London is great, but for museums with a difference, try up north too, writes Alexia Santamaria.
On a recent trip to London with my family, we decided to do a quick diversion to Manchester to see friends. With 24 hours in town, we wanted to pack in as much family fun as possible and were surprised at how much we were able to do in a short time in this compact, very walkable, city.
The day started with a trip to the National Football Museum where our little under-10 footballer had a photo taken with one hand (gloved of course) on the FA Cup and the other on the Premier League Cup, both currently held by Manchester City.
I think if he'd done nothing else on our whole trip he would have been entirely happy — but fortunately the museum also had a lot of fascinating info on the history of the sport (even including the ugly bits like discrimination) and a floor of interactive activities where you could kick, catch, dive and test all your skills against machines. Probably best not mention how it wasn't just our sons who got very competitive at this point. Some say a victory over a child doesn't count, but I beg to differ.
A three-minute walk took us to Manchester Cathedral, a stunning Gothic structure with seriously impressive amounts of vibrant multi-coloured stained glass casting sparkly rainbow light on to the stone floor.
It's hard to know how churches and historic buildings will go down with an audience whose main interests are Star Wars, Fortnite, planes and fast cars but the boys were surprisingly impressed and we loved the serene atmosphere which caused them to stay unusually quiet, and even stop fighting for a whole 15 minutes.
We'd heard Mackie Mayor was the place to go for lunch and those recommendations were spot on for our tribe, or indeed anyone visiting Manchester. The restored former meat market is now a communal food hall with a great selection to keep all parties happy; pizzas from Honest Crust and bao from Baohouse went down a treat with the kids, and us.
Fuelled up, the boys were able to easily manage a 25-minute walk to Mosi (the Museum of Science and Industry) where they had a great afternoon with the array of hands-on exhibits such as the reaction tester and thermochromic panels — which changed hue with heat from their hands.
Our train enthusiast child was thrilled to stand at the birthplace of rail (the line from Manchester to Liverpool was the first in the world to connect two cities and the station has been preserved). The first ever engine, Stephenson's Rocket, was also displayed proudly at the entrance to the museum; it's been brought to Mosi to reunite it with its original home.
We could have spent half a day at the museum easily — especially if I had told them about the gaming section! — but we moved on after a couple of hours to the aviation space across the road. Here, the boys loved looking at war planes and going on a simulator — more of their favourite things in one city than they could ever have imagined.
By the end of the day we were all keen for some traditional English pub action so headed to The Wharf, on Manchester's famous canals, for roast meals with Yorkshire puddings the size of our heads — and even better, pints and local gins for us.
I thought wistfully of all the excellent shopping and foodie opportunities we had passed on our day through the city and made a mental note to come back sooner rather than later to explore further. Manchester is a fabulous city whether you have one day or one month. Don't miss it if you're heading to the UK.
London is great but there's lots of family fun up North too.
Manchester is a two-hour train ride from London Euston. Book in advance on Virgin Rail for great family deals.