What does Manchester have that makes it so attractive to visit? Ask the tourists in the city and they will probably say it’s the Manchester Football stadium, the famous Lowry, their crowded pubs with live music, a cheerful atmosphere and some nice beer, historic architecture, international festivals, and the great museums attracting thousands of people every year. Nothing wrong with that of course, but you will spend much of your time queuing with fellow tourists.
Ask our Spotters and they’ll tell you it’s the openness and diversity of the locals who come from all over the world and bring different cultures together; the city’s history and heritage, which are proudly displayed all over town; its lively restaurant and bar scene that will leave every foodie amazed! Here are our picks for some of the most unique locals gems in Manchester.
Get fit… at church?
Keeping fit while traveling can be challenging. Fancy discovering a fun, affordable form of exercise in a mind-blowing venue with rent-able equipment? Manchester Climbing Centre, a short bus ride or walk from central Manchester, is housed in a former church and allows visitors to clamber all over its godly interior to their hearts’ content.
There are climbing classes for beginners, while experienced climbers can skip the intro and get straight onto the walls. If you’ve never tried climbing before, or if you’re nervous but intrigued, book yourself in for bouldering (i.e. climbing at a much lower height, no safety equipment needed). For those who don’t fancy getting physical, onlookers can rest in the café, which looks out over the walls, while soaking up the sun as it streams through the stained-glass windows.
A musical journey
The Folk Train is a unique form of musical fun and one of Spotter Alice’s favorite Manchester pastimes! There are 2 excursions from Manchester Piccadilly Station every month, each session hosting a different folk band. The Glossop Folk Train runs on the 4th Thursday of every month, while the Hathersage Folk train runs on the second Sunday of the month.
In both cases the bands play lively music on the train, then disembark with the whole group of listeners for a stationary set at the destination. They then board the returning train, with the merriment continuing all the way back to Manchester. To join the groups, look out for the people holding musical instruments on the platform and make sure you get into the same carriage as them. The train is a regular commuter, so sometimes you’ll see a few locals or tourists with surprised looks on their faces.
Cold, cold paradise
Ginger’s Comfort Emporium is an unusual ice cream shop that serves some of Manchester’s most interesting desserts. It is tucked away in a corner inside a huge alternative shopping mall, Affleck’s Palace, which is itself well worth a visit for its weird and wonderful shops and cafes. Dubbed as “ice cream for grown-ups”, the creations of this award-winning ice cream parlor offer much more than your usual chocolate and vanilla, with plenty of boozy, sweet, spicy and downright bizarre choices!
Art in the park
Whitworth Park, located beside an art gallery of the same name, is a beautiful green area to spend a relaxed afternoon exploring. The park and gallery are a popular space for students from the nearby university, who spend lunchtimes and free periods relaxing in the grass or wandering through the exhibitions. There’s also a great play park with a zip-line, which is always a win!
The biggest draw of the park is the artwork: while the park isn’t technically a part of the gallery, it still plays host to many wonderful pieces that are usually integrated into the natural surroundings. The gallery hosts an extensive and varied collection ranging from historical fine art to contemporary art, providing tantalizing fare for everyone’s tastes.
Ex-toilet turned bar
Every city has a signature bar that personifies its attitude, atmosphere and the personality of its people, and in Manchester that bar is Temple of Convenience. The name is a little wink to the bar’s location: Temple is housed underground, in a former public toilet. Nowadays a popular local drinking hole, it has a great vibe and the best jukebox in town, according to our Spotter Denise.
If you’re experiencing a dark night of the soul during your visit, consult the writing, doodles and nuggets of advice on the Temple’s bathroom walls. Far too genius to be passed off as graffiti, maybe “wisdom-drenched toilet murals” is more fitting. Either way, lots of people have been all kinds of drunk in the Temple’s cubicles and their walls are the fine product of Manchester’s wittiest drinkers.
While this beautiful neo-Gothic building is not the place to pick up the latest best-seller, it’s still a must-visit for any book-lover. The John Rylands Library houses 250,000 printed volumes, and more than a million manuscripts and archival items. It belongs to the University of Manchester and is the third largest academic library in the country, but you don’t need to be a student to visit.
