Beyond Football and Music: Manchester’s Vibrant Arts and Culinary Scene Revealed

You may know the UK city for its famous football teams, but there’s so much more to discover.

Text by Cathy Toogood
Images by all the people

Whenever I tell people where I’m from on my travels, they’ve always heard of Manchester’s world-famous football teams, United and City. And they often mention Manchester’s music scene and its legendary bands such as The Smiths.

But they don’t tend to know about Manchester’s booming creative scene—this city in the northwest of England has always put culture at the heart of its regeneration strategy. Or that it’s a UNESCO City of Literature with beautiful libraries to slip into. Or that the suffragettes were founded here.

Manchester doesn’t sit still, with new venues constantly upping its standards. Two recent openings, Aviva Studios and Co-op Live, have been designed to let artists push boundaries. Aviva Studios, which opened in 2023 as the home for arts organization Factory International, has two large, flexible spaces that artists can change to suit their needs. You can watch an intimate performance here one night, then a huge warehouse-scale concert another.

Talking about Manchester, John McGrath, artistic director and chief executive of Factory International, says there’s an “extraordinary range of arts and culture in the city” and the region has a “forward-thinking cultural ambition, which makes it such a great place to make and experience art.”

Music arena Co-op Live is the UK’s largest live entertainment arena. It features a low ceiling and tiered seating, so fans are closer to artists. 

The scene in Manchester is more lively now than its ever been. experience the boom yourself.

The city’s food scene is constantly evolving too. Big openings in 2024 include Skof by highly-acclaimed chef, Tom Barnes, who has worked in multi-Michelin-starred kitchens, and Maya by the team behind London’s Isabel Mayfair. “It feels like the right place for me,” says Barnes of why he chose Manchester for his restaurant’s location. “The food scene is changing so frequently.” Maya’s head chef, Gabe Lea, echoes this sentiment: “The past 12 months have been a special time for the city, with some really fantastic restaurants cementing Manchester’s position on the global map,” he says.

While you’ll only scratch Manchester’s surface on a weekend, a good place to start is in its central Northern Quarter neighbourhood which has independent businesses and colorful street art. It’s also where Chanel chose to hold its Métiers d’art show in 2023. 

The Northern Quarter is often used as a stand-in for New York in movies due to its red brick buildings, many with wraparound metal fire escapes—look out for locations from Captain America and Morbius as you stroll. 

The colorful food at Erst.
Edinburgh Castle Pub.
Image by David Levene. Installation from Manchester international festival 2023 exhibition ‘Yayoi Kusama – you, me and the balloons’ at Aviva Studios.

For unique gifts, head to Manchester Craft and Design Centre. In a light, airy former Victorian market building, browse workshops selling ceramics, jewelry, prints and more. Afterward, walk around the corner to Mackie Mayor, a food hall in a former meat market building. Treat yourself to a creatively put together cocktail from newcomer, Stray (try the tomato margarita) and tuck into a slice from Honest Crust Sourdough Pizza.

Another buzzy neighborhood, Ancