Part attraction, part food hall, Escape to Freight Island in Manchester, England is the best new venue in the city, and perfect for the holidays.
What Is Escape To Freight Island?
An indoor-outdoor space next to Manchester’s Piccadilly Station, Escape to Freight Island is a food hall with attractions and seating for hundreds of guests. Couples and groups book in advance for seats at private booths or long communal tables where there’s something for just about everyone.
The venue gets its name as the former freight facility for the city’s rail system. The cavernous space has been smartly converted from derelict to chic with an ice skating rink at a higher elevation, seating in the middle with vendors to the outside of the facility. Outside more vendors, outside activities like Cornhole, various stages for live music, and plenty of Christmas decorations to enjoy.
During our visit, we had a chance to try many of the food vendors. As a proud American that has lived abroad in England, Peru, and Thailand, I am a little disappointed that so many of the vendors have latched onto the American food craze, but some have executed so well that I really can’t be mad.
Ordering takes place from a QR code at each seat if you’d like it delivered to you. If you’d rather walk around and purchase as and when you find something you’d like, that’s fine too.
- Hogs and Dogs
- One Star Doner Bar
- Mi & Pho
- Patty Queen
- Voodoo Ray’s
- Choo Choo
- Soft Boi
Our group sampled a variety of vendors, but Voodoo Ray’s is a giant among men. The NYC-style pizzeria is already a rarity in the UK which opts for traditional Napoli-style single-serving pies, and they sell by the slice making it easy for guests to try them at venues like Freight Island. We ordered a whole 22″ pizza (we didn’t finish it) – just margarita – and it would hold up in the Big Apple, without a doubt. In fact, as someone who has tried to review every pizza place in an entire city (I didn’t succeed), I can safely say that this is a top-performing pizza anywhere.
Unfortunately, themed lighting in the venue prevented my photos from turning out so here’s one from Voodoo Ray’s Instagram.
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The bars are spread throughout the venue. Most have some limited seating immediately nearby, or guests can take drinks back to their tables.
- Camden Town Brewery
- Freight Island Bar
- The Jane Eyre Cocktail Bar
- Pomona Island Bar
- Forever Changes
- Kopparberg Bar
Most of the bars are in designated areas and drinks are ordered in-person as opposed to delivered to the table as food orders.
Throughout Freight Island there are a number of things to entertain visitors. An indoor ice skating rink is the main draw, 45 minute sessions are sold each hour for £13 per adult, children are £11 for the same period.
As it’s around Christmas time, the Winter Island features Christmas decorations and activities. Breakfast with Santa for £20 is sold by reservation each morning though late in the season we couldn’t find a date that hadn’t been sold out.
A main stage in the food hall offers a variety of shows ranging from live music to house DJs, to comedy. In fact, the Comedy Store has offers sets weekly at the venue. In the Greenhouse (Kopparberg Bar) a separate live band was playing on our visit.
Kids and dogs are welcome along with adults and there is certainly something for everyone.
What Makes Escape to Freight Island Great?
The UK has added many food halls over the last five years. Our experience has been mostly in Manchester with venues like Mackie Mayor an instant favorite with our friends and family. One of the reasons Escape to Freight Island is so great is that it gives singles, couples, and families a place where everyone can come together and leave with something they liked. If one in your party wants pizza and no one else, great, buy a slice or two. Someone else would rather a warm bowl of pho or an English pie with mash – no problem, they can have what they want too.
I also love it for the business and municipal benefits. A city that has disused space, an old warehouse, or an indoor-outdoor freight cargo loading area that no longer serves a purpose can be altered to give families options. It’s an excellent means of revitalization. For the businesses, however, it’s an opportunity to try a concept without committing to a five-year lease with a heavy build-out. It lets brands that may not be ready to expand give a second location an opportunity which may lead to more throughout the city or a more permanent home.
In the two years since we’ve been away from England, we hadn’t the chance to visit Escape to Freight Island though the concept is familiar. We enjoyed the expansive collection of offerings including burgers, shwarmas, pizza, churros, tacos, pho, and even high brow grilled Spanish cuisine. More than anything else, Freight Island is a perfect place to catch up with friends or hold a light hearted christmas party where guests are free to get exactly what they want, instead of agreeing on a single restaurant. The next time you’re in Manchester, give Freight Island a try.
What do you think? Have you been to Escape to Freight Island or similar food hall/entertainment venues? How was your experience?