It’s hard to see your hometown through a visitors’ eyes. It’s like asking yourself the question ‘Am I a nice person?’ I can’t answer that. You’d have to ask someone else. Actually, maybe you should ask someone else about Manchester. Truth be told, I’ve never considered it to be a tourist magnet. Its beaches aren’t the best, you won’t need the factor 30 sun cream, the skiing is rubbish, and the ancient monuments aren’t ancient. Yet it is the third most visited city in the Britain with around one and a half million per year (London is first, Edinburgh is second). So, it is a tourist destination, even if I’m not sure why. Of course, I think Manchester is a fantastic town (we don’t say city), but I’m biased. I’m going to try and answer the question ‘shouldigo2 Manchester’?
It is an odd truth about Britain that most of the tourist ‘must sees’ are in the capital. That isn’t true of many countries. Who would pick Washington over New York? Most people don’t even know that Canberra is the capital of Australia. They think Sidney is. And even if our capital has its charms; France is more than Paris, Spain is more than Madrid, and Italy is more than Rome. Shouldn’t Britain be more than London?
It’s weird that we seem to offer so little else city-wise. British culture has been London-centric for hundreds of years (it still is) yet its dominance shouldn’t be inevitable. I’m not criticising London and I like visiting the place. It gets thirteen times as many visitors as Manchester every year and I’m often one of them. But Manchester offers something else. It seems to orbit London at a distance and feel little of its gravitational pull. Mancunians (Mancs) don’t look south for a role model.
I think many people in the south assume Manchester aspires to be a second London, but this viewpoint is itself London-centric. Though I’ve no right to speak for them, I’d say my fellow Mancs want it to be a better, improved town, but not an imitation of somewhere else. In terms of the arts and culture, London has more, because that is generally where money has been invested. If I want to watch a few of the latest shows, I go down to London and join the tourists in the theatre. But most of the bums on seats will be fellow tourists, not cockneys. London is swamped by tourism, but Manchester is only flavoured by it. I suspect that the locals are priced out of the West End. Mancs aren’t priced out of Manchester to the same extent. Whatever you’re buying, as a rule of thumb, expect any prices to be 50% less up here in the north.
If you are looking for a good time, then a search through the plethora of bogus ‘best nightlife in the UK’ links on Google quickly makes its point. Cities in the north of the UK are cheaper than those in the south. Places like Huddersfield, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield score highly on price. Manchester’s strength amongst the northern options is in the variation, range and scale of what’s on offer. There’s a lot of choice to suit every pocket. For example, last tear we saw ‘The King and I’ in the West End for £100 a ticket, and six months later at The Palace in Manchester for half that. It was mostly the same cast.
So, what’s on offer? The town centre has three large concert venues, including; the Manchester Arena, The Apollo, Bridgewater Hall (classical), and numerous smaller places. There are several large theatres; The Palace, The Opera House, The Royal Exchange, The Library Theatre, and The Lowry. The Royal Exchange is a ‘theatre in the round’. It puts on top quality productions with great casts. It’s a very intimate venue, fashioned like a moon landing craft, and set in the old Corn Exchange building.
Of course, Manchester has museums, art galleries, parks, though to be honest, only what other places have. One could argue they’re the best outside the capital, but I wouldn’t bother with that claim. Really, if you want the best, then the nation’s historical treasures are in London. Mind you, we do have the oldest fragment of New Testament scripture in the world. It is on display in the John Rylands Library.
Manchester has more pubs/bars than anywhere outside of London, however. Also, as the town centre is smaller and more compact, it’s easier to get around. The night life is better geographically focused than in the ‘old smoke’. My favourite pub is ‘The City Arms’ near St Peter’s Square, a superb real-ale house and a very traditional boozer. In my dotage I like precisely the kind of quiet, trad pub that I despised in my youth. But there’s a lot to choose from and this link to Time Out magazine gives a useful list of contemporary watering holes.
Over the last decade or so, the ‘Northern Quarter’ has been developed into an area of modern bars and restaurants. In my youth it was a rather dowdy, run-down district, given over to the rag trade. Nowadays, it’s popular with young people and older ones who like to think they’re young (bitch). Special mention must got to Mackie Mayors‘, a food market and drinking joint. It gets too busy at weekends, be warned. The new developments here have kept the frontages of older buildings but refurbished the insides. Recently, this area has extended further north into Ancoats, which has become quite chic.
Manchester has a thriving gay scene traditionally centred on Canal Street. The area is known as Gay Village and there is an annual Pride festival which attracts thousands and raises money for LGBT+ charities as well as being a weekend of partying for all. BTW, I do hope my wife checks my Google search history. It should lead to a fascinating conversation.
There are pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants, to suit every taste and to suit many a pocket. Regardless of the quality of university education (It’s good), the city is a popular choice for students. Ease of transport is a likely factor in this. Alongside the inevitable bus and train services since 1992, Manchester has had a modern tram system. It utilises old railway lines which have been extended so they reach right into, across, and around the town centre. Much mocked at the time, the tram system has proved massively successful and gives the heart of town a European character.
Manchester is growing apace with new building going on all the time. This has led to what is, almost, a unique architecture with modern buildings comedically plonked side by side the legacy of Manchester’s industrial past. For some reason, this accidental juxtaposition works. It shouldn’t, but it does. Architecturally, the town has character and soul. You can turn a corner from a street filled with the steel and glass of the 21st century and be plunged back instantly into the industrial revolution by aging, red brick 19th century facades. Victoria Station is a great example of this, I love its weird mix of styles.
“O Manchester, so much to answer for…” sang Morrisey. However, I don’t think his melancholic lyric is informative or representative of the town’s personality. Despite his, and L. S. Lowry’s dour vibe, Manchester is a vivacious place because it’s, generally, a wealthy one. I spent the late 1970s gadding about town with my mates like most generations of Mancs have done. We got paid and went into town to drink, dance and party. Going to your local is ‘going out’, going into town is ‘going out, out’. The live music scene is buzzing, and pop/dance culture has been rich and varied for a long time. ‘Madchester’ is long since gone, but ‘The 1975’ currently wave the musical flag for us.
Of course, the town is famous for football. As a Manchester United fan I have no desire to discuss this issue further. But, City fans beware… What goes round comes round!
It’s not a seasonal city. The best description of its climate is ‘changeable’… or ‘shit’. It’s usually warmer in summer than in winter. In December, there are Christmas markets, but snow is rare. You can eat and drink alfresco in plenty of places, but you’d be wise to take a coat. If you’re going to visit, then check the weather forecast and be prepared. On a nice day (both of them) it’s lovely.
Should you go?
It’s a good place for a city break. If you have booked to see a show, got a ticket for the football at Old Trafford or the Etihad, or you just fancy a shopping trip, then there’s plenty to keep you busy. In fact, there’s too much. You really should do some research. Check out the links above before you go as otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed by the scale of choice, and accidentally wander blindly into some dismal bar or naff restaurant. That would be a shame, as there’s plenty of great ones.
My wife and I like a night out (out, out) in town. Usually we’ll stay over, Premier Inn are very reasonable starting at £35 on a week night, and the rooms are very good. If you’re going to a show or a gig we find the journey home irritating and ‘takes the edge off’.
Ultimately, Manchester is, as the locals would say; ‘sound’.
If you liked my blog, there’s every possibility that you’ll like the comic novel I’ve recently published. As much as I enjoyed teaching, and respect those who do the job, there’s plenty to laugh at. I spent 30 years giggling 😊. It’s a bargain at £2.21 for the Kindle! Click on the image for the Amazon link.