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MAD FOR MANCHESTER

Published: Thursday, December 01, 2016    



The capital cities of Europe are an obvious draw for tourists, with their famous landmarks, historic sites, and glamorous shopping streets.

However, as many seasoned travellers will tell you, a country’s lesser heralded towns can often turn out to be hidden gems that reveal a different, equally fascinating side of life. Great examples in Europe include Valencia in Spain, Marseilles in France, and Leipzig in Germany – and across the English Channel in the United Kingdom, it has to be Manchester.

A HISTORY OF INDUSTRY

Located in the northwest of England with a rich industrial heritage, Manchester’s history traces back almost two millennia. The frst recorded settlement in the area began in Roman times, when General Julius Agricola, marching northwards with conquest in mind, built a fort in what he considered a good defensible position just north of the present day city.

However, it was not until the 18th century that this inconspicuous little medieval township sprang into the forefront of world attention, and not until the mid-19th century that it became a city.

During the industrial revolution, Manchester became the hub of a wide network of many small Lancashire townships that serviced the city's massive cotton industry. Each sent their woven and spun produce to the Royal Exchange and from there to the world via the newly created Manchester Ship Canal, and received raw materials which were distributed out from the city and its wellestablished system of canals and railways.

Steam power drove Victorian Manchester, with water from the many local rivers like the Irwell, Medlock, Irk and Tame, and coal from the Duke of Egerton's Bridgewater Canal to Castlefeld, or other coal pits around Wigan. A network of newly cut and navigable canals enabled the efficient transportation of raw materials and manufactured goods right into the heart of the city.

Even today, Manchester is marked by its many fne surviving warehouses – now mostly resurrected as hotels and executive apartments – and mills. It held onto its reputation as the prime source of world textiles until its decline in the Fifttes, when cheaper foreign import of cotton from India sounded the death knell for the region's pre-eminence.

A COOL, CULTURAL HOTSPOT

Fast forward to modern day, and Manchester has reinvented itself as a cultural hotspot – particularly known for a great music and fashion scene, excellent museums and galleries – and being home to two rather famous football clubs.

For visitors, there is a huge variety of things to do, from record collecting to ghost hunting, and from libraries to night clubs. If you’re planning to pay a visit, here are some of the highlights you shouldn’t miss.

WHERE TO GO, WHAT TO SEE


THE POLICE MUSEUM

Located in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, The Police Museum takes you through the history of crime and policing in the city. Housed in an old police station there are real cells and it is staffed by volunteer ex-policemen who tell wonderful tales of policing from the Sixties and Seventies in the days before walkie talkies.

KING BEE RECORDS

Established in 1987, King Bee Records is rightly now one of Manchester’s most famous shops, selling rare and second hand records and CDs to a city that simply can’t get enough music. It stocks every genre, and has been described as ‘the sorting offce for all record collectors in South Manchester’. It’s a favourite of DJ royalty across the city.

WATCH FC UNITED

Manchester is a football city, famous for City and United, rivals that are now amongst the richest clubs in the world. However, for an alternative, grass roots option go and see FC United, the team formed in protest against the Glazer’s takeover of Manchester United. They currently play in Ashton but will soon be moving into their own ground in Moston. It’s just £8 to get in and you can stand and sing, just like the old days.

LEVENSHULME MARKET

Running every Saturday from March until December, this may be the best market in Manchester. It has over 50 traders selling vintage clothing, crafted homeware, plants, gifts and wonderful street food.

GO FOR A RICE ‘N’ 3

One of the things that many Manchester exiles miss is the Rice ‘n’ 3, so called because you get rice and three curries, all for £5. You often end up sharing tables, and there is simply a jug of water on the table for drinks, but there are fewer, greater lunchtime dining experiences in the city. The best, such as This 'N' That and Yadgar, are found in the Northern Quarter.

VISIT MANCHESTER’S UNDERWORLD

Take a tour under the streets of Manchester and hear tales of ghosts and hauntings, as you experience an aspect of the city that few locals even know about. Not always for those with a nervy temperament, but nevertheless fascinating.

PARAMOUNT BOOKSHOP

This wonderful bookshop, located in the city centre just up from The Printworks, has been open since 1965 and sells paperbacks, comics, sci-f novels, and loads of other printed stuff. The owner plays the most divine jazz and classical music, and it is easy to feel like you’ve stepped through a portal into another time.

JOHN RYLANDS LIBRARY

The John Rylands library is one of the most beautiful buildings in Manchester, and worth a visit even if you’re not studying. The library is home to an astonishing collection of historic books and manuscripts and students often go there to sit peacefully amongst the magnifcence, and simply be part of such great history.

FLETCHER MOSS

On the edge of the city, in upmarket Didsbury, is Fletcher Moss park and Parsonage Gardens. Not only is it a delightful, tranquil place, full of flowers and old trees, there’s a café too. A splendid space to visit to refresh the soul.

