What is it that Manchester has 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 its the openness and diversity of the locals who come from all over the world and bring different cultures together; the city’s history as the first modern city and the heritage proudly showing this history all over the city; the city’s huge restaurant and bar scene that will leave every foodie amazed! Here are some of our picks for some of the most unique, locals gems in Manchester, in the words of our very own team of Spotters.
Get yourself in shape at church
This place is for the more active travelers amongst us. We all know it can be hard to stay fit when traveling, you’re eating at nice restaurants all the time and not going to the gym, it happens to the best of us.
Manchester Climbing Centre offers a fun and interesting solution! The place is close to central Manchester and is located inside a former church. Here you can climb or bolder all over the old interior of the church. Since the climbing scene in Manchester is thriving there are often social events at the center such as movies, competitions and challenges.
And for those of us who are less active (me) there is also a café that looks out over the walls, where you can sit and watch other people be active.
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, with no need for safety equipment) — Denise Tench
Heaven for graphic design geeks
I personally have a love for graphic design, so places like these are always a great find for me! Fred Aldous is a place to find supplies as an artist, but also a place to find great and original gifts. Usually (and sadly) these types of creative stores can be quite small, but luckily Fred Aldous has three floors for you to explore!
The bottom two floors contain specialist materials, such as haberdashery, tools and so many different shapes, sizes and types of paper. On the ground floor you can find creatives homewares, stationery and gifts. Next to all the cool stuff they stock they are the only place in Manchester that has an analog photo booth! So don’t be shy to get a little picture taken when shopping!
I can buy lovely things and have my portrait taken at the same time. The perfect souvenir! — Matt Bramford
An all-in-one type of venue
Although The King’s Arms might not look very special from the outside, there is plenty of fun to be had on the inside! Next to the place being a pub where you can get a nice homecooked style meal and a drink, it’s also a space to see the creative endeavors of locals!
You can find theatre, live music, festivals, comedy shows, poetry recitals and more at The King’s Arms. Make sure to check the website to see what events they have before you go, or just let yourself be surprised.
It’s the first place I head to on a Sunday when I need a proper roast dinner – Matt Bramford
Back to the good old days
If you ever feel the need to let yourself be submerged in an ocean of retro nostalgia, this is the place to be. Fab Café is jampacked with retro TV and movie merchandise, collectors’ items, arcade games and retro sweets. The place is known to be a good time and host some pretty bizarre parties, you’ll leave with a great story to tell and a bunch of new friends! They also have themed quiz nights and gig aftershow parties that are loads of fun.
Have a drink in this colorful, crazy world of retro when in Manchester!
From its full-sized Dalek to its replica Tardis and local ex-soap actress DJ with a penchant for 90s mix tape soundtracks, Fab Café delivers a nostalgic and reliably fun night out — Denise Tench
Dive into Manchester’s history
Manchester has the nickname ‘Cottonopolis’, since the city was known to be the international capital of cotton and textile trade during the 19th century. At the Private White V.C. Factory you can get a free tour that shows you the insides of a textile factory! Private White V.C. is a British heritage clothing brand made in Manchester. The brand showcases and celebrates the best of British tailoring.
Although this might not seem like the hippest, hottest spot to visit, I think it’s always nice to have a peek into a city’s history in order to better understand its culture. The tour is guided and takes you through the different rooms and processes of the clothing-making process. And there’s also a shop at the end!
You might even get to meet Brutus the British bulldog, who patrols the office keeping an eye on quality control — Matt Bramford
Support your local up-and-coming artist
Three galleries are hiding in Manchester, waiting for you to visit them. You can find them behind a stadium, under a bridge and hidden around a corner! These places are very special, as they represent a younger generation of artists. It can be difficult to find good, new art by artists that aren’t fully established in the elite of the industry yet. These types of galleries will help you do exactly that!
