Alternative guide to Manchester
There’s much more to Manchester than football and the Northern Quarter. This buzzing northern city is famed for its music, nightlife, food scene, architecture, shopping and fascinating history. In the 1800s it was one of the UK’s most important industrial power houses, known globally for its cotton trade. Take a walk around the city and you’ll still see the impressive Victorian mills and warehouses that once produced cotton, many of them now transformed into hip hotels or luxury apartments. You could spend a whole day just admiring the architecture. Manchester is big, busy, welcoming and proudly northern – and we love it. We spent a weekend in our favourite UK city uncovering the best off the beaten track picks so you don’t have to. So what are the best things to do in Manchester?
Salford Lads Club
For The Smiths fans, this place needs no introduction. Don’t miss a trip to this Salford institution during your stay in Manchester. Founded in 1903 to ‘brighten young lives and make good citizens’ it’s famous for featuring on The Smiths ‘The Queen is Dead’ album cover. Thousands of fans visit every year from across the globe and there’s a dedicated room full of photos of The Smiths, messages and musical history. But more importantly, the Salford Lads Club is a fully working youth club that welcomes boys and girls from the local community and engages them in sport, art, music, outdoor pursuits and other activities. Around 300 young people come to the club every week and the staff couldn’t be friendlier. When we were outside taking photos one of the volunteers welcomed us in and gave us a private tour. Geeky fact: the floor in the gymnasium is the same floor that was laid when the club was built in 1903. Pretty impressive, no? You can make a donation, buy the T-shirt and other SLC merch, which all helps fund the club.
We think the best way to explore a city is by bike. It’s one of the best things to do in Manchester. Bike hire in Manchester is easy with Beryl bikes – you’ll see cycle points dotted around the city and can also locate them on the app. The Transport for Greater Manchester scheme is second in size to London’s and forms an important part of the Bee Network. So get on the saddle and get exploring. We hired an electric bike (normal push bikes are also available and half the price) and cycled across the whole city taking in Strangeways Prison (another one for The Smiths fans), Salford Quays, Moss Side, the Gay Village, Castlefield, Manchester University, Deansgate and more. Be careful not to go out of the zone or leave your bike paused for too long or you’ll get charged a hefty fee.
Castlefield canals and viaduct
We never thought we’d be quite so impressed by bridges, steelwork and viaducts – but never say never. Head to this area of Manchester and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Brooklyn. Castlefield Viaduct is a striking Victorian-era steel viaduct that has recently been transformed into a sky park by the National Trust – think a smaller version of New York’s skyline. Underneath the viaduct is equally impressive and you’ll find a network of canal-side pubs, bars and restaurants, picturesque house boats, Roman ruins, the Science and Industry Museum and a unique urban area that still feels relatively undiscovered.
This hip neighbourhood in the south of Manchester is worth a look, particularly if you like independent shops, local boozers, friendly locals, good food, well stocked delis, craft beer and laid back living. This place often gets voted as one of the best places to live in the UK and it’s easy to see why. Explore the residential streets on foot then pop into one of the local eateries or pubs on Beech Road, Barlow Moor Road and Manchester Road, dubbed by some as the Chorlton Beer Mile.
John Rylands Library
Located on Deansgate, the John Rylands Research Institute and Library is a stunning neo-Gothic building that’s perfect for lovers of literature and architecture. Owned by the University of Manchester, it houses one of the world’s finest collections of rare books and manuscripts. Once inside, you can’t fail to be blown away by the building and its history. Peaky Blinders fans may also recognise it as it was a filming location for the TV series.
Not strictly Manchester, but worth the trip, particulary as Manchester is served by such an excellent network of trams. This area of Manchester fell into decline when Manchester Dockyards closed in 1982. A multi million pound urban regeneration project has seen Salford Quays transformed into a modern business and residential district that’s now home to Media City, The Lowry gallery and theatre, Emirates Old Trafford as well as shops, cafes, bars and restaurants that sit alongside modern sporting and leisure facilities.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for a hotel in Manchester, this hip chain of hotels won’t disappoint. Whitworth Locke is located in the Civic Quarter, close to Manchester Piccadilly and on the edge of the Gay Village, the rooms are cool and contemporary, the bar is the place to be for cocktails after dark and there’s a great cafe for coffee and breakfast.
Housed in the impressive Grade II listed Ducie Street Warehouse, this apart-hotel has a lot going for it. Frequently named as one of the best hotels in Manchester, Native boasts 162 luxury and serviced apartments, a resturant, buzzy bar, all-day deli counter, terrace and cinema.
Where to eat
Manchester’s best brunch spot? We think so. Right in the heart of the Northern Quarter, Evelyn’s serves tasty brunch classics, small plates and impressive roasts. Stave off the hangover with a Bloody Mary or maybe you’d prefer to sample the natural, biodynamic and organic wines. Whatever you do, just go.
Yes, it’s a chain but it’s a good one. With outposts in London, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Dublin and New York, we were so impressed by Hawksmoor Manchester. Renowned for its steaks, you should also go for the great cocktails, excellent service and bustling venue. Enjoy a two-course meal for £25 or three courses for £29 – you can’t get much better than that for food of this quality.
Where to drink
The Edinburgh Castle pub is everything you want a pub to be. Great lighting. Good size. Reasonable drinks and cocktails. Small, tasty food menu. Welcoming staff. Busy but not too busy. Comfy seats. Nice crowd. Located in the trendy Ancoats area of Manchester, don’t miss this gem of a pub.
The Marble Arch
This grade II listed building has been beautifully preserved; there’s an ornate sloping mosaic floor, walls lined with coloured glazed bricks, iron girders and a detailed ceiling frieze. The Marble Arch is a traditional boozer that draws a local crowd but it’s also moved with the times with its own brewery out the back and good value pub grub on offer.
Where to dance
The Warehouse Project
Manchester is known for its diverse night life and if you want to experience a club like no other, bag some tickets for The Warehouse Project and go clubbing with 10,000 other people at The Depot Mayfield. This subterranean venue has to be seen to be believed. Home to DJs, club nights, live music and Escape to Freight Island, it’s a huge Manchester success story.
Behind Closed Doors
If you’re offended by dodgy 1970s pornography don’t go here. If you can see past the vintage growlers, this place is a great late night spot. Behind Closed Doors feels like the type of place you stumbled on in Soho in the early ’90s. Expect DJs spinning vinyl, speakeasy vibes, tasty cocktails and probably staying out much later than you intended.