A thriving arts program, a strong student community, pioneering architecture and industry, a vibrant LGBT scene, world-class food and drink – Manchester has it all. And that’s not even mentioning that infamous footie squad.
As one of the most diverse and lively cities in the UK, Manchester is paradise for the curious explorer looking for interesting things to see and do. It’s not too hard to dig a little deeper under Manchester’s skin and find something unusual. This alternative Manchester city guide will give you some tips to get going.
Things to do
To steer away from the well-heeled Northern Quarter and other popular central districts, head south. Over the last few years, suburbs like Chorlton and Withington have been revived, with new bars, restaurants, and independent shops cropping up to breathe in new life. Chorlton makes a nice spot to potter around, with lots of places to eat and drink on Beech Road – read our Chorlton food and drink guide for more.
In Withington, swing by Deco Records, an independent record store selling second hand vinyl, merch, guitars, and more. Vegetarians shouldn’t miss Fuel, Withington’s veggie and vegan mothership with live music too. Call in at Solomons, just opposite, for breakfast and coffee or a live comedy show and cocktails at night.
In the evening a safe bet is Burton Road – an area arguably more in Chorlton than Withington, or perhaps even Didsbury, but that’s by-the-by – where you’ll find good places to eat and drink like Volta for charcuterie and share plates, or Mary & Archie for craft beers and hearty food. Both of these suburbs are linked to the city centre via the tram.
Opened in 1906, Victoria Baths was the place to go swimming in Manchester a century ago. So proud were the council at the time that it was named a “water palace” with beautiful ornate features such as stained glass and tiled floors. A Turkish Bath was also built here, giving it an exotic feel.
Unfortunately, by 1993 the golden years has dissipated and the council deemed the building too expensive to run, which resulted in closure. However, the baths still held a place in the people’s hearts, and became a heritage centre. Now, there are exhibitions, open days, and tours run here frequently, offering a way to connect with this special part of Manchester’s history.
Up until 2015, the Cornerhouse was the best place to go in Manchester for indie and arthouse cinema showings. Its merging with a new, up-scale project called HOME kicked up a bit of a fuss in the local neighbourhood, but even though the original project comes under a new guise, it still serves its purpose. Stop by the cinema at HOME for classic, world, and independent films. This new movie theatre plays a handful of films every day so there’s sure to be something interesting on while you’re in town.
There’s plenty of green space in Manchester, but some parks are a cut above the rest. Whitworth Park makes a scenic spot, alongside a visit to Whitworth Art Gallery. The centre has recently undergone a £15 million development and houses a collection of 55,000 piece of artwork, from fine art to textiles, print, and even wallpaper.
If you’re in Whitworth with your family or children, pick up a free art hamper from the gallery and take it out into the park. These are full of art supplies and make for a fun way to combine creativity and getting out in the fresh air. Hampers are available daily from the centre.
For something with a little more variety, head to Fletcher Moss Park & Botanical Gardens in Didsbury. Here you can walk in woodland, by the riverside, and among a wide range of different plants. Open every day of the year from dawn until dusk, this is a fool-proof day out in Manchester.
If you’re of the more active persuasion, stop by the National Cycling Centre to try to the BMX or MTB tracks. Having undergone a major transformation in 2011, this is one of the most comprehensive cycling centres in the UK, with a wide and varied programs of things to do. Bike hire is available, plus lessons or coaching sessions. There are tracks for riders of all abilities, or a café and NCC tour for those who want to take it easy. Time your visit right and you could watch Team GB practising!
Where to Stay
There are few more unique places to stay in Manchester than at one of the Eclectic Hotels locations. With two properties in the city centre and two in Didsbury, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to this miniature hotel chain – but all provide luxurious and stylish accommodation. With a sharp focus on design and inspiration from their townhouse roots, these hotels are full of character without compromising on decadence.
Rentals and homestays:
As a modern, lively city there are plenty of people in Manchester using AirBnB. If you’re looking for somewhere up-market to stay over a weekend with your partner or a couple of friends, take a look at this city centre apartment, with modern furnishings and exposed brick walls. For slightly more affordable apartments, consider this two bedroom flat in Didsbury, or this beautifully-decorated cosy studio is perfect for a couple in the same area.
If a room is all you need, this bright double in Chorlton has a bunch of great reviews and is located close to a lot of top food and drink hangouts, plus links to the city centre. Around the same area is a cosy single room ideal for solo travellers on a budget, with friendly hosts to boot.
Where to eat and drink
Grindsmith, Takk, and North Tea Power are the shining stars of the coffee houses in Manchester’s city centre, but there are a few gems around the other neighbourhoods. Head to Tea Hive in Chorlton for a quirky, vintage setting and a large selection of teas, cakes, and good coffee. Further east next to Whitworth Park stop by Anchor House Coffee for delicious brews. Cake lovers should not miss And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon in Didsbury, which was voted one of the best tearooms in the UK with a selection of cakes that’s impossible to choose from.
Chorlton Green Brasserie does a solid brunch in a stylish setting, with a small but strong menu that will set you up for a day of exploring the area. Thyme Out Deli in Didsbury is another strong contender for best brunch in Manchester and prides itself on fresher-than-fresh produce. For a gut-busting American-style brunch in the city centre, visit Moose Coffee. The menu here is mighty, with a vast array of waffles, eggs benedict, huevos rancheros, and much, much more. Come hungry.
Lunch and dinner:
Chorlton is good for lunch, in particular tapas at Bar San Juan, a place that’s much easier to get into during lunch hours as opposed to battling the heaving crowd in the evening. Also try Barbakan Deli, a local favourite with Polish roots that shouldn’t be missed on a Saturday when giant pans are set up outside cooking up all kinds of sausages. Come on other days for giant sandwiches. Mish Mash and The Lead Station are top choices for dinner in Chorlton.
You could walk around anywhere in Manchester and find a good place to have dinner, but if you want some pointers for world food check out Seoul Kimchi for Korean, Ziya for a contemporary Indian restaurant, or De Nada for highly-rated South American flavour.