Alternative Manchester: The Ultimate Guide

This page contains affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.

The Travel Bloggers Unite conference is taking place in Manchester, England on 26-27 March. We won’t be there but as we lived in the city for the best part of the last 10 years I thought I would share my tips on cool places to visit. Manchester isn’t the easiest place to love but there is a great art scene and some alternative gems, as long as you know where to look.

First a bit of orientation. The centre of Manchester is quite compact and it’s easy to walk everywhere, although there is a free, rather slow Metroshuttle bus service that takes you from one end to another if you don’t want to walk. The main shopping street is Market Street which is full of chain shops and is not very interesting. Look for Oldham Street just opposite Piccadilly Gardens and walk down here to enter the Northern Quarter. This is the bohemian/artsy/alternative area of town and where many of my recommendations are located.

Where to Eat

Northern Quarter Curry Cafes

Manchester is very multi-cultural with a particularly large Indian and Pakistani community. You may have heard of the famous Curry Mile in Rusholme with hundreds of Indian restaurants, but frankly most of the curries there are not very good.

For something more authentic and a lot cheaper wander around the back streets of the Northern Quarter to discover many small, simple curry cafés. They are usually only open for lunch and offer your choice of three curries and rice for £3-4. My favourite with the best vegetarian selection is Yadgas at 71 Thomas Street or This and That hidden away at 3 Soap Street off Thomas Street.

Earth Café

Located in Manchester’s Buddhist Centre this vegan café serves up healthy, tasty lunches from local produce in a relaxed setting. You can get a filling meal for under a fiver.
16-20 Turner Street, Northern Quarter


Oklahoma is a quirky vegetarian café within a gift shop selling weird and wacky items. There isn’t a huge selection of food but I like the toasted sandwiches on delicious nutty Norlander bread. There are also baked sweet potatoes, vegetable lasagna, cakes and juices.
74-76 High Street, Northern Quarter


Croma is our favourite pizza restaurant in Manchester. The décor is classy, prices reasonable (£5-7) and the toppings are inventive. We share the Greek and Roasted Vegetable pizzas every time as they are so good.
1-3 Clarence Street, near the Town Hall or there is a branch in the southern suburb Chorlton.


Update 2024: Sadly, the Didsbury branch has now closed, but you can still visit their branch in Sale.

Owned by TV chef Simon Rimmer this vegetarian restaurant is our favourite place for a treat. The prices aren’t low (£11-13 for mains) but it’s good value for this level of quality. The menu is imaginative and changes seasonally. You’ll find international dishes (Indian, Thai, Italian) as well as veggie versions of traditional British grub like bangers and mash. This is the kind of vegetarian restaurant where even meat eaters are happy.

It’s located in the posh suburb of Didsbury south of the city centre, but it’s worth taking the bus ride down to see a different side to the city. While you are there have a drink at The Metropolitan pub just opposite in an old Victorian railway hotel.
43 Lapwing Lane, West Didsbury

Where to Shop

You can find all the chain shops on Market Street or at the huge Trafford Centre but this is the Alternative Manchester Guide so here are a few more unusual options.

Afflecks Palace

The Legendary Afflecks is a maze of alternative, independent stalls selling vintage clothes, hand-made jewellery, crazy hats and all manner of weird stuff. It’s fun to get lost in even if you don’t plan to buy.
52 Church Street, Northern Quarter (there’s also an entrance on Oldham St)

Manchester Craft & Design Centre

If you are looking for a unique, hand-made gift this airy space is the place to come. Artists have their own stalls and you can often see them at work. You’ll find clothes, bags, jewellery, ceramics, paintings and more.
17 Oak Street, Northern Quarter

You can also find lots of independent shops selling second hand clothes and music just by wandering around the Northern Quarter.

Where to Go Out

I’m not really into drinking and clubbing (although there is plenty of that in Manchester if that’s your thing) but instead here are some tips for enjoying the city’s arts scene (and a few beers).

Night & Day

Manchester is famous for its music scene and if you were to choose one place to explore it I’d go for Night and Day. All the big Mancunian bands played here in their early days and it’s a good place to see up and coming bands without paying a fortune (about £6). It’s cramped and crowded but very Manchester.
26 Oldham Street, Northern Quarter

Matt & Phreds

A cool jazz bar with live music most nights that also serves tasty pizzas. It’s worth booking a table in advance on weekends.
64 Tib Street, Northern Quarter

Other bars and venues you could try in the Norther Quarter include Band on the Wall.