The highlight of the library has to be the stunning historic reading room with beautiful stained glass windows and intricate ceilings. It’s the perfect place to study or curl up with a new book. On the third Thursday of the month the library even opens late for live music events and poetry readings, and best of all, it’s completely free!
Social and welcoming cafe
Although the street entrance may not look enticing, head down the stairs of Nexus Art Cafe and you will be surprised and delighted at what you find. At the bottom there is a huge, colorfully fitted-out room full of interesting stuff and friendly people, and a bright and jolly courtyard (no smoking) out back.
The cafe is not only tasty and cheap, it also has an admirable ethical and social agenda. It was created as a not-for-profit enterprise, with the objective of providing a drug- and alcohol-free space for art and social events – a sanctuary where nourishment is available for both body and spirit. With its philosophy of reaching out to all people, Nexus is a great alternative to the mass of ordinary, profit-motivated cafes where all you get is what you payed for.
The fresh art scene
Behind a stadium, under a bridge and tucked away around a corner lie Manchester’s most unique and quirky art spaces, galleries PS Mirabel and the thimble-sized Paper. The hunt to find these neighboring gems is completely worthwhile if you’ve grown tired of Manchester’s guidebook-approved art spaces. PS Mirabel and Paper have an edgier feel, cultivating newer, younger waves of artists.
Much of the artwork on display explores a wide range of media, from collage to paint and sculpture. The works are often produced by up-and-coming artists who occupy workshops in the building, so pieces can be one-of-a-kind and quintessentially Manchester. A visit to these innovative but accessible galleries is something you will not forget or regret while in the city – take the time to pop by.
Legendary music venue
Band on the Wall is our Spotter Joe’s all-time favorite venue for gigs in Manchester. BOTW has a solid reputation as a classic jazz venue, but you can enjoy performances from world-class artists in many genres – rock, folk, dance, etc. Up-and-coming groups also frequently perform here. Along with being a great music venue, this is a charitable organization devoted to live music and, as well as promoting artists, it also runs an outreach and teaching operation for anyone who wants to become a musician.
A Clockwork Hub
Ever seen the film A Clockwork Orange? Did you know it was based on a novel by Anthony Burgess? Perhaps you did, but at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, you can discover a whole lot more than is commonly known about this famous Mancunian (like that he wrote thirty-three novels, twenty-five works of non-fiction, two volumes of autobiography, three symphonies, more than 250 other musical works, and thousands of essays, articles and reviews).
During your visit, feel free to lounge in the cafe, check out the books on display (and perhaps buy one), or visit the gallery, where an extensive collection of items relating to the great man are exhibited. Many literary events are also held here, mostly in the evenings. Truly, the IABF is a thriving cultural hub – especially for lovers of literature – that celebrates the achievements of a remarkably talented son of Manchester.
Homage to an iconic drink
Despite being dangerously close to being spelled “vomit”, Vimto is a much-loved Manchester-born soft drink. This unique beverage, made up of blackcurrants, raspberries and grapes, was first concocted by John Noel Nichols on Granby Row in the city center in 1908.
An oak monument, carved by environment artist Kerry Morrison, was commissioned in 1992 to pay homage to the purple beverage. It sits on a lawn in Manchester University’s science campus, among other interesting sculptures (don’t miss the nearby statue of Archimedes, representing his famous theory of displacement “Eureka” moment). Even if you don’t get to see the Vimto monument, at least make sure you sample the purple beverage during your stay in Manchester.
Skillfully hand-made crafts
Rather than trudging round the uninspiring shopping malls on the High Street, where everything starts to look the same after half an hour, check out Manchester’s Craft & Design Centre. You’ll be inspired by the myriad hand-made goodies on offer in this Aladdin’s cave of creativity.
Some of Manchester’s finest craft and design people occupy around twenty studios in this former Victorian market building where you will find jewellery, ceramics, glass, textiles, leather and prints to delight and entice you. The Centre is a champion of unique design, creativity and the traditional skills of craftspeople. When you buy something here, you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing that you are supporting sustainable manufacturing and local artistry.