Move over London: The U.K.’s second city is on the rise. With a love of good food at its heart and music in its soul, Manchester is chock-full of opportunities for unique and unforgettable experiences. Plus, it’s just the right size to explore on foot and a short trip from some of Britain’s most spectacular countryside.
There’s not a night of the week in Manchester when you’ll be stuck for somewhere to experience live music. The Night & Day Cafe opened in 1991 and earned a reputation as a champion for local bands, with the likes of Elbow, Arctic Monkeys and Manic Street Preachers gracing its stage over the years.
Another venue with a colorful history and contemporary influence, Band on the Wall started life as a pub and earned its name in the 1930s when a landlord fixed a small stage for bands to play high on one of the interior back walls. Today the venue inspires audiences with music from a range of countries and cultures.
Jazz fans will have a field day at Matt & Phreds, a cozy basement club with the requisite red lights and grand piano, serving exceptional cocktails and showcasing globally acclaimed musicians and bands playing jazz, of course, as well as folk, electro, swing, salsa and ska.
For those who like their music electronic and accompanied by a meal, The Refuge is a restaurant run by a pair of former DJs known for their raucous parties and impressive kitchen skills. The duo puts on regular weekender events that showcase the talents of local chefs and international DJs. Keep an eye on their Resident Advisor page for details.
Food & Drink
Surrounded by farmland, Manchester takes pride in the quality of its local produce, and meat remains a central part of most menus. Hawksmoor embodies this spirit with a focus on high-quality steaks from nearby Yorkshire and seafood straight from Britain’s southwest coast.
Sam’s Chop House, with its traditional decor and atmosphere, is a mecca for the nostalgic, serving local ales and seasonal meals. Pull up a stool next to L.S. Lowry, a celebrated 20th-century artist from the local area, whose bronze statue props up the polished dark-wood bar.
Albert’s Schloss is a sprawling venue that draws inspiration from both French chateaus and German beer halls. The superior food and beer is accompanied by a roster of imaginative music events, including the Wednesday night Baby Grand Slam and a live gospel choir on Sundays.
For surreptitious, speakeasy vibes, The Washhouse is unrivaled. The launderette ruse even extends to booking a table: You have to call and leave a message about your bags of washing.
As a historically industrial city, Manchester is uniquely placed to tell the story of working-class Britain. The People’s History Museum covers topics from trade unionism to football (soccer) to women’s suffrage and retains a compelling contemporary relevance.
The Whitworth Art Gallery reopened in 2015 following extensive investment and renovation. Locals love the gallery’s impressive collection of modern art, including pieces by Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, as well as its setting inside pretty Whitworth Park.
For some secular worship, the neo-Gothic John Rylands Library is a temple to knowledge, its interior reminiscent of a cathedral with opulent, vertiginous vaulted ceilings.
The Northern Quarter is a hip central district where you’ll find many of the city’s best bars, restaurants and shops. At its core, Afflecks is a legendary indoor market of stalls and boutiques that peddle vintage clothes, vinyl and games. The redbrick building is such an icon that Lady Gaga herself once stopped by.
For a more contemporary selection, head around the corner to Manchester Craft & Design Centre and get a taste of the local creative culture. Once a Victorian fish market, the building retains its old charm and is today home to talented craftspeople from the region. Engage directly with the artists, hear their stories and buy their textiles, jewelry, ceramics, prints and artwork.
Fun & Games
Manchester is synonymous with football and home to two world-famous teams, Manchester United and Manchester City. It’s not easy to catch a Man-U Premier League home game: You have to be a member of the Manchester United club to get tickets for Premier League matches at Old Trafford.
That said, nonmembers can still buy tickets for FA Cup, Champions League and Carabao League games — just remember to book way in advance for the best chance of bagging a spot, and be prepared to pay high prices. If you don’t get lucky, you can still experience the magic as part of a Stadium Tour.
Long the underdog, Manchester City has gone from strength to strength recently, having won the Premier League in 2012 and 2014. It’s still generally much easier to get your hands on tickets for games at the Etihad Stadium; grab them online or in person.
If football’s not your thing, Junkyard Golf offers a playful, urban take on the classic miniature putting challenge.
Out & About
With so much natural beauty on your doorstep, a day or overnight trip to the UNESCO listed Lake District National Park is well worth the effort. Just over 1.5 hours by car or train brings you to Windermere, from where you can explore the U.K.’s most popular national park, home to England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike, at 3,209 feet.
An up-and-coming suburb, Didsbury is just 20 minutes by tram from the city center but has a much more residential feel and is a good place to get a local’s-eye-view of Manchester life. Its tree-lined streets are bustling with independent cafés, shops and bars, and there’s plenty of green space, too, in the form of the lovely Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens and Didsbury Park.