It's regarded as a cradle of capitalism, the world’s first industrial city (and also where Marx and Engels began writing The Communist Manifesto). The ‘market’ has played a huge role in Manchester’s rise and fall and renaissance, and mirroring the UK city’s current tourism boom is a revitalised market scene that is thriving and diverse. You'll find plenty to browse – and consume – at these hot spots.
The festive season sees Manchester sprinkled with alpine-style huts serving refreshments and other goodies, with the biggest cluster perched in front of the magnificent neo-Gothic town hall (built when the city was known as Cottonopolis, thanks to its once-booming cotton trade). While all the mulled wine, bratwursts and crepes give the markets a European flavour, there’s a distinct ‘local’ feel, too, not just in the accents of most punters, but the tunes from Mancunian rockers Oasis drifting from buskers’ guitars and market speakers, and stalls laden with prints, mugs and badges of Mancunian landmarks, musicians and footballers. The Christmas markets run annually from mid-November to December 21.
Every Saturday (12noon-10pm), Grub Food Fair turns the Alphabet microbrewery, behind Manchester’s Piccadilly station, into a groovy little hub of street eats, drinks and music. Enjoy the likes of Indian kati rolls and garlic chive dumplings with Alphabet brews such as Flat White stout, as DJs play funk, hip-hop, soul and disco.
Another cool pop-up, set in a huge, restored, canal-side mill in the Ancoats district, is Royal Mills Market. Staged on the first Saturday of each month (10am-4pm), it sells artisan coffee, food, clothes and art. Meanwhile, the Makers Market does a roaring trade in retro goodies, creative design-wares and gourmet bites at various Manchester locations, including Spinningfields Square (third Saturday and Sunday of the month) and Stevenson Square in the hip, happening Northern Quarter (second Sunday). You might spot quirky gifts embossed with a worker bee (the enduring symbol of this industrious city).
Five minutes by rail from Piccadilly, the gritty inner-city suburb of Levenshulme hosts a popular, village-style social enterprise every Saturday (between March and December). Levy Market, as it’s known, has a friendly, hippie-chic community vibe with a changing roster of 50 or so vendors in gazebos selling everything from hand-made jewellery and fashions to vintage typewriters and LPs.
There’s often live music, and tasty food and drink. The pick on our visit was The Otto-Men, which sells scrumptious mezze for both carnivores and vegetarians.
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Founded in 1290, Altrincham is one of the more affluent market towns that dot Manchester’s metropolitan sprawl. And it’s well worth the 30-minute Metrolink (tram) trip from Piccadilly.
Altrincham’s Market House, set in a revamped Grade II-listed Victorian building, is one of Britain’s trendiest foodie meccas, where a slew of chalkboard menus advertise dishes teeming with organic regional produce.
Highlights include Tender Cow’s grass-fed, rare-breed steak in sourdough ciabatta, and the cured meats and nutritious salads at Little Window. ‘Alty’ Market is open daily, apart from Mondays, while outside, most of the week and at weekends, you’ll find more stalls selling food, flowers and antiques.
At the opposite (northern) end of the Metrolink line from Altrincham, Bury Market – established around AD1444 – has a more traditional, down-to-earth feel. Boasting more than 300 stalls, indoors and outdoors, it’s the kind of place that sells almost everything you could possibly need (and lots that you don’t), whether it’s knitting yarns and garden shovels or pork pies and Bury black puddings (a local blood sausage delicacy). Voted Britain’s best market several times, and a magnet for coach-loads of bargain hunters, it’s open daily, bar Sundays, with Wednesday, Friday and Saturday the most vibrant.
Bury’s neighbour, the old cotton-spinning mill town of Bolton, has its own sprawling, labyrinthine market that blends the exotic with old-school Northern England. Some aisles lead you past halal butchers, fishmongers and spice merchants; others take you by shoe-sellers, barbers and working tailors.
Food options span the globe, from fish and chips and Lancashire cheeses to Singapore noodles and Cameroonian curries. A craft beer and cider bar fringes the communal seated centrepiece of this recently refurbished market, which is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Bolton is a 20-minute train ride from Piccadilly.
* Featured image: The Manchester skyline. Picture: Getty Images
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