5 Surprising Reasons You Need to Visit Manchester

Let’s be honest: Manchester isn’t always that high on the list of major European cities you absolutely must visit. London? Yeah. Rome? Absolutely. Paris? Definitely. But the northern city of Manchester not so much. I am originally from northern England and even I hadn’t been privy to the wonders of Manchester. I went last summer solely for a gin-tasting tour, but after visiting multiple times in the past couple of months I have a new found love for the grungy, industrial city. Each trip I have set out to unearth something new. And what I discovered surprised me. So, this is me giving you five reasons to put Manchester at the top of your I-must-leave-London British travel list.

1. The Vintage Shopping

Now I know that vintage is my thing. But, when my boyfriend is raving to random people about Manchester’s vintage offerings, you know it is good. I have already documented eight of my favourite vintage stores here and you can even get an inside look at them in my real-time Manchester vintage haul. Most of them can be found in the ultra-bohemian Northern Quarter, an area that you can easily spend hours wandering around. If music is more your thing, make sure to pay a visit to Piccadilly Records to peruse their large collection of vinyl. Operating since 1965, Paramount Bookshop is a classic secondhand book and comic book store.

In addition, some of my favourite independent stores include homewares shop Fig & Sparrow, the studios in the Craft & Design Centre, and Fred Aldous for art supplies.

 2. The Free Attractions

Culture-wise, Manchester has a lot to offer. There are so many attractions that it can be somewhat overwhelming to choose how to spend your time. The good news is that most of them are free, meaning extra $$$ for your vintage shopping. Manchester was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and the Museum of Science and Industry does a fantastic job of documenting all of Manchester’s discoveries and inventions. Combine with a visit to the Bridgewater Canal, considered the first modern canal in Britain and one of the most ambitious engineering projects that had ever been undertaken.

Unlike any other museum I have ever been to, The People’s History Museum follows Britain’s struggle for democracy over two centuries and hosts various temporary exhibitions related to contemporary issues. Manchester Museum houses an impressive collection focused around natural history — everything from Egyptian mummies to dinosaur skeletons and unusual beetles.

For art lovers, the Whitworth Art Gallery is a must. Here, you will find a constantly rotating series of exhibitions set inside a building that has won awards for both its collections and its architecture. They currently have exhibitions featuring Lucienne Day and Barbara Brown‘s textiles, the first UK solo exhibition of Indian photographer Sooni Taraporevala, and a solo show of Deanna Petherbridge’s pen and ink drawings that absolutely blew me away. Manchester Art Gallery is smack-bang in the centre of the city and often plays host to exhibitions by world-renowned artists. Right now you can see a whole collection of Mary Quant’s designs! Inside a former Victorian fish market is the Manchester Craft and Design Centre where local artists and creatives have their studios.

Even for those who aren’t architecture buffs, John Ryland’s Library is worth 30 minutes of your time, as is Manchester’s Town Hall which is one of the most impressive examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in the UK. One of the city’s oldest, most stunning buildings, Manchester Cathedral is a must-see, as are the Edwardian-era Victoria Baths.

3. The Curries

The food in Manchester is really, really good. For starters, you have Curry Mile. Not technically a mile long, this part of Wilmslow Road is famed for having the largest concentration of South Asian restaurants outside the Indian subcontinent. There is something for everyone who loves a bit of spice, but I recommend Mughli for traditional north Indian and Pakistani Mughlai cuisine, Ziya Asian Grill for a higher-end curry, Spicy Mint for some serious sweats (their chefs are the proud winners of a National Curry Chef award), and Sanam Sweets & Restaurant for the most delicious Indian, Pakistani and Middle Eastern desserts and sweets.

4. The Rest of the Food & Drink 

For breakfast (or a day of work) head to the Northern Quarter favourite, Takk, an ambient coffee house with a subtle Icelandic theme. Foundation Coffee House is another fabulous coffee shop with the city’s most Instagramable interior. For a classic British afternoon tea, Teacup on Thomas Street and Sugar Junction are your best options.

When in Britain, you should eat British food. Mr Thomas’s Chop House has been serving British food for 140- years and let’s pray it continues for at least another 140. Albert’s Shed is a Mancunian favourite and “unashamedly British” and Aumbry, located in a small, converted cottage, is as quaint and British as you can get. Manchester House offers the city’s most famed tasting menu and is perfect for when you want to get dressed up, drink fabulous gin & tonics, and just celebrate life.

But, if you want something other than sausages and mash, there are a lot of other cuisines on offer. The glass pyramid entrance to Australasia always intrigues visitors, but the contemporary Australian cuisine is just as awe-inspiring. Wander down Oxford Road to enjoy a luxurious meal in a stunning setting at The Refuge (definitely make a reservation). Here you can choose from a tantalising selection of small plates (the slow cooked ox cheek with egg & Sriracha and the Broccolini with garlic crumbs are two musts) and an extensive cocktail list. Rudy’s is supposedly the best pizza in the city, while San Carlo Cicchetti is hands-down the best Italian. 63 Degrees is the place to go for French food, Gaucho for Argentinian steak, Habesha for Ethiopian, and Vermilion for Thai.

The self-serve fountains at Salut Wines make it ideal for a cheeky wine break. Don’t forget to book a gin-tasting tour, and then head to The Fitzgerald, my favourite place to grab a Prohibition-era cocktail. Cloud 23 has the best views of the city and some of the most creative cocktails. The Alchemist makes mad drinks that smoke, sizzle, and pop. For something chiller but just as funky, head to Ziferblat where everything is free, apart from the amount of time you spend. It is kind of like a big living room that turns into a bar at night.

5. The Street Art

While Manchester might not have a reputation for street-art like that of Berlin, Athens, or Reykjavik, I predict (in my humble opinion) that it soon will. The vibrant and creative scene in the Northern Quarter has kicked off an explosion of intriguing street art throughout the area. The Outhouse Project in Stevenson Square is a good place to start. Once used as public toilets, the structures in the middle of the square are now the canvas of ever-changing street art exhibitions, done by local artists. Walk around the perimeter of the square to see other interesting pieces on the walls of bars and shops. The iconic blue tit (bird not female body part) that looks out over a vacant lot on Port Street is one of the longest standing pieces of street art in Manchester. Spear Street has a lovely portrait by local artist Aske of his son, and Faraday Street has Paint the Trees by Norwegian artist Martin Whatson. That being said, keep your eyes open while walking around because there is always something new!

If you are interested in seeing more of Manchester, check out my two travel vlogs from the city here and here!

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