Making the most of Manchester

by jamestennet

Manchester more than lives up to the 'hedonistic party town' hype, but the city also has much to offer in the daytime. Read this guide to learn more about Manchester's lesser-known sober side...

During my time studying at the University of Manchester, I lived in the city for the best part of three years – the perfect opportunity to get to know the place inside out. Predictably though, I didn’t – my time instead, split evenly between studying, drinking, and recovering from drinking. Living a student lifestyle, with a student mindset, this didn’t seem like such a waste at the time.

However, seven post-university months spent travelling through Asia – hopping from town to town, avidly researching the history of each location and thoroughly exploring what every area had to offer – made me realise how embarrassingly little I actually knew about my Northern home from home.

On returning back to the UK, I was determined to rectify this situation. Armed with a guidebook and a clear head I set out to discover what Manchester really has to offer. As it turns out, there’s a lot to do outside the drinking holes.

City Centre

Starting in the centre is a good way to orientate yourself on your first day in the city, and it’s also where you’ll find two of Manchester’s architectural highlights – the Central Library and the Town Hall. Both can be explored internally, but the real visual delights are on the outside.

In terms of architectural eye-candy though, both of these structures are found wanting when compared to the neo-gothic majesty of the John Rylands Library, a mere 200m stroll from the Town Hall (150 Deansgate, http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/librarysites/deansgate/). Visitors enter through the new, glass-walled extension, before exploring four floors of galleries and exhibitions in the Victorian section of the building. The library’s most prized possession is the St. John’s fragment – the earliest known piece of the New Testament in existence. All in all, a truly captivating building that’s well worth a visit

Salford Quays

Back outside the Central Library take a tram to Salford Quays – home to a world-renowned arts centre and an award-winning museum. The former is the Lowry (http://www.thelowry.com/) named after much-loved local artist, LS Lowry. Over 300 of his creations are kept at the complex, and several dozen are on display at any one time. He painted in a very striking and unique fashion - famous for his sketchy 'matchstick men' and vast, unpopulated landscapes – and his works can be as eerie as they are captivating.

A short hop across the shipping canal is the other jewel in Salford’s crown – the Imperial War Museum North (http://north.iwm.org.uk/). An imposing but brilliantly designed building, this IWMN is a wonderfully thought-provoking piece of 21st century architecture; three interlocking shards, representing air, earth and water, sweep up into the sky. The museums interior is no less engrossing – permanent exhibitions are housed in a cavernous hall with sufficient floor space to accommodate tanks and fighter jets. A trip to the IWMN isn’t complete without a ride in the rickety lift up to the rooftop viewing platform. From here you’re granted a unique perspective on the main sights locally - including the Lowry and Old Trafford - as well as panoramic views further afield.

If you’ve still got the appetite for another museum, head back on the tram, but stop short of the city centre and disembark at Castlefield instead. Manchester’s biggest museum – the Museum of Science & Industry (http://www.mosi.org.uk/) – occupies a 2.8 hectare plot here. The primary purpose of this institution is to promote the key role played by Manchester’s leading scientists and thinkers in the Industrial Revolution. Each of the museum’s five buildings contain a distinct collection of treasures, and you won’t regret taking your time to inspect everything on offer.

Northern Quarter

Situated just off Piccadilly Gardens, the Northern Quarter is the heart of Manchester’s alternative scene, with Oldham Street functioning as the main artery. Most frequented for its excess of trendy drinking dens, there is also plenty to do in the daytime. This is the place to come for rare LPs, vintage film posters, custom-made platform boots, and anything in between. If alternative clothing and bizarre accessorising is your thing, a trip to Affleck’s Palace (52 Church Street, http://www.afflecks.com/) is a must – a multi-story shrine to alternative fashion.

Two streets over, you’ll find another of the Northern Quarter’s hidden gems – the Manchester Craft & Design Centre (17 Oak Street, http://www.craftanddesign.com/). Two floors inhabited by specialist, independent artists, each hard at work in their various fields – local photography, abstract painting, handmade jewellery, one-off clothing, ceramic wares. Perfectly complemented by a homely little cafe, the centre isn't particularly well known (even amongst Manchester residents) but you won’t find a more personal or memorable shopping experience anywhere else.

Eat

If you’re planning to sample the Northern Quarter’s nightlife, it is, of course, a good idea to line your stomach first. Of the numerous options in the local area, I’d recommend Trof (6-8 Thomas Street, +44161 833 3197 http://www.trof.co.uk/nq/index.php. English breakfast - £5.95, soup of the day - £2.95, Trof burger - £6.95). One of three branches in the city, Trof is a firm student favourite, and it’s easy to see why – breakfast, lunch and dinner are catered for with generous portions and bargain basement prices, all served up in a supremely laid back atmosphere.

Alternatively, head back towards the town centre and into Chinatown (look for the Imperial Chinese gate on Faulkner Street). Manchester has the second largest Chinese population in the UK, and this is reflected in the quality of the traditional cuisine. One stand out option is Pearl City (33 George Street, +44161 228 7683, http://www.pearlcityrestaurant.co.uk/. Three course lunch - £8.99) but if you’re prepared to wander around for a while you’ll find plenty of excellent offers displayed in restaurant windows.

If Indian is your Eastern food of choice, then you’re also in luck. Jump on any bus heading South down Oxford Street, ride for ten minutes through the heart of the University (looking right to ogle at the illustrious gothic architecture of Whitworth Hall) and you’ll end up in Rusholme (AKA The Curry Mile). As the nickname suggests, this is heaven for curry lovers, with over 70 Asian takeaways and restaurants. You really can’t go wrong here – follow your nose, peruse the menus, take your pick, and enjoy.

Sleep

If you have money to spend then why blow the budget on the luxurious presidential suite in the Hilton hotel (303 Deansgate, From £555/night inc. breakfast, sleeps up to four adults). Alternatively, show a little restraint and ‘slum it’ in the Queen guestroom (from £105/night inc. breakfast, sleeps two).

Another top-range accommodation option is The Palace Hotel (Oxford Street). As hard to miss as the Hilton, The Palace Hotel towers over Oxford Street, right in the heart of the city. It’s one of the most distinctive structures in Manchester, all gothic grandeur and Victorian excess, topped off with an iconic clock tower reaching over 200 feet into the sky. Book online for big savings – doubles from £75/night.

For more frugal travellers, Hatters Hostel (50 Newton Street) in the Northern Quarter is a good bet. This is the ideal place to stay if you’re keen to make the most of the nightlife in this part of town, and you’ll find many like-minded youngsters inside. Prices are as low as £15/night for a spot in an 18-bed dorm or, if you’d prefer more privacy, doubles start at £25/night.

Lessons learned

After three unproductive years as a lazy, student resident in the city, I set out to explore Manchester from a completely fresh perspective – actually getting out there and seeing what the place has to offer. What I found completely changed my understanding and appreciation of the city. The ‘party town’ reputation is fully deserved, but there is an astonishing amount to see and do during daylight hours as well.