Beyond Football – 6 More Reasons To Visit Manchester

4 February 2019
Read Time: 7.0 mins

Mention Manchester and, chances are, football (soccer) will spring to mind. Not surprising really considering the city has birthed two of the world's most famous clubs, Manchester United and Manchester City. Yet while football-loving tourists flock here from across the globe, this vibrant, constantly evolving city is a magnet for many other kinds of visitors, too. Here are six of the best reasons to swing by.

neo-Gothic Reading Room at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester The neo-Gothic Reading Room at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester.

Music and nightlife

Interior of Matt & Phred's Jazz Club in Manchester Check out the tunes and cool vibes at Matt & Phreds Jazz Club.

Joy Division. New Order. The Smiths. Oasis. Manchester has produced an extraordinary array of musical talent and you can follow in these icons' footsteps on nostalgic tours that take in their old stomping grounds (think: the vinyl record shops where Oasis' Gallagher brothers would fossick for albums and the basement bar where Happy Mondays was founded). Known for its buzzing nightlife, Manchester boasts a slew of live music venues from cavernous arenas and classical concert halls to smaller venues like Matt & Phreds Jazz Club and Band on The Wall, which both attract acclaimed jazz, funk and soul acts. Summer sees a glut of outdoor festivals, notably Parklife in Heaton Park (a 15-minute tram ride from the city centre).

Arts and culture

Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester Whitworth Art Gallery is one of many exhibition spaces in Manchester.

Fancy watching top-notch comedy and drama in gorgeous surrounds? Make a beeline for the Royal Exchange, which has an intimate, in-the-round theatre in a palatial Victorian building (cotton traders sold their wares here when Manchester was a booming industrial metropolis nicknamed 'Cottonopolis'). Another good spot is HOME, a glossy new theatre and arts hub on Tony Wilson Place (a square named after the ex-boss of Factory Records and the now-defunct Hacienda nightclub where The Smiths and co would play). Galleries dot the city, including Manchester Art Gallery, which showcases exhibits from British and international artists from the Middle Ages to the present day. Another cultural gem is the Lowry, a multi-purpose waterfront arts centre at Salford Quays. Among its drawcards are LS Lowry's distinctive, matchstick-men paintings of industrial Manchester.

Manchester International Festival, Festival Square Manchester International Festival at Festival Square by day.

Then there’s the Manchester International Festival (MIF). The biennial arts festival has been running during the British summers since 2007, and focuses on original, new work and innovative events. With events taking place right across the city, this year you can catch live music, exhibitions and performance between July 5 and 21, 2019.

Fashion and shopping

Shopping at the Lowry Centre in Salford Quays, Manchester Shopping at the Lowry Centre in Salford Quays.

Shopping is a pleasure in Manchester's compact, walkable core. West of the Arndale mall, which is home to 200 outlets, you'll find high-end brands at Harvey Nichols and Selfridges on New Cathedral Street, and Armani in the swish Spinningfields district. East of the Arndale, you could spend hours rummaging through the alternative, independent fashion stores of Afflecks, a quirky, four-storey emporium where Lady Gaga had a browse prior to a 2014 gig.

Woman holding bunch of flowers standing outside Northern Flower, Manchester Northern Flower specialises in one-of-kind blooms and plants in the hip Northern Quarter neighbourhood.

A former fish market, the Manchester Craft and Design Centre is a hive of jewellers and artists (you can buy handmade goodies here and watch artisans at work in their studios). Street stalls sprinkle the city throughout the year,with the Christmas markets spilling out in front of the beautiful neo-Gothic town hall.

Food and drink

High tea closeup Don't miss high tea with a twist in one of Manchester's many cafes.

Manchester is Britain's most cosmopolitan city outside London, which is reflected in the cuisine. You'll find excellent dim sum in one of Europe's oldest Chinatowns, a 'Curry Mile' studded with south Asian and Middle Eastern eateries, and restaurants run by everyone from Parisians to Brazilians. In the Northern Quarter, Manchester's most hip and happening neighbourhood, once-derelict textile warehouses and factories are now trendy venues like Tariff & Dale, a hub of craft beers, cocktails and contemporary British food. For good coffee, hit Federal, a Kiwi-Aussie cafe with a brunchy Antipodean vibe. There are some wonderful old pubs in Manchester, such as the Briton's Protection, which serves real ales and more than 300 whiskies in a cosy establishment dating back to 1806.

Industrial heritage

Manchester Ship Canal in Salford and Trafford, Greater Manchester The Manchester Ship Canal in Salford and Trafford. (Image: Julian Elliott)

When the weather's good, you should enjoy a leisurely walk by the city's Victorian-era canals. The most photogenic area is Castlefield, not far from where the Romans founded Mamucium in 79AD. If it's raining (like it occasionally does in Manchester), there are plenty of superb admission-free museums that will entertain the whole family. You can relive the city's industrial revolution at MOSI (the Museum of Science & Industry) in Castlefield. As well as hands-on diversions, such as textile weaving, there are vintage locomotives and steam-powered mill wheels to peruse.

Swanky and historic hotels

Radisson Blu hotel in Manchester The historic facade of Radisson Blu hotel in Manchester. (Image: Andrew Pickett)

Manchester's incredible mish-mash of architecture includes scores of buildings constructed during its 'Cottonopolis' days and some have been converted into outstanding hotels. Seek out the Radisson Blu Edwardian, which occupies the Free Trade Hall, and Hotel Gotham, an eclectic affair inside the Art Deco-style former Midland Bank. Another good accommodation option is The Principal, which is set in a giant red-brick and terracotta building with a vast clock tower. Wherever you stay, you're likely to get a warm welcome. Mancunians are some of the friendliest folk you'll meet on your British travels.

The great outdoors

Ullswater in the Lake District Jumping off a boat into the lake at Ullswater in the Lake District.

When you’ve had enough of the city, one of the UK’s most beautiful natural wilderness regions is just a car ride from town. A 90-minute drive north of Manchester (or a similar time on the train) is the UNESCO World Heritage Lake District. Famous for its lakes, forests and mountains, there are hiking and biking trails for all levels of fitness, boating adventures, caves and more! When you’ve had enough activity for one day, you can explore some of the historic towns about the region, such as Hawkshead where Beatrix Potter lived and wrote many of her famous stories.

All images: VisitBritain

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Steve McKenna

A regular contributor to some of Australia's leading newspapers and travel magazines, Steve McKenna has visited, written about and photographed more than 80 countries on six different continents. He fears he has an incurable case of wanderlust and is particularly fond of Europe, Asia and South America.