20 things to do this summer

20 things to do this summer

I love making summer plans, and this isn’t just a list for general inspiration but an actual “to do” list for my summer! Some things are on my list every year, like having a picnic… which is basically just weather dependent. But I’ll be hoping to put a tick next to everything by the end of summer…

Number 2: I’ll be reading lots of books anyway, but there’s something special about reading in the garden with a glass of wine, or perhaps on the beach. Classic summer feels.

Number 4: Going to a music festival is a big part of summer for a lot of people, but I was thinking it doesn’t even have to be the scale of Glastonbury or Coachella. In Manchester we are having an ice cream festival this summer(!) so I’ll definitely be attending that one. Plus there’s Manchester International Festival during July. So whether it’s vintage, gin, film or arts, festivals are a good one for the list.

Number 8: I love the idea of giving my home interiors a new look every now and again, even if it’s just moving the furniture around or buying a whole new set of cushions.

Number 10: Because receiving a proper letter (i.e. not bills or marketing material) feels amazing, so why not share the love?

Number 16: Summer is a great time to learn something new. Whether it’s crafty, something outdoorsy, or even something technical that could help with your career goals.

Number 17: Summer isn’t summer if you haven’t found a theme song by the end of it. And then whenever you hear this song in the future you’ll always remember summer 2017!

What summer plans do you have?

Crafting ideas using very basic items -#VikingArtyParty

Last weekend I spent a sunny Saturday afternoon getting crafty at the #VikingArtyParty in the gorgeous King Street Townhouse hotel in Manchester. Now, Viking are generally known for their office supplies, but as this event showed me, it is very possible to get crafty with some very basic and low-cost items and I came away feeling inspired and creative!

Viking Arty Party event Manchester
Photo by Matt Chappell and Viking

First up I was introduced to some exclusive new calligraphy sets that are due to released, and we tried our hand at Modern Calligraphy with Joyce from Artsynibs. I’d previously attended one of her brush calligraphy workshops, and after developing those skills over the past year I loved learning this new style with a dip pen.

#vikingartyparty Modern Calligraphy
Photo by Matt Chappell and Viking

Then I moved onto notebook customisation with Chloe from The Crafty Hen  where we turned very basic and boring-looking exercise books into something unique and pretty using different papers and trimmings.

#vikingartyparty notebooks
Photo by Matt Chappell and Viking
#vikingartyparty-92
Photo by Matt Chappell and Viking

And then I finished up block printing with Stacey from The Crafty Hen,  where we used lino cutting techniques to turn a plain Staedtler eraser into a rubber stamp (who knew?!), and block printed the design onto plain white magazine files.

#vikingartyparty block printing
Photo by Matt Chappell and Viking

Although I wasn’t 100% happy with how my pineapple-printed magazine file turned out, I did go on to use the same rubber stamp that I’d made to add extra touches to my customised notebook, and I even added a calligraphy label to it too, so as you can see I combined all three skills into one project that I love!

Customised notebook

My customised notebook

It’s amazing how many basic items can be turned into interesting craft projects, and here is another example; in my goody bag from the event I found a plain white mug and some oil-based Sharpie pens, and just 5 minutes on Pinterest showed me that this is a crafting craze right now! I got busy right away and created my own version of a Sharpie mug!

Monogram sharpie mug

I’m definitely feeling creative after all of this, and I hope it inspires you to see the crafting potential in some otherwise uninspiring items!

You can also read Viking’s blog post about the day here.

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National Theatre’s Jane Eyre

National Theatre’s touring production of Jane Eyre coincides with the 170th anniversary of the first publication of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, and whether it’s a coincidence or not, it is the perfect way to mark the occasion. I’ve seen National Theatre productions before and have not been disappointed, and I was equally impressed by this imaginative interpretation of the book, which premiered at the Lowry Theatre last week.

JANE EYRE UK Tour 2017Royal National Theatre
Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

The set and cast were both minimal – basic wooden structures were turned into scenes from Jane’s childhood and the imposing Thornfield Hall using just a few additional pieces flown in and hung from the ceiling, and a cast of 10 actors and musicians portrayed everything from the orphan girls at Lowood Institution to Rochesters dog! I find this kind of creative staging very exciting and it really held my interest.  It was amazing how they were able to capture the feeling of being trapped and then feeling free, with nothing but a few square frames of wood and a breeze!