Cornerhouse (now called Home)

An excellent art house cinema which also houses free arts exhibitions, an art book shop and a great café/bar. It’s worth a visit at any time of the day, even if you don’t want to see a film. During the TBU conference at the end of March Cornerhouse are hosting the excellent Viva Spanish & Latin American film festival – I highly recommend catching a film if you can.
70 Oxford Street (next to the Oxford Rd Railway Station)

Contact Theatre

Contact shows some of the most interesting theatre in the city. It’s aimed at under 30s who wouldn’t usually attend the theatre and you’ll find edgy, multi-cultural and cross-art form performances.
Oxford Road (It’s a quick bus ride from the centre – look out for the strange castle-like building near Manchester University)

Royal Exchange Theatre

For more traditional, quality theatre check out what is showing in the Royal Exchange’s unusual space. You’ll be seated in the round inside the Great Hall, a former Cotton Exchange. If you are under 26 you can get tickets for just £5 on Mondays.
St Anns Square


Most people don’t live in the city centre, so if you want to see a different side to the city take a bus to the southern suburb of Chorlton. This is the coveted area to live for artists, musicians and alternative types. It’s not as posh at Didsbury but instead is a mix of working class Manchester with trendy bars and cafés.

My picks to explore would be the Unicorn Grocery for organic food if you are self catering; Barbakan Deli for delicious fresh bread; and The Beer House for a huge range of quality organic real ales (try the Ginger Marble).


  1. Why no mention of Creative Recycling Gallery on Beech Road, Chorlton ? Great place – art and sculpture garden best place to have a wander on a visit to this great city.

    Reply ↓

  2. What? No mention of the revolutionary Unicorn grocery or the abandoned warehouse re-designed as a growing space ???

    Reply ↓

  3. Best metal scene pub has to be Grand central on oxford road, great music!

    Kyoto Lounge bar just off oxford road, video gaming and cocktail bar, very cool, drinks are amazing!

    and of course Satan’s Hollow just by Princess street for all your alternative clubbing needs :D

    Reply ↓

      • Maybe you can get Singstar for your Kindle or something and get some serious practice in ready for the MK reprise.

        Tick, tick, tick, tick, BOOOOOOOOOOM!

        Reply ↓

  4. Whilst we’re still in denial about the fact that it’s been almost a year (!) since we’ve been back, there are a few things to add to your list that have helped us feel a little bit better about being back in Manchester (and yes they are all food related!):

    1) Seoul Kimchi (275 Upper Brook St) – Whilst we never made it to Korea so can’t vouch for it’s authenticity, it’s still the best place in town to grab some cheap and cheerful Korean food. Within walking distance from the centre, or just catch a bus up from Oxford Road.

    2) Vnam Cafe (140 Oldham Rd) – The pho doesn’t quite tantalise the taste buds like a Hanoi street stall bowl, but still, a better place to satisfy your Vietnamese food cravings than those dreadful “Asian” chains restaurants! Go next door too for a packet of Vietnamese coffee grounds. Short walk from NQ.

    3) Pacific (Chinatown) – This is the only place on the list where I can say with confidence that the food matches up to the country of origin – the dim sum doesn’t quite beat the dizzying heights of Tim Ho Wan in HK (Michelin food for a pittance, love it), but it is the best outside of HK…so there, ;o)! (Oh and please for the love of whoever don’t eat upstairs at the Thai buffet!)

    4) Cheap lunch – Arndale Food Court (Northern Qtr side, NOT the one with Maccy D’s!) – great place where for £3.50 – £4.50 you have a choice of either chinese BBQ meats w/rice, empanadas, burritos, jerk chicken, greek platter, curry or even a sickly sweet milkshake…plus much much more. Also for self caterers attached to the food court is a row of butchers, fishmongers and grocers.

    5) Yuzu (Chinatown) – As this is the only Japanese-owned Japanese place in town you can see the authenticity right at the entrance. Whilst not quite matching the amazing food we had in Japan, a great reasonably priced place to rock up for your don fix.

    6) Kwokman Bakery/ Bubble Cafe (Outskirts of Chinatown) – For those who have tasted the nirvana of a HK Gong Cha bubble tea, these are the places in Manchester to go for your fix. Doesn’t compare, but still, mmmm sweet milky pearly goodness!

    Mmmm, let’s do lunch when you have a Mancland sojourn (you crazy fools!)


    PS – Happy one year anniversary!

    Reply ↓

    • Thanks for the contributions! How have I not heard of most of them? We most definitely have to do lunch in the summer. Asian food has been slim on the ground in Latin America so looking forward to it!

      Reply ↓

  5. Great tips! I can vouch for most of the eating places, and am now intrigued to visit Afflecks Palace – we can check it out when you visit in the summer!! I have certainly grown to love Manchester, even though I haven’t ventured too far from the city centre really! xx

    Reply ↓

  6. How can you say that Manchester is not the easiest place to love but wrote a long list of great places to visit? :D

    Reply ↓

    • Good point but I think it’s hard for the first time visitor who doesn’t know any locals to find these places.

      Reply ↓

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *. Your email address will not be published. By clicking the Submit button, you give consent for us to store your information for the purposes of displaying your comment and you accept the terms of our Privacy Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.