Manchester is best known as the home of two famous football teams. But “the capital of the North” has a lot more to offer than footballers’ and their shopaholic wives.
When the long-haired hippies in the musical, Hair, sang about “Manchester, England, England” it was neither the first nor the last time the city had a musical connection. Both The Smiths and New Order were formed in Manchester, from where the “Madchester” scene of the late ’80s sprung up, inspiring the Britpop sound of the ’90s. Pioneers of Madchester included The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses with their mixture of indie rock and dance. The club La Hacienda, which was owned by the boys in New Order, was the focal point for the whole Madchester movement. La Hacienda is no more, but Manchester is till ripe with music, especially in the Northern Quarter area where record shops including the well-stocked Piccadilly Records, which looks like something taken directly out of Nick Hornby’s hit novel High Fidelity. (www.Piccadillyrecords.com)
New York has the Lower East Side, Paris its Marais, London its Soho; Manchester’s hip neighbourhood is the Northern Quarter. Vintage shops, organic cafes, art book stores, dark little pubs and experimental music venues sit side by side on Oldham Street, Tib Street and Thomas Street. Vintage clothes shops Rags to Bitches (Rags-to-bitches.co.uk) and Retro Rehab (Retrorehab.co.uk) are musts for any vintage princess dreaming of sequined dresses, diamond cuffs and feathered hair accessories.
Vivienne Westwood was born in the Manchester area so it makes sense that this imaginative designer has her own shop in the city. An older English gentleman is the doorman and welcomes you into the Westwood universe, which is definitely not for Plain Janes. The fact that Pamela Anderson stars in the new ads says it all, doesn’t it? (www.viviennewestwood.com).
Manchester has a quirky mixture of really old and brand-new. Old, crumbling crooked churches, sit side by side with high-rise buildings in glass and metal. It is not always a pretty mix but it is interesting to explore. If you fancy some more formal architectural sightseeing pay a visit to the Urbis museum, which offers changing exhibitions that all have “city life” as a theme. Entry to Urbis is free (urbis.org.uk).
The Brits are good at drinking beer — and that is as true in Manchester as anywhere else. The local beer is called Boddingtons, “the Cream of Manchester,” and is served at most pubs. The first pint of Boddingtons was brewed in 1778, but it is still the third bestselling bitter in Britain.
One of the most distinctive sights in Manchester in recent times was Thomas Heatherwick’s sculpture B of the Bang, located in Sport City. The 56 metres tall metal sculpture with giant points was commissioned in connection with The Commonwealth Games in 2002 and was named after a quote by the runner Linford Christie, who said that he begins running as soon as he hears the B in the starting pistol’s Bang! Catch it while you can – unfortunately parts of the structure have fallen off and the sculpture is being dismantled by July.
Shops and Sushi
With the low pound it’s a great time to hit The Trafford Centre, Manchester’s main shopping mall. There are 250 shops in this tacky Las Vegas-style shopping centre with its domes, columned arcades and brand-new sculptures in “ye olde style” and multitude of cheesy frescoes, fountains and marble. When your legs get tired, there are plenty of coffee bars and restaurants to choose from. Have fun at Yo Sushi! in the Selfridges department store. Here you sit at the bar where you can watch the chefs prepare the sushi, Asian salads and hot dishes that are then put on a conveyor belt, for you to pick what you want. The colour of the plate determines the price of the dish. (Traffordcentre.co.uk)
Manchester divides its recent history into before and after 1996. That was when a bomb placed by the IRA exploded in the city centre, wounded more than 200 people and destroyed part of the city centre. That set off a huge renovation and the building of new buildings, which has changed the way the city looks. A traditional red mail box, which miraculously survived the blast, stand as a memorial in front of the department store Marks & Spencer, where the bomb exploded.
A fine way of getting an overview of Manchester is by going for a ride on the Wheel of Manchester, a 60-metre high Ferris wheel in the centre of town. The closed cabins seat eight people and you can see the whole of the centre of town unfold like a labyrinth underneath you.
Need to know
• Where to stay: There’s accommodation for all budgets in Manchester. Hotel International across from Piccadilly Station is highly recommended. (From 40 Euro per night, thehotelinternational.co.uk). A short walk down the street you’ll find warehouse-turned-hotel Malmaison. The Mal Bar is worth checking out even if you’re not staying at the hotel. (From 69 Euro, www.malmaison-manchester.com)
• Where to eat: Manchester is a melting pot of different cultures and that shows in its restaurant options. From greasy Chinese to fine French – Manchester has it all. Why not try the Michael Caines’ Restaurant at the Abode hotel, which has been voted the best restaurant in Manchester several years in a row? It’s nowhere nearly as expensive as it sounds. Visit www.michaelcaines.com
• How to get there: Manchester Airport is about 15km south-west of the city centre. The train from the airport to Piccadilly Station takes less that 30 minutes and costs 4 Euro.
• Web: www.visitmanchester.com