International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
From northern soul in the Sixties to Madchester in the Nineties, the Rainy City is steeped in musical heritage. Few places in England have the history, style and urban aplomb to match the music capital of the north.
Situated in Piccadilly, Roadhouse sees local and big-name rock, indie and alternative acts being put through their paces in front of an ever-enthusiastic crowd. It’s rightly considered one of the top spots for catching unsigned acts and stars of the future before they break through to the big time (8 Newton St; tickets around £4).
Impressive Bridgewater Hall, close to Deansgate, is the venue that three resident orchestras – the Hallé, the BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata – call home. The place hosts up to 250 events and concerts every year, and not just classical music either. Soul, world, jazz, opera, folk and musicals get their own fair representation too (Lower Mosley St; tickets from £10).
What the Manchester Arena lacks in intimacy, it more than makes up for in sound and scale. Hosting music and sporting events, it’s one of the largest venues of its kind in Europe, with a capacity of 21,000. If it’s big-name international acts (everybody from Lady Gaga and Lionel Richie to Keane and Radiohead) you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place (Victoria Station; tickets from £25).
Immortalised on the artwork of The Smiths’ 1986 album The Queen is Dead, Salford Lads Club, a functioning sports club, is considered one of the country’s most iconic buildings by pop and rock fans. Visitors can view memorabilia such as rare photos of Morrissey and co (St Ignatius Walk; admission free by arrangement, donations welcome).
The old offices of Factory Records (the label behind Joy Division and the Happy Mondays) are now music venue Factory 251, part-owned by ex-Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook. Saturday club night Stonelove celebrates northern soul, indie and funk. Those seeking modern thrills should try The Loft Club on Fridays for house and dubstep (118 Princess St; weekend admission from £3, drinks from £2).
No other place defined ‘Madchester’ – the baggy, indie-dance style and sound that made the city the music centre of the universe, albeit temporarily, in the early 1990s – quite like Afflecks. This four-storey warehouse of independent retailers and cafés in the Northern Quarter sells vintage, retro and customised fashions, vinyl and homeware (52 Church St; admission free, T-shirts from £8).
Common by name, cool by nature: this is a terrific boozer in the Northern Quarter, adorned with local art and favoured by a young and unpretentious crowd that heads here for beans on toast, BLTs and hot Vimto in the day, and some of the city’s best DJ line-ups of an evening (39–41 Edge St; sandwiches from £5.50, admission free or £2).
An institution among die-hard record buyers and the vinylcurious, Piccadilly Records is place to visit if you’re seeking out the best sounds of right now. It’s essentially a northern take on London’s independent Rough Trade stores, selling the best in lesser-known and underexposed new music (53 Oldham St; 12-inch singles from £5).
Why go to a separate café, canteen, club and live music venue, when Soup Kitchen has all four? There’s a friendly atmosphere and the food is simple but impeccably done: roasted tomato soup, pork pie and pickle, and vegetarian Scotch eggs. There’s a good selection of real ales and local brews. Stay in the evenings for top DJs and live events (31–33 Spear St; ales from £3.10).
Where to stay
Roomzzz does a smart line in swish open-plan apartments, with enormous beds, walk-in rain showers, glossy white kitchen areas and iMacs in every room. Fresh pastries and coffee are available each morning. A real bargain for the city centre location (36 Princess St; studios from £62).
Velvet in the Gay Village is a definite contender for the best mid-priced place to stay in the city. It offers 19 decadent, bespoke bedrooms that just about stay on the right side of kitsch (2 Canal St; from £105).
Great John Street has pretty spectacular rooms, with Egyptian cotton sheets and free-standing baths. The rooftop garden has a hot tub and views of the Coronation Street set (Great John St; Baby Grand room from £270).
The M6 links the city with the south and Scotland, while the M62 connects with the northeast. Manchester Piccadilly is the main station for trains to and from the rest of the country (Liverpool from £4 with East Midland Trains; London from £24 with Virgin Trains), but Victoria station serves Bradford and Halifax (Bradford from £17 with Northern Rail). A good pair of shoes and the excellent Metrolink tram system are all you need to get around the compact city centre (singles from £1).