Manchester Travel Guide

Capital of the North with a stellar reputation for arts and culture, Manchester is second only to thunder-stealer London when it comes to the best of Britain’s urban hubs. But unlike those mardy southerners, Mancunians are warm and welcoming, proud to introduce you to the scientific, musical, artistic and sporty achievements of their city. Formerly industrial but consistently progressive, Manchester leads where others follow. This makes the food scene a joy, where you can find everything from top-notch steaks to pucka street eats, allowing you to sample a bunch of flavourful international cuisine as well as hearty English fare, such as black pudding and pasty barms, before washing it all down with a local craft beer or cutting edge cocktail in a traditional pub. Aside from Manchester Pride in August, centred around the vibrant canal-side Gay Village, the city’s Queer Media Festival is another to watch out for in November, a unique celebration of queer storytelling in digital media. Confused about where to go and what to do in Manchester? Take our hand and let our Manchester gay travel guide lead the way.

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The best hotels in Manchester

Let’s start this gay Manchester travel guide with a roundup of the best places to stay in Manchester. Manchester happily mixes traditional hotels with contemporary boutiques. The Principal, the city’s latest addition, sees the infamous Palace Hotel transformed into a luxury residence. With its iconic Victorian clock tower, The Principal is a city centre landmark and was built as the Refuge Assurance Building in 1895. The multimillion-pound refurbishment retains and retells the building’s history.

The Midland, housed in a beautiful Edwardian Baroque Grade II listed building, is one of the city’s most iconic residences. Its location near the Town Hall is perfect for weekend stays.

If a more unusual rest is up your strasse, and why wouldn’t it be, the city has plenty to offer. The Great John Street Hotel, an eclectic townhouse occupying an old Victorian school, is one of the finest hotels in the UK with luxury rooms, stylish lounges, and an Oyster bar.

Hotel Gotham is the latest boutique opening, offering unashamed opulence in the city centre. In an imposing Art Deco building on King Street, designed by ‘Architect of the British Empire’ Edwin Luytens, its dramatic suites and OTT approach to interior design rival the world’s most unique hotels.

Alternatively, try the Lowry just over the river in Salford. This five-star behemoth has welcomed presidents and pop stars since it opened in 2001.

Photo: Lewis Roberts

Photo: Lewis Roberts


Recommended hotels in Manchester
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With 360-degree views of the city, Cloud 23 affords unrivalled views and allows you to get a sense of the area

Things to do in Manchester

Cloud 23, a cocktail bar on the 23rd floor of the city’s iconic Beetham Tower, is a good place to start. With 360-degree views of the city, the bar affords unrivalled views and allows you to get a sense of the area: its past and its present. Work your way through the champagne list, or try the decadent afternoon tea, one of Manchester’s finest. The building itself is the North West of England’s most iconic skyscraper, so the opportunity to ride its lifts shouldn’t be missed.

Major galleries dominate the city’s art scene. The publicly owned Manchester Art Gallery combines Renaissance oil paintings, a large number of works by L.S. Lowry (one of Manchester’s most famous residents) and a rolling programme of contemporary art. Recent highlights have included shows by Joana Vasconcelos and Grayson Perry, alongside exhibitions about interior design and Italian fashion. The Whitworth, relaunched this year with a £15m extension, won Museum of the Year in 2015 and houses a vast collection of modern art and sculpture, from notable figures such as Moore, Hepworth, Paolozzi, Hamilton, Bacon, Hockney and many more. For a more intimate experience, try Artzu for sculpture and paintings, or the Richard Goodall Gallery for graphic prints.

Photo: Stephen Arnold

Photo: Stephen Arnold

The Whitworth | Photo: Matt Bramford

The Whitworth | Photo: Matt Bramford


Recommended experiences in Manchester
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What to see in Manchester

Architecture in Manchester

As an industrial city, Manchester’s historic buildings are few and far between. The Town Hall is a fine example of Gothic architecture and a step inside Central Library‘s enormous rotunda is time well spent. The thrill of the city is a vast number of Modernist buildings, which are great for architecture fans; the city has its own Modernist Society, who educate and preserve. The Toast Rack is worth the 10-minute journey by cab, but the city centre is peppered with glorious concrete structures.


