If you’re on a city break to Manchester and the weather’s being a bit British, escape the elements at the intu Trafford Centre. This indoor shopping mall is seriously huge, with over 280 stores selling designer clobber and high street faves. But if you’d rather stick pins in your eyes than spend the day dragging around the shops, you’ll still find something to do here. As much a theme park as a shopping mall, there’s the 20-screen Trafford Centre cinema, rock climbing centre, high ropes course and more. And if you’re in town get off to the best possible start at a Manchester Premier Inn.
The gigantic retail and leisure development at Trafford was finally completed in 1998, but it was so controversial, it nearly didn’t get made at all.
The site at Dumplington, just five miles west of the city centre, was originally owned by the Manchester Ship Canal Company. In 1986 the company was bought by Peel Holdings, who wanted to build a huge out-of-town shopping centre on the land.
Many objected, fearful of the traffic jams and threat to local retailers a huge shopping mall might cause. There followed the longest and most expensive planning processes in the history of the UK, settled only by the House of Lords in 1996 who voted in favour of the development.
The 60-hectare project took 27 months to complete at a cost of £600 million (an eye-watering £1 billion in today’s money). The mall’s major buildings were joined together by glazed malls to create five different areas; Regent Crescent, The Dome, Peel Avenue, Festival Village and the Orient Restaurant and Leisure Dome. In 2008, two further extensions, Barton Square and the Great Hall, were added to create the vast complex the Trafford Centre is today.
Its fabulously over-the-top décor was designed to reflect the building’s heritage - the spectacular Orient food court is themed as a 1930s steam-powered ship to honour the centre’s links to the Manchester Ship Canal.
In 2013 the Trafford Centre was bought by retail group intu and rebranded to the intu Trafford Centre (although you might not actually hear it called that).
This luxurious marble mall plays host to a year-round calendar of exciting events. Whenever you visit there’ll be something going on, from magical Christmas wonderlands and fireworks displays, to sampling vans, tempting you to try their freebies. The best place to head for is the Orient food court as it holds everything from tea dances to pop star-performances on its main stage.
There are almost 280 outlets at the Trafford Centre, so all the major (and quite a few minor) brands are represented. There’s designer labels like Armani, Calvin Klein and Michael Kors rubbing shoulders with high-street staples like Top Shop, Oasis and Lakeland. There are also four department stores - John Lewis, Selfridges, M&S and Debenhams.
If shopping’s not your bag, take in a film at the 20-screen Odeon Trafford Centre cinema, go bowling on one of Namco 18 lanes or do battle with a 14-year-old nemesis at Laser Quest. And, with an 18-hole adventure golf course, rock climbing centre and a Legoland Discovery thrown into the mix, you can spend the day here without ever setting foot into a shop.
There’s a big soft play area, plus a crèche facility for two to nine-year-olds that’s so fun they won’t even know you’re gone. Security wristbands are available at customer services in the Main Dome, and to put an end to whining, why not hire them a fun buggy? These miniature cars can be picked up for a small cost at customer services on Lower Peel Avenue.
All car parks have Blue-Badge spaces, but Peel Avenue 9, near John Lewis and M&S, has the most. There are lots of disabled toilets within each of the centre’s five main toilet blocks. If walking’s an issue, there’s also a Shopmobility centre on the lower level by John Lewis. Electric wheelchairs and scooters can be hired here at a small cost during opening hours.
Trafford Centre is about five miles west of the city centre. There's free parking and also a direct bus to take you right to the door.
The Trafford Centre is close to junctions 9 and 10 on the M60 and there’s free parking for 11,500 vehicles. This, of course, makes it very popular with drivers, so there can sometimes be queuing traffic on the motorway. If you come by car, the postcode for your sat nav is M17 8AA
The Trafford Centre is a major landmark and buses from all over Greater Manchester stop at its on-site bus station. It also has its own express bus service, the City Centre X50. It runs every 15 minutes from early until late, every day of the week. Catch it from Manchester Piccadilly station.
Arriving at Manchester Piccadilly? Catch the X50 or 250 bus from Piccadilly Gardens. From Manchester Victoria, catch the 100 or 110 from the station entrance. If you’re coming from Salford Crescent, get the 100 bus from the A6. From Urmston, get the 22, 23 or 245 from Sainsbury’s.
It takes 30 minutes to cycle to the Trafford Centre from the centre of town. It’s a slightly hairy ride, but when you get there, at least you’ll find plenty of cycle parking! There are bike parks all over the centre.
At ten miles from the airport, the quickest way to get to the Trafford Centre is by taxi. It only takes 15 minutes and should cost under £20. The 18 or 18A bus is cheaper, but takes more than an hour.
An estimated 31 million people visit the Trafford Centre annually so it does get quite manic, particularly at the weekends. Beat the queues by going at the quietest times. These are Monday to Wednesday, 10am to 12pm. Also, take comfortable shoes - the Trafford centre is second only to the intu Metrocentre in Newcastle in terms of retail size. You’ll feel like you’ve walked a marathon.
If hot dogs and nachos just won’t cut it as a pre-gig meal, grab something to eat before you go in. Luckily, the Printworks is just opposite and it’s full of top-name restaurants, such as Prezzo, Nando’s and Hard Rock Café.
If none of those take your fancy, try the Corn Exchange – a beautiful Edwardian building now housing a great selection of restaurants, all under one roof and just a stone’s throw from the Arena. Here you can choose from Indian street food at Mowgli, Brazilian barbecue at Cabana and Italian at the Gino D’Acampo restaurant.
If time isn't an issue, take a 15-minute stroll to the independent Northern Quarter and wander the cobbled streets until an eatery takes your fancy. We’ve listed two of our favourites below.
With the largest food court in Europe, almost all the UK’s best-loved chains are represented. For something different, try Tampopo which serves a range of Asian dishes. A firm favourite is their Thai Curry Noodles – but it all tastes good washed down with a cocktail.
The 360 Champagne and Cocktail Bar is just the ticket after a hard day’s shopping. With its luxurious white marble bar, comfy padded stools and great views of the Italian Galleries, you can relax and enjoy a glass (or bottle) of bubbly, while watching all the shopping going on beneath you.