A Musical Weekend in Manchester

Welcome to Manchester, the music capital of England! From Joy Division to Oasis, Manchester has forged its way through the pages of history as a hub of creativity and the birthplace of countless musical legends. A music-themed weekend in Manchester is a pilgrimage every music lover must undertake, a time-bending journey through past, present and future, to discover the essence of the city's musical heritage and what awaits it next.

Our itinerary is a celebration of the musical treasures that Manchester has to offer. We will begin in the Northern Quarter, a melting pot of independent record shops, trendy bars, and vintage clothing stores, where creativity abounds in the streets. We will then continue to the Ritz, an iconic venue that has witnessed some of the most legendary performances of our time, from The Beatles to The Stone Roses.

No journey through Manchester's musical history would be complete without a visit to the legendary Hacienda, the temple of dance music that gave birth to the Madchester scene. We will also explore the historic Free Trade Hall, where Bob Dylan stunned the audience with his "Judas" gig, and where the Sex Pistols gave birth to punk. We will venture to the Salford Lads Club, immortalised by The Smiths, before concluding our voyage at Epping Walk Bridge, where Joy Division posed for their iconic photograph.

Join us on this literary odyssey through Manchester's past and present, and let the rhythm of the city's music transport you to a world of creative inspiration and artistic expression. This itinerary promises to take you on a journey that will leave you with unforgettable memories of the soul-stirring music that has made Manchester a place like no other.

The Salford Lads Club, the iconic club where The Smiths posed for a famous photo shot in the mid 1980s.

- © Francesco Cantone / Shutterstock

The Salford Lads Club, the iconic club where The Smiths posed for a famous photo shot in the mid 1980s.

It would be a shame to start a new day in any new city on an empty stomach, so we recommend you start your day in Manchester in the city’s bohemian, brunch-laden heart: the Northern Quarter. Famous for its independent shops and colourful spirit, any self-respecting Mancunian will tell you that the best breakfast spot in the neighbourhood is Ezra & Gil, a messianic institution ever since it opened its exposed-brick lungs to the public in 2014. Its coffees - from all the expected favourites to contemporary infusions like the turmeric latte or ice choc chai - are offered like communion wine to be sipped alongside a selection of breakfast classics (we recommend the ‘smashed pumpkin on toast’ for a heartwarming taste of autumn, regardless of the season). After this morning mass, take a digestive stroll through the neighbourhood’s electric streets and begin to acclimatise your musical senses: go to one of the district’s world-famous (for musical insiders, at least) record stores like Piccadilly and Eastern Bloc or visit iconic Afflecks for a still-tangible dose of Madchester love.

Editor's Tip

A whole day could be spent wandering the Northern Quarter and its colourful streets! If you want to linger round the area a little longer, we’ve put together a whole guide to Manchester’s most charismatic neighbourhood right here, so be sure to check it out!

From the Northern Quarter you can do a whistle stop tour of some of Manchester's most iconic music venues to get a glimpse at the institutions that have made the city famous. Go check out Albert Hall on Peter Street to take in some genuinely beautiful Victorian architecture - the venue, which has welcomed the likes of Johnny Marr and Peter Hook in its walls is a restored Baroque church complete with a monumental organ and stained glass - then amble to Whitworth Street to marvel at the art-deco stylings of the Ritz, where The Smiths played their first ever gig. If you fancy another bite to eat, you’ll find Gorilla, which doubles as yet another iconic music venue, just across the street, or continue your pilgrimage to pay your respects to some fallen landmarks, each marked with commemorative blue plaques. Carry on down Whitworth Street and you’ll come to The Hacienda, once the greatest nightclub in the world that birthed Madchester and the Manchester rave scene but now nothing more than student flats. The Boardwalk, where Oasis played their first ever gig, is a little further east on Little Peter Street (now an office block), while the former Factory Records office and studio space is now occupied by an indie student club on Princess Street called FAC251 in the former inhabitants’ honour.

Free Trade Hall, Manchester

- © Alastair Wallace / Shutterstock

As evening creeps into the city streets, head back to the city centre to stop at one last iconic venue: the Free Trade Hall. Built in the 1850s on the site of the infamous Peterloo Massacre, the venue was initially the home and primary concert hall of the Hallé Orchestra (now based in trendy Ancoats) before diversifying into a more multifaceted music space in the 1950s. Bob Dylan would play here in the 1960s, occasioning the infamous “Judas!” shouts as he began transitioning away from his folk routes towards a more electric sound, but it was the Sex Pistols gig on 4 June 1976 that would truly launch the venue into musical immortality, their performance credited as the start of the punk rock movement and as pivotal in the formation of bands such as Joy Division, The Fall, The Buzzcocks, and The Smiths. Sadly, like the Hacienda and the Boardwalk, the Free Trade Hall’s gigging days are over, however if you want to stay a night in this truly legendary building then good news: it now operates as an award-winning luxury hotel managed by the Radisson Group! So why not settle in for a night of comfort at the place where Manchester’s music scene all began?

