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Media City, Salford Quays, Manchester

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Manchester
Manchester

The Capital of the English North

Manchester in short

England’s charismatic Capital of the North, ask any Manunian and they’ll tell you that this is the best the UK has to offer, a city of almost mythological status thanks to the torrents of genuinely revolutionary music and literature that has poured from its Industrial Revolution-stained streets as if by second nature. There’s something unspoken about these streets that inspire. This is a city the people reclaimed, a former bastion of the Victorian industrial machine that held the masses in perpetual oppression reborn as a shimmering beacon for creativity and new thinking, the bones of its former industrial mills and warehouses redressed as independent art galleries and rave palaces. A British Berlin in miniature, Manchester is one of the most exciting cities in the world and, although it may lack the old-world medieval charm of many of its country-fellow tourist favourites, there is something in the seams of the city that always make a trip to Manchester feel more a homecoming than a mere passing visit. Because, as mosaics strewn throughout the city streets will tell you emphatically with that quintessential Mancunian charm, it was on the sixth day that God created Manchester.

Manchester City fans in front of the Etihad Stadium, homeground of Manchester City F.C.

- © shana espinoza / Shutterstock

Cut Manchester and it bleeds football. There are few cities in the world whose names command as much immediate reverence when discussing the beautiful game than Manchester, whose team primary teams, Manchester United and Manchester City, share between them some 700 million fans worldwide as well as 28 league title wins, 18 FA Cup wins, and 3 UEFA Champions League wins. Visit the National Football Museum to learn more about the age-old English enchantment with their national pass-time, then take a guided tour of Old Trafford or the Etihad Stadium, homes of Manchester United and Manchester City respectively, to find out more about these two footballing giants, whose histories are still in the making.

Morrissey, former frontman of legendary Manchester rock band The Smiths, playing a 2014 concert in Barcelona

- © Christian Bertrand / Shutterstock

And, if football has always been the lifeblood of Manchester, music has always been the city’s soul. From The Smiths to Joy Division to Oasis to John Cooper Clarke, these are the streets that birthed and raised some of the most influential names in music history and continue to uphold this singular heritage today. Manchester’s musical eco-system is dense with life, claiming some 215 live music venues that range from the record-setting Manchester Arena to tiny pubs running off of pride and heart. Elsewhere, iconic music venues like The Ritz, where The Smiths played their first ever gig, and Band on the Wall that have been blessing and inspiring Mancunian ears for generations now still rule, while contemporary club spaces like the world-famous Warehouse Project, hosted every winter in the monumental Depot Mayfield, and White Hotel, named for the erotic novel by D. M. Thomas, are redefining the city’s sound with exhilarating results. If you want to experience music as it lives and breathes, there is no better city in the world to do so than Manchester.

John Rylands Library, Manchester

- © Alastair Wallace / Shutterstock

If you want a more classically cultural dimension to your city stay, Manchester is also a UNESCO City of Literature, one of just a handful in the world. The birthplace of such seminal authors as Elizabeth Gaskell, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Anthony Burgess, the city also has a cornucopic offering of libraries that were pivotal to its successful UNESCO status bid, from Chetham’s Library, the oldest free public library in the English-speaking world where Marx wrote portions of The Communist Manifesto, to John Rylands Library, the principle library of the University of Manchester which contains innumerous literary relics, from the oldest surviving canonical New Testament text to a first edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

‘Stan’, the poster-child of the Manchester Museum

- © John B Hewitt / Shutterstock

Another of the University of Manchester’s cultural assets is the Manchester Museum, the largest university museum in the UK. With collections extensively covering both human and natural history, it contains 4.5million objects and artefacts of global renown, from a world-beating selection of relics from an ancient Egyptian pyramid-building town dating to as early as 3000 BCE to ‘Stan’, a 650-million-year-old T-Rex whose 198-piece skeleton is the second most complete in the world. Extra culture shots can be taken at the city’s almost endless stream of museums and art spaces, whether that be at the Manchester Art Gallery, which offers a leading range of Pre-Raphaelite and European painting; the Science and Industry Museum, which recounts the seminal tale of the city’s industrialisation and its ‘Cottonopolis’ heritage; or the People’s History Museum, a one-of-a-kind insight to the punk, anti-establishment ethos that has coursed through the city’s veins for as long as it has stood.

Mackie Mayor in the Northern Quarter, Manchester

- © ElenaChaykinaPhotography / Shutterstock

Finally, Manchester is a city worth simply exploring. Each of its neighbourhoods has its own unique gems, however its two most popular are the Northern Quarter and Ancoats, in regular competition with each other for the title of Manchester’s most desirable district. The Northern Quarter, or ‘NQ’ to locals, is the traditional pick, a hub of countercultural cunning since the Industrial Revolution when it acted as an inchoate political centre for the disaffected working class. This heritage of nonconformity is palpable in the defiantly bold colours of NQ’s labrinthine alleys and the sheer abundance of independent stores, cafes, and restaurants that call it home, as if any big-name chain is rejected by these cobbled streets as soon as they attempt to arise. Meanwhile, Ancoats is the fresh face on the scene and the foodie’s favourite, an eyesore industrial slum as recently as the 1990s when a massive regeneration effort saw its fetid factories and warehouses reimagined as Michelin–starred restaurants and cronut-vending patisseries (cronut, as in croissant-donut hybrid). This former Cradle of the Industrial Revolution is now Manchester’s cutting-edge culinary heart, its canal and open green spaces providing an oasis of escape from the bustle and toil of the adjacent inner city.

