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Once upon a time, Manchester was known as little more than England’s manufacturing port. Fast-forward to 2019 when the half-million strong city serves as one of the UK’s most under-the-radar spots, a funky university town offering a slate of exciting cultural options. It’s become a creative hub with plenty of great dining and drinking options, a biannual art festival attracting A-list talent like Yoko Ono and Idris Elba (mark your calendars for the 2021 Manchester International Festival!), and a historical repository where it can seem like every building has a story to tell. Everyone is so busy crafting their futures, it’s no wonder the worker bee has long symbolized the city. Interested in breaking away from busy London or the Liverpool Beatles path? Here’s a cheat-sheet for embracing the Mancunian spirit.

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Spy on street art


Street Art | Photo: Joshua Mellin

Manchester’s Northern Quarter used to be known for its cotton production—but now the oversized buildings serve as canvases for some of the most impressive street art in the country (a feat encouraged by Cities of Hope, which also offers walking tours). Stroll around the area to discover optical illusions, oversized cats, and even a few Game of Thrones characters. Just don’t get too attached—because of the temporary nature of the medium, you’re likely to find new pieces with each visit.

Shop for…anything

Afflecks, Manchester, England

Afflecks | Photo: Joshua Mellin

Speaking of which, while you’re in the Northern Quarter, don’t forget to stop by Afflecks, the city’s “emporium of eclecticism.” It’s a title this collective of independent retailers takes seriously, giving shoppers the ability to find anything from “Manchester Strong” souvenirs, to hand-crafted jewelry, to rare vinyl from within the maze-like halls of this immense complex. Need a tattoo or a cup of tea? No worries, they’ve got that, too.

Brunch like a boss

Mackie Mayor, Manchester, England

Mackie Mayor | Photo: Joshua Mellin

As if you needed another reason to linger in the Northern Quarter. Food hall Mackie Mayor is the go-to brunch spot, with enough eateries to satisfy even picky eaters, and offer reservations—if your group contains over 10 people—so that no one goes without a seat. Locals report that the former warehouse is “heaving” with people on nights and weekends, so make this your first stop and swing by Wolf House Coffee for granola and a strong brew instead.

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Walk it off

One of the best things about Manchester is that it’s very walkable—and by using feet instead of wheels to get between neighborhoods, you’re likely to discover more than a few treasures that aren’t covered in guide books. But if you’re looking for a direction, point your feet toward Smithills Hall, where you can see the truly stunning mill village of Barrow Bridge, along with a slate of historic homes. Grab the route (and other ideas for scenic diversions) here.

Take a leisurely lunch


Photo courtesy of Joshua Mellin

Located under the underpass on Oxford Road, the recently expanded Hatch, located in a jumble of shipping containers-turned-eateries, is a foodie’s haven, with over 30 different food vendors ranging from fried chicken to vegan “duck” to multiple shops for anyone with a sweet tooth. It’s cash free, so don’t forget your cards. It’s also home to both a DJ school and barber—so come curious.

Go Home

Not to your home! The Home complex is where much of Manchester’s art and culture is incubated, whether it’s art exhibits by David Lynch, indie films and special screenings in the cinema, or first-run theater productions.

Pause for Tea

Richmond Tea Room, Manchester, England

Richmond Tea Room | Photo: Joshua Mellin

Tea time in England is practically a national sport. So, get your caffeine fix in the most whimsical way possible. Located in the city’s Gay Village, Richmond Tea Rooms is a red-velvet and melting-clock adorned tribute to Alice and Wonderland. Tumble down the rabbit hole into a world rich with chocolate tea and rainbow cake, or just swing by for a round of avocado toast, served on thick slices of freshly made bread.

Sip Strong

Old Wellington, Manchester

Old Wellington | Photo: Joshua Mellin

Of course, if you’re going to fully respect England’s traditions, you’ll also have to make time for people watching and a pint. With its ample outdoor seating, The Old Wellington gives ample opportunity for both. This old-timber pub built in 1552 serves up plenty of history (it relocated twice before finding its current home in the city center), alongside an ever-rotating selection of ales. There’s also a selection of lemonades and ginger beers, for those who prefer their social occasions served sober.

Make a splash  

Modeled after Turkish bathhouses, the Victoria Baths were reopened 10 years ago after an extensive remodel. Thankfully, the opulent brick exterior and dramatic sweep of the interior pool area were maintained—meaning whether you’re there for one of the many events, or just to get wet and wild, you’ll be in for a photogenic plunge.

Sleep central

Dakota Manchester

Dakota Manchester

Stay at Dakota Manchester, a hotel right next to Piccadilly Station with direct connections to the airport, and you’ll be a few footfalls away from nearly everything you’ll want to see. If you’re feeling fancy, hang out in the cigar garden (with views of the city) or champagne room. Then collapse in one of the opulent suites, featuring extremely powerful rain showers that’ll help wash off your incredibly busy day of sightseeing.

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Laura Studarus

Laura Studarus

Laura is a writer/vagabond with bylines in Marie Claire, Vice, Bandcamp and Lenny Letter. Sometimes she can go several hours without a cup of tea. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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