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Manchester, England, is oft-overlooked by U.S. travelers, but it shouldn't be. With soaring fees at London Heathrow Airport, getting to England has become pricey. Manchester, however, offers an inexpensive alternative for arriving into Great Britain, and its central location makes for convenient trips to Scotland, Wales and the Lake District.
Manchester carries some cache as well. Home to the famed Manchester United and Manchester City football teams, and birthplace to “Clockwork Orange” author Anthony Burgess, this city provides for sports fans and bibliophiles alike.
Exploring Manchester by foot is a great way to see the city, including meandering down side streets, discovering local watering holes and viewing modern architecture juxtaposed with older monuments. Vibrant graffiti art decorates the city, and hidden attractions, such as the John Rylands Library or Godlee Observatory, are magical.
Manchester also has a deep music history, as it served as the breeding ground for Joy Division/New Order, Oasis, The Stone Roses and countless others. Visitors can take a walking tour to visit legendary New Wave locales, or dance and drink the night away to similar sounds in the Northern Quarter district, filled with everything from dive bars to ultra-chic restaurants.
What follows are some of the city’s top attractions, day or night, plus hotels to recharge and do it all over again. Manchester is an emerging, friendly, fast-paced city. Consider dancing to its colorful New Wave beat.
WHAT TO SEE
Godlee ObservatoryGodlee Observatory is a somewhat secret spot in the Sackville Street Building at the University of Manchester. This stellar stargazing place is where guests can attend Manchester Astronomical Society’s weekly Thursday night meetings. Groups are welcome with advance booking.
John Rylands LibraryA working research library, with significant books and manuscripts, Rylands is considered to be one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. The neo-Gothic architecture impresses, as do the sleek, modern additions, such as a glass-lined staircase leading up to the exhibits. With art shows, afternoon tea and a well-curated gift shop all on site, Rylands is a wonderful way to experience both historical and contemporary culture.
Manchester Craft & Design CentrePreviously a glass-roofed Victorian fish market, this building is now home to 30 resident artists and craft makers who sell their handmade work. Manchester Craft & Design Centre has award-winning artists, groovy exhibitions, events and workshops and a cafe with homemade food.
National Football MuseumOpen daily with free admission, this museum dedicated to all things soccer is great for families, fanatics or simply those curious about the world’s most popular sport. The museum has tours, interactive experiences, plenty of memorabilia and history, a cafe and, of course, a gift shop to bring home mementos from your favorite Premier League team.
Manchester Music ToursManchester Music Tours, led by drummer Craig Gill of cult favorite Inspiral Carpets, is a No. 1 hit. The various tours cover the formative hangouts of Joy Division, Oasis, The Smiths and more. He takes New Wave, post-punk and Britpop fans to all the pivotal hot spots and shares first-person backstage stories, too.
New Manchester Walks For another type of themed walking tour, go to New Manchester Walks for an inexpensive romp around town. Choose from art and architecture to history and politics, plus everything in between. Feeling offbeat? Try the Weird and Wonderful category that has Eccentric Manchester and Spies and Spooks as options.
WHERE TO EAT
The AlchemistThe Alchemist is a design maven’s dream with swanky fixtures and a wide-open vibe, plus floor-to-ceiling windows that twinkle with lights. The menu is eclectic with Japanese ramen noodles next to chili and rice with nachos, but the Sunday Roasts — featuring honey-glazed chicken or topside of beef — are the hot ticket, served until they run out. Try taking one of their many mixology classes to meet local cocktail connoisseurs.
Beef & Pudding Pub classics and dishes with a twist, this industrial-chic restaurant offers tempura monkfish cheeks with tandoori mayo alongside a proper pub pate. Its Express Menu is just the thing for eager sightseers, as everything is served in 15 minutes to get diners back out on the street quickly.
Katsouris Deli This local deli is part culinary shop and part deli. Hot comfort food is served in large inexpensive portions, and the sandwich menu is extensive. Grab a bottle of wine for later or sit down and enjoy a steak sandwich, all while rubbing elbows with tattooed musicians and business professionals.
The Old Wellington Part of the Nicholson’s collection of distinguished British pubs, The Old Wellington has award-winning ales and hearty, yet refined, pub food. The Gloucester Old Spot sausages and mash are the pregame meal for excited Manchester City fans off to watch the big match.
WHERE TO PARTY
The Northern Quarter in Manchester is a buzzing, compact area filled with cafes, pubs, restaurants, nightlife and shopping. Inspired by the art district, these funky, popular hangouts make for a festive night out.
It's easy to get around on your own, so start the night at Teacup Kitchen for a “cuppa” and a slice of its famed carrot and coconut cake. After the sugar high kicks in, go to Marble Beers for a pint of cask ale or one of the 60 imported brews, and then play chess or backgammon with the local hipsters.
If cocktails are calling, there is no shortage of exciting options. Apotheca Bar serves great concoctions in an antique pharmacy setting. Its downstairs bar links to Dough Pizza Kitchen through an underground tunnel.
Nearby, NoHo bar caters to a younger scene — its street art and resident DJs keep the atmosphere edgy. For a retro 80s throwback, Dry Bar is the place to go. Opened by Factory Records and New Order, this bar epitomizes Manchester’s revolutionary New Wave music scene.
End the night at Odd Bar, where dancing occurs spontaneously set to a wide range of tunes, or hunker down at Black Dog Ballroom for a game of pool, late-night eats and some serious people-watching.
WHERE TO STAY
ABode ManchesterManchester might never sleep, but people do. ABode Manchester is a sleek hotel built in a converted warehouse. Literature is a big theme, with books or images of books greeting guests throughout. Art by David Hockney and Yoko Ono hang on the walls, and Michael Caines Restaurant and Champagne Bar, located on the lower level, tempts both visitors and regulars.
The MidlandThe Midland was opened by Midland Railway in 1903 and was the meeting place of Charles Rolls and Henry Royce of Rolls-Royce automobiles. A spa, a pool, a squash court and an on-site French restaurant all help to make this property a top choice.