If you don’t know the story of Jane Eyre then I suppose I would summarise it as a feminist love story. I found the gradual development of the love between Jane and Rochester was completely perfect in this show, thanks to some amazing chemistry from the actors Nadia Clifford and Tim Delap. And the feminist element of the story, which comes into play as Jane finds it difficult to give up her independence to follow her heart, still feels relevant even today!

JANE EYRE UK Tour 2017Royal National Theatre
Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg
JANE EYRE UK Tour 2017Royal National Theatre
Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg
JANE EYRE UK Tour 2017 Royal National Theatre
Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

The only downside to the show is its length at over 3 hours, which I think this is very long for a play –  particularly one which has such bleak beginnings. The best of the play only really began once Rochester came on the scene, and I would have liked to get there a bit faster if I’m honest. But I loved the modern interpretation of the story with elements of humour and the addition of music to set the tone of different scenes. Actually, one of my favourite bits was when the actress playing Bertha sang “Mad About the Boy” as an atmospheric backdrop to Jane realising she loves Rochester at the same time as believing she will never have him.

Jane Eyre is a co-production between the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic. It is touring theatres in the UK until September, and is well worth a watch!

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Jamie’s Italian, Manchester

It’s been a while since I ate at Jamie’s Italian, but after seeing it featured in an article on Manchester’s most beautiful chain restaurants, I was feeling eager to return. It certainly is a gorgeous interior – the grade II listed building is actually an old bank and the restaurant has kept plenty of the original features. We were seated at a table on the mezzanine balcony, and had a great view over the restaurant as well as getting plenty of lovely spring sunlight from the huge high windows up there.

Jamie's Italian Manchester

We were invited down to Jamie’s to celebrate the launch of their new Super Lunch Menu, which is excellent value at two courses for £12.95 or three courses for £14.95 (available from Mon-Fri 12-6pm), and has a nice range of options. However, we couldn’t help but be tempted by the day’s specials which just sounded too amazing when our waiter described them!

Jamie's Italian - Tuna steak special

Jamie's Italian - Pork chop special

I went for the tuna steak, which came served with a beetroot and quinoa salad and yoghurt dressing. And I can’t even explain how delicious this dish was, as well as looking pretty. I was expecting my tuna medium rare (it’s Jamie’s style) and it was cooked to perfection. And although I thought it sounded like an unusual combination, it actually went perfectly with the salad and dressing. In fact it was the yoghurt dressing that really added something special – I don’t know what was in it but it tasted amazing! Craig opted for the pork chop special which came served with pea and mint mash, and again this pairing was delicious, even if it did sound like an unusual combination at first.

The Cocktail Menu at Jamie’s Italian is very tempting, with plenty of variety and new (Italian) twists on familiar cocktails. I decided to try a Florence Fizz, made with Limoncello, pomegranate juice, elderflower cordial and prosecco, and it was very refreshing and summery – the perfect thing for a sunny evening in Manchester.

Jamie's Italian - Florence Fizz cocktail

And for dessert we opted for the Epic Brownie. I’ve had a brownie dessert at Jamie’s before, but it has since been slightly reinvented with salted caramel ice cream and lashings of proper chocolate sauce as well as the signature caramelised popcorn topping. It’s a delicious and fun dessert, and still as amazing as it used to be. It’s also one of the dessert options on the Super Lunch Menu, which is great news!

Jamie's Italian - Brownie

Jamie’s Italian in Manchester is such a gorgeous venue that it’s easy to forget its part of a chain at all. It’s ideal for a special occasion, particularly if you consider their glamourous private dining room located (excitingly) in the old bank vault. But also this new Super Lunch Menu makes it ideal for a reasonably-priced lunch or early after-work bite and drinks with friends.

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International Women’s Day -#BEBOLDFORCHANGE

Today is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is #BEBOLDFORCHANGE because the World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186.

How completely crazy is this? I find it hard to comprehend how any inequality can still be allowed to exist in today’s world, let alone that it might take another 170 years until we achieve true gender parity.