Chester, often praised as the UK’s prettiest town, is less than an hour by train from Manchester

- © Caron Badkin / Shutterstock

So, dare to visit the Capital of the North and taste this melting-pot city, whose singular, self-made mythology and cultural heritage is unmatched not only in the UK, but around the world. Spend a weekend unearthing its endless gems, or use the metropolitan super-city as a portal to the rest of England’s resplendent North: the Peak District wraps the city’s western bounds in tender embrace and boasts some of the finest natural scenery in the UK, hence why it was made the nation’s first national park in 1951, while other post-industrial renaissance cities such as Liverpool and Leeds and tiny fairytale towns like Chester and York are all a short train journey away. Come to Manchester, the world awaits.

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The must-sees

All the must-sees

How to get there?

Manchester is easily reached from the rest of the UK by train, car, or even plane! Manchester Piccadilly is the third-busiest train station in the country and regularly receives services from a range of both national and regional destinations, including London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds, and Newcastle. The city has three other major train stations: Deansgate, Manchester Oxford Road, and Manchester Victoria.These deal primarily with regional lines from locations such as Leeds, Liverpool, Blackpool, Chester, and Sheffield. The train from London takes approximately two hours; from Edinburgh it’s three hours fifteen minutes, and from Birmingham it’s one and a half hours.

For those driving to Manchester, Manchester is well connected due to excellent motorway links. The M60 ring road connects the city to motorways north, south east, and west. National Express and Megabus also provide national coach services from all over the country, terminating at Chorlton Street Coach Station in the heart of the city.

Finally, Manchester Airport is the third largest in the UK and is just fifteen minutes from the city centre via rail or Metrolink tram. The airport is serviced by more than 60 international airlines flying to and from 200 destinations across six continents worldwide, while domestic flights are offered to and from a handful of UK destinations: Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Isle of Man, Jersey, London, and Newquay.

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Where to stay?

As one of the UK's most vibrant and diverse cities, Manchester has something to offer everyone. From its rich cultural heritage to its thriving music scene, there's no shortage of things to see and do. If you're planning a trip to Manchester, one of the most important decisions you'll need to make is where to stay. With a wide range of neighborhoods and accommodation options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the best place to call home during your visit. In this article, we'll take a look at some of the best places to stay in Manchester, whether you're looking for luxury hotels, budget-friendly hostels, or anything in between. So, let's dive in and discover the perfect base for your Manchester adventure !

Practical information

When is the best time to visit Manchester?

Mancunian weather can be notoriously dreary, especially in the winter months. Although it is therefore recommended to visit between June and August, when the weather turns pleasant and the city’s events calendar fills to capacity, October to December may be the best time to visit if you want to experience the city’s music scene, as this is when ‘gig season’ falls into full swing and the Warehouse Project opens its hedonistic doors. Furthermore, for those hoping to catch Manchester United or Manchester City in play during their trip, it is worth keeping in mind that the Premier League, when the sides are at their most active, is typically played each year between August and May, so time your trip according to what you want to experience in the city.

Packing your bags 

As already mentioned, Mancunian weather has a slightly rainier, colder disposition, so pack warm, even if you’re visiting in summer. Make sure you have a waterproof jacket and a few warmer layers; an umbrella wouldn’t go amiss either. Otherwise, just bring anything you would bring on a typical city trip, and remember essentials like plug adapters and sterling currency if you’re coming from outside the UK!

Getting around Manchester

Manchester has one of the best public transport networks in the UK, with regular bus services (including night buses) and the Metrolink tram connecting the city through and through at low prices. Elsewhere, the city centre is very walkable and most of Manchester’s major sites are within walking distance of one another, so an adventurous stroll is always a solid option too. Or, for something a little different, the city has a bike-sharing scheme called Mobike and several well-developed bike routes in the city centre for those with an athletic edge.

Staying safe in Manchester

Manchester is overall a very safe city, however all the usual safety rules naturally apply. If you’re in the city centre late at night, stay in well-lit and populated areas and try to stick with friends. If you’re intoxicated, avoid travelling alone, opt for a taxi or Uber to get back to your hotel, and avoid walking along the canals as a fall in could quickly become fatal. Avoid areas like Moss Side and Longsight, which historically have higher rates of violent crime.

The emergency number in Manchester, as in the rest of the UK, is 999. The city has an extensive network of CCTV cameras to prevent and monitor crime, which can be reassuring for tourists concerned about safety. The Manchester Police are generally friendly and willing to help should anything happen. 

What should you bring back from your trip to Manchester?

Commercially, Manchester is most famous for its vintage goods and second-hand clothes. The Northern Quarter is full of vintage clothes shops that are well worth a scour, while Afflecks is an institution in the neighbourhood famous for its idiosyncratic selection of alternative clothing. Rock legend Alice Cooper swears by the location and called Manchester one of two cities in the world (the other being Berlin) where he can still buy a decent leather jacket! 

The city is equally famous for its lively independent record store scene, something definitely worth delving into at least a little. Head to legendary spots like Piccadilly Records or Eastern Bloc and buy a record from a local band for a sonic souvenir in eternal homage to the city, whether it be one of the classics like The Smiths, Oasis, or Joy Division, or a new up-and-comer at a member of staff’s recommendation. The choice is yours!

lightbulb_outline Editor's tip

If you want to save money while travelling around Manchester, the city has several travel passes such as the Metrolink Weekend Travelcard or the System One Travelcard available for as little as £5. Consider these money-saving options beforehand, and also keep in mind that many of the city’s premier attractions - including the Manchester Museum, the Science and Industry Museum, the People’s History Museum, and the Manchester Art Gallery - are completely free to visit, meaning a visit can be extremely affordable for those not wanting to splash out.

by Jude JONES
Useful links
Visit Manchester
Transport for Greater Manchester

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