Manchester welcomes the world’s greatest performers all year round, but the Manchester International Festival is a must-visit. The city thrives with music, art, drama and dance events across the city at multiple venues and the festival’s focus is on original work, with famous creatives crossing their own boundaries. Previous highlights have included a musical by Damon Albarn, choral performances curated by Gerhard Richter, and live performances by Kraftwerk, The xx and Massive Attack to name a few.

The Northern Quarter

One of the most buzzing Manchester points of interest is the Northern Quarter. It is the city’s creative hub, and the result of regeneration throughout the nineties. This locale is a hotbed of eclectic shops, inspired menswear stores, endless places to imbibe and a host of world cuisine. Oi Polloi is a must; the city’s best menswear stockist offers brands from Europe including Our Legacy and A Kind of Guise. Stock up on a Stutterheim rain jacket, perfect for Manchester’s notoriously inclement weather.

Northern Quarter, Manchester, credit to valentin-petkov-1650068-unsplash

Northern Quarter | Photo: Valentin Petkov

The Northern Quarter is also a Mecca for music and it boasts numerous record shops, including the world-famous Piccadilly Records, where you can find rare funk and soul vinyl. Various design shops offer a world of interior objects: we like Fred Aldous for Nathalie du Pasquier prints and Magma for rare magazines.

It’s tough deciding where to eat and drink in the Northern Quarter; the options are endless. Walrus’ decadent interior and the exciting cocktail menu is a good place to start, the Koffee Pot serves heaven-scent British fry-ups, Home Sweet Home boasts being ‘the bestest little cake shop on the planet’ and 63 Degrees, a French brasserie, never disappoints. PLY is always top of the list, too; its pizzas are heavenly and its vast industrial interior is one of the city’s nicest places to relax.



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The Foundation Coffee House is one of the younger members of the scene, but its vast, stylish interior and perfect brews draw a hip crowd at weekends

Where to eat in Manchester

Burgers and street food are beloved in Manchester, but the city offers much more. A branch of Hawksmoor, London’s best steak restaurant, recently opened on Deansgate and has been championed by Manchester’s food critics. Australasia combines modern Australian dishes with European flavours. Neighbourhood exploits New York traditions with a stunning interior and a rich menu of posh Reuben sandwiches, steaks and sushi. The Refuge by Volta, housed in The Principal Hotel,  is a new firm favourite of Mancunians. Its sexy setting and the lavish menu is a real crowd pleaser, as is its endless cocktail list, making it a perfect place for…

The best coffee in Manchester

Manchester’s residents take their coffee seriously. Takk in the Northern Quarter is one of the city’s stalwarts, with beans sourced across Europe and a delicious Nordic-inspired menu to compliment cups of coffee. The Foundation Coffee House is one of the younger members of the scene, but its vast, stylish interior and perfect brews draw a hip crowd at weekends. For the finest independent option, pay Nico a visit at Lupo Caffè Italiano, where you’ll find perfect espresso and the finest, homemade tiramisu this side of the Med.

The Foundation Coffee House | Photo: Matt Bramford

The Foundation Coffee House | Photo: Matt Bramford

Shopping in Manchester

Brits love to shop making their retail scene surprisingly diverse, particularly in the big cities. Department stores like Selfridges and Harvey Nichols cater for label lovers, while affordable high street favourites like Topman and Primark reign supreme. Off of the main shopping streets, the affluent suburb of Didsbury hosts craft markets on weekends, while Levenhulme’s antique markets are also worth exploring. A market you won’t want to miss is based at former Victorian fish market, now known as the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, where you’ll find locally crafted goods, from ceramics and jewellery to art and prints, as well as installations and impromptu performances across two floors.

For a look at the best menswear, British heritage brand Private White VC is a winner. Visit its showroom and store based in Salford, where you can tour the working factory before browsing the luxury collection of utilitarian workwear and tailored menswear, all made in England. Another popular menswear store making waves citywide is Oi Polloi on Thomas Street. A sanctuary for hip and fashion-forward locals, Oi Polloi focuses on casualwear, curating a collection of high-quality shirts, jumpers and jackets in brands such as Barbour, Rains and Penfield. For more well-made British clobber, Lanigan and Hulme is our next choice, launching as recently as 2017 and stocking various brands such as Hackett and Crombie, in a space shared by two cool dogs and a beer chiller outback. To top off your new outfit, Deadstock General Store in the Northern Quarter has got what you need; selling everything from quirky socks to beard treatments, as well as offering a super-handy clothes alteration service.