#BeBoldForChange

I count myself very lucky that my personal life is filled with both men and women who treat each other as equals, and that I work for a large company with a female CEO and where many of the senior leadership positions are occupied by women. Most of the time inequality is not an issue I’m aware of in my day-to-day life, and I know I’m lucky in that respect. And yet I do see it displayed in small ways all the time across the media. Just last week I was Googling Brie Larson and all I got back were tabloid articles about how her cleavage on The One Show had caused a social media storm the previous night. She was on the show to promote her latest film, not that you’d know it from the headlines. The issue of inequality is always present and is not worlds away from my life. Even here in Britain, where we have a female monarch and a female prime minister, gender issues are still part of our society and culture, and possibly will be for another 170 years.

Brie Larson One Show headlines

So I’m taking the opportunity to celebrate some of the moments that high-profile women have inspired me recently. Their words remind me that gender issues do still exist in all kinds of ways, but also that people are always willing to challenge them.

  • Last week Spanish MEP Iratxe Garcia Perez responded to Polish MEP Janusz Korwin Mikke’s sexist rant about the pay gap, where he says that ‘women must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller and they are less intelligent’.

“According to what you’re saying and your theory I don’t have the right to be here as a member of parliament. And I know it hurts you, I know it hurts and worries you that today women can sit in this house and represent European citizens with the same rights as you. I am here to defend European women against men like you.”Iratxe Garcia Perez

No one is being paid equally

  • In the last few days Emma Watson has had to defend her right to be both a feminist and an attractive woman, so let’s remember her interview in Esquire magazine last year where she spoke out about the pay gap in Hollywood.

“We are not supposed to talk about money, because people will think you’re “difficult” or a “diva”. But there’s a willingness now to be like, “Fine. Call me a ‘diva’, call me a ‘feminazi’, call me ‘difficult’, call me a “First World feminist’, call me whatever you want, it’s not going to stop me from trying to do the right thing and make sure that the right thing happens.”

“Hollywood is just a small piece of a gigantic puzzle but it’s in the spotlight. Whether you are a woman on a tea plantation in Kenya, or a stockbroker on Wall Street, or a Hollywood actress, no one is being paid equally.”Emma Watson

  • During the US election campaign trail Michelle Obama expressed her disgust at Donald Trump’s sexist comments and attitude to women in general. It’s worth reading the whole thing.

“The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman.

“It reminds us of stories we heard from our mothers and grandmothers about how, back in their day, the boss could say and do whatever he pleased to the women in the office, and even though they worked so hard, jumped over every hurdle to prove themselves, it was never enough.”Michelle Obama

  • Model Emily Bador uses Instagram to challenge the objectification of women’s bodies.

“You don’t owe it to anyone to be perfect. You are not less worthy because you don’t have a flat stomach. You are not less valid because you don’t shave your armpits. You are not less beautiful because of your scars, stretch marks, eczema, acne. I’m just so sick and tired of the objectification of women’s bodies and how it’s seemingly ok to dictate a woman’s worth based on what she looks like… (this also obviously applies to men, and those who don’t conform to gender binary stereotypes too, inclusivity and intersectionality is key)”Emily Bador

  • After wearing men’s clothes for a month Lucy Rycroft-Smith makes some discoveries about how some clothing seems designed to make you uncomfortable in both body and mind. I thought this was a very interesting experiment, and although I don’t think I’d dress in men’s clothes full-time, it did make me think about how much thought the women I know give to clothes compared to the men I know.

“I’m a forthright, intellectual woman who’s never had a problem with confidence. But I’ve spent 20 years wearing clothes designed to make me feel ill at ease—in both my body and mind. It sickens me, remembering just how self-conscious I’ve been about my clothing at the exact moments when my attention should have been directed elsewhere.”Lucy Rycroft-Smith

  • After the sad passing of Carrie Fisher, the world remembered her strong feminist ideals rather than just her gold bikini. I narrowed masses of her thought-provoking quotes down to just three.

