For more than half a decade I’ve been a Manchester resident now. There’s always so much going on such as shows and events, new restaurant and bar openings and revamps of old favourites. If you’re new to Manchester or only in the city for a short time, I’ve come up with a ten top of must-dos in Manchester with hopefully something for everyone!
Visit Chetham’s Library
In the midst of the city centre’s modern glass skyscrapers, there’s a glorious medieval building tucked away. That building is Chetham’s Library and it is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world. The library itself traces its history back to 1653 – although the buildings it’s housed in are more than 200 years older. It is also where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels held a series of meetings and began work on what would become the Communist Manifesto. It’s stunningly beautiful and an oasis of calm in a bustling metropolis, and is a definite Manchester must-visit.
It’s not the only library worth visiting in Manchester though – the John Rylands Library on Deansgate is also beautiful and Manchester’s Central Library has at its heart the gorgeous domed Reading Room which is worth a (silent) peek.
Explore the past at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)
Manchester is home to a variety of museums (including The Manchester Museum and the People’s History Museum), but if you’ve only got time to visit one, go for the Museum of Science and Industry. MOSI explores Manchester’s industrial past with exhibitions for all ages. It’s located on the site of the world’s oldest surviving railway station (the station building is grade I listed) and offers steam train rides on the weekends. One of my favourite parts is the Underground Manchester section which includes a recreation of a Victorian sewer.
Soak up some culture at Manchester Art Gallery and The Whitworth Art Gallery
If you like art, you’re spoiled for choice in Manchester: the city has two art galleries worth a visit. Manchester Art Gallery is located in the city centre, and is a grand old building with a mix of ornate Victorian works and more modern pieces (including a Banksy work). The Whitworth reopened in 2015 after a multimillion-pound revamp. The art featured leans more to the modern side (although they do also have some classic works including pieces by JMW Turner), so it might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s an impressive building and worthwhile experience.
Eat some ‘dirty food’
One of the biggest food trends in Manchester over recent years is that of dirty food – think calorific burgers coated in outrageous toppings. Leading the charge in Manchester are Almost Famous (they’ve got two sites – one on High Street, Northern Quarter and one at the Great Northern Warehouse on Deansgate) and Solita (sites on Turner Street, Northern Quarter, the south Manchester suburb of Didsbury and in Prestwich in north Manchester). And if you don’t eat meat this food trend is still one for you – head to vegan junk food café V Revolution (Oldham Street, Northern Quarter). They offer up similar gut-busting grub all made with meat and dairy-free ingredients. If you’ve still got room for dessert, grab something from Bakeorama. Formerly the queen of cakes at Home Sweet Home (which is part of the same group as Almost Famous), she recently struck out on her own and her cakes are now available in the food court at Harvey Nichols.
Buy local at one of Manchester’s markets
The countdown begins! WE ARE BACK in just a few short weeks – put Saturday 5th March in your diaries… pic.twitter.com/YGmH7ldwGg
— Levenshulme Market (@levymarket) February 13, 2016
Forget the Arndale Centre (hell on earth) and the Trafford Centre (double hell on earth) and buy direct from the producers at one of Manchester’s many markets. There’s a variety of them being held regularly across the city including the Maker’s Market (held in the Northern Quarter, at Spinningfields and Didsbury), council-run markets at Piccadilly Gardens and St Ann’s Square and Altrincham Market. But my favourite has to be Levenshulme Market. Held every Saturday from March to December, Levy Market (as it’s known by locals) has a wide variety of goods on sale and a great atmosphere. It’s located next to Levenshulme railway station which is about an eight-minute train journey from Manchester Piccadilly station and trains are very regular, so there’s no excuse not to visit.
Explore Salford Quays and the Imperial War Museum North
Salford is a separate city but as it’s right next door to Manchester and has good transport links thanks to Metrolink, it’s easy to visit. Salford Quays is a huge, modern development and at its heart is MediaCity, housing the northern bases of the BBC and ITV. It’s also the location of The Lowry, a theatre and gallery, and the Imperial War Museum North. IWMN is definitely one not to miss – it presents a frank view of war through a variety of exhibits. Notable pieces include a section of the World Trade Centre and a Russian tank. The modernist building also has a large viewing tower that offers views across the Quays and beyond.
See the city from above
Along with the viewing platform at the Imperial War Museum, there are some other lookout spots in the city. Cloud23 is the city’s highest cocktail bar, located in the Beetham Tower aka the Hilton on Deansgate, and offers great views and also has a glass platform if you’re feeling brave. But my favourite viewpoint is slightly out of the city. Take the Metrolink to Heaton Park, one of the largest municipal parks in Europe and wander up to the Temple next to Heaton Hall. Here – on a clear day – you’ll see panoramic views of the city and the surrounding hills and it’s a wonderful place to visit. The park itself is also home to the oldest section of original tram track in the UK, the façade of Manchester’s former Town Hall and a little farm and animal centre, so there’s plenty to see.
Shelter from the rain in a coffee shop
Our rich Madagascan hot chocolate goes perfectly in a mocha with the notes of chocolate cake in our espresso roast! pic.twitter.com/u4PcgljtEN
— Pot Kettle Black (@PKBcoffee) February 28, 2016
Manchester has a reputation as a rainy city, and although that may not be entirely accurate, it’s fair to say the weather can be a bit temperamental at times! If you find yourself caught in a downpour, there’s plenty of independent coffee shops to visit if you need to warm up: forget the large American chain beginning with an ‘S’ and get to somewhere uniquely Mancunian. Favourites including the Alice in Wonderland-esque Richmond Tea Rooms in the Gay Village (Richmond Street), the achingly-cool Icelandic themed Takk in the Northern Quarter (Tariff Street) or the relaxing Pot Kettle Black in Deangate’s glorious Barton Arcade. If you’re looking for cut-priced coffee, Manchester’s Central Library also has a café with bargainous brews.
Catch a show
Whatever your interests, there’s always something going on in Manchester at a variety of different venues. For theatre performances, catch a smaller show at Hope Mill Theatre or Contact, or a much larger production at Home, The Palace or The Lowry. Manchester is also known as a city of music and there are plenty of venues putting on shows every night of the week – from the smaller sites such as Dry Bar and Sound Control, to the university’s various Academy venues, right up to Manchester Arena.
Enjoy a few drinks in the Northern Quarter
Manchester’s Northern Quarter is the city’s undisputed nightlife hub. With bars specialising in everything from craft beer to cocktails, there’s truly something for everyone. There’s also any number of themed-bars including one that looks like a place to sell old tellies (Dusk til Pawn), a little piece of Japan in the north (Lost in Tokyo) and a tiki bar (Hula Bar) – and these are all on one road! My personal recommendation is 57 Thomas Street. It’s owned and operated by local brewery Marble and serves up excellent craft beer as well as tasty food and, on the recently-opened first floor, cocktails. Cheers!