PS Mirabel, Sloe and Paper are open and accessible to anyone, which is a breath of fresh air compared to the hierarchical vibe you can often find in the art scene. The artworks on display range from all types of art, from media to sculptures. Next to that, they’re also affordable!
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 — Denise Tench
A world of antiques
Places like Levenshulme Antiques Village are lovely to just spend a day and stroll around aimlessly. Antiques Village is the home of a collection of shops that specialize in vintage and eclectic items. They sell anything from Eames furniture to art deco collectibles and kitsch jewelry.
Apart from the treasures you can find inside, the outside of the building is also very nice to look at. It’s an old town hall decorated with green tiles, with a lovely backyard that is house to sheds, outhouses and working studios. The village also has an old-school English tea room with great prices, they also have a great traditional English breakfast!
If it’s a rare sunny day, you can sit outside at a cast iron picnic table with the locals and watch treasure hunters come and go across the cobbled yard — Denise Tench
The city’s very own urban playground
Manchester’s Platt Fields Park is quite a gem, as it is a space for adults and students to let go and play a little after they’re done leading their busy lives. It’s a very multifunctional space and is always changing. You can find things like a free 5km circuit, parkrun, Mega Mela Festival, bonfires and fireworks here!
The park also has some more steady features which are a ‘secret’ Shakespearean garden with mazes, basketball courts, a skate park (hell yeah!), an ancient ditch, gallery of costume and an eco garden. Jampacked with fun stuff to do all year round, this is a great place to let of some steam and chill with friends.
It may have a scruffy, down-to-earth feel, but everyone knows that the best type of glamour is faded — Denise Tench
A bar underneath a toilet, what more could you possibly ask for?
Temple of Convenience is a bar that is known to represent the identity, vibe and people of Manchester. The name is a little wink to the bar’s location: an underground former public toilet. The place is not only in a unique location, it also has great music as they are the home of a great jukebox.
Go take a peek and see the scribbles on the walls of many, many drunk locals that have gone before you! They have a variety of international beers and a very cozy and lively atmosphere!
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 — Denise Tench
The place to get your books
Paramount Books is a lovely looking bookshop, with a hand-painted sign, that is family-run. The place has been where it is now since 1956 and is one of the best (if not the best) bookshops in the UK.
The store stocks a huge variety of vintage books, covering all genres! They also have a large selection of vintage magazines, comics and periodicals stacked in crates all around the store. The owner is a true book lover, don’t be shy to have a little chat with her or ask her for help as she knows it all!
I usually dash straight to the art, design and fashion section, were you can pick up rare tomes for fare prices — Matt Bramford
Cold, cold paradise
Hidden away in a huge alternative shopping mall you might be able to spot an amazing and eccentric ice cream parlor: Ginger’s Comfort Emporium. This place is not just any old ice cream shop, it offers very special flavors. It’s known as ‘ice cream for grown-ups’ , and with good reason!
The flavors they offer can be strange, boozy, spicy, sweet or anything in between! The menu is always changing, so you will never get bored with any of their crazy flavors. They even have some savory flavors for the real dare devils amongst us. Next to offering crazy flavors, they also offer vegan-friendly deserts!
My favorite is the ever-popular ‘Chorlton Crack’ (salted caramel and peanut butter – what’s not to love?!) — Sarah Buckley
Food at the fair
The Grub Food Fair is hidden behind Manchester Piccadilly rail station, the Fairfield Social Club and a railway arch. But if you do manage to find it, it’s well worth it.
The place is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. When you’re craving some good old streetfood, this is the place to be! Their selection changes each day, so everyday is a new surprise. Check out their facebookpage if you want to know what’s on offer beforehand, but letting yourself be surprised is just as much fun! And the thing I personally like most; on Sunday everything is vegetarian and vegan! Apart from the food the vibe is also great as there’s always a bar and DJ to accompany your amazing food.
Grub has quickly become a Mancunian institution and its new home is absolutely wonderful — Matt Bramford
For more hidden gems, check out the Spotted by Locals Manchester cityblog.