City Guide: Manchester

A city break full of art, culture and, of course, a side of shopping

Words by Síomha Connolly
November 10th, 2016

With a rich industrial heritage, specifically in textile manufacturing, signs of the industrial revolution are still present in Manchester today. The urbanisation of the northern city took place around the 19th century, quickly becoming the urban hub it is today. A place where old and new collides and Gothic architecture sits side by side with more modern design and old factory buildings that circle around the city centre, giving you an idea of where the industry started, Manchester is definitely a city worth visiting.

A short stroll around the city centre and you can see the rich blend of history and culture not only from the architecture but from the abundance of museums and galleries open for visitors. At the moment, parts of the urban landscape are under construction as they develop Manchester even further. With cranes and construction sites around every corner, Manchester is a city undergoing change once again. The regeneration of the Northern Quarter has made it the creative and alternative heart of Manchester. It’s where you’ll most likely find you spend most of your time during your trip, with an plethora of cool cafés, bars and restaurants, it’s easy to while away the hours roaming the small streets.

Thankfully, one of the best things about Manchester is how you can walk everywhere, so when you do decide to venture further than the Northern Quarter there’s really not much need to use public transport, provided you’re staying within the city centre. Of course, this ultimately means you will find your surroundings much easier if you choose to walk and the chances of you happening upon something unknown and interesting are that much higher. Though if you would rather rest your feet and take a bus or tram, the services are very regular and cheap too, there is even a free shuttle bus service that goes in three routes around the city.

While we all know Manchester is a top destination for football fanatics, if you have no interest in the sport (or need to kill some time while your other half goes off to watch a match!) read on to find out the best places to eat, drink and shop while visiting the UK’s third largest city.

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City Hall
Library Walk
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Central Library

Breakfast


For your first stop of the day make it Foundation Coffee House or the nearby Fig + Sparrow. Fuel yourself with their delicious coffee and tasty breakfast selection. In both spots you’ll find a bunch of people working on their laptops with Foundation Coffee House being described as a “co-working space” it is always full of creative types in the midst of meetings or simply enjoying the surroundings while working away and indulging in their morning coffees. The minimalist interior provides the perfect backdrop for your coffee break. Foundation Coffee House also hosts Yoga classes every weekend and movie nights on Sundays while Fig + Sparrow houses a selection of lifestyle and homeware goods, perfect if you need to pick up some presents to bring home.

Foundation Coffee House
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Foundation Coffee House

Lunch


After a spot of sightseeing and exploring the city, make a pit stop at Evelyn’s Cafe Bar or Federal Cafe for lunch. What’s interesting about most of the cafés around the city centre (specifically in the Northern Quarter) is that they all generally offer an all day brunch menu rather than lunch. This can result in a lot of their menus being very similar which is worth keeping in mind when eating out for both breakfast and lunch. However, we can safely recommend the French toast with mixed berries and salted caramel in Federal Cafe (see photo below for evidence!). Meanwhile, Evelyn’s is a gorgeous spot filled to the brim with plants and flowers and their menu is nice and varied. The cafés we visited all seemed to have industrial style interiors, warmed up with ambient lighting, fresh flowers and plants which make for a visually pleasing midday feast.

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Evelyn's Cafe Bar
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Evelyn's Cafe Bar
Federal Cafe
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Federal Cafe

Sightseeing


Despite its industrial heritage the architecture is pleasantly surprising in Manchester. Beautiful old Gothic buildings are scattered around the city juxtaposed with more modern designs. Worth visiting is the Town Hall as well as some of the top class hotels such as The Palace and The Midland. Get lost in the beautiful surroundings of John Rylands Library, a glorious Gothic building which houses some of the oldest books in the world. One of those age old libraries complete with hidden staircases, tunnels and the most stunning stained glass windows, think of it as a little taste of Hogwarts.