The Edwardian Manchester, A Radisson Collection Hotel Manchester

The Edwardian Manchester, A Radisson Collection Hotel

A fabulous hotel located in Manchester city's Free Trade Hall.
£120 /night

Or, if you want to experience some of Manchester’s famous live music while you’re there, we recommend heading back to the Northern Quarter and checking out one of its many small venues, like Soup Kitchen, Night & Day Cafe, or Band on the Wall. Manchester’s clubs are equally legendary and offer an enticing after-party - if you come between September and December, you might even be able to check out the world-famous Warehouse Project at Depot Mayfield, a 10,000-person former railyard that now functions as the world’s biggest nightclub for a few nights a year. For our full guide to Manchester’s nightlife, have a look at our article here.

Day 2 : A Photographic Odyssey Around the City

Manchester Science and Industry Museum

- © cowardlion / Shutterstock

If you aren’t feeling a little too groggy the next morning, we propose a morning of cultural immersion and enrichment to learn a little more about Manchester’s music scene and the social and historical contexts that formed them. Head to the Science and Industry Museum on Liverpool Street and check out the ‘Revolution Manchester’ permanent exhibition which contains musical relics from Factory Records and summarises the label’s legendary rise in the city, then go to the People’s History Museum to learn more about the radical punk ethos that has always been a part of Manchester’s social and political culture. And, if you’re hungry, the People’s History Museum is conveniently located right along the river in bustling Deansgate, giving you plenty of brunch and lunch options: Crazy Pedro’s serves pizza at a bargain with a range of unexpected yet delicious toppings; Koreana was the first Korean restaurant in the UK outside London when it opened in 1985 and is still going strong in family hands, with a Korean barbeque to die for in a permanently homey atmosphere; and Scene Indian Street Kitchen offers contemporary takes on Indian street food classics.

Then, spend the afternoon getting the perfect tourist pictures to show off to your friends and any other music fans you happen across. Twenty minutes outside the city centre is Salford Lads’ Club at the end of the (real life!) Coronation Street. The 1903 red-brick building became a national icon when it was used on the sleeve of The Smiths’ legendary album The Queen is Dead, regarded by many as the greatest album of all time. The band’s photo was so iconic that, some thirty years after the album’s release, the British public voted the Lads’ Club the country’s third-greatest icon, meaning it beat out the likes of the English breakfast and afternoon tea! Although still operating primarily as a recreational centre for local residents, Salford Lads’ Club has gladly embraced its singular music-history status and is open to visitors Wednesdays and Sundays, with an entire Smiths Room inside decked in band artefacts, including a restored mosaic of the four-some that was installed outside Afflecks Palace in 1995.

For a second great photo opportunity, head south to Hulme for an unmissable photo along the Epping Walk Bridge to recreate another picture integral to the synaesthetic visual tapestry of the Mancunian beat: Kevin Cummins’ iconic shot of Joy Division posed on the walkway, which would later become the cover for the compilation album “Best of Joy Division.” The ill-fated band perhaps better symbolise the city than any other to come from its then-gloomy streets, with the brutalist architecture of the surrounding township echoing the same melancholy that defined the Manchester of Joy Division’s youth and which seeped indelibly into their sound, making this a worthy site of pilgrimage for any music fan.

And, once there, why not check out a bit more of what Hulme, one of Manchester’s most underrated neighbourhoods, has to offer. Historic Alexandra Park is one of the city’s finest, featuring an ornamental lake and 60-acres of woodland, then head to Kim’s Kitchen for a bite to eat at a community staple offering up a mix of Northern pub classics and internationally-inspired soul food.

End your weekend in Manchester by heading back into the city centre and just absorbing its atmosphere, listening to the sounds of the streets and seeing if it inspires anything in you too. There’s a reason Manchester is a place that has birthed so much sound, so try to hone into the sonic key it hides among the happy chattering of the people who call it home and all its urban symphonies.

Practical Information

  • Salford Lads Club is located at Lads’ Club, Coronation Street, Salford, M5 3SA. To get there from central Manchester, take the 33 bus to Worsley and get off at Sainsbury’s Salford. The journey takes around 20 minutes. For more information, see the Salford Lads Club website here.
  • Epping Walk Bridge is located over Princess Street in Hulme, next to the easily findable Hulme Arch Bridge. The 256 bus goes from Piccadilly Gardens to Hulme and takes about ten minutes. Visit the Transport for Greater Manchester website for more information.

Our favourite hotel in Hulme

Governors House by Greene King Inns Manchester

Governors House by Greene King Inns

A lovely hotel located in Cheadle Hulme, greater Manchester area.
£60 /night

Editor's Tip

If a weekend in Manchester alone doesn’t quench your musical thirst, Liverpool is only a forty-minute train away and is a sort of living, breathing monument to the city’s most famous sons: The Beatles! You could easily make a day out of all the Beatles-centric sites and activities the vibrant town has to offer, from the Beatles Story Museum on Albert Dock to the Liverpool Beatles Museum (yes, the city has two museums dedicated to the band!) to a trip to Penny Lane or 251 Menlove Avenue, the childhood home of John Lennon. And, Liverpool has just an exciting array of music venues where you can catch a bit of fresh live music too, from the world-famous Cavern Club to the historic Jacaranda. It’s a city absolutely worth visiting if you get the chance.

by Jude JONES
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