A city that likes to do things differently
Manchester’s ornate listed buildings, red-brick cotton warehouses and weaver’s cottages are reminders of its industrial past. But the city’s ever-growing popularity means many are now home to luxury hotels, hip bars and imaginative restaurants.
Creativity is a key part of Manchester’s identity, with musicians and artists from the city being celebrated worldwide. This is shown in its thriving cultural institutions and live music venues, plus cutting-edge events such as the Manchester International Festival. Manchester’s diversity also means that, in the surprisingly compact city centre, you can stroll between Chinatown, the Gay Village and the Northern Quarter’s street art before continuing to Ancoats’ independent restaurants.
And while its two fantastic football teams are synonymous with Manchester, did you also know that it’s a Unesco City of Literature and the birthplace of the suffragette movement? You’ll leave craving more of the city about which music mogul Tony Wilson said: “This is Manchester, we do things differently here.”
48 hours in . . . Manchester
Set yourself up for a day exploring with streaky bacon sandwiches or ricotta hotcakes at Ducie Street Warehouse (51 Ducie Street; 0161 713 3130) then head into the Northern Quarter to admire its street art. Start in Stevenson Square as its buildings are painted every three months as part of the council-supported Out House Project. On Little Lever Street, off the square, you’ll find a mural called Serenity, which is a tribute to women who have fought against injustice.
If you’d like to be guided around the art, plus find out how the Northern Quarter became so cool, book a tour with Skyliner.
Refuel with lunch in Mackie Mayor (1 Eagle St), a huge Grade-II listed former meat market where there’s a range of independent food outlets – including fresh fish, sourdough pizza, steak and baos (Taiwanese steamed buns with various fillings). Another historic market nearby, Manchester Craft and Design Centre (17 Oak Street; 0161 832 4274), has two floors of craft studios for unique gifts.
Walk from here to Exchange Square, where you’ll find high-end shops such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, on to St Ann’s Square, passing the Royal Exchange Theatre (0161 833 9833; open with Covid safety measures in place), which was formerly one of the world centres of the cotton trade. In the domed building, trading boards have been left as they were on the day it closed in 1968.
Carry on to Deansgate, stopping to look at the neo-gothic John Rylands Library building (150 Deansgate) then visit the nearby People’s History Museum (Left Bank; 0161 838 9190) to learn about inspirational people who fought for equality.
For some glamour, head to the ultra-modern No. 1 Spinningfields Tower, home to 20 Stories, a rooftop cocktail bar (1 Hardman Square; 0161 204 3333). Sit under the trees on its terrace and watch the sun start to go down over Manchester.
Tom Kerridge’s The Bull & Bear (4 Norfolk Street; 0161 470 3902) is in the domed trading floor of Manchester’s former stock exchange. In this elegant venue, share small plates of British dishes with a twist.
Fancy cocktails after dinner? Hunt for the speakeasy-style Science & Industry bar (49-51 Thomas Street; 0161 839 7033) that’s accessed through a secret door in Cane & Grain. Prefer something more traditional? Order a pint of pale ale in Victorian pub, Mr Thomas’s Chop House (52 Cross Street; 0161 832 2245).
Start your day in The Whitworth art gallery (Oxford Road; 0161 275 7450), allowing time to look at both the collections inside, from rare wallpaper to historic fine art, and sculptures in the surrounding gardens and park. If you’re peckish, enjoy brunch or coffee in its café, which, encased with floor-to-ceiling glass, seems to float among the trees.
Walk up Oxford Road to St Peter’s Square in around half an hour (regular buses run from here to Portland Street too). Known as the Oxford Road Corridor, a combination of places to eat and cultural centres means there’s plenty to break up the stroll.
One worthwhile stop is The Refuge in the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel (Oxford Street; 0161 233 5151) for small plates from around the world. If you’d rather a deliciously thin and crispy pizza, keep walking to Rudy’s on Peter Street – but book in advance (Petersfield House; 0161 660 8040).
Once you’ve eaten, look at the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in St Peter’s Square, which was unveiled to mark the centenary of British women gaining the vote, and pop into Manchester Central Library to see its spectacular reading room.
From here, decide whether you’d like to dedicate your afternoon to gin or history. For gin, The Spirit of Manchester Distillery (Watson Street; 0161 519 4400) offers a tour and tasting, or longer gin-making experience (book before you visit as dates and timings vary). The distillery under Grade-II listed railway arches is where the excellent Manchester Gin is made.
Prefer history and innovation? At the Science and Industry Museum (Liverpool Road; 0161 832 2244) learn about Manchester’s part in the Industrial Revolution and take the children to the Experiment gallery then go for a stroll in nearby canal-side Castlefield via the Roman Fort of Mamucium.
Now relax in one of Manchester’s oldest pubs, The Briton’s Protection (50 Great Bridgewater Street; 0161 236 5895) and try a dram from its extensive whisky collection. Hop in a taxi to Ancoats afterwards, or walk there in half-an-hour, to eat in one of the city’s most exciting restaurants.
Book well in advance to get a table in Michelin-starred Mana (42 Blossom Street) and expect playful tasting menus. For a more laid-back option, tuck into a plate of Pugliese pasta in Sugo Pasta Kitchen (46 Blossom Street).
Where to stay . . .
The city centre Stock Exchange Hotel, which makes fine use of the former Stock Exchange, shows off its heritage with style. Original features such as marble columns, stained glass and fireplaces sparkle, while an excellent restaurant by chef Tom Kerridge is in pride of place in the building’s magnificent dome, formerly the trading floor.
It’s not hard to feel relaxed in King Street Townhouse, a charming 40-room boutique hotel. From its infinity spa-pool with a spectacular view of the Town Hall clock, and stylish public areas, to bedrooms you’ll struggle to leave, this is an indulgent retreat in the city centre.
The Cow Hollow Hotel is a hip new addition to Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Guests are given plenty of treats – including free prosecco and nibbles, Netflix in all rooms and milk and cookies before bed. The interiors are high-spec and many original features have been retained from the former textile warehouse it occupies.
What to bring home . . .
Manchester’s worker bee symbol is all around the city on bins, bollards and street art. Take home bee-themed items from The Manchester Shop (Ground floor, Affleck’s Palace; 0161 819 1973), which regularly raises money for local charities.
There are several excellent gin brands in Manchester, so pick up a locally-distilled bottle. Try FAC51 Hacienda Gin, made by Manchester Gin in partnership with music icon Peter Hook.
When to go . . .
Manchester knows how to have a good time year-round, with a broad range of events held in its music venues, theatres and public spaces every season. Of course, the pandemic has hit live events hard, but in more normal times, be aware that some events, such as Parklife in June, Manchester Pride in August, plus popular football matches or concerts will push hotel prices up considerably.
There are attractions and events for every type of weather in the “rainy city”. Ones worth looking up are the biennial Manchester International Festival in July and the Manchester Food & Drink Festival in autumn. The annual Christmas markets also sprawl across the centre spreading good cheer and bratwurst.
Know before you go . . .
Tourist board information: Visit Manchester has information on everything from what’s on to how to get around.
Manchester has excellent transport links with three main railway stations in the city centre (Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Victoria), as well as Manchester Airport around eight miles south of the city centre.
Manchester’s Visitor Information Centre is inside Manchester Central Library and is open Monday to Saturday 9.30am-5pm.
Cathy has lived in Manchester all of her life and still feels spoilt by the culture and varied dining options on her doorstep. You’ll find her chasing her children around the Whitworth or sipping G&Ts in The Refuge.