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48 hour guide: enjoy a dose of northern soul in Manchester

I’m of the opinion that Manchester is the best city in the UK; but then again, I am biased.

I’m of the opinion that Manchester is the best city in the UK; but then again, I am biased. Before migrating to the south in search of a journalism career in the Big Smoke, I lived in Manchester and I miss it dearly. Growing up I enjoyed my fair share of cocktail-fuelled nights spent under the arches of Deansgate Locks or sneaking into the private member’s clubs that were the epitome of glamour in the noughties. But Manchester’s evolution since I left the city has been monumental, its incredible food and bar scene evolving rapidly over the last decade. Thanks to an influx of media jobs via Media City in Salford and suburbs like Altincham becoming home to some of the country’s leading food markets, Manchester’s offering has gone from strength to strength. If you’re going to spend just a few days in the city, this is how to pack in all of Manchester’s finest experiences.

10am: first, coffee

For the best coffee spots, head down to the Northern Quarter, a largely pedestrianised hub of independent shops and bars. There’s an industrial vibe here, with street art adorning every corner. You’re spoilt for choice in terms of pared-back, Nordic-style cafes that take their coffee very seriouly. I’d recommend Takk, which draws its influences from Iceland and offers tasty breakfast treats like blueberry porridge and French toast, or Foundation Coffee House for a reliable cuppa. They also do a cracking espresso martini, if you’re past the yardarm. Another personal favourite is Another Heart To Feed, a Melbourne-inspired cafe, bar and brunch spot.

12pm: fill ya boots

While you’re in the vicinity, the Northern’s Quarter’s vintage offering is spectacular. Affleck’s Palace is a treasure trove of retro pieces, costumes, jewellery and accessories, as well as being a hub for tattoo artistry. Pop to Oldham Street to peruse shops like Fig & Sparrow, Piccadilly Records and Magma to shop vintage clothes, gifts, magazines and records. Tibb Street is another one to tick off your list of must-visit destinations, with my favourite-ever flower shop, Northern Flower, offering vibrant, unusual floral arrangements and an abundance of plants and succulents. If you venture to this part of the city around evening time, be sure to make a pit-stop at Manchester’s most famous, yet well hidden, jazz bar, Matt & Phreds. The Northern Quarter has been accused of losing its cool in recent years thanks to an influx of hen and stags descending on its cobbled streets and identikit bars and coffee shops, but a recent trip back to the area proved it’s still full of its original charm, if you side-step the L-plates and occasional chain pub.

2pm: a cultural excursion

Manchester has plenty to offer in terms of culture, particularily if you’re a football or music fan. Visit the National Football Museum on Todd Street or hop on the tram up to Old Trafford if that’s your bag, but if, like me, you’d rather revel in Manchester’s musical history, a trip to Salford’s Lads’ Club to honour The Smiths and the band’s iconic hayday photograph should be on your to-do list. The Whitworth Art Gallery is my favourite in the city; there’s always a brilliant exhibition on, with recent favourites including an exploration of Utopia throughout history and collections from greats like Andy Warhole and Cornelia Parker. For a spot of tea or afternoon snack, the gallery cafe has beautiful views over the park.

6pm: feeding time

It’s impossible to choose just one favourite restaurant in Manchester; the city is teeming with incredible culinary offerings. If you can only eat in one place, I’d say go for the stunningly situated The Refuge, a dramatic dining experience serving creative small and large plates, as well as a winter garden cocktail lounge. The Refuge is housed within the sumptuous The Principle Hotel, which is well worth a stay in if you’re looking for a city centre hotel that will knock your socks off.

7pm: bar crawlling

As the birthplace of musical greats like Oasis and The Smiths, you’d expect Manchester to have a solid music scene. Music from all genres makes up the backing track to Manchester’s vibrant bars, with plenty of areas in which to crawl through with a drink in hand. Going back to the Northern Quarter is a great place to start, its windy streets filled with eccentric bars and revamped traditional pubs, many with a hidden rooftop or terrace to while the night away in. A few to add to your list are Port Street Beer House for traditional ales, Guilty By Association for dimly-lit cocktail shenanigans and Dusk Til Pawn for weird and very wonderful interiors (it’s a hidden bar in what used to be a dodgy-looking pawn shop). And that’s just to name a few.

If you’re after something a little more swish and are partial to enjoying a glittering skyline alongside your martini, head to one of Manchester’s famous rooftop spots to take in the views. Cloud 23, which is housed inside the Hilton at the top of Deansgate Street, boasts arguably the best views in the city. Newcomer 20 Stories has firmly established itself as one of the best places to enjoy a glass of bubbly or expertly-crafted cocktail while overlooking the city’s rooftops. The venue houses a restaurant and lively bar, as well as a heated winter terrace. 20 Stories is situated in Spinningfields, which is full of decadent cocktail spots, fancy wine bars and some of Manchester’s best restaurants, so it’s well worth a wander to this corner of the city.

1am: karaoke in Chinatown

For me there’s only one way to end a night out in Manchester. And that’s with dumplings and blaring out Kiki Dee and Elton John. Chinatown is another area of Manchester worth discovering, marked by its impressive structure, situated at the foot of Faulkner Street, where you’ll find delights such as Happy Seasons Restaurant and The Little Yang Sing. Karaoke spots in Chinatown are available in abundance, but if you’re looking for guidance, I can vouch for K2 Karaoke Nightclub, with a neon basement bar and wide range of tracks ready for you to do your worst to. Orchid Lounge is also a great shout for those who fancy murdering a tune or two, plus it’s open until 4am.

11am: bloody mary o’clock

Are there many things in life that can’t be cured by a decent bloody mary? Likely not. Japanese-inspired restaurant Cottonopolis offers a spicy variety that will wash away any traces of last night’s bar crawl-induced hangover, while El Capo is the perfect place to induge in some Mexican brunch classics, with two variations on offer; the classic and a Bloody Maria, which is served with tequila and lime, instead of vodka and lemon. Viva Mexico!

1pm: take the tram

Or ‘The Met’ as we affectionately called it… Manchester’s suburbs are worth exploring; especially as the Metrolink offers you easy access to pretty much any of the surrounding areas within 20 minutes. Neighbouring Altrincham’s food market, officially called Altrincham Market, is a popular spot for a weekend wander, offering an abundance of tasty food of all varieties. Dumplings, sushi, sourdough pizza, aperol spritz and lovely red wines; all the usual suspects. After enjoying anything from a nibble to a three-course meal, persuse stalls selling jewellery, dresses, wine, gin, handmade beauty products and pretty trinkets.

5pm: time for a brew

You’re welcome to opt for a cuppa now, but I was actually refering to something stronger. Manchester has a number of excellent tap rooms on offer where you can taste some of the country’s tastiest IPAs and ales. You’ll have to travel to the outskirts of the city, but it’s well worth the trip. Manchester Brewing Company has a sterling reputation, but my favourite has to be the newly instated Cloudwater Brewing Company.

8pm: one last hurrah

For a Manchester staycation, it would only be right to go out on a bang, so we’d advise dining somewhere truly special for your final meal in the city. Newbie Mana means business – in 2019 it became the first restaurant in Manchester to receive a Michelin star since 1977. Situated on Blossom Street, its considered dishes are visually stunning and a joy to eat. If you want something more low-key to end your Manchester experience, the Northern Quarter’s Rudys is legendary for its pizza offering.