Mackie Mayor

So, you’ve got a weekend to really get to know Manchester - a city that’s steeped in industrial heritage and filled with cutting-edge culture. Manchester has a lot going on: it’s a UNESCO City of Literature, home to four national museums and a place where momentous gigs take place in extraordinary spaces. What are the buildings, attractions, restaurants and bars that will best reveal the city’s spirit? One way to get straight under the skin of this unique place is to take a walking tour with an expert guide: discover Manchester’s secrets or the city’s counterculture through its street art with Skyliner, delve into ‘The Haçienda Years’ with the Manchester Music tour, whet your whistle on the Craft Beer Tour Manchester, experience edible insights into food history and culture on a Scranchester tour, or simply enjoy a comprehensive introduction to the sights of the city centre with a Discover Manchester Daily Guided Walking Tour. And, for all the best places to visit, stay, shop, dance, and eat and drink at, read on.

Stock Exchange Hotel

The first thing to get sorted is accommodation. The Stock Exchange Hotel is one of the newest (and most luxurious) additions to the city, and has the added bonus of The Bull & Bear, a restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge, in its domed former trading room. Another newcomer is Hotel Indigo, conveniently located right next to Manchester’s Victoria Station, while The Edwardian Manchester is one of the city’s truly iconic options, with rooms in the former Grade II-listed Free Trade Hall, one of the UK’s oldest buildings, widely known for its rich cultural heritage. 

Royal Exchange Theatre

If you’re arriving on a Friday night, there’s an extra evening to either enjoy a relaxed dinner in one of the city’s best restaurants (we recommend Kala Bistro or El Gato Negro Tapas on King Street), see a play at the UK’s biggest theatre in the round, or experience Manchester’s renowned music scene. A play at the Royal Exchange Theatre is always a rare treat: award-winning productions are staged in what was once the largest trading room in the world (the original trading boards still show the closing day’s figures). Salut Wines nearby is a perfect spot for pre-theatre drinks, while Sam’s Chop House and Mr Thomas’s Chop House are two of the city’s most atmospheric restaurants if you have time for a meal. Alternatively, head straight for cocktails and food at Albert’s Schloss and a gig at the stunning Albert Hall above it or at Gorilla (a short walk away). Music fanatics with stamina have the added option of dancing to a late night DJ set at Refuge by Volta

Saturday morning dawns, and with it the eternal question: where to go for breakfast. It would be possible to spend an entire day eating and drinking in Manchester, with plentiful options for the first meal of the day - but Federal Cafe & Bar, with its two excellent sites (opposite Manchester Arndale and on Deansgate), has the edge in this itinerary. Here the Antipodean-inspired menu is laden with eggs, halloumi, avocado and other delicious combinations - the coffee is great, as are the brunch cocktails. The Deansgate branch is close to The John Rylands Library, where you can explore both an astonishing building (only made possible by Manchester’s first industrial multi-millionaire) and one of the finest collections of rare books and manuscripts in the world, or jump off from the Northern Quarter branch to Manchester Art Gallery, with its world-famous selection of pre-Raphaelite paintings. The cafe here is also excellent, which might just be the thing to swing the decision - otherwise head for Mackie Mayor in the Northern Quarter, a cosmopolitan food hall in a converted 1858 Grade II listed market building, for a plethora of lunch options from the resident vendors.

What better way to spend the afternoon than exploring the independent shops in the city’s Northern Quarter? There’s the legendary Piccadilly Records, open since 1978 and selling all kinds of music on vinyl and CDs, superb stationary purveyor Fred Aldous, which has 25,000 art, craft and design products across three floors, plus the quality menswear, accessories and designer trainers at Oi Polloi, quirky gifts unlike any you’ll find elsewhere at Oklahoma and 18 different craft studios where you can buy an eclectic range of jewellery, ceramics, prints and more direct from the makers at Manchester Craft and Design Centre.

The city centre neighbourhood of Ancoats, bordering the Northern Quarter, has skyrocketed in popularity - and is a great area for evening drinks and dinner. Recently refurbished, The Edinburgh Castle pub dates back to 1811; it’s been beautifully redecorated, with cosy, candlelit tables surrounding the wooden bar on the ground floor, and a 36-cover restaurant serving high end food on the first. Canto, opposite, is the sibling of the acclaimed El Gato Negro Tapas, with exquisite Mediterranean tapas on its menu. Both are just off Cutting Room Square, the main hub of Ancoats and home to Hallé St Peter’s, the principal rehearsal and recording venue for the Hallé Orchestra. Also here are The Jane Eyre, which serves cocktails, beers and small plates, neighbourhood bar and kitchen Elnecot, beerhouse Seven Bro7hers, and acclaimed Neapolitan pizzeria Rudy’s Pizza, where it’s worth getting your name down early as there are no reservations and the waiting list can form very quickly. A final mention must go to Mana on Blossom Street, which is Manchester’s first Michelin-starred restaurant in 40 years. Get a table here, and you’re in for an exceptional meal.

For your final day in Manchester, start with something from the Canadian and American-inspired menu at Moose Coffee before heading to visit the Science and Industry Museum and, if there’s time, The People’s History Museum. Housed on the site of the world’s first intercity railway, the superb Science and Industry Museum documents 250 years of discoveries that originated in Manchester and went on to influence the rest of the world. This globally important heritage site is home to a replica of the world’s first computer to store and run a program, nicknamed ‘Baby’. The multi award-winning People’s History Museum nearby is UK’s only museum dedicated to the history of British democracy, is of designated national importance and has around 1,500 objects on display. Both make for a fascinating visit. 

Spend your remaining hours exploring some of Manchester’s best shops, such as independent menswear boutique Lanigan & Hulme where the owners have 40 years of combined experience in fashion and The Whisky Shop, purveyor of a huge range of whiskies including exclusive releases and international blends. Neighbouring department stores Selfridges and Harvey Nichols on New Cathedral Street also offer a wide range of designer and high street labels in luxury surrounds - while Chetham’s Library and the National Football Museum nearby are perfect alternatives for those less retail-inclined. Should you wish to toast your departure, and celebrate the end of a magnificent weekend in Manchester, hangingditch wine merchants is the place to do it. Until the next time!