John Rylands Library
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John Rylands Library
River Irwell

Culture


To get your culture fix head to Whitworth Art Gallery which has recently been renovated. The 120 year old exhibition space received a £15 million refurbishment complete with floor to ceiling windows that wrap around one side of the building, inviting visitors in to explore the many wonders housed inside. Manchester Art Gallery is right in the centre of the city and has a good selection of exhibits and is worth checking out if there’s an exhibition that catches your eye. HOME is a great option for a quiet night, it’s a culture venue that features two theatres, five screening rooms and art exhibitions throughout the building. They show the best in new independent cinema, emerging artists exhibitions and host regular workshops too.

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The Whitworth
Manchester Art Gallery

Shopping


If you’re interested in high street shopping Manchester is definitely a good destination for you. The Arndale shopping centre, Market Street and surrounding area have everything you need. One store not to be missed is & Other Stories situated on Exchange Street (a maven46 favourite). Just down from Market Street you’ll find Zara on New Cathedral Street, from there you can make your way up to more high-end department stores such as House of Fraser and Selfridges. Manchester has a number of independent boutiques for men’s clothing such as Oi Polloi and Note in the Northern Quarter but unfortunately there isn’t quite the same variety for women where shopping choices are largely reduced to high street or vintage stores which, dependent on your style, are worth a visit.

One independent shop not to miss is Magma, a haven for any magazine enthusiasts. You’ll find every magazine you could want in here from the classics such as Paris and Italian Vogue, indie titles Cereal and Kinfolk to more up-and-coming titles such as Dansk and Unconditional. Allow yourself time to browse as it’s easy to get lost in among the magazines. For stationery enthusiasts visit craft shop Fred Aldous and don’t forget to get your picture taken in the vintage photobooth, it’ll make for a great momento of your trip.

Magma
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Fred Aldous

Dinner and drinks


For dinner you’ll find a whole host of options around the city. We recommend heading for Edge Street and the surrounding streets in the Northern Quarter where you’ll find plenty of choice and a lively atmosphere. Common, Yard & Coop and Luck Lust Liquor & Burn are all worthy options. You could also visit the Corn Exchange which has a selection of restaurants including Pho, Wahacca and Mowgli. Ply on Lever Street is a great option for pizza lovers, where a woodfired oven, craft beers and a relaxed atmosphere will set you up for the evening.

For cocktails that will surprise try The Alchemist in Spinningfields, a molecular mixology bar that won’t disappoint. For beautiful surroundings with Victorian features visit the recently opened Refuge by Volta in the Palace Hotel and enjoy a drink in their winter garden. Or for those who are fans of the bubbly, “Push for Prosecco” at Albert’s Schloss, a German style beer house and what seems to be one of the busiest spots in the city. Come for the prosecco button, stay for the atmosphere. If you’re not one to call it a night early head to Soup Kitchen or Gorilla, both live music venues that play host to both international and local bands, performers and DJs.

Refuge by Volta
Refuge by Volta
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Albert's Schloss
Albert's Schloss
The Alchemist
The Alchemist

Stay


The Ainscow Hotel is a central hotel just a ten minute walk to the city centre. Located on the train line, it’s very conveniently located with spacious rooms and delicious breakfast options, complete with a gorgeous rooftop area where you can have a drink or simply enjoy the view over the city. With rooms starting from £98 for two people sharing (£116 with breakfast included) The Ainscow is the perfect place to base yourself for a city break in Manchester. If you’re in the market for a luxury hotel for a special occasion you could splash out on The Kingstreet Townhouse, which comes complete with a rooftop pool overlooking the city. Rooms start from £120 (last minute booking) for two people sharing.

The Ainscow Hotel Rooftop
The Ainscow Hotel Bedroom

Getting there


Aer Lingus Regional operates flights between Dublin and Manchester up to six times daily with lead in fares from €19.99 one way. Flights between Cork and Manchester operate up to three times daily with lead in fares from €29.99 one way. Fares include taxes and charges.

For more information on fare and flight times, visit www.aerlingus.com.

 

*Sponsored by Aer Lingus Regional

All images are taken by photographer Liadh Connolly, you can see some more of Liadh’s work at liadhc.com.