Is This England’s Coolest City?
Ask a Manchester native how he feels living in England's second city and he'll reply, "I don't know, ask a Londoner." The once industrial powerhouse has swagger in spades, from its electrifying music scene to its supercharged soccer teams. And thanks to a spate of revamps and re-openings, the arts scene is seriously coming into its own. Add to the mix Scandi-style cafes, swanky bars and hip new hotels, and it's easy to see why Manchester is on our list of must-see destinations for 2016.
Rest Your Head
This new kid on the block opened in January in an Italian Renaissance-style building off King Street, in Manchester's posh shopping thoroughfare. The 40 rooms work a cozy urban vibe, lent by retro Roberts radios, shuttered windows, Angle-poise lamps, and freestanding tubs. The real crowning glory though is the heated infinity spa pool up on the top floor, which looks out on the town hall's iconic clock tower.
Manchester's former Free Trade Hall witnessed the Sex Pistol's first gig and Bob Dylan's historic genre-bending performance – when he swapped his acoustic guitar for a Stratocaster (don't miss the preserved patch of wall scrawled with autographs from former artists). Musical bona fides aside, this sleek stay houses a sultry cocktail bar, a reasonably priced lobster restaurant and a basement pool and spa with treatment rooms tucked away in the building's old vaults.
From the minimalist glass-walled dining room to a menu stocked with tapas dishes, this contemporary crashpad from Spanish hotel chain Melia, brings a touch of Madrid to Manchester. Homegrown highlights include beer from local brewery Tweed; drawings of the city's landmarks etched onto headboards; and breakfast DJs (weekends only), a nod to Manchester's '80s club, the Hacienda, that once stood opposite the hotel.
This swanky retreat lays claim to a former bank built by great British architect, Edwin Lutyens, and makes great use of its Art Deco heritage. The interiors are done up in quirky-luxe touches like moneybag-style laundry bags, briefcase light fixtures and bowler hat wall displays. It's all about vacationing VIPs here, with regular pre-theatre tea hours at the on-site restaurant, and a top-floor members-only club.
Eat Your Heart Out
Brunch like a champ on the Avocado & Feta Smash (smashed avocado and feta with poached eggs, fresh lime, red chillies, and coriander on toasted sourdough), or keep it sweet with French toast topped with strawberries, blueberries and whipped ricotta. Brunch is served until 4 p.m. so it's completely acceptable to dine while downing a couple of cocktails from the first-floor bourbon bar.
For a laid-back lunch, this new pizza joint in the once gritty Ancoats hood is where it's at. A young creative crowd regularly fills the industrial-chic dining room, feasting on authentic Neapolitan-style pies.
This traditional boozer first opened in 1870 and has had no trouble attracting Brits ever since. Original green Victorian tiles and ironwork remain and the menu stays true to its roots with old school British dishes like steak and kidney pudding and the signature corned beef hash, which is made over 10 days.
More apres-work than apres-ski, the Bavarian Albert's Schloss beer hall channels an Alpine chalet vibe nonetheless, with its crackling fires, long wooden benches, cozy crushed velvet booths, and giant Pilsner Urquell beer tank. Pair potent brews with bratwurst and pretzels from the in-house bakery and top it off with a Schnapps made on-site.
This handsome hangout on King Street embraces all things Spanish; from the ground floor charcuterie counter to the sherry-glazed ribs (served from an open kitchen) to the cocktails poured at the top floor bar.
A glam spot in Manchester's Spinningfields district, Tattu serves dim sum as dreamy as the decor. The sassy interiors incorporate glossy woodwork, private booths, skyscraper pendant lighting and tattoo-inspired artwork. Oh, and the top floor tables are centered around a towering 4-meter-high cherry blossom tree. Dig into the Wagyu dumplings and foie gras gyoza. You won't regret it.
Corner the Caffeine Scene
Expect a warm welcome and bags of Scandi-style coffee at this cozy cafe in the Northern Quarter. Order a steaming cup of Nordic-style espresso, set up shop on one of the reclaimed wooden school desks and take in the Icelandic artwork that adorn the walls.
There are plenty of cool coffee joints in the city, but for a proper English cuppa, head to Teacup, a former record shop owned by Manchester DJ, Mr. Scruff. The fair-trade teas (we love the Vanilla cacao, once used by the Aztecs and Mayans to boost their moods), are served with a timer so you know exactly when to pour the perfect cup.
