Despite being born in nearby Warrington, I moved away when I was quite young and so cities like Manchester and Liverpool were places I had only ever really popped into as a tag along for one of either shopping or a night out when visiting relatives. Determined to change that, I dedicated a whole night and day to the city a few weekends ago when visiting family, and below are my top sights and tips for a 1-day visit!
Did you know?
The humble worker bee is symbolic of Manchester, representing the city's energy, work ethic and community-feel. First depicted during the Industrial Revolution, it features on the city's coat of arms as well as many of it's most standout buildings so keep your eyes peeled!
(1) Start your day with breakfast at Ezra & Gil
Nestled away in the Northern Quarter (which I will come to next) is Ezra & Gil, a quaint-yet-quirky 'urban coffee culture' hotspot, insta-famous for it's flavours, eco-friendliness and the presentation of it's dishes. We were not disappointed! I had to go for their smashed pumpkin, spinach, crumbled feta, poached egg and seeds served over sourdough toast and beetroot hummus; easily the most beautiful breakfast I have ever been served! Thanks again for fuelling us up for a jam-packed day of Northern fun!
(2) Explore the Northern Quarter's Architecture, Shops & Street Art
Once infamous for industry, today the Northern Quarter is Manchester's hip, hop and happening district where the industrial warehouses have been repurposed into some of the city's best restaurants, bars and shops. Teeming with street art, standout architecture and quirk, you could easily spend a couple of hours exploring the NQ's streets.
Top tips: make sure you visit Oklahoma (a vibrant splendour of globally-inspired crafts), the Manchester Craft & Design Centre (an old market hall-turned-independent arts hub) and Affleck's Palace (a multi-storey treasure trove of everything from vintage to punk rock).
(3) Visit Manchester Cathedral
Nestled behind the Arndale Centre (Manchester's main central shopping strip) is a beautiful example of Medieval Gothic architecture in Manchester's Cathedral. One of only 15 Grade I listed buildings in the city and free to enter (though donations are of course welcome), it absolutely deserves 10 mins of your time!
(4) Get Magical at John Rylands Library
With it's towering neo-gothic columns, medieval hallways and magical Main Library and reading rooms, I challenge you to find anywhere as close to a real-life Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry than John Rylands Library. Their reception had no idea where my acceptance letter had gotten to either...*sobs hysterically*
(5) Get Learning at the Museum of Science & Industry
Particularly for kids, the Museum of Science & Industry could easily be a day out in and of itself. Occupying the original terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (the first intercity raillink in the world!) and some of the surrounding warehouses, the Museum has an incredible collection of planes and trains from across the ages, as well as everchanging exhibitions that showcase only the cutting edge developments of modern science, technology and industry!
(6) Cloud 23 @ The Hilton
Whilst maybe not a Manchester-must, the Cloud 23 bar made the list because it offers sweeping views of the entire city and around. I'd be lying if I said Manchester has any form of statement skyline per se, but if like me you love a city view and like to get your bearings when exploring, the Cloud 23 bar is a great place to stop for an expensive latte to recharge.
Fun Fact - Cloud 23 sits on the 23rd floor of the top-heavy Beetham Tower skyscraper that dominates Manchester's skies. When it was originally opened, the shape of the building directed the wind in such a way that it created a haunting howling cry that could be heard from around the whole city. Following continued complaints, works had to be done but attempts to eradicate the noise permanently have been unsuccessful
(7) Tip-toe Around Studying Students in Central Library
Opened in 1934, Central Library, in all its Pantheon-esque style glory, houses the headquarters of the city's library and information service and sit's on St. Peter's Square beside the Town Hall. Be sure to visit the Wolfson Reading Room in the main building, before passing through the very ornate corridors leading around the rotunda which reminded me a lot of NYC's Central Station.
(8) Gorge at the Mackie Mayor Food Hall
Mackie Mayor is a stunning Grade II listed food and drinks market nestled in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, and is the only intact building from the former Smithfield Meat Market, dating back to the 1850s. This was easily my favourite of all the places we visited because of it's stunning architecture and of course...the food! Absolutely worth a visit at, I imagine, any time of the day!
Though all of the food looked great, we went for a Bao House grilled pineapple, avocado, spring onion + sriracha vegetarian bao, and a Tender Cow porter & ancho chilli brazed short rib on toast with a fried egg, jalapeño pesto and crushed hazelnuts. *slobbers everywhere*
(9) Learn About Modern War & Conflict at the Imperial War Museum North
Salford is a 20-min tram ride out of central Manchester and is largely known for 'Media City' where many of the UK's TV channel HQs reside. Whilst not a must-visit, the Imperial War Museum North is also here and is not only an architectural marvel in and of itself, but also has a great collection of exhibits that delve into modern warfare. When we visited an amazing, albeit harrowing, photography exhibition on the Syrian conflict (Syria: A Conflict Explored) was free to enter and 100% worth half an hour of your time.
(11) Finish the Day with a Night Out on Canal Street
No visit to Manchester would be complete without at least a quick drink down Canal Street, home to the city's infamous gay scene. Much, much friendlier than London's Soho and still largely gentrification free, Canal Street promises a great (and cheap) night out complete with disco balls, poptastic tunes and of course..GLITTER! We were very lucky to randomly catch a pitch-perfect dragtastic rendition of Defying Gravity by Danny the Beard, a glitter bearded bombshell in a leotard!
What I was sad to miss...
For a range of reasons, we did not get to visit any of the below though they had all been highly recommended to me. Next time Manchester, next time!
The Town Hall - closed for refurbishment during our visit, the Town Hall sits aside the Central Library and offers tours of it's historic interior. Make sure to book ahead of your visit!
The Victorian Baths - apparently only re-opened to the public in 2017 after decades of disuse, the baths are not only great for a swim but also stunning to look at as a Grade II listed building!
Whitworth Art Gallery - no real explanation needed here, other than to say that it's collections are apparently revered globally.
The Washhouse - residing between the NQ and Manchester Cathedral, The Washhouse is a secret bar hidden behind a fake launderette facade. Simply step inside and pick up the phone to gain entry via the washing machine. Booking here is essential!
GRUB @ Fairfield Social Club - Another street food market with a changing roster of the city's best food vendors!
In conclusion, there is a reason Manchester is the UK's second most visited city! One day is not at all enough for all Manchester has to offer but I will be back and on the hunt for the best things I missed soon!