Generations of great rock bands have shaped the city’s cultural landscape, but there’s far more to the ‘London of the north.’
Manchester resounds in cultural activities, from the bi-annual Manchester International Festival to ongoing events at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester Art Gallery and (in Salford Quays) The Lowry put on great live shows and a slew of blockbuster exhibitions.
The ‘Madchester’ culture has mellowed since Happy Mondays’ heyday, but the student scene ensures it’s never too quiet. Venues such as The Ritz and Band on the Wall still entertain an eclectic crowd from indie fans to folkies. The Great Northern has changed the leisure landscape in the centre of town – this converted warehouse holds a bowling alley, cinema, restaurants and some bars. In the creative district of the Northern Quarter, Apotheca is a friendly bar, its stylish interior given a twist with pharmacy cabinets. But for something more conventional, Cloud 23 has floor-to-ceiling windows to make the most of its views from the 23rd floor of the Hilton Hotel.
For informal café culture, the Northern Quarter is hard to beat. Oklahoma is a delightfully kitsch vegetarian and vegan restaurant-meets-gift shop and North Tea Power serves a reviving (and chic) cuppa and snack when you’ve been prowling the surrounding boutiques all morning. There’s a great selection of fine dining options too. Piccadilly’s Grill on New York Street serves carefully sourced eats from northern English farms and stellar seafood dishes. Award-winning chef Michael Caines offers modern British and European cooking with superb attention to detail at the Abode Hotel and Stock, in the former Edwardian stock exchange building, has a sophisticated and modern take on classic Italian cooking. There are great basement eateries in Chinatown, and Rusholme has its famous ‘curry mile’ of family-run Indian restaurants, but the best Asian options are the Japanese New Samsi on Whitworth Street and the stylish Punjabi cooking at East Z East on Princess Street.
Wander King Street and St Ann’s Square for boutiques and designer brands. For something more quirky, explore the Northern Quarter. Vintage and second-hand shops and music store Piccadilly Records have helped cement the area’s hip reputation. Afflecks is an alt-style institution with a vibrant spirit. Over four floors, get everything here, from a gorilla suit to a hand-made skirt to a tattoo.