Susan Tranter is a writer, photographer and content manager. Find out more on her site

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I’m not Manchester born-and-bred, but an off-comer who turned up not long after the city hosted the Commonwealth Games, and stuck around. For five years I lived in a tiny flat in a converted textile warehouse, on a street where Vimto was invented, and the Stone Roses rehearsed.

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Like many major cities, Manchester has developed hugely in recent years (and not always for the better), but the cracks and contrasts between the new-and-shiny and the old-and-worn are my favourite places to explore and uncover.

So imagine a perfect Manchester morning. Last night’s rain pooled in kerbside puddles. The light flickering through the trees in Whitworth Park, next to one of the city’s best galleries – just a mile or so from Piccadilly Station.

Don’t worry about what exhibition’s on, just enjoy the Whitworth Gallery’s beautiful building, the parkland setting, and its great café. This isn’t one of those galleries where scanning the floorplan is enough to exhaust you, never mind the prospect of plodding through room after inter-connecting room. The Whitworth is a very human-sized way to experience art, and perfectly manageable in an hour’s visit.

As the city starts to warm up, head into town along student corridor Oxford Road. People new to Manchester always comment on how compact and walkable the whole place is – but be warned: if you’re sightseeing, you’ll need to pace yourself.

Take a stroll through Chinatown, bounded by Portland Street and Princess Street. I’m no particular fan of Chinese food, but I love jostling my way round the supermarkets, and people-watching on the streets. The mornings are quiet, the evenings get livelier.

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At St Peter’s Square do pay a visit, however fleetingly, to Central Library. For libraries are to Manchester what designer stores are to Milan. How many cities can claim not one but four incredible – and incredibly varied – libraries (Central, John Rylands, Chetham’s, and the Portico), all equally worthy of a look-round? The impressive Central Library nods (perhaps with an understated Mancunian ‘alright?’) to both the old British Library, and to the Pantheon in Rome – a circular building with a fabulous domed reading room on the first floor, and many surprising glimpses of the city through windows at all levels.

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You’re probably hungry by now, right? If I were you’d nip into Tampopo on Albert Square. This Manchester institution has been quietly serving up fresh, uncomplicated East Asian cuisine in a cosy room just below street level for more than twenty years. Slide onto one of the wooden benches and watch the chefs tossing your food in the hottest of woks. Mine’s a nasi goreng.

I can happily while away a few hours simply wandering about, taking photographs, and stopping for coffee. If that’s your kind of thing too, then head for some of the parts of Manchester that offer up glimpses of the past, and cheek-by-jowl contrasts with the present. Wedged between the plate glass slickness of the Arndale Centre and entertainment avenue the Printworks, for instance, you’ll find frontages like Withy Grove Stores which haven’t changed for years. Or spend a few moments browsing in Paramount Books, one of the last remaining secondhand bookshops in the city.

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The Northern Quarter is a must – but not just for the independent shops and bar culture. Here some of the city’s contrasts are at their most acute. By all means mingle with the artsy crowd in Fred Aldous or Magma, or the musos flipping through the racks in Vinyl Exchange or Piccadilly Records, but don’t forget to notice the tattoo shops and massage parlours that have seen better days. Not half a mile from where the hipsters are ‘gramming their smashed avo sourdough at tables on Stephenson Square, you can still walk among the gravestones of Angel Meadow, the site of one of the city’s most notorious Victorian slums. So grab a flat white from Atkinson’s at the fabulously restored Mackie Mayor market hall, or from Fig & Sparrow on Oldham Street. But leave plenty of time for noticing things. Peer down the backstreets for the ghosts of faded shop signage, the rusted fire escapes and the iron pulleys that hoisted goods up to warehouses. Notice the people whose eyes remember a different city, before the mills became luxury apartments. Look in the puddles for reflections of another Manchester beneath your feet.




  1. JoJo Salford
    Don't why there has not been numerous comments on this post. I found the post extremely interesting and the photography rather wonderful. I like that you have commented on the 'hidden' or unfashionable areas and taken the photos from unusual angles. As a born and bred Salfordian (the other, older city!), but with a working life spent in Manchester, I long to revisit some of the sights as I remember them. I do think that it tends to be forgotten that Manchester was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and the wealthy philanthropists it produced spent their money well on beautiful architecture. Well done. Thank you.

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