’m staying at the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, a short walk from Manchester Piccadilly station. From the moment I step into the grand entrance lobby, it’s clear that this is a hotel steeped in history and packed full of character; it’s hard not to notice the 1,300 lb bronze horse dominating the lobby, sculpted by Sophie Dickens, great great granddaughter of Charles. Grade I listed, the building was built in 1895 from original plans by Alfred Waterhouse and for many years was home to insurance and pensions company the Refuge Assurance Company. Exposed Victorian brickwork, huge columns, majestic entrances, tiled walls, and original doors are all glimpses into the hotel’s past life, and these original features are beautifully blended with quirky modern touches. The bar and dining room is named The Refuge in honour of the building’s roots, and the 10,000 sq ft dining area and bar has been enhanced with a glass-roofed winter garden and metal caged bar, giving this historic architectural feature a modern twist, whilst still retaining its grand industrial roots.

With 270 rooms, I expected the hotel to feel very busy, but its layout means I potter about hardly bumping into anybody. My room is huge, with the tallest window (and longest curtains!) I’ve ever seen. Furnished with two queen sized beds, there is plenty of space for me and my travelling companion to spread out in style. The design here is bold and modern: there are vibrant, bespoke textiles designed by Timorous Beasties, and bold contemporary graphic prints adorn the walls. Other cool touches include a record turntable with a Smiths album lined up, and a couple of Manchester Gin miniatures waiting in the fridge. There’s also fresh milk – always a game-changer when it comes to making a hotel room cuppa.

When staying at such a stylish and comfortable hotel it is definitely tempting to stay in, put the kettle on and relax, but the central location means it’s very easy to get around. Just up the road is Hatch, a cool outdoor food and drink venue, perfect for grabbing a bite to eat or a coffee while browsing the shops. Around the corner is the famous Canal Street, packed with lively bars and the promise of entertaining nights out. On the Saturday night we are visiting, we head to The Blues Kitchen. With branches in London, too, we know what to expect here – the chance to eat bottomless chicken wings while listening to live music has the makings of a perfect night out. And it doesn’t disappoint: deliciously tender and perfectly spiced buttermilk chicken, slow-cooked ribs and avocado salad served in a giant taco are just some of the tasty choices on tonight’s menu. And the music is equally good; a stream of talented singers and musicians take to the stage. While we are too full to move, plenty of others have more stamina and hit the dance floor.

By some miracle of human endurance, we are hungry again in the morning. Breakfast is served in The Refuge, where we find a bounty of fresh fruit, pastries, and hot à la carte options. We eat here again on the Sunday night, tucking into a roast platter with succulent grass-fed rump of Lancashire beef and half a Cumbrian chicken, dished up with roast potatoes, huge Yorkshire puddings, red cabbage and more. With pre-dinner cocktails in the bar beforehand, including the epically named The Glamour of Manchester, and a decent wine list to choose from, it’s probably no surprise we are back in our room watching TV in our pyjamas by 9pm!

We do manage to fit visits to the Lowry and Manchester Art Gallery around our meals, as well as indulging in a spot of retail therapy (the obligatory visits to Selfridges and Harvey Nicks – to compare them to their London counterparts, obviously). There’s so much more to do here, though, and we’re already planning our return visit.

Rooms start from £125 per night. For details and to book, see