Manchester’s 90s heyday as the UK’s clubbing capital may have faded into history, but it’s made way for a cool urban culture scene. Manchester today is a vibrant mix of stylish, laid-back watering holes, galleries and superlative restaurants. It’s been the UK city everyone is talking about recently, so if you’re heading for a visit, here’s how to make the most of your time there.
What To Do?
With its three universities, Manchester has the largest student population in the country. While that may not sound like a draw in itself, those universities make a sizeable contribution to the city’s culture scene. Manchester University’s John Rylands Library is a sight in itself, a towering Neo-Gothic building that houses one of the best collections of rare books and manuscripts in the country. It’s open to the public, and regularly runs special exhibitions. The University’s Whitworth gallery is another draw, with its collection of 55,000 pieces of fine art, sculpture, textiles, photography and contemporary pieces, which helped it secure the accolade of Museum of the Year from the Art Fund in 2015.
If you’re bringing the kids, head to the Museum of Science and Industry, which runs workshops and interactive attractions during school holidays, or the Manchester Museum (another University asset) and check out its mammoth collection Ancient Egyptian artefacts or meet live frogs in its vivarium.
Of course if you’re a football fan, Manchester is home to two of the biggest clubs in the country – arguably the world – so take the pilgrimage to Old Trafford or the Etihad. Both offer tours of the stadium.
The real charm of the city can be found in its independent galleries, bars, boutiques and restaurants. Stroll through the cobbled streets of the Northern Quarter and check out the vintage record shops to see if you can pick up the work of Manchester exports like Stone Roses or The Smiths, then grab brunch at trendy Trof. After dark, head to Matt & Phreds jazz bar, for live music and tapas.
If the sun is shining, take a stroll along the canals and waterways around Castlefield, Manchester’s inner city conservation area. Rest up at Albert’s Shed on Rochdale Canal and enjoy fine food at fabulous value (there’s a set menu of two courses for £11.95) on the sun trap terrace while overlooking the water, or alternatively try traditional British boozer The Wharf.
If you fancy going further afield, take the train from Piccadilly to Levenshulme. Its much-loved market runs every Saturday, with vendors selling all manner of wares from handcrafted jewellery and leather work, to fresh food and artisan breads and cakes, to vintage fashion and music, to myriad types of street food. For more bargains, head up Stockport Road to Levenshulme Antiques Village and check out the dealers’ collections of furniture, homewares and other antiques.
Where To Stay?
If you’re going to blow the budget, do it at super stylish Hotel Gotham. The guestrooms’ luxe interiors have a glamorous retro twist with touches like the vintage storage trunks, faux fur bed covers and enormous steel bath tubs. (Doubles from £215 per night)
With its ornate, bare brick edifice, the regal Midland Hotel is a land mark of the Manchester cityscape. It’s a great value four-star stay, plus its spa – newly opened last year – is the best in town. (Doubles from £155 per night)
Abode Manchester is a stone’s throw from Piccadilly train station, housed in stunning Victorian building, offering well-deigned guest rooms and first rate dining at great value. (Doubles from £100 per night)
Don’t be put off by the name of Roomzzz; this apart-hotel boasts minimalist yet chic rooms, plus you get your own kitchenette, so you can save on eating out. (Doubles from £92 per night)
It’s easy to get to and everyone’s talking about this city at the moment. So what are you waiting for?