Let’s be honest. Generally, Manchester isn’t anywhere near the top of any list of major European cities you absolutely must visit. London? Yeah. Rome? Absolutely. Paris? Definitely. But, the English city of Manchester? Not so much.
Despite originally being from northern England, even I wasn’t aware of the wonders of Manchester until a couple of years ago when I was invited to go on a gin-tasting tour. Since then, I have returned multiple times and continue to feed my affection for the grungy, industrial city. Every trip I set out to unearth something new and what I discover always delights me. So, this is me giving you five reasons to put Manchester at the top of your “I-must-leave-London” UK travel list.
1. Vintage Shopping
Now I know that vintage is my thing; but, Manchester has such incredible vintage offerings, that almost anyone could immediately be transformed into an addict. Most of the vintage stores are located in the ultra-bohemian Northern Quarter, an area that you can easily spend hours wandering around – here is the list of my favorite thrift and vintage stores in Manchester many of which are featured in my real-time Manchester vintage haul. For the music lovers, a visit to the large collection of vinyl at Piccadilly Records is a must, while Paramount Bookshop is a classic secondhand book and comic book store. Some of my favorite independent stores include homewares shop Fig & Sparrow, the studios in the Craft & Design Centre, and Fred Aldous for art supplies.
2. Free Attractions
Culture-wise, Manchester has a lot to offer. So much so that it can be challenging to choose how to spend your time with so many attractive attraction options. Luckily, most of them are free, which not only ensures you can visit as many as you desire but also means extra $$$ for your vintage shopping. As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester has been the backdrop for many revolutionary discoveries and inventions and the Museum of Science and Industry does a fantastic job of documenting and explaining all of them. Combine your time there with a visit to the Bridgewater Canal, considered the first modern canal in Britain.
Unlike any other museum I have ever been to, The People’s History Museum follows Britain’s struggle for democracy over two centuries and hosts various temporary exhibitions related to contemporary issues. On a slightly different (yet still as fascinating) note, the Manchester Museum houses an impressive collection focused around natural history — everything from Egyptian mummies to dinosaur skeletons and unusual beetles.
For art lovers, the Whitworth Art Gallery is a dream come true. Here, you will find a constantly rotating series of exhibitions set inside a building that has won awards for both its collections and its architecture. Manchester Art Gallery is smack-bang in the center of the city and often plays host to exhibitions by world-renowned artists. Inside a former Victorian fish market is the Manchester Craft and Design Centre where local artists and creatives have their studios.
Even for those who aren’t architecture buffs, John Ryland’s Library is worth 30 minutes of your time, as is Manchester’s Town Hall which is one of the most impressive examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in the UK. One of the city’s oldest, most stunning buildings, Manchester Cathedral is a must-see, as are the Edwardian-era Victoria Baths.
The food in Manchester is scrumptious – mainly because you have Curry Mile. Okay, it isn’t technically a mile long, but this section of Wilmslow Road is known for having the largest concentration of South Asian restaurants outside the Indian subcontinent. There is something for everyone who loves a bit of spice. My current recommendations include Mughli for traditional north Indian and Pakistani Mughlai cuisine, Ziya Asian Grill for a higher-end curry, Spicy Mint for some serious sweats (their chefs are the proud winners of a National Curry Chef award), and Sanam Sweets & Restaurant for the most delicious Indian, Pakistani and Middle Eastern desserts and sweets.
4. Rest of the Food & Drink
For breakfast (or a day of work) head to the Northern Quarter favorite, Takk, an ambient coffee house with a subtle Icelandic theme. Foundation Coffee House is another fabulous coffee shop with the city’s most Instagramable interior. For a classic British afternoon tea, Teacup on Thomas Street and Sugar Junction are your best options.
When in Britain, you should eat British food at least once (I promise it isn’t only fish/chips/mushy peas). Mr. Thomas’s Chop House has been serving British cuisine for 140- years and is so good that it will most likely last another 140. Albert’s Shed is a Mancunian favorite and touts itself as “unashamedly British.” Manchester House offers the city’s most famed tasting menu and is perfect for when you want to get dressed up and celebrate life.
Alternatively, if you want to consume something other than sausages and mash, you can find a wide array of other cuisines. The glass pyramid entrance to Australasia always intrigues visitors, but the contemporary Australian cuisine keeps them going back for more. On Oxford Road, you can have a luxurious meal in a stunning setting at The Refuge (reservation necessary). Here you can choose from a tantalizing selection of small plates (the slow-cooked ox cheek with egg & Sriracha and the Broccolini with garlic crumbs are my two picks) and an extensive cocktail list. Rudy’s is supposedly the best pizza in the city, Habesha for your Ethiopian fix, and Vermilion for Thai.
5. Street Art
While Manchester might not have a reputation for street-art like that of Berlin, Athens, or Reykjavik, I predict (in my humble opinion) that it soon will. Thanks in part to the vibrant and creative scene in the Northern Quarter that has kicked off an explosion of intriguing street art. The Outhouse Project in Stevenson Square is a good place to start. Once used as public toilets, the structures in the middle of the square are now the canvas of ever-changing street art exhibitions, done by local artists. Walk around the perimeter of the square to see other interesting pieces on the walls of bars and shops like the iconic blue tit (bird not female body part) that looks out over a vacant lot on Port Street. Keep your eyes open while walking around because there is always something new!