MANCHESTER INSIDER'S GUIDE
...less than an hour from the Peak District by car and 30 minutes by train!
Manchester is the unofficial capital of the north, a city rich in industrial, sporting, musical and cultural heritage and one that has undergone dramatic changes over the last 15 years. Let’s Stay Peak District takes a look at this vibrant nearby city.
The Peak District National Park is fortunate to be flanked by two fantastic, rapidly evolving cities – Sheffield and Manchester – the juxtaposition of the hustle and bustle of city life just a short drive from the peaceful idyll of life in the UK’s first National Park.
Manchester gave birth to the industrial revolution in the late 18th century and so dramatic change is nothing new here. The widespread devastation of the Manchester bombing in 1996 saw much of the city centre and its infrastructure damaged to the tune of over £1 billion, but its redevelopment and reinvention has been astonishing.
Having once been regarded as a gloomy northern depot, Manchester has emerged as a stylish companion to esteemed cities such as Sydney and Barcelona.
Out and About
Manchester has not disregarded its industrial past, and a plethora of museums across the city pay homage to the pioneering role played by the city in the industrial age. Among them are the fascinating Museum of Science & Industry and the Manchester Museum - both free to get in and both offering interactive and family-friendly days out.
The city centre is easy to get about, either on foot or with the tram (Metrolink) running frequently between St Peter’s Square and Piccadilly/Market Street.
At the heart of the city is Albert Square, dominated by the imposing Gothic Town Hall. Just a short walk from here is the state-of-the-art Bridgewater Hall, home to the renowned Hallé Orchestra and a live venue which attracts the biggest names.
Manchester’s musical heritage is arguably unrivalled, and it remains a hotbed of up and coming local bands. The city is teeming with live venues, large and small, the salubrious and the sweaty, and every night of every week Manchester throbs to the sound of live music.
In terms of entertainment, there’s nothing you can’t find; live comedy (Comedy Store, Frog & Bucket) classical music at the Bridgewater Hall, opera, ballet, theatre, galleries, art-house cinema and loads more can be found right across the city, seven days a week.
The esteemed institution that is the Whitworth Art Gallery reopened in February 2015 after a £15m restoration and is well worth a visit, particularly with free admission.
Just outside the city boundaries, in neighbouring Salford, the impressive Lowry Centre contains not only a live venue-cum-theatre, a five star hotel and a shopping arcade, but a vast collection of works by LS Lowry, the city's most famous and distinctive artist.
Food, Drink & Revelry
The bohemian Northern Quarter, developed from derelict warehouses and mills, has become a hipster haven of groovy cafés, shops, bars, restaurants and clubs, and offers an alternative, off-the-beaten track night out.
The city has found itself at the centre of the recent dirty food and gourmet burger boom, and the Northern Quarter is home to two of the best of its kind in Almost Famous and Solita. You’ll get your hands messy but you will not care a jot.
City centre burger kings Almost Famous don't take bookings and, as one of the most popular restaurants in the city, can be subject to queues. Their flagship and original outlet is in the Northern Quarter, but we recommend heading to their other, much bigger restaurant in the Great Northern Warehouse on Deansgate.
Meat feast sanctuary Red’s True BBQ – located on Albert Square - is another US diner style treat, and comes recommended. But if you prefer your meat feasts in more opulent surroundings, pay a visit to Hawksmoor. The top London steak house opened on Deansgate in March 2015, and is already establishing itself as one of the city’s very best restaurants.
Arguably the most in-demand and critically acclaimed restaurant in Manchester is The French. Housed inside the iconic Midland Hotel, The French was re-launched in March 2013 by double Michelin-starred super chef Simon Rogan and has already been showered in industry awards and accolades. It offers a genuinely memorable foodie experience through its innovative cooking and warm service. It will cost you a few bob, and you may be there for hours, but if you have the time and money to spare then The French is a must. More top 10 Manchester restaurants.
Rusholme’s famous ‘Curry Mile’ is well worth a visit for any lover of Indian food (Mughli is exceptional), while other South Manchester suburbs such as West Didsbury and Chorlton also stand out.
Vegetarian restaurant Greens, in West Didsbury, is owned by TV chef Simon Rimmer, while Bar San Juan, on Chorlton’s bohemian Beech Road, offers a uniquely authentic tapas experience – which means rustic, informal and delicious.
Bar San Juan (56 Beech Road, Manchester, M21 9EG) - Chorlton's authentic tapas bar - doesn't take bookings and in warm weather their outdoor tables are like gold dust. We advise you arrive early, grab one and soak up the Spanish atmosphere for a few hours :)
Manchester’s Gay Village, centred around Canal Street, is arguably the most famous of its kind in Europe - and a livelier, more convivial night out you are unlikely to find.
The Castlefield area of the city was designated as Britain's first Urban Heritage Park. It’s made up of a number of renovated relics of Manchester’s industrial past - railway viaducts, canals and old warehouses now posing as waterside bars and pretty walkways, with boat trips (some running to Old Trafford) and major public events and festivals in the Outdoor Arena.
One of the city’s most recent developments is Spinningfields, the high-end business and retail district nestled between Castlefield and Deansgate. Its main street – The Avenue – showcases a host of exclusive stores (Emporio Armani, Mulberry, Flannels) while a number of stylish contemporary bars and restaurants can also be found on and around The Avenue.
It’s not all slick, voguish venues - the 16th-century Oast House is home to an impressive selection of beers, a fire-warmed teepee in the winter and a vibrant and attractive outdoor area for al-fresco eating and drinking in the warmer months.
The City Arms is a cracking little pub hidden away on a back street (Kennedy Street) near Albert Square. No frills, no hipster pretence – just a traditional boozer with 8 hand-pulled ales on at any one time.
Manchester, as you might expect, is rich in fine old pubs including the likes of Sam’s Chop House which serves top notch British grub (Back Pool Fold, Manchester M2 1HN - tel: 0161 934 3210 - ), The Old Wellington Inn and the fantastic Briton’s Protection. Each serves a fine selection of well-kept real ales to be guzzled in the most traditional of settings, and all three come highly recommended.
See a life-size bronze of the artists L.S.Lowry actually sitting at the bar of Sam's Chop House!
Places to Stay
As you’d expect, Manchester boasts a wealth of hotels, including a pair of five star hotels (The Radisson Edwardian and the Lowry Hotel), iconic hotels such as The Hilton and The Midland, plus a range of budget alternatives, such as the Ibis on Portland Street.
City breaks are an increasingly attractive option for many in these times of austerity and Manchester is a city on the up and up. With its two football teams slugging it out at the pinnacle of English football, the city is more vibrant than ever. Less than an hour’s drive from Peak District, or 30 minutes by train on the stunning Hope Valley Line, it's well worth a day trip or a short stay.
It was Stephen Patrick Morrissey who in the 80s sang “Oh, Manchester, so much to answer for”, dripping with negative connotations. Today we have good reason to be grateful to this great northern city.
SEAN M CUMMINS
Last Updated: 6 May 2015