Manchester City Guide

Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square
Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square. Credit: Marketing Manchester

The proud northwest English city of Manchester was built on the textile industry and thrives today as a centre of culture, sport and heritage

Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square
Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square. Credit: Marketing Manchester

Mancunians often like to cheekily claim the title of ‘England’s second city’ for themselves. And while Birmingham and other urban areas may be larger or more populous, Manchester is in many ways a city of firsts.

Over the years, Manchester has been home to the nation’s first free public library, the first municipal park and the first municipal airport. It’s pre-eminence during the Industrial Revolution meant that Britain’s first modern canal, passenger railway and steam-powered mill were built here, while the free trade movement and the Suffragettes have their origins in the city too.

Getting to Manchester

Direct trains run from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly in just over two hours. Manchester Airport is Britain’s largest outside of London, flying to more than 200 destinations worldwide.

Stay in Manchester

Situated opposite the central library, the Midland has hosted royalty, prime ministers and Hollywood A-listers for more than a century. Opt for an afternoon tea in the Octagon Lounge – it oozes old-school grandeur. 

Anyone approaching the city centre from the south will be familiar with the iconic, redbrick clock tower of the former Palace Hotel. Now refurbished and rebranded as part of a UK-wide chain, the Principal is a Grade II listed Gothic revival gem with 270 rooms.

Lobby of the Principal Manchester
Lobby of the Principal Manchester. Credit: Tim Winter

Tweed-clad staff, hand-picked furniture and a rooftop spa pool overlooking the Town Hall make the King Street Townhouse a truly luxurious city centre option.

Eat in Manchester

Co-owned by local soap opera star Jennie McAlpine, Annies is an award-winning restaurant and tea shop. Hearty British classics include fish and chips, and cottage pie.

Chef Aiden Byrne was trained in many Michelin-starred establishments so his 14-course taster menu at Manchester House is packed with delicious dishes to sample.

Tip the world on its head at Australasia, a modern pan-continental restaurant with a stylish, white interior and a menu packed with seafood and steak.

Manchester days out

Relax in Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the Grade II listed former home of the Cranford author. Follow in the footsteps of Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens with a visit to the Regency villa, where one can take tea in the kitchen, browse the bookshop or bask in the restored gardens.

Elizabeth Gaskell's House, Manchester
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, Manchester. Credit: Lee Avison/Alamy

Discover the city’s industrial heritage at Quarry Bank, a restored 1784 cotton mill just a mile’s drive from Manchester Airport. A new glasshouse and worker’s cottage will open later this year.

Listen to a concert at the Bridgewater Hall, famed for being built entirely on springs to guarantee better acoustics and home of the Hallé – the UK’s oldest symphony orchestra.

Learn about British culture and democracy at the People’s History Museum. The permanent collection features political cartoons, protest posters and more.

Drink in the Victorian ambience with a tipple at Mr Thomas’s Chop House, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2017. Vintage tiles and Art Nouveau details add charm.

Live like a local

Manchester resident Caroline Sheehan, childrenswear designer and co-founder of The Curve, shares her tips for getting the most out of the city.

“The John Rylands Library is an architectural Victorian neo-gothic gem. Found on Deansgate, it is full of special collections, historical treasures and a lovely cafe. I find it a great place to escape in the middle of the city.

HOME is a bit of a cultural hub in Manchester, a merger of two former arts venues: Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre. At HOME there’s a cinema, theatre, art exhibitions, and drinks.

“For food, try the Refuge by Volta. Set in the old Refuge Assurance building within the Principal hotel, you can drink or dine in its stunning Art Deco surrounds day or night. Afternoon tea in the winter garden, cocktails in the den, private dining – whatever you have planned there, it’ll be a treat.”

Book bag

Manchester: Making the Modern City by (ed.) Alan Kidd and Terry Wyke, is a good reference book for swotting up on your history, while A Grim Almanac of Manchester by Michala Hulme, gives a somewhat grittier take on the city’s past.

For the full feature on Manchester see the Mar/Apr 2017 (May 2017 in the US) issue of BRITAIN.

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