For my very brief stay in Manchester, I decided to stay right in the city center. Based on a recommendation from Kyle at Live and Let’s Fly, I chose the Principal Manchester. Since rebranded the Kimpton Clocktower, it’s a historic boutique hotel located in the heart of downtown. (Well, “rebranded” is somewhat a stretch, as I’ll get to shortly.) Overall, I found the Kimpton Clocktower Manchester a fine property, one that definitely warrants a longer stay next time. I paid just £105.30 for my one-night stay, an excellent price for this level of hotel.
Note: this post is part of my trip report series about my quick trip to Manchester in February, 2020. Click here for the trip report index and introductory post.
The Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, Manchester
- Oxford Street, Manchester M60 7HA, UK
- Website: https://www.kimptonclocktowerhotel.com/
- Amenities: fitness center, pet friendly, free social hour, business center, free in-room snacks, 2 on-site restaurants
The hotel is an easy walk from most of central Manchester’s main attractions. It’s 10 minutes or less from the Science and Industry Museum and the University of Manchester, and about 15 minutes to Manchester Cathedral. While adjacent to the Manchester Oxford Road train/bus station, it’s about a 10 minute walk to Manchester Piccadilly. Manchester Airport, meanwhile, is 15-30 minutes by car, or 25 minutes by train.
Date of stay: Sunday, February 9, 2020
Check-In and Common Areas
After an…unexpected…3 1/2 hour drive from London to complete my journey, I sure was ready to head straight to my room. Fortunately, I found no line at the check-in desk, and headed towards my room within a few minutes.
A few words about the history of the hotel before getting started with the review. The building, originally completed in 1895 and expanded in 1912 and 1932, housed the Refuge Assurance Company. The Manchester-based insurance company used the building as its headquarters until 1987. After sitting unoccupied for several years, then-English hotel chain Principal Hotels repurposed the building as the Palace Hotel in 1996. Except for a 3-year stint branded as a Le Meridien from 2001-2004, it operated as the Palace Hotel until 2016. It then reverted to The Principal Manchester, until its rebranding as a Kimpton in October, 2020. IHG actually suggested the hotel would take the Kimpton flag after it purchased Principal in 2018. Indeed, even in its pre-Kimpton days in early 2020, the hotel looked and felt much like a Kimpton.
Anyway, with that out of the way, the ornate lobby still maintains much of the original design, with numerous references to the Refuge Assurance Company. It’s a straight walk from the front door to the check-in desks through the rotunda. In addition, you’ll find some snacks and beverages for sale to the left of the desks, near the staircase.
The massive rotunda is unmistakable.
Neither is the giant horse sculpture in the middle of the lobby.
One thing I did find interesting was the relative lack of lobby seating, given it’s size. There’s only a few benches under the rotunda, along with a couple of scattered chairs/couches.
The Kimpton Clocktower has two on-site restaurants, The Refuge and the Winter Garden. The Refuge offers full-service dining and a bar, whereas the Winter Garden offers afternoon tea and cocktails. In addition, The Refuge offers a Sunday Roast from 1-8 pm, if you don’t feel like heading elsewhere.
The hotel also boasts a large ballroom, along with several meeting rooms.
The Clocktower also offers bikes free of charge, for those who prefer to explore the city by bike rather than on foot or by Metro.
Of course, the most noticeable common area of the hotel is the distinctive clocktower. You can’t miss it walking around the Manchester city center. Somehow, I managed to get a few minutes of sun in the middle of Winter Storm Ciara, letting the historic building bask in all its glory.
Kimpton Clocktower Hotel Manchester – Guest Rooms
One thing you’ll notice straight away – the historic building has some odd shaped sections. The corridor leading to my room slanted inwards noticeably, for example. The design here isn’t particularly noteworthy, with muted colors you might find in any chain hotel.
I booked a standard room with two single beds. The beds take up the right side of the room, with some eclectic artwork and a mirror between the beds.
Also between the beds was a very old school rotary phone. I haven’t seen one of these in years. Anyone else remember the days when your cats would play with phone cords while you tried to talk?
To the left of the beds by the window is an armchair and small side table. While conveniently located to the bed, space to actually work is definitely lacking.
That’s but one of the…odd…design choices of this room. There’s a TON of wasted space between the beds and the TV. I mean, the extra space is nice, but the layout feels very odd. More than that, at the other end of the room, you have a proper sized work desk – but no chair. I guess they intended it as a standing desk?
The other problem with this setup? The TV is so far away from the beds, it’s a little hard to see. Though the giant screen makes up for that somewhat. On the corner of the table is a “Tuck Box”, basically a small basket of complimentary snacks. One notable omission, though? There’s no coffee or tea maker in the room, so you’ll have to go elsewhere for your fix. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of places to grab a coffee or tea in the Manchester city center.
Plugs are reasonably plentiful, with one on the nightstand between beds, and two by the TV table. The problem, though, is the plugs by the table just aren’t very practical. Since there’s no chair to go with the table, you can’t really work with a laptop there, leaving you to work on the bed. That’s not the best idea, especially when jet lagged.
The bathroom, meanwhile, is surprisingly spacious for a historic hotel. It features a classic sink, with separate hot and cold taps, along with faux brick tile that feels representative of the building’s history. Personally, while I like the look, I find the separate taps a little awkward. If you want to rinse with warm water, you’ll need to mix hot and cold in a cup.
The bathroom features a shower/tub combo, with a deep soaking tub. It is a bit of a high step to get in, but I appreciated the deep soak after a very long travel day. Meanwhile, the shower includes both a rain shower head and a handheld unit.
Like the sink, the bath features some very classical looking knobs. It did take a while to figure out which knob controlled what. Water pressure was excellent, and the water nice and hot.
Toiletries are provided by Azzi Perfumerie, a British luxury brand though made in Italy. I found them high quality, and thankfully the bulk dispensers worked properly.
So overall, I have to give the room a mixed grade. The look and feel is very much Kimpton, more boutique than chain hotel with a mix of eclectic and historic design touches. But the design of the room itself is really quite clunky and confused. There’s a lot of wasted space, along with no usable place to work.
The evening reception didn’t exist yet when I visited. If it’s anything like the one at the Kimpton Argonaut in San Francisco, though, it’ll be a nice perk for hotel guests.
The Kimpton Clocktower Hotel Manchester – Location
You really can’t ask for a better location in the Manchester City Center. The hotel is adjacent to St. Peter’s Square, both the historic heart of Manchester and a hub for the city’s light rail system.
You’re also within easy walking distance of Exchange Square and Manchester Cathedral, roughly 15 minutes northwest.
And when you’re in the mood for a Sunday Roast like I was, the famous Albert’s Schloss is less than 10 minutes away.
The Kimpton Clocktower Hotel Manchester has the boutique hotel feel you expect of a Kimpton. It’s a mix of historic and eclectic that you see with the brand worldwide. It also enjoys an ideal location in Manchester, an easy walk to many of the city’s main attractions. My main complaint is the odd layout of the standard two single bed room I booked. There’s just a lot about the room that isn’t very practical. At the price I paid, it’s an excellent value, though prices can easily run 3x that rate during peak times.