This hipster hangout serves as a pay-as-you-stay cafe for coffee-loving locals. Roll up with your laptop and pay the 6p per minute charge and everything from the cakes and cookies to the super speedy WiFi is included in the price. The killer coffee is from local roaster, the Ancoats Coffee Company.
Shop and slurp at this 'lifestyle cafe' that stocks trinkets and housewares made by local artists as well as potent coffee and loose teas from Newcastle-based, family-run Ringtons.
Fill Your Cup
Hiding out in a former tailor's studio and textile warehouse, this dapper drinking den is decked out with exposed red brick walls, copper light fixtures and cast iron columns. The place was coined after Manchester's nickname during the 19th-century global cotton trade and the pun-tastic cocktail menu aptly follows suit. Our favorite: the Respect your Elder with Cartron elderflower liqueur.
Don't be put off by the no-frills entryway: the Temple is your dream dive bar come true. It's housed in a renovated subterranean public bathroom (yes, really), and covered in old music gig posters. It's best asset: the jukebox, with every made-in-Manchester tune you can think of.
This ode to all things hoppy is for serious beer drinkers. The impressive selection includes seven cask ales, 18 draft lines and over 100 bottled beers sourced from breweries around the world. Sip suds from one of the intimate booths on the upper floor or from the hidden gem beer garden. Bonus: the pub hosts regular tasting sessions and 'meet the brewer' events.
This bottle shop turned bar stocks all manner of small-batch beers, with a focus on contemporary British ales. Order your glass with a hearty Reuben sandwich and jar of pickles.
Shop Till You Drop
Manchester's creative community gathers at this two-story Victorian fish market lined with artist-run studios and boutiques. Shop for screen prints, jewelry, photographs and ceramics by local talent or join a workshop to pick up a new skill.
This Manchester menswear institution dons a fine line in French breton tops, Swedish backpacks and homegrown threads from in-house brand, Cottonopolis.
Artsy gig posters, cult film prints, Japanese vinyl toys – the Richard Goodhall Gallery is as entertaining to browse as it is to buy from. Most of the artwork is limited edition and/or signed by the artist so it's the place to find a special one-off piece for your collection.
Manchester's answer to London's Bond Street, King Street is where you'll find the upscale boutiques and brands. The British line up includes luxury lingerie outfitter Agent Provocateur, Vivienne Westwood and Pretty Green, a menswear store owned by Oasis frontman, Liam Gallagher.
Live for Live Music
Manchester has produced more rock stars per head than any other British city (think The Smiths, Oasis, Joy Division, The Stone Roses). Explore the sounds of the city on a music tour led by Craig Gill, drummer of local indie band, Inspiral Carpets. You might swing by the Boardwalk Club where Oasis played their first gig or Salford Lads Club, the inspiration behind The Queen is Dead – The Smiths album sleeve.
This historic music venue dates back to 1927 and has played host to greats like The Beatles and Frank Sinatra in the '60s. Original Art Deco features, a sprung wooden dance floor and a top sound system make it one of the best places to see live music in the city.
As the name suggests, this 19th-century building was once a school for the deaf. Today it's a live music venue with a domed ceiling, plush velvet curtains and a massive dangling disco ball. Head here for a strong line up of hipster indie bands.
Leave time to catch a concert (jazz, classical, rock, take your pick) at the Bridgewater Hall. The building's architecture and acoustics are stunning, and it's home to three resident orchestras including homegrown Hallé.
The new HOME cultural hub is the UK's largest arts complex outside London, dedicated to contemporary art, theater and film. It's all about accessibility here: come to browse the free rotating exhibitions, score a ticket for a theater production (from $7), or eat a super affordable – but tasty – meal (the Worker's Lunch deal is a steal) at the restaurant.
As part of a £15 million renovation, the Whitworth Gallery has doubled its size, adding a jaw-dropping glass, steel and brick extension to the original 19th-century building. On view are more than 55,000 pieces that include fine art, contemporary works and textiles.
The grand Manchester Art Gallery, in the City Center, showcases an impressive collection of marquee artists with pieces by the likes of Constable, Renoir, Gauguin and Manchester master, L.S Lowry.
Surrounded by hipster hangouts in the Northern Quarter, the CFCCA celebrates Manchester's Chinese community through revolving contemporary exhibitions. After you've taken in the art, swing by the small shop, which is filled with one-of-a-kind housewares and gifts.
History lovers won't want to miss this neo-Gothic building with soaring pillars and sky-high stained-glass windows. Medieval manuscripts and the oldest known piece of the New Testament are just a few of the treasures inside.
All museum photos taken by David Levene