CASTLEFIELD

Originally the site of the Roman fort Mamucium, which gave Manchester its modern name, Castlefeld still presents a real sense of Manchester’s industrial past, with sturdy iron work bridges carrying trains and trams above the canals and red brick warehouses. The area has now evolved into a residential quarter and night time venue. You get a great view from the tram line at dusk.

WALK ALONG THE CANAL

Starting from by the Lock Keeper’s cottage in Castlefeld, the Rochdale canal runs endoscopically through the city, providing a wonderful view of Victorian Manchester, as it makes its way up behind Whitworth St, through the Village, into the Piccadilly Basin and onwards to Ancoats.

BECOME AN EXPERT CHINESE CHEF

If you love cooking, and love Oriental food, then head up to the Wing Yip supermarket on Oldham Road. It’s stocked with inspiring and unusual ingredients from all around Asia. Check out the size of the rice cookers they sell, too. And if the shopping makes you hungry, go upstairs to the Glamorous restaurant which, on Sundays, has Hong Kong style dim sum trolleys.

AFFLECK’S PALACE

This emporium of retail delight makes it onto nearly every list of things to do in Manchester, and so it should. Housed in the old Affleck’s and Brown department store building, this venue has served generations of those that see the world a bit differently. There are jewellers, indie fashion designers, vintage stalls and fortune tellers. Oh, and a cheap as chips café on the top floor, where you get the best fry-ups in the city centre.

MANCHESTER MUSEUM

A favourite with children and adults this brilliant museum, attached to the university buildings, has inspiring displays of Egyptian mummies, ancient artifacts collected from around the world and a sublime animal gallery, showcasing stuffed animals. It also has a vivarium.

THE PLAZA

Although technically in Stockport, The Plaza deserves to be on this list. It’s a glorious Thirties cinema, now staffed by volunteers, that shows golden oldie flms and has an organist emerging through the floor, playing a Wurlitzer. There’s a tea room above the cinema, where you’re served by sweet old ladies wearing traditional black and white uniforms.

A HIDDEN GEM

It’s worth taking the time to seek out the 200-year-old Catholic Church, secreted away just near Albert Square. The ornate interior has marble columns, fabulous stained glass, and an original contemporary artwork, Adams Station of The Cross, which has received critical acclaim.

MANCHESTER CITY ART GALLERY

This museum boasts a world-famous collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings on show, including the famous Work by Ford Maddox Brown. There is a programme of visiting exhibitions, as well as design work. The café is good and there’s a really fun children’s area too.

THE VINTAGE BEAUTY PARLOUR

The Vintage Beauty Parlour, also in Chorlton, is the only one of its type in Manchester. Situated in an old newsagent’s, amongst terraced streets, you can have your hair and makeup done in true vintage styles. It’s available for parties too.

RICHMOND TEA ROOMS

The sumptuous Richmond Tea Rooms is located just behind Chorlton Street coach station. The interior is a venerable explosion of colour and old fashioned Englishness, with a Manchester cap very much doffed towards the local Victorian heritage. Cakes to make your tongue tap dance, and a menu of speciality teas, makes this venue the best place in town for afternoon tea. At night you can drink in the bar attached, which is no less decorous.

MEDIA CITY AT DUSK

Media City, now home to the BBC and numerous production companies, is technically in Salford but you can get there easily by tram from Manchester. The modern architecture, when lit up at dusk, is a magical sight as the reflections of the multi-coloured windows shimmer across the water of the Salford Quays basin. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area too, as well as the Lowry Theatre and the Imperial War Museum North.

THE SIP CLUB

In the southern suburb of Stretford, hidden up some stairs above an estate agent’s, and without a sign, is the Sip Club. This award-winning bar has the feel of someone’s front room and is something of a secret venue for the trendy folk of south Manchester. Serving food sourced locally, and with hops drinks that are celebrated by CAMRA, this venue deserves success.

THE CURRY MILE, RUSHOLME

Known locally as curry mile, Wilmslow Road in Rusholme has long been the established centre of spicy cuisine and saris. The neon lit strip has recently begun to evolve, and many of the old restaurants have now become shisha bars. However, it’s still a great place to go for a meal and to taste some of the wonderful authentic cakes and desserts in the cafés.

THE ROADHOUSE

Manchester is a city that could probably pump music through the veins of its citizens rather than blood, and this famous old venue has seen many of the fnest advocates play in its darkened downstairs rooms. It is a legend generator, and an essential part of the city’s musical heritage.

THE MANCUNIAN WAY

The Mancunian Way has become an icon of the city, and is often referred to in dreamy, romantic terms, which may seem odd as it’s simply a road that often gets clogged with rush hour traffc. However, as it skirts the southern edge of Manchester centre, it presents wonderful views into the city, whose buildings sit boldly beneath huge cotton skies. It has inspired numerous flms, photographs and paintings, so it’s worth taking the two-mile trip along the city’s most famous stretch of tarmac.
 
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