A powerhouse in the Industrial Revolution, the birthplace of the suffragette and vegetarian movements, and known worldwide for its legendary music and football scenes—they have two teams, after all—Manchester, England, combines historic tourist attractions with cutting-edge culture. On city breaks in Manchester, you’ll see huge former mills and factories, which are now buzzing bars and swanky hotels, alongside modern buildings that are changing the face of the city.
The diversity of the city makes it an exciting place to visit year-round and in its surprisingly compact city center you can walk between a varied range of things to do in Manchester, dipping in and out of cool coffee shops, independent boutiques, alternative record shops and friendly bars as you stroll. Admire art in its galleries and on the walls of its streets, be wowed by imposing neo-Gothic buildings such as John Ryland’s Library and discover its thriving restaurant scene with everything from Indian street food and tapas to contemporary British dishes. And don’t forget to sample its nightlife. After all, according to radio presenter Mark Radcliffe, Manchester “is a city that thinks a table is for dancing on.”
Manchester’s restaurant scene is flourishing at the moment and, in 2019, the city was awarded its first Michelin star in more than 40 years for Mana in Ancoats. The restaurant, headed by star chef Simon Martin (ex-Noma), boasts 16-course, tastebud-blowing degustation menus that will set you back 100 quid (without wine). Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to fine dining, Ancoats is a great area to head to for imaginative dishes from innovative independents. Stand-out options include Sugo Pasta Kitchen where Pugliese pasta is smothered in bold sauces, Rudy’s for some of the best pizza in Manchester—the margherita with buffalo mozzarella is a standout—and The Hip Hop Chip Shop on Blossom Street where vegan options such as soy and seaweed “fish” steaks with mushy peas share the menu with battered fish and pies.
Elsewhere in the city, there are plenty of options for excellent food stops while sightseeing, from the slick cocktail bars and restaurants such as The Alchemist in the business hub Spinningfields to cool venues such as Hatch, a market hall on Oxford Road offering 15 different food and drink options including Scandinavia espresso bar Takk.
The expansive and varied Mackie Mayor food hall on the edge of the city center’s Northern Quarter is a fantastic choice for lunch as its independent stalls serve diners everything from tacos to steak at long, communal wooden tables, perfect for chatter and friendly conversations with strangers. Bundobust near Piccadilly Gardens offers a winning combination of zingy and authentic Indian street food (all vegetarian) with craft beer and cocktails in a convivial atmosphere.
Manchester’s popular Northern Quarter is a great area to sample a slice of the city with plenty of things to see and do. Start in Stevenson Square to admire the street art which has been created as part of the city’s Out House Project, a public art exhibition which sees the square’s buildings repainted every three months by members of the street art community. Just off Stevenson Square, there’s a huge mural on Little Lever Street (just behind the Cow Hollow Hotel and the Greater Manchester Police Museum) called “Serenity” by stencil artists SNIK. It’s a picture of a woman in a red dress and is said to be a tribute to all women who stand against injustice. Its setting was chosen as the suffragettes often held meetings in Stevenson Square. Other good spots to spot street art include Spear Street and Tariff Street.
Manchester is a city based around music so it’s only fitting that the independent vinyl shops carry many classic records by local artists such as The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Verve and the underrated The Railway Children. Both Piccadilly Records and the Vinyl Exchange on Oldham Street cater to music aficionados who know the difference between post-punk experimentalism and New Romantic flamboyance.
After a day of rummaging through row after row of dusty records, it’s time to drink. The Northern Quarter is stuffed with places to eat and drink. Try Allotment if gin is your drink of choice, Port Street Beerhouse for craft beer, and BAB for some of the tastiest kebabs in the city. You can also buy some locally made art in Manchester Craft and Design Centre, where there’s jewelry, ceramics and more, or head to the classic Manchester shopping emporium, Afflecks Palace, for a taste of alternative Manchester.
When it gets dark, there are plenty of bars to party in, in and around the Northern Quarter, too. Try Soup Kitchen if there’s a gig in its basement or Science and Industry for imaginative cocktails—it’s hidden away behind a secret door in the Cane & Grain bar, so you may have to ask a local to help you find it.
The Cow Hollow Hotel in the Northern Quarter is a cool-as-a-cucumber choice with a chic bar. In a former textile mill, expect lashings of exposed brick and original beams complemented by high-end finishes such as bronze rainfall showers. You get lots of lovely extras for your money—there’s complimentary prosecco and nibbles between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., milk and cookies before bed, and breakfast bags are delivered to your room. Bedrooms are snug but high-end and include free Netflix and hair styling kits.
Native Manchester, a couple of minutes’ walk from Piccadilly railway station, is the new kid on the block. The 166 trendy apartments share a vast Grade II–listed former cotton warehouse with Cultureplex, a social space with a bar, restaurant, mini cinema, coffee shop and independent gym. It’s an impressive space to relax in with a glass ceiling looking up to the apartments, vaulted brick ceilings and towering cast-iron columns.