Christmas Gift Guide 2021: The Best Manchester 'Experiences'

Including cooking classes at Zouk, Bluedot Festival and an at home spa experience.

By Manchester's Finest | December 21st '21

Food & Drink

‘Episode II’ Tasting Menu at DISTRICT
At £100 a head, this is one of the city’s most impressive food experiences, a 15-course gastronomic extravaganza that’ll take you on a futuristic tour of Bangkok’s BBQ strewn streets and alleyways. We were hugely impressed when we visited back in July, and even more so when we went to try their new ‘Episode II’ menu update back in November. This would make the perfect gift for any self-respecting foodie – and don’t forget to ensure that it’s YOU that they take with them.

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A Michelin-starred Meal at Mana
You can’t get better than a visit to Manchester’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, so if you can manage to get yourself a reservation, and can cough up the £185 per head price tag – there’s no better food experience in the city. Simon Martin’s menu is constantly changing and evolving with seasonality and experimentation, so you’ll probably be surprised by most of the (at least) 14-courses that come out of the kitchen.

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The Walled Gardens in Whalley Range
An unusual one but an exceptional gift for the foodies in your life. The evening sees you welcomed into a stranger’s living room in Whalley Range, sounds ominous and until this point, you will probably think it is too. But fast forward to the end of the evening, after you’ve tucked into 12 plant-based courses and you will 1. be beautifully comfortable in this new dining setting and 2. Have 7 new stranger-turned-friends. It’s a completely immersive dining experience filled with meeting new people, trying vegan food all in the comfort of professional chef Eddie Shepherd’s living room. Bring your own booze and leave the menu a surprise for the next guests!

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Tequila Tasting Experience at El Capo
Mexican cantina and proper party bar El Capo will be hosting a series of Tequila & Mezcal Experiences in February, in partnership with some of the world’s greatest liquor brands. You’ll learn everything there is to know about the process of making the tequila (and mezcal) and get to try five tequilas paired with five tacos.

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Brewery Tours & Tastings at Runaway
For the bearded craft beer drinker in your life – Runaway Brewery offers up regular Tours of their site where you can meet the brewers and find out how their beer is made. The brewery-led tours will take you on a behind-the-scenes journey through the brewery, featuring the obligatory tasting of many of their most famous and popular tipples – direct from the source. The tours take place most Saturdays and take around 90 minutes.

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Afternoon Tea (in the back of a Black Cab)
Afternoon Tea is a pretty good present for your sister, your mum or your nan at the best of times, but this one – which you eat in the back of a Black Cab whilst driving around the city – is perfect for absolutely anyone. Cabbie John Consterdine has created the Tour and Tea experience with legendary patisserie and chocolatiers Slattery’s – with sandwiches, pastries, mini cakes, and scones – all enjoyed in the back while John tells you all about the city. The second-most fun you can have in the back of a black cab this Christmas.

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Arts & Culture

Van Gogh Alive
The world’s most visited immersive art exhibition, Van Gogh Alive has been mesmerising visitors down at MediaCity this last couple of months, and will continue into the new year. Which makes it the perfect present for that art lover in your life – because this isn’t some boring old gallery – it’s a fully interactive and immersive journey into the life of one of the most celebrated artists of all time.

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Youth Theatre Productions at Contact Theatre
With a packed calendar of productions, shows and events throughout the year, Contact Theatre will pretty much always have something on that’ll tickle the fancy of one of your mates or family members. The best thing about it is that they champion local youth theatre, so you might even get the chance to watch a future superstar in an early production – and then gloat in front of everyone when they make it big.

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Beauty & The Beast at Palace Theatre
Tale and old as time, song as old as rhyme. You get the gist of it. It’s the timeless story of a rude little princeling that gets turned into a monster, who then kidnaps a girl and she ends up with a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome. Beauty & the Beast is coming to the Palace in 2022, and so is The Lion King – two Disney juggernauts that are truly excellent musicals to boot.

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Learn a Skill

Zouk’s Indian Cooking Classes
Ever keen to share its knowledge and passion for the very best Indian and Pakistani cuisine, Zouk have set up a cookery school so that its expert chefs can teach curry lovers the tricks of cooking the dish to perfection. Each course only takes half a day and teaches you to prepare and cook two starters, two main courses a rice side dish and either a naan or roti bread. The classes take place at Zouk’s restaurant in Manchester, beginning at 10am and finishing around 1.30pm.

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Manchester Gin/Facebook

Become a Master Gin Distiller
Manchester Gin has you sorted if there’s a gin lover in your life. Its Gin Making Experience is a 2.5 hour immersive distillery tour that explores the company’s heritage and how the famous beverage is made, to really give you a feel for distillery life. After your guided around the facilities (with a gin in hand) you’re then ready for an expert class in gin making. Choosing your own flavours and botanicals, you will then distill your very own bottle for you to take home.