“What I didn’t realize, back when I was this 25-year-old pinup for geeks… was that I had signed an invisible contract to stay looking the exact same way for the next 30 to 40 years. Well, clearly I’ve broken that contract.”  Carrie Fisher

“Screw beauty, it’s superficial anyway, and my other attributes matter way more than my appearance.” – Carrie Fisher

“Men don’t age better than women, they’re just allowed to age.” – Carrie Fisher

#BEBOLDFORCHANGE is the 2017 motto for a reason. Speaking out against inequality and declaring yourself a feminist comes with backlash, as many of the above women found out. But if nobody does then we can definitely expect it to take 170 years for the changes to happen. So let’s all make an extra effort #BEBOLDFORCHANGE.

Clara Barton equal pay quote

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Zouk Cookery School

In my Christmas gift guide last month I suggested that a cookery skills workshop would be a great gift for a foodie-type person, and a couple of weekends ago I got the chance to try one out myself at Zouk. Zouk is a lovely Indian restaurant in Manchester, and when they offered me a place on one of their half-day cookery workshops I jumped at the chance, because I really wanted to know the secrets to making dishes that taste as delicious as in a restaurant (because no homemade curry ever really compares).

What’s nice about Zouk Cookery School is that there are a range of themed workshops to choose from, so you can pick the one that most appeals to you – from Zouk Signature Dishes (including Spicy Prawn Cakes and Lamb Lazeez) or the Tikka Masterclass (including Tandoori Mixed Grill dishes and various tikka curries), to masterclasses that focus on vegetarian or seafood dishes. The idea behind each session is to focus on a few selected dishes, which are chosen to give people an idea of the different herbs, spices and flavours involved.

Zouk cookery school

I chose to take the Punjabi Masterclass, which focuses on a menu of dishes from the Punjab region:

Starters

  • Punjabi Lollipop: Chicken wings marinated in pomegranate and gently cooked over hot charcoal
  • Lamb Chops: Char-grilled lamb in a secret Mughal marinade

Main courses

  • Lamb Karahi: Prepared over hot flames with tomatoes, crushed peppercorns, cumin, ginger & garlic
  • Chicken Jalfrezi: Chicken pieces cooked with capsicum, onion & eggs in a thick spicy sauce

Sides

  • Pilau rice
  • Naan breads with various toppings and fillings

On arrival at Zouk restaurant we were welcomed with a warming cup of home-made desi chai tea and then split into 2 groups. Our group went into the main restaurant kitchen first, to learn how to make the main courses and pilau rice under the guidance of a chef. Because these dishes are best made as a big batch in large pots, this part of the class was like a practical demonstration, which we got involved with by adding ingredients and taking turns at looking after the pots. We picked up plenty of tips this way, and it was obvious many of us had lots of questions about the best ways of doing things. Once we’d finished on the curries our groups swapped over and we had our turn at preparing the starter dishes. This was more of a hands-on session and we all had individual stations where we prepared our chicken wings, lamb chops and marinades following the step-by-step instructions of the chef. These were left to marinate for a while before we cooked them on the charcoal grill. We then had a demonstration of how the naan breads are prepared and baked in the tandoori oven (which takes literally seconds!).

Zouk cookery school chef

Zouk cookery school starters

Zouk cookery school grill

Zouk cookery school bread

Every workshop ends with everyone sitting down to eat the dishes they’ve made and people even had their partners and friends turning up for this part, which I thought was nice (and another reason this would made a nice gift!). All of the dishes we prepared were fantastic – my personal favourites were the Punjabi lollipop and the Lamb Karahi. I was impressed with everything I tasted though and will definitely be attempting to recreate some dishes using the recipes and step-by-step guides we were given to take home.

Zouk cookery school food

The classes cost £80 and after attending this class I’d definitely recommend them for all curry enthusiasts and as the perfect gift for someone like that. Many of the people on my workshop had received their place as a Christmas gift, and all of them loved it. And what’s great is that if you are buying a gift but you don’t know which class to book your friend on to, you can buy a gift card and they can choose themselves from the course programme, which makes it ideal!

Has anyone else ever been to anything like this?

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How I’m defeating the January blues in 2017

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on Ways to Defeat the January Blues, and I still love reading it each January for tips. I used to suffer with the post-Christmas blues really badly, but now I think I’m pretty good at forward planning and keeping busy during this strange month of the year.

