With unique nightlife, quirky hotels and a selection of great tourist attractions,is a great choice for a city break with an edge.
MANCHESTER SIGHTS AND ACTIVITIES
Two major New Manchester icons line up on either side of the Ship Canal. The Lowry Centre (Pier 8, Salford Quays, 0843 208 6000*) is a spectacular arts complex, with a huge collection of paintings by LS Lowry – the city’s most famous artist. Opposite is the Daniel Libeskind-designed Imperial War Museum North. It’s a spectacular building, although the displays feel rather bitty until the exhibition-filling Big Picture Show starts. It’s an extraordinary barrage of eyewitness sound recordings and heart-tugging projected images. Nearby is Old Trafford, home of Manchester United. Match tickets are like golddust, but the behind-the-scenes stadium tours (Sir Matt Busby Way, 868 8000) are really good even if you loathe United.
Cultural attractions in Manchester
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BOOK YOUR OWN ADVENTUREThe following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
FLIGHTS: Skyscanner (£) Kayak or Roundtheworldflights.com
CAR HIRE: Car Rentals (£)
GUIDE BOOKS: Amazon (£)
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES: Viator (£)
The Lowry Centre everything from theatre, opera and ballet to big name comedy shows. The Manchester Opera House (Quay Street, 828 1700) tends to focus on touring shows from ’s West End and big musicals, while the Royal Exchange Theatre (St Ann’s Square, 833 9833) is arguably the city’s most exciting. Plays are performed in the round and the audience is virtually on the stage. Predictably, that means plenty of challenging and adventurous productions.
For arthouse cinema, The Cornerhouse (70 Oxford Street, 200 1500) is a much loved stalwart that also features a gallery and rather cool café.
Visit Manchester has collated a series of downloadable MP3 walking tours on its site. Topics include Manchester: Then and Now and the Salford Quays, plus a few real ale pub crawl routes. If you want to give your boots a proper outing, however, then the is right on the doorstep. The Hope Valley train line from Manchester to Sheffield stops at numerous picturesque villages – such as Edale and Hope – on the way. They all take less than an hour to get to and, most are perfect starting points for walking routes. Downloadable options are on www.visitpeakdistrict.com.
Most of Manchester’s tours work on a private booking basis where price is entirely dependent on how big a group you can get together. Those interested in the Manchester music scene can take a two hour walking tour (7958 246 917*) of the major historic venues with Craig Gill – formerly of Manc band, the Inspiral Carpets. It’s also possible to tour the BBC Television Studios (1732 42 7770*) – which includes the chance to play at weatherman or girl. Tour Manchester (431 7030) runs numerous themed walks for £6, with topics ranging from the city’s cotton history to gangs and slums.
Find the best deals on Manchester hotels using the search box on the right, but the accommodation options below have been inspected and come recommended.
Budget hotels in Manchester
As always when doing a British city on the cheap, the first step is to check whether Manchester’s numerous Travelodges or Premier Inns are on sale – they frequently are for from £19 and £29 a night respectively. Otherwise, the Gardens Hotel (55 Piccadilly, 236 5155, doubles from £45) may look abominable from the outside, but the rooms inside are really rather decent and there’s free WiFi. Best at the budget end of the scale, however, is the Ox (71 Road, 839 7740, from £39.95). This foody pub has a few rooms above it that feel like they belong in a modern, unchintzy mid-range hotel.
Mid-range hotels in Manchester
The Palace (Oxford Street, 288 1111) has Manchester’s most spectacular lobby – the stained glass dome and brown stone archways are hugely impressive. Doubles are available for from £85 a night – but make sure you ask for the refurbished contemporary rooms rather than their tired old-style cohorts. Each room at the gay-friendly and engagingly exuberant Velvet (2 Canal Street, 236 9003, from £88) is wildly different, but any ideas about understatement are merrily swatted away.
Best value, however, can be found at the Atrium (74 Princess Street, 235 2000) – well-decked out studio apartments can be snapped up for £58.99 a night.
Luxury hotels in Manchester
Manchester is really big on serviced apartments, and Staying Cool offers the most engaging in town. Spread across the city centre, the apartments marry the hip and the practical, with facilities such as free WiFi alongside eye-catchingly bold furniture for from £119 a night. 11 Didsbury Park (11 Didsbury Park, 448 7711, from £106) in the well-to-do suburb of Didsbury is Manchester’s take on a boutique townhouse and comes with a gorgeous walled garden. Meanwhile, the Midland (Peter Street, 236 3333) has a long history of business meetings – this was where Mr Rolls first met Mr Royce. But it’s not all about the suits – the £100+ rooms are refreshingly bright and colourful.
Top end hotels in Manchester
Celeb hotspot, The Lowry (50 Dearman’s Place, Chapel Wharf, 827 4000, from £165, has the most spacious rooms in town. Leather reclined chairs, iPod docks and marble bathrooms are in the mix although a touch of character wouldn’t go amiss. Housed in the grand sandstone Free Trade Hall, the Radisson Edwardian (Peter Street, 835 9929, from £150) has a spa and pool to go with large and stylish, if uniform, rooms. The Great John Street Hotel (Great John Street, 831 3211) is most fun though – the converted schoolhouse has en-suite steam rooms and split level sleeping quarters with lavishly enormous curtains. The duplexes cost from £196.80 a night.