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7 Spot Pottery Workshops
Ideal for complete pottery beginners, these 2 hour group workshops give you an introduction to ceramics with a choice of two techniques to try. Firstly, you can try ‘throwing on the wheel’, recreating the famous scene from Ghost, or, secondly, you can build your own coffee mug using the handbuilding technique with slabs of clay. The workshops also include the firing and glazing of your masterpiece.

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Sing & Dance

Bluedot
With the past two years being cancelled due to COVID-19, Bluedot makes its eagerly awaited return in summer 2022. Icelandic icon, Bjork, will headline the festival, accompanied by the Hallé Orchestra and bespoke visuals projected on the 250 ft Lovell Telescope dish. The rest of the line-up is yet to be announced, but Sunday day tickets are already sold out, so it’s definitely one for the music lover in your family!

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Salsa Dancing at Revolucion de Cuba
If like me you have two left feet and can barely sway your hips on the beat, this is what we need to do in the new year. Learn how to dance! What better way to do it than mix exercise with Salsa music and finish your evening with a Cuban cocktail. There is no better way – I’ll tell you that now. You’ll find Salsa Dancing Classes available every Wednesday at Revolucion de Cuba. And guess what it’s free! Just get your friend a voucher so they can get a fair few bevs after.

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Bongo’s Bingo
Get your eyes down, this is a very, very serious game of bingo. And more importantly, the gift of embarrassment to your bestie this year. That’s what friends are for! Up for grabs are big cash prizes, probably some crap prizes and the promise of an awkward dance off. Let’s just pray it’s your mate who gets to do that and not you. If you’ve never been to Bongo’s Bingo, it’s quite quickly becoming an institution across the UK and you really need to get involved. Don’t take your mum though.

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Health & Wellbeing

Kick off the Year with TRAIN

If you’re looking to give the gift of fitness this year, TRAIN Manchester have a number of membership options available, with the ability to book on an unlimited number of its CrossFit classes, train on your own, or join specific, focussed weightlifting groups. The gym creates and delivers programmes that are varied, challenging and interesting for a range of abilities, with the aim to get stronger, burn calories, improve your mood and become more agile and flexible.

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Secret Spa
A spa from the comfort of your own home? Yes please! Secret Spa was founded in 2015 by siblings Emily Ewart-Perks and Rider Latham who set out to change the way Londoners get their beauty treatments. The company offers a unique service with at-home treatments bookable via their website, meaning you can get anything from a gel manicure to a relaxing massage delivered straight to your door. When booking a Christmas treat for yourself or someone else, you can use code MCRFINEST for £20 off your first treatment.

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Spa at the Lowry Hotel
The Lowry Hotel’s luxury spa includes six spacious treatment rooms and a team of highly skilled beauty experts to deliver a range of treatments perfect for anyone needing to wind down after the busy festive period. The packages on offer include; The Glow Package, The Twilight Package, The Classic Package, The Relaxation Package, The Indulgence Package and The Luxurious Package, with treatments ranging from massages to afternoon tea and the use of the spa facilities.

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Yoga at Yoga Soul Manchester
A healthy mind is, of course, as important as a healthy body, and Yoga Soul are offering a 21 day introductory course for £30. The company aims to introduce beginners to Manchester’s yogi community, helping you to grow your practice with studio, livestream and on demand offerings. The classes range from Authentic Flow, Hot Yoga and Slow Flow, to more challenging classes including Rocket Yoga.

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Fun & Games

Howzat!? Cricket Cages at SIXES
Perfect for that person in your life who doesn’t just like cricket – they LOVE it. SIXES is a new restaurant and bar, with some fantastic dishes and cocktails on offer, plus the added fun of proper cricket batting cages – complete with some pretty swanky technology that replicates getting a ball flung at you by Mark Ramprakash.

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Pint, Point and Shoot at Point Blank
We all have a mate who thinks they’re a sharpshooter – able to ping a knat off someone’s head at a thousand paces. We all know they’re chatting bubbles, but with Point Blank – you can prove it. This is the perfect present for them, where they can release their inner Bond at this virtual shooting range, with REAL guns.

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The Crystal Maze
A cracking gift for the group of pals that already have everything – Crystal Maze is the ultimate in ‘organised fun’. As you’d expect from watching the TV show, i’s full of live very enthusiastic actors, lots of running and plenty of terrible puns. You will absolutely feel like you’ve gone back to the 90s complete with an array of fully immersive games to get to grips with.

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Get to Third Base with BaseMCR
Remember the days of playing rounders in school and launching the wooden bat and accidentally hitting the whole class when you forgot to drop it? Ah – good times. Make it perfect for adult life by adding in a few bevs and music and book out your very own batting cage with you and 3 mates. Not only fun but a really good de-stressor and the perfect gift for that group of mates where you don’t really need to get them a present but something would be good. You’ll all leave feeling like a true Yankee.

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