Winter walks

One of my tips was to have plenty planned in for January, and I’ve definitely done that this year. I’m busy every weekend this month, with spa visits, theatre trips, meals out and drinks with friends all penned into my calendar. And because I made these plans with plenty of notice, I’ve already made sure that I’ve budgeted for them. After all, money can sometimes be tight after Christmas!

I’ve also starting making plans for the rest of the year. If you didn’t see my exciting news on Instagram, I got engaged over Christmas so there’s plenty of planning to be done there! Plus a bit of summer holiday planning is always a great January distraction.

I also find that having a clear out at home is a great way to feel refreshed for the new year. We’ve been moving our furniture round, having a clear out of DVDs and I’m about to sort through all my clothes to see if there’s anything I can donate to charity.

January is usually all about the Sales, but this year I’ve only done sensible sale shopping – only buying things I actually already wanted or needed and not being distracted by impulse “bargains”. This means I’ve hardly bought anything at all, and just saved a bit of money on items I would have been buying anyway.

But one of the best ways to get through January is to actually enjoy it! There’s a lot to be said for enjoying the small things, such as having long winter walks followed by relaxing baths, and playing with all the new things that you got over Christmas. I’ve been painting my nails in new colours, watching new DVDs and curling up with a new book.

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10 gift ideas that aren’t “things”

Sometimes the nicest gifts aren’t even “things” at all. Whether it’s a class to inspire a new hobby or something that gets them out and about, “things to do” gifts show that you really know a person, and it’s always nice to buy something you know they will definitely use! So if you are looking for a thoughtful gift that’s a little out of the ordinary, see if anything on my list inspires you!

Gift ideas

For a theatre lover:

1. Theatre tickets. Well if someone likes theatre, they’re bound to appreciate tickets to see a show. It could be tickets to a specific show you know they’ll love, or if you want to leave the choice up to them try Theatre Tokens or even a gift voucher for their local theatre.

2. Theatre workshop. Something a little more unusual for theatre creatives. Check out your local independent theatre for their upcoming workshops. For example, HOME MCR always have an interesting schedule of industry-led practical workshops.

For a foodie:

3. Cooking class. I love the fact that some of Manchester’s restaurants also offer cookery classes. Zouk offers half day courses in Indian dishes with their expert chefs and at Chaophraya you can learn to master Thai cooking. Plus you’ll get to eat your creations at the end of the session!

4. Restaurant gift cards. If cookery classes are too adventurous though, you can’t go wrong with a gift card for their favourite restaurant or for somewhere they haven’t got around to trying yet!

For a crafter:

5. Crafting workshop or voucher. Manchester’s Ministry of Craft not only offers a range of sewing and crafting workshops, they also sell gift vouchers valid against any of the workshops so that you can give the gift of “crafting time”. Or how about one of Annie Sloan’s chalk painting techniques workshops to inspire some furniture up-cycling projects? Or even a calligraphy class! There are plenty of craft skills workshops out there, so you just have to find one in your local area.

For someone who needs pampering:

6. Spa treatment. Why not buy someone a voucher for a spa day or treatment for a bit of pampering? And if you don’t know what they’d like, I also think a Treatwell gift card is a nice idea because it leaves the choice of venue, treatment and date up to them.

7. Afternoon tea voucher. Because surely cake is the best gift ever?! Most tea shops who serve afternoon tea also offer gift vouchers for afternoon tea.

For an animal lover:

8. Adopt an animal. Show your caring side by giving a gift and giving to charity at the same time. How about adopting a donkey at The Donkey Sanctuary or one of the primates at Monkey World?

For someone who likes to be out and about:

9. National Trust Membership. An annual membership costs £63 and for that you’ll get free entry to over 500 national trust places in the UK. That’s a lot of days out to enjoy!

10. Treasure Trail. This is a cute idea for a Secret Santa gift because the trails are within a £10 budget. There are over 1000 themed treasure trails across the UK, and you can have the printed booklets posted out to you. You can even be extra thoughtful and personalise them.

The opportunities are endless but there will almost certainly be something to suit whoever you’re buying for. So hopefully I’ve inspired you in time for Christmas!

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Sprucing up the home for Christmas, with Hassle.com

Hassle.com are an online marketplace for household services, which means that through their website or mobile app, you can easily hire and pay for a domestic cleaner for your home.

