Do you still live in your hometown, readers? I do. I was born here in Manchester once upon a time, and apart from a brief few months spent living in the Netherlands when I was 20, I’ve spent my whole life living in and around Greater Manchester. I’ve lived in the south, the south-west, the east, the centre, and now the north. On the one hand I feel like I know Manchester extremely well, but on the other hand, familiarity can breed complacency and so I’m often at a loss when folks ask me what there is to DO in Manchester.
Recently, Hotels.com got in touch to ask whether I’d like to collaborate on a post all about Manchester. I figured this was an excellent time to explore my own city and see what I find, and I asked my lovely friend Vicki to come along with me. The spending money was gifted by Hotels.com, but all views are my own! And if you like what you see here and fancy a visit to offbeat Manchester, check out hotels in Manchester here.
The Northern Quarter
We started our day in Manchester’s Northern Quarter with a coffee at Chapter One Books. This is one of my favourite coffee hangouts, not least because of the highly chilled out vibe and the excellent vegan cake selection. The free wi-fi is great too, and it’s a perfect place to sit in a quiet corner and get some work or reading done.
There are loads of lovely coffee shops in and around the northern quarter, so you’ll never be short of coffee and cake.
After we were charged with caffeine we decided to do a small tour of a few NQ shopping spots. I forget how fantastic the more quirky and offbeat independent shops are in this part of town; if you really mean business you could easily spend a whole day browsing, and these are all great places to go to buy unique gifts. In no particular order I would recommend:
- Afflecks Palace (I’m certain I spent actual years of my teens in here, along with the Coliseum, RIP)
- Fred Aldous
- Thunder Egg
After we’d browsed the shops awhile, and with lunch another hour or so away. we figured that an ice cream stop was in order. On the top floor of Affleck’s Palace you’ll find Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, a coffee and ice cream/milkshake bar offering a great selection of vegan cones and flavours. I went for a cherry sorbet while Vicki chose honeycomb and orange blossom.
Having gobbled our ice creams, we decided to go in search of some culture before lunch. The first stop was the delightful Craft & Design Centre, an emporium of independent artists and makers selling their wares, housed in an old Victorian fish market. More upmarket and artisan than Afflecks, there are some gorgeous pieces to be found here: jewellery, ceramics, paper art, etc. There is also a lovely little cafe with a great vegan selection (including the all-important vegan cake).
We then headed off down the road to the central city Art Gallery, where we enjoyed the resident Pre-Raphaelites along with some Scandinavian design and Da Vinci.
A short walk away from the art gallery is Manchester’s Town Hall and Central Library, a joyous seat of culture and learning with a cafe, archives, exhibitions, shop, and of course books all in-house.
If you seek more art and/or history in Manchester, there’s plenty to choose from. In the city centre you can also find the Museum of Science and Industry and the People’s History Museum. A 5-10 minute bus ride down Oxford Road towards the University campuses will bring you to Manchester Museum and the Whitworth Art Gallery.
Lunch: Bombay street food 1920s style at Dishoom
Vicki and I decided to try something completely new for lunch, and so we set aside all our usual and favourite haunts (which I’ll list below) in favour of splashing out at Dishoom. Housed in the quite grand Grade II listed former Freemason’s Lodge on Bridge Street, the restaurant is evocative of 1920s Bombay’s Irani Cafes, and is bustling with businessmen, families, and casual shoppers alike on a Wednesday afternoon. I’m told it’s advisable to book, which we didn’t, but we were lucky enough to squeeze into a corner and were very glad indeed that we did.
The food at Dishoom was SUPERB and I would highly recommend a visit for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Or all three. The menu is quite reminiscent of Bundobust, another fine eaterie serving Indian street food in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens. You’ll never want to hear from potatoes again once you’ve tried the okra fries at either of these restaurants. The ambience is fancier at Dishoom and the prices a wee bit higher to reflect that, but worth every penny in our view. (For vegan curry on an even smaller budget, try the Rice and Three cafe next to Oklahoma on High Street.)
Other Manchester restaurants I love with great vegan options are:
- Tampopo (pan-Asian fusion street food)
- V Rev (vegan junk food diner)
- Vertigo (a new plant-based cafe with a Scandi style and hearty breakfasts/lunches)
- Pasta Factory (a family-run Italian restaurant with outstanding fresh-made vegan pastas and cheeses)
With full bellies, we left Dishoom and wandered over to nearby John Rylands to soak up a bit of history. Not to be confused with the (entirely less grand) University library on Oxford Road, the John Rylands library on Deansgate is one of Manchester’s most impressive and finest bits of neo-gothic architecture. Over 100 years old, it’s worth a visit for the building alone, but it also houses a shop, cafe, and resident and rotating exhibitions. The library holds a number of special collections, including a papyrus fragment widely regarded as the earliest part of any New Testament writing in existence.
Another short walk from John Rylands is Manchester’s own Cathedral, a beautiful gothic church dating back, in places, to the 1400s. The visitor centre and cafe is adjacent, and Manchester’s shambles square is nearby, along with a number of restaurants within the Corn Exchange (I recommend Mowgli and Tampopo).
Vicki and I were proud to note we had clocked up around 10,000 steps at this point, so we decided to draw our adventure to a close. Having cycled into the city that morning, I picked up my bicycle and headed towards home. I live in the north of Manchester, and am lucky enough to be very close to Manchester’s Heaton Park. On a warm day, it’s worth the short and direct tram ride from the city centre to the front gates of the park. Check what’s on before you visit, but there’s plenty on offer day by day: a cafe, garden centre, woods, lake, and lots of paths to walk and cycle.
If you’re planning a visit to Manchester you could check out what’s on before you visit; we have theatres, music venues, cinemas, galleries, green spaces, historic buildings and sites, and lots of wonderful food. And don’t forget to check out the hotel selection at Hotels.com.
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