Private White V.C. | Photo: Matt Bramford

Private White V.C. | Photo: Matt Bramford

Hometown of The Smiths, Manchester is no stranger to musical glory. Record store and nationwide institution Piccadilly Records epitomizes this, frequently named as one of the best independent record shops in the world. Shop here for a wide variety of new artists and classic albums on both vinyl and CD, spanning diverse genres of indie, disco, psych and more. If you’re unsure about what to look for, ask one of the friendly and knowledgeable staff for advice. Magma meanwhile is your go-to for independent magazines, books and quality stationery, popular among fashion students and those in need of creative inspiration. Flick through titles dedicated to avant-garde fashion, outdoor adventures and travel, with big names like Kinfolk sitting alongside niche discoveries.

A newcomer to Manchester’s shopping scene is a design store and café Fig + Sparrow on Oldham Street. Come for an alfresco coffee in summer before heading inside to browse their eclectic collection of gifts, homeware and lifestyle goods. Much loved and long-standing in the Northern Quarter is a vintage clothing store, Pop Boutique, Manchester’s best place to browse the 50s and 60s retro apparel and home accessories over two floors. While you’re here, sit for a coffee in the doorway or get a retro ‘do’ at adjoining hair salon, Barbarella.

Lanigan & Hulme

Lanigan & Hulme

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Serving up live music, DJs, cabaret and dancing, VIA is where the discerning gay crowds come to let their collective hair down to upbeat pop and gay anthems

Nightlife in Manchester

Whether you’re gay, straight or unicorn, the Gay Village is easily Manchester’s most exciting nightlife district, despite there being some strong hetero-centric competition. With that in mind, the Gay Village can sometimes feel overrun with feather boa clad hens and their parties, but inclusivity is welcomed as always and a fun night is more or less guaranteed. For cocktails, this Manchester gay nightlife guide recommends  Velvet Bar, an offshoot of the successful Velvet Restaurant and the go-to place in the village for cocktail perfection in decadent surroundings of black velvet and smoky mirrors, to the tune of resident DJs each weekend. The moody vibe continues over at The Alchemist, home to the self-proclaimed masters of molecular mixology, who whip up theatrical cocktails with an obsession for detail. As well as the creativity, the wide-open windows, various seating options and outside terrace make this one to remember.

The Washhouse is a surprising find. On the outside, it is ostensibly a laundrette but lifts the retro telephone to get buzzed into another world, in true Breaking Bad style. Reservation only and accessible via a large tumble dryer, The Washhouse is a dramatic change of pace, serving its innovative cocktails in all manner of ways; in a cauldron, in a sandpit or even paired with a bowl of Coco Pops. Hard liquor is also sold so you can bear to humour their over-the-top charm. If you like the sound of a back street oasis of fine gin, then Iconic Bar is for you, a small but impressive gay bar home to affordable drinks, a great jukebox and intimate bar-leaning banter.

Photo: Jack Gibson

Photo: Jack Gibson

But don’t stay all night because there are more fabulous gay bars to enjoy. For an upscale New York loft type of vibe, check out Tribeca also in the Gay Village, offering chilled out music during the day before bringing in DJs on the evenings and weekends to raise the tempo to party level. Lovers of the dramatic arts meanwhile will never want to leave Oscars Bar, a theatre and film themed gay bar presenting clips of classic and contemporary musicals in chic environs. Come along to singalong with the local community and prepare to let this place steal your heart.

Hidden in the back alleys of Canal Street is a gay dive bar like no other. This is Centre Stage MCR, famous for its cabaret and nostalgic tone, where the larger-than-life queens and friendly staff take guests on a trip to the retro gay scene of Manchester gone by, all the while plying you with affordable drinks of course. Last up of the night is VIA at the Gay Village’s epicentre, where it has stood for decades. Serving up live music, DJs, cabaret and dancing, VIA is where the discerning gay crowds come to let their collective hair down to upbeat pop and gay anthems.

Photo: Evan Dvorkin

Photo: Evan Dvorkin

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