The best road trips near Manchester magnetise just about everyone, from hikers to culture buffs. The UK city might try its best to keep you within its limits, what with the legendary music bars of the Northern Quarter and the endless shopping of the Arndale Centre. But there's no denying the draws that lurk just outside.

    There are many excellent places in North West England if you’re planning a weekend getaway near Manchester. They include the likes of the uber-romantic Lake District and the wind-blasted fells of the Peak District. But there are also less-trodden quarters of England, in the form of bird-stalked estuaries on the Irish Sea and enthralling manor houses dating back to the times of Henry VIII.

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    Peak District National Park

    See a seriously lovely piece of England

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    The Peak District National Park is an undisputed natural jewel of England. Manchester itself is usually considered one of the best gateways to the reserve, which covers a whopping 555 square miles to the southeast of the city. That's basically the whole land between Manchester and Sheffield, straddling 6 counties. There's obviously plenty of adventure to be had.

    Road trips through the Peak District can whisk you on some gorgeous country roads. The A57 via Ladybower Reservoir is one of them, showcasing wild pine forests and the bald hills of the Upper Derwent Valley. Going south is another option – that way opens up the royal water town of Buxton, where the surrounding vistas are all moorlands and meadows.

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    Forest of Bowland AONB

    When a forest isn't a forest

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    The Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty encompasses great swathes of both Lancashire and Yorkshire. It lies directly to the north of Manchester. The drive up takes about 1.5 hours, whisking you from the buzzing streets of the Northern Quarter to the wilds ranging north of the M65.

    Prepare for a little surprise, because the Forest of Bowland isn't that much of a forest at all. In fact, it's largely peat bog, moorland and sweeping fells that roll to summits where huge boulders tumble atop each other. You can scale up to 561 metres to conquer the Ward's Stone peak or drop to the valley bottoms to explore the primaeval pockets of the ancient Forest of Pendle.

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    Yorkshire Dales National Park

    Great fells and cosy pubs

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    The Yorkshire Dales National Park has become synonymous with real wilderness in Britain. Covering 850 square miles of land across the borders of Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Lancashire, the reserve is easy to access from Manchester. You're looking at a drive of about 1.5 hours to the southern entrance.

    And what a drive it promises to be – sights and wonders like the great limestone bluffs of Malham Cove are part and parcel to this road trip. So are the quaint villages of Kilnsey and Kettlewell, with their fire-warmed pubs for the winter. When it's time to stretch the legs, plot a course for the trailheads for Pen-y-ghent and the Ingleborough, which have 360-degree views and Iron Age relics.

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    Lake District National Park

    Poetry and craggy peaks

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    The Lake District National Park is hallowed ground for literary buffs, hikers, nature lovers, and R&R seekers alike. One of the most-visited natural reserves in England, it spreads across nearly 1,000 square miles and boasts a coveted UNESCO World Heritage status. All that awaits after a spectacularly scenic drive north of Manchester via the M6 motorway.

    Popular stops like the great finger-like dash of water that is Windermere await close to the south side of the reserve. Head there for romantic boat trips and lakeside cafes. You could also keep going, to Grasmere and Keswick and Cockermouth, where ancient stone circles lurk in the groves and tales of Romantic poets abound. Alternatively, head out early and try to conquer Scafell Pike – the tallest peak in England. 

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    Ribble and Alt Estuaries

    A joy for all birdwatchers

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    The Ribble and Alt Estuaries open into the Irish Sea some 55 miles to the north-west of Manchester. The drive there will take you through the interesting medieval market town of Preston, Lancashire, before angling straight to the resort of Blackpool. Try not to get distracted by the pleasure pier, though, because there's ample adventure to be had on the coast.

    The Ribble and Alt Estuaries are a designated nature reserve. They're formed by a patchwork of salt marshes and mudflats, all sprouting seas of reeds and grasses. Naturally, the area is a joy for birders. You'll find all sorts, from the whooper swan to the black-tailed godwit, sanderlings to rare plovers.

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    Tatton Park

    Deer-stalked woods and sumptuous interiors

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    Tatton Park is your chance to transport yourself and your travel crew back to the age of the Tudors. It sits amid the rolling hills on the south-west side of Manchester. The drive down on the M65 should only take about 40 minutes, going over the River Mersey and past Manchester Airport.

    Once you arrive, you'll have a whole Cheshire manor house to explore. It comes packed with rich Gillow furnishings and even portraits by masters like Van Dyck. On hotter days, you might prefer to stick to the grounds. They cover a whopping 2,000 acres in elegant Italian gardens, Japanese lily ponds and oak-fringed lakes.

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    Hollingworth Lake

    Swim, splash and water ski

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    Hollingworth Lake clutches the north-eastern outskirts of Rochdale. It's a wide, horseshoe-shaped body of water, resting in the foothills of the Pennine Mountains, some 50 minutes' drive from Manchester's centre. The spot offers something of a more off-the-beaten-track destination for your road trips through The North.

    Pretty little Hollingworth Lake has been a popular tourist spot since the 1860s. Travelling theatres and country B&Bs set up shop for Victorian day-trippers back then. It's not too different now, although a sprinkling of adrenaline-pumping watersports has been added to the mix – think windsurfing, wild swimming and canoeing.

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    photo by Wayland Smith (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

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    Delamere Forest

    Escape to ancient woodlands

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    Delamere Forest beckons walkers and ramblers eastwards out of Manchester, and a little to the south. That's where this lovely, leafy park rests just shy of the widening River Mersey estuary. It should take no more than 1 hour to reach it from the Northern Quarter and the heart of Manchester.

    Delamere Forest is one of the last remnants of a huge and sprawling ancient woodland that went all the way from the Irish Sea to the heart of the Midlands. You can hit muddy tracks and cycle trails through it all, to discover reflective lakes and even lookout points that reveal the skyline of Liverpool far in the distance.

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    Healey Dell Nature Reserve

    Nature reclaiming the railway lines

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    The Healey Dell Nature Reserve is located about 40 minutes' drive outside of Manchester, just past Rochdale. It might not hit the same headlines as other getaways in The North, but this small reserve packs one hefty punch.

    That's where the gurgling River Spodden has worked its magic on the limestone bluffs, carving out a deep gorge dotted with beech trees and moss-caked rocks. Walking routes can take you all the way to the riverside, with detours to splashing waterfalls and disused watermills. The highlight has to be that monstrous 19th-century railway viaduct, which creates some beautifully photogenic scenes within the forest.

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    photo by Martin86 (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

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    Crompton Moor

    Outdoor recreation just outside Oldham

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    Crompton Moor is a striking corner of the South Pennines. It's draped over the hillsides just outside of the town of Oldham. That means you can get there in the car from Manchester in as little as 45 minutes – provided there's not too much traffic.

    The trip will whisk you to a land that's been inhabited since the Bronze Age – relics and axes have been unearthed in the soil. More than that, there are muddy walking paths that weave across the heaths and fields, up to lookouts at Crow Knowl or down to gullies where waterfalls crash and tumble. It's a great getaway for outdoorsy types after something a little different.

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    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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