Developed during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, Manchester is arguably the second city of the UK. Small and charming, you can see most of it in one weekend, but its secret spots are always worth searching for.
A brilliant and historic city, Manchester has been through a huge change in the past few decades. Its roots as an industrial powerhouse shine through its newly polished façade, with converted warehouses and exchanges now in use as swanky apartments and high-end shopping arcades. Manchester shopping easily competes with London – as where else can you buy from vintage stores, high street stalwarts and the coveted Harvey Nichols all on the same street? Its bar scene is second to none, with many of the nation’s hippest bars and cafes, offering great beers, cocktails and brilliant food. And Manchester’s famous music scene is still as great as ever, with lots of live music venues showcasing the nation’s new and current talent. Add to this a love of football bordering on unstable, and you have a city to remember.
If there is a heart to Manchester, then the neo-gothic Town Hall on Albert Square would be it. The grandeur of the buildings surrounding the square confirm Manchester’s affluent past. The stunning Central Library has a Pantheon-esque rotunda, while the Baroque Midland Hotel overlooks the newly-redeveloped St Peter’s Square. The area is full of upmarket cocktail bars and quaint restaurants, like the retro Armenian Taverna – fantastic for meze and fresh kebabs. The Manchester Art Gallery is just across the road, housing classic artworks spanning six centuries.
Walk down Station Approach from the train toward Piccadilly Gardens and Market Street, the busiest part of Manchester centre. This area is big on shopping, with most of the store fronts being high street brands or chain stores. The brutalist Manchester Arndale Tower dominates the skyline above the recently renovated shopping centre, a haven for shopaholics. A collection of traditional pubs on Shambles Square offer a welcome respite from the retail frenzy and modern blocks. And don’t miss the beautiful Manchester Cathedral, just behind the square.
This mile-long road runs through the centre of Manchester from Deansgate Locks to the MEN Arena. The whole road is a long line of great bars, gourmet restaurants and high-end department stores. It was redeveloped throughout the 90s after a bomb demolished a large section of the city centre. You will now find Harvey Nichols and Selfridges sitting on Exchange Square, which is a great place to get a quick bite to eat. Don’t miss a trip to The Moon Under Water pub, the largest pub in Britain, which can hold up to 1700 thirsty patrons.
Just off Deansgate, Spinningfields is the new fashionable area of Manchester centre. The Manchester Opera House, which ironically shows mostly show-tune musicals, is worth a visit. As is the educational People’s History Museum, which exhibits Manchester’s role in the history of democracy in the UK. There are some stylish bars and cafés in the area, such as The Alchemist, whose brunch menu is particularly good. Check out the Lawn Club on Hardman Square – it is an oasis of green amidst Manchester’s high-rise glass and steel.
Castlefield is home to some of Manchester’s best museums, like the brilliant Museum of Science and Industry. The history of Britain’s industrial might is laid bare, from the first mechanical looms and huge steam engines to the world’s first Turing computer. There are some great bars too, like the famous Duke’s 92 on the canal tow path. Head to the Castlefield Bowl for live music throughout the year, or take a canal boat cruise down the famous Manchester Ship Canal from the docks.
The Northern Quarter is only a small area behind Piccadilly Station, but has so many cool bars, boutiques and cafés that it deserves its own mention. Once a place of hardworking weavers, it is now bohemian and creative. You are likely to see a few hipsters shopping at Piccadilly Records, a legendary Manchester haunt. The Castle Hotel, a local’s favourite, dates back to 1776 and serves some of the best pints in the city. Don’t miss the weird and wonderful Affleck’s Palace – a four-storey indoor market on Oldham Street.
Flowing north to south from the centre, Oxford Road is home to the main university campuses. Visit the fantastic Manchester Museum, Whitworth Art Gallery and Whitworth Park. If you carry on down past the park, you will arrive in Rushholme – the famous ‘Curry Mile’. The curry houses on this stretch are some of the best in the UK. Oxford Road is full of friendly places, both student-cool pubs and upmarket restaurants. For a superb venue, check out the Deaf Institute near the Metropolitan University.
Manchester’s LGBT scene is focused on Canal Street and the surrounding area. Manchester Pride is the UK’s largest and best-attended LGBT event, with thousands of visitors flocking to the city. Tribeca is a New York-style loft bar, a good place to start your evening. Urban, at the Doubletree by Hilton, is a fantastic cocktail bar in a stylish setting. Don’t miss a trip to Chinatown, an admittedly smaller version than San Francisco’s, but with some superb restaurants – try a Five Spice Pork Bun from Ho’s Bakery.
When it was known as Manchester Docks, The Quays was one of the busiest ports in Britain. After a massive urban redevelopment, it is now home to BBC’s northern HQ at MediaCityUK, The Lowry theatre and the Imperial War Museum North – whose stunning modernist architecture was designed by Daniel Libeskind. They also film TV’s national treasure Coronation Street just next door. If you walk south from The Quays, you will stumble on Old Trafford – Manchester United’s iconic ‘Theatre of Dreams’ stadium – which gets very busy on a match day.
Not technically in the centre, Chorlton and Didsbury are trendy suburbs of Manchester. Chorlton has great shops, restaurants and bars – check out Beech Road for quirky independent boutiques. A creative and hip area, you’ll find mostly 30-somethings hanging out at the many popular drinking establishments. Didsbury is a leafy and relaxed suburb with students and young families sharing the space peacefully. Visit The Metropolitan, a huge pub-cum-restaurant which is a favourite with the locals – you can also soak up the sunshine on sunny days in its large beer garden.