Cafés in Manchester
The Northern Quarter is crammed with eccentric cafés, and the Nexus Art Café (2 Dale Street, 236 0100) is arguably the most lovable of them. Run as a not-for-profit organisation, this basement joint doubles as an art gallery and has some great cakes and jacket potatoes to go with the video projections and carefully curated jukebox. Equally odd is Oklahoma (74 High Street, 834 1136); part idiosyncratically-furnished toastie, cake and soup dispenser, part quirky gift shop. For a good people-watch, try KRO (1 Piccadilly Gardens, 244 5765), where the roof-to-floor glass windows and Danish-influenced menu make for an agreeable mix.
Snacks in Manchester
This and That (3 Soap Street, 832 4971) looks like a grubby dive, but is one of those places – there’s one in every city – that has acquired legendary status. Rice and three different types of curry are slopped up at a bargain rate, and Mancunians won’t hear a word said against it. Smarter, and with a scattergun pan-Asian noodle bar ethic, is Tampopo (16 Albert Square, 819 1966). Nasi Goreng, Pho, Ramen and Beef Rendang are all present and correct. Otherwise, Arndale Market (49 High Street) is effectively a slightly upscale food court with everything from burritos to baguettes available.
Best restaurants in Manchester
The giant windows in Second Floor at Harvey Nichols (21 New Cathedral Street, 828 8898) offer great views, and the menu has inventive twists on British dishes such as slow-cooked venison. Gluttonous five course meals are available for from £60. Competing for the title for best in town is Michael Caines at the Abode Hotel (107 Piccadilly, 247 7744), where the emphasis is on locally sourced ingredients and the wine-matched, eight course tasting menu for £105 is the top-line indulgence. The most spectacular dining room belongs to French at the Midland Hotel, where the Chateaubriand is the real treat amongst the Gallic classics.
MANCHESTER NIGHTLIFE AND ENTERTAINMENT
For a bar crawl with cred, then the Northern Quarter – particularly Thomas Street – is the place to head to. Elsewhere, Cloud 23 (303 Deansgate, 870 1688) at the top of the Hilton Hotel has sensational views of the city, an enormous cocktail menu and cool chairs shaped like puckered lips. Considerably less classy, but absolutely unmissable is the Temple Of Convenience (100 Great Bridgewater St, 228 9834). This former underground public toilet, still has the lavatory decór and pumps out rock tunes to go with a surprisingly extensive beer list. For an old school pub, The Briton’s Protection (50 Great Bridgewater Street, 236 5895) is fab – especially with over 200 whiskies and a host of real ales to choose from.
Live music in Manchester
Band on the Wall (25 Swan Street, 834 1786) is a legendary part of the Manchester music scene, being the starting point for the likes of Joy Division and the Buzzcocks in the 1970s. It still has a dedication to breaking new bands today. The Deaf Institute (135 Grosvenor Street, 276 9350) is equally cherished – it’s part café, part bar and part music hall and regularly hosts gigs that span the genres from gangsta rap to garage rock. You’ll find more established touring acts playing at the Manchester Academy (Student’s Union, Oxford Road, 275 2930).
Nightclubs in Manchester
Forget the outdated ‘Madchester’ scene and Hacienda club – they’re long gone. The newly-opened FAC251 (112 Princess Street, 272 7251), in the old Factory Records office building, has appropriated some of the spirit though. It hosts some live gigs, but mainly functions as an indie club with soul, Motown and dubstep offshoots in the back rooms. Bijou (1 Chapel Street, 834 6377) places itself at the classy and expensive end of the scale, but generally pulls in footballers and ladies who want to meet footballers. You can also indulge in Manchester’s bizarre obsession with drag queen cabaret at the riotous – if hen party-packed – Birdcage (Withy Grove, 832 1700).
Markets in Manchester
Manchester has cleverly brought a wealth of different markets together under the Manchester Markets banner. None of them are huge, but all have their specialities. The Fashion Market takes place in Tib Street every Saturday, with the emphasis on hand-made clothes and accessories by local designers. You’ll find everything from adapted net curtains and screen-printed T-shirts to customised hats. For foodies, the Real Food Market takes place on the second and fourth Fridays and Saturdays of each month in Piccadilly Gardens. The Church Street Market on High Street is the generalist catch-all affair, and is open Monday to Saturday.
Shops in Manchester
A new snazzy shopping centre appears to pop up in Manchester every few days. For high end goods and designer labels, however, New Cathedral Street is the Holy Grail. Be-seen department stores Selfridges and Harvey Nichols line up opposite each other, encouraging a credit card splurge. For bargain hunters, the Lowry Outlet Mall at Salford Quays is the place to nab Nike, Gap and Marks and Spencer goodies on the cheap. The most interesting indie shops, however, are to be found in the Northern Quarter – particularly around Oldham Street. Thunder Egg (22 Oldham Street, 235 0606) has some particularly cool trinkets amongst the distinctive clothing.
MANCHESTER TRAVEL INFORMATION
Manchester travel tip
In many ways, Manchester is a far betterentry point to the UK than London. For outdoorsy types, it’s on the edge of the Peak District and close to both the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. It is also properly connected – direct trains go from the airport through central Manchester to other northern cities such as Leeds, York, Newcastle and Liverpool. Then there are the budget flights to Europe; in London you have to struggle across from Heathrow to Gatwick, Luton or Stansted to catch them but in Manchester they go from the same airport as the long-haul arrivals.
Calling the UK
The UK dialling code is +44 and the Manchester city code is 0161. You drop the zero when calling from abroad, so to call from abroad, add 00 11 44 161 to the front of any number listed. If marked with an asterisk, it’s not a Manchester number, so just add 00 11 44.
Details correct as of January 2011, when this guide was researched by David Whitley. It was originally published by the Sun-Herald in .