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.
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.
This is one exception to my rule not to eat on the Curry Mile. It’s simple and cheap like the curry cafés in the Northern Quarter but the food here is much better. It’s all vegetarian and serves authentic Gujurati and South Indian dishes including lots of street food items like Pani Puri, samosas, vada and many different snacks. The owner is friendly and will help you figure out what to order.
217 Wilmslow Road, Rusholme (take one of the many buses down Oxford Road from the city centre)
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.
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)
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).
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
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
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 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)
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; The Marble Beer House for a huge range of quality organic real ales (try the Ginger Marble); and Pi for beers and tasty pies.
Are you looking for Christmas gift ideas? See our 47 Useful Gift Ideas for Carry-On Travellers. They are ideal for travel lovers who want to pack light and include something for every budget.