I always aim to put my Christmas decorations up the first weekend of December, and I always have a really good cleaning session of our apartment the weekend before to get it Christmas-ready. So when Hassle.com contacted me to see if I wanted to trial their service after they recently launched in Manchester, I knew this would be the perfect time for it.

Hassle poster

Using the online service was really easy. I just entered my postcode, my available dates and what kind of service I wanted (4 hours, one-off clean), and put the booking through. Then Hassle matched me with an available cleaner in my area, Bola. It was so easy to find a cleaner, and what’s great is that you can read online reviews from other people who have used the same cleaner. After all, it’s important to find a person who comes recommended and is trusted. And everything about the booking can be managed online – you can amend or cancel it through the app or website, or contact your cleaner directly. And better still, the payment is also sorted through the site as well – the card payment is taken once the clean is complete.

So I definitely found using the service as hassle-free as was promised. And on the day I was so impressed with the quality of the clean that Bola did! I hate to say it, but I know my pre-Christmas clean wouldn’t have been as thorough if I’d done it myself, and now I’m pretty pleased with my sparkling apartment which is Christmas-tree ready.

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10 festive things to do in Manchester

December is almost here, and the official Christmas countdown can officially begin. So if you’re not feeling festive yet, here are a few things you can be doing to get in the mood for the most wonderful time of the year.

1. Christmas Carols at John Rylands Library. I went to this one-hour carol concert last year, and it was a lovely break from the Christmas shopping crowds. This year it will be on 4th December, 2-3pm (no booking required) and takes place in the Historical Reading Room, which is a lovely space.

John Rylands Manchester carol concert

2. Ice skating at The Winter Gathering. Manchester Ice Rink has a new home at The Winter Gathering (London Road Fire Station). It’s a bit of a festive-themed wonderland which also features street food stalls, markets and live music, so there’s definitely enough festive fun to keep you entertained for a few hours!

3. A Very 80s Christmas. Get into the festive spirit the 80s way at HOME Mcr with a showcase of 80s movie viewings. I reckon Santa Claus: The Movie and Scrooged would easily get me in the mood.

4. Craft workshops at Paperchase. Christmas crafts are the best crafts, fact. And Paperchase are putting on a range of Christmas-themed workshops at their Manchester store, including techniques such as die cutting, lino printing and foiling for making gorgeous cards and tags, plus workshops where you can make gingerbread house gift boxes (very cute!), Christmas crackers or paper poinsettia wreaths. Prices start at £10.

Handmade gift tags

5. Festive afternoon tea. Tea Hive have really gone for it when giving their afternoon tea a Christmas makeover. Here’s what you can expect for £18.95: Festive gingerbread scones; a selection of finger sandwiches including Cheddar, pear and thyme; Bacon, brie and cranberry; and Turkey and stuffing; a selection of seasonal cakes; mince pies served with brandy butter; tea or coffee; and a mulled spiced apple drink. For an extra £4 you can even get a winter berry Bellini or liquor coffee.

6. Christmas at the movies. Christmas movie music always gives me the festive chills, and on 23rd December The Hallé will be playing orchestral music from The Polar Express, White Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frozen and Harry Potter, among others.

7. Brass band music.  Nothing sounds more like Christmas than brass bands playing carols, and Horwich RMI Brass Band will be performing In the Corn Exchange Atrium as well as in St Anne’s Square on various dates throughout December. Check out their events page for details.

8. Hot chocolate at BonBon. Cosy up and experience Manchester’s most luxurious hot chocolate away from the cold in BonBon in the Northern Quarter.

9. Manchester Christmas Markets after dark. I say after dark because there is something magical about seeing the wooden chalet huts all lit up with fairy lights twinkling in the trees above. Don’t forget to enjoy some warming mulled cider and some traditional Christmas market food for the full experience.

Manchester Christmas market

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10. Big Christmas Cracker at Hope Mill Theatre. This adults-only Christmas Cabaret featuring singers and dancers, burlesque and comedy sounds like a fun night out at Manchester’s hottest new fringe theatre venue. But if you’re looking for something more family friendly, there is also a production of the classic story of The Snow Queen too (I’m guessing it’s nothing like Frozen!)

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