Manchester is Britain’s new cultural capital. No, really. The city may have been built on the heavy industry of the Industrial Revolution but since the 2002 Commonwealth Games, it has re-invented itself as a world capital of the arts.
Today Manchester dominates the headlines with a slew of galleries, venues and festivals. It's home to some of the UK's most forward-thinking developments, one of the coolest music scenes and a fast-expanding range of great hotels and restaurants. Then there's Russell T. Davies’ new Channel Four series, Cucumber, set along Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village, and the Royal Exchange Theatre's Hamlet, set to be screened in cinemas across the UK.
Is there any doubt that Manchester is starting to take centre stage in the UK? David Atkinson makes the case for why the city is the UK's cultural hotspot.
The Whitworth Gallery recently re-opened to the public following a £15m redevelopment. The new building features a glass-promenade gallery overlooking the new Art Garden in Whitworth Park. The opening show, a solo exhibition from the respected contemporary artist Cornelia Parker, runs until summer, while the permanent collection showcases the gallery’s eclectic range of fine art, textiles and wallpapers.
HOME, the city’s new multi-artform centre opens on the 21st May with a funfair theme for the opening weekend. The £25m development includes a 500-seat theatre, flexible studio space and five cinema screens. It will commission, produce and present a programme of contemporary theatre, film and visual art, drawing on resources of the former Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company, both of which have evolved into the HOME project.
The bi-annual Manchester International Festival (MIF) kicks off in July with 18 days of premieres, performances and events. The festival, described by The New Yorker as “probably the most radical and important arts festival today” puts Manchester on the international stage. One of this year’s cornerstone events is the premiere of wonder.land, a new musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s iconic Alice in Wonderland – which turns 150 this year – with music by Damon Albarn.
Manchester always had a rich literacy legacy – from Karl Marx observing working life in the mid nineteenth century to the UK's current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy via the punk poetry of John Cooper Clarke. Manchester Central Library, reopened last March as a living-room space for the city. The nearby Portico Library is a Neo-Classical gem with a dusty-tome-filled Reading Room and Chetham’s Library is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.
Manchester has brought us bands from Joy Division to Elbow and the city’s best record shop, Piccadilly Records, remains the lynchpin of the Manchester music scene. For live bands, pick of the venues is The Deaf Institute a three-floor independent operation at the heart of studentland where you can catch bands on the way to stadium slots and cool new comedians, while supping on craft beers and tucking into tasty burgers.
Looking for cool bars, trendy boutiques and lots of independent-spirited places to soak up the urban-cool vibe? Look no further than the Northern Quarter, the city’s thriving off-duty hub. Try North Tea Power for café-culture, surviving old faves like Afflecks Palace for vintage and vinyl, and Dry Bar for beers and bands.
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Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the family home of the Cranford author, reopened last year after a three-year project to restore the Grade II-listed Regency villa. Gaskell documented Manchester’s burgeoning industrial revolution from her writing desk at 84 Plymouth Grove after the family moved to the house in 1850 and her views contrasted starkly with the ideals of the Victorian era.
With over 6,500 hotel rooms in the city centre, places to crash range from bijou boutique hotels to homely hostels. The Radisson Blu Edwardian, the former Free Trade Hall where The Sex Pistols invented punk in 1976, is now synonymous with urban cool while The Lowry, Manchester’s first five-star property, remains the place to see and be seen.
The restaurant scene has exploded, with the Manchester Food & Drink Festival now a cornerstone of the foodie diary. Simon Rogan of Michelin-stared L’Enclume fame is currently cooking up a storm at The French in the Midland Hotel. Other highlights include Cloud 23, the panorama bar at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate, for fancy cocktails, and The Briton’s Protection, one of Manchester's favourite traditional boozers, for local ales and spoken-word nights.
The government announced a £78m cash injection into Manchester’s creative economy in last year’s Autumn Statement. The cornerstone of plans for the ‘northern powerhouse’ is The Factory, a new artist-led, creative hub on a site to the west of the city centre that was previously home to Coronation Street. The Factory, a homage to Manchester’s legendary Factory Records, will combine an array of arts spaces with a permanent home for the Manchester International Festival. It’s due to open 2019.
Explore more of the region with the Rough Guide to Britain. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
Top image: The Lowry © Shahid Khan/Shutterstock