From hip street food to boutique shopping, Manchester will give you a welcome like no other
Manchester is a gloriously diverse city with new discoveries in every quarter, but if you only have 24 hours or a short weekend, it’s worth having a plan of action so you don’t miss the best bits. We did a recce to give you a head start on where to shop, eat and stay in the northern city with the biggest heart.
Where to shop in Manchester?
It’s a shopping Mecca, with heavyweights like Selfridges and Harvey Nichols in the main Arndale area, but for something a bit edgier, head to the hip northern quarter where you’ll find the small independents. Take a rummage around the legendary Afflecks (formerly Affleck’s Palace, which opened in 1981) where you can almost smell the city’s rich, rock n rave history as you nose around market stalls overflowing with vintage clothing, curiosities and retro clubbing gear. For vintage denim, head to Blue Rinse for the biggest selection of styles. Art and fashion magazine fanatics will adore Magma for its kaleidoscope of all things print, from indie mags to epic stationery.
Where to stay in Manchester?
A boutique townhouse hotel (14 rooms and 16 suites) in the heart of Manchester’s buzzy Spinningfields, Great John Street Hotel retains much of the charm of the Victorian school house that the building served as from 1912. Original steel beams and echoing stairwells (one for the girls, one for the boys, as was the school tradition of the time) with framed black and white prints of smiling children in uniform, hint at the building’s rich heritage. You can also have afternoon tea in the headmaster’s office. But that’s as far as the gimmick goes because the rest of the hotel, from the earthy paint palette to the Egyptian Cotton white sheets and free-standing bath tubs is tastefully indulgent. Restored to glory by the Eclectic Hotel Collection in 2004, on top of the three-storey building, where once schoolgirls played hopscotch, is a city roof terrace to rival the best. Just the spot for late afternoon cocktails, of which the list is reassuringly long. Special mention to the breakfast – served on an ornate mezzanine overlooking the ground floor Oyster Bar – all chesterfields, big cushions and stylised book shelves. The smashed avocado and poached eggs are a hungry Instagrammers’ dream. Even if you’re not a guest, it’s worth swinging by Great John Street Hotel for the top-notch afternoon tea in the Library. Room-only rates start from 120
What to do in Manchester?
Tip one: as lovely as we’re sure the cathedral is, if you only have time to take in one landmark, make a beeline for The John Rylands Library, which has all the grandeur of a neo-gothic church combined with the magic of Hogwarts as thousands of dusty, leather-bound books and manuscripts line the dizzying shelves, reached only by fairytale ladders. Marvel at the stunning architecture, designed by Basil Champneys, and get lost in book nooks, people-watching as tourists scan the historic spines and students hunch over starkly contrasting modern MacBooks in cosy enclaves. You could easily lose a couple of hours in here before exiting through the gorgeous gift shop (worth a look for the children’s book selection and arty wrapping paper).
Before you leave, it’s worth a wander along Manchester’s famous canals, and we cut under the viaducts and head towards Deansgate where on a sunny afternoon the pub and bar terraces are packed with glamorous people, live music and delicious-smelling food vans. We stop at Dukes 92 for a haloumi burger from their food van and an Aperol Spritz in the sunshine. On the way back to our hotel, we wander past the now defunct Granada Studios and feel more giddy than is acceptable (the Aperol, perhaps?) at recognising the remains of Jason Grimshaw’s workshop off Corrie. Then our attention is turned to a 10-ft street mural of TV presenter Richard O’Brien, signalling the entrance to The Crystal Maze Live Experience. The 90s nostalgia is impossible to resist so we pull on trademark Crystal Maze bomber jackets and take the challenge. It’s well worth the £40-£50 admission fee. The attention to detail inside is wonderful as you cascade down slides into the sandy Aztec zone and climb through tin tunnels to the futuristic zone. The games are surprisingly challenging, from a laser beam assault course to playing air hockey against a robot and frantically pedaling around a giant hamster wheel. Perfect for embracing your inner kidult before it’s back to the real world.