Manchester, United

Manchester is built on solid foundations, with a history as the powerhouse of the industrial revolution.

It’s the friendliness of the place and its people that gets to you. Walk into any bar or restaurant, and you’ll find yourself greeted with a warmth and openness that is second to none in a city that’s buzzing with an appetite for sheer pleasure.

Manchester is built on solid foundations, with a history as the powerhouse of the industrial revolution. While its warehouses may have been transformed into glamorous loft dwellings and chic boutiques, they remain respectfully symbolic of a past steeped in grit and a future that is just as hardworking.

A city of firsts It’s surprising how many firsts Manchester lays claim to. The first-ever computer, dubbed the ‘Baby’; the first free public library; the first professional permanent orchestra… the list goes on.

Manchester also boasts the only national football museum. Yes, as if having the two greatest soccer teams on the planet (Manchester United and Manchester City, in case you’ve just crawled out from under a rock) wasn’t enough, Manchester’s going for the treble with the new National Football Museum, which reopens this year in the iconic ski-slope shaped Urbis building.

If football memorabilia isn’t your thing, the bird’s-eye view it offers over the city might be. Manchester Town Hall’s stupendous clock tower is normally reserved for a big inflatable Santa Claus each Christmas, but now — 134 years after it was first built — it can be accessed by mere mortals. It is possible to be led upwards via the winding stairs for views (on a clear day) over the Pennines mountain range and plains of Cheshire.

For a glimpse of the city’s alternative history, head to Afflecks emporium on Church Street. All attempts over the years to transform what was formerly known as Afflecks Palace into a more mainstream shopping outlet have been resisted. It’s the place to go if you want a slogan T-shirt, to get inked, or to track down where local band Stone Roses bought their baggy flares in the 1990s. 

Bedding Down

Whether you are after top-of-the-range lodging or a stay in a smaller, discreet boutique hotel, booking a night or three at one of these places will ensure you are close to all the action of the city.

One:The Light ApartHotel is a hideaway apartment hotel that’s brilliantly located if you have retail therapy in mind.

Two: For five-star contemporary luxury and dining with a view over the River Irwell, stay at The Lowry Hotel;  popular with visiting businessmen and A-listers.

Three: The Midland is where Charles Rolls first met Henry Royce over lunch in March 1904, leading to the creation of the historic Rolls-Royce car.

Four: Great John Street is an intimate hotel adjacent to Granada TV studios, with a roof garden atop lavish boutique digs.

Five: Velvet Hotel on Canal Street, in the heart of the city’s gay village, appeals to those who love a hotel with luxe-but-edgy design.

Hidden Gems 

Islington Mill Studios is a gallery and practice space for bands, but also doubles as a performance venue with gigs and creative workshops.

Architecture fans should visit the Centre for the Urban Built Environment, or CUBE, the only dedicated space for exhibitions related to architecture in the north-west.

For those who like small bars, The Temple of Convenience is a wee place in more ways than one. This former public toilet is a bijou bar popular with indie pop stars and students. 

At the Table

As a former port, Manchester has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to world cuisine. From Kurdish cafes to the bustling Chinatown, there’s a cornucopia of choice in the city.

For a sophisticated scene head to the Northern Quarter. Nicky Rybka-Goldsmith is one of the new breed of local restaurateurs to hone their skills in this uber-trendy area. His portfolio includes Thomas Restaurant & Bar, The Bay Horse pub and Cord bar. “Manchester’s restaurant and cafe culture is diverse... It’s ever-changing and adapts to the trends. People come here not just for the food but for the whole experience,” he says.

One: Thomas Restaurant & Bar is where boho glamour reigns. Dine in the restaurant, then head upstairs to the intimate Clubroom for after-hours cocktails.

Two: Be tempted by homemade cakes, and specialist teas and coffees, ranging from local coffee brews such as Atkinsons of Lancaster to Chinese flower teas at Teacup on Thomas St. This venue is part-owned by DJ Mr Scruff and attracts an eclectic crowd of artists, media types and students. 

Three: Those in the know head to Albert Square to visit The Armenian Taverna, which has called Manchester home since the 1970s. Order a chargrilled kebab from the excellent range available, from spicy shish to succulent poussin. They all come with timbales of rice. Decor is stuck in the 1980s, when local football legend George Best used to come in with his entourage, and there are some intriguing photos adorning the walls including one of the original owner with Elvis.

Indie Sights

Chorlton-cum-Hardy has a long-standing reputation as one of Manchester’s hippest suburbs. Head down to The Lead Station for brunch and a spot of boutique shopping.

Or hang out at Electrik, a cafe by day and bar by night where you can eat British favourites such as sausage and mash or a hearty stew. It’s got free wi-fi and a garden terrace, and offers a great selection of craft beers and cask ales.

The area still retains an indie feel and bars such as Iguana Bar are friendly and more reasonably priced than venues in the city centre. Chorlton is within easy reach from the city thanks to recently extended Metrolink tram system.

Q&A

Who better to reveal the city’s secrets than Manchester United’s star defender, Rio Ferdinand?

What do you like best about Manchester?

The friendly people and the lifestyle here.

What’s your favourite place?

Rosso Restaurant & Bar is an Italian restaurant I part own. It has great food, service and a nice atmosphere.

Any hidden gems?

The Manchester United Museum & Tour Centre at Old Trafford is a gem of a place with loads of trophies and memorabilia.

Tips for visitors?

Watch a football match at the Theatre of Dreams [nickname for Old Trafford, coined by Sir Robert Charlton], followed by a meal at Rosso. From there, go to the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club—all good fun. 

Don’t Leave Without...

...taking in Manchester’s brilliant theatre scene. The Royal Exchange Theatre, is a must-visit. Queue for banquette seats to be close to the action on stage.

Football fans should take an official tour of Manchester United or Man City’s home grounds of Old Trafford and Etihad Stadium respectively. But, if you want to get a real flavour of the local football scene (without spending a fortune on a Premiership ticket), see the Football Club United of Manchester, a team formed in 2005 by Manchester United supporters in protest of the takeover of their club by US owner Malcolm Glazer. Part of the Northern Premier League, FC United is a members-owned club and attracts crowds of about 2000 at games. 

If sport is not your cup of tea, tour the city’s waterways with a boat trip down the Manchester Ship Canal all the way to the Port of Liverpool. Take in 56 kilometres of spectacular scenery, through locks and under bridges more than 100 years old.

words by Janet Reeder - Published in Voyeur March 2012
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 464,200
Time Zone GMT + 0
Languages English (official)
Currency Great Brtian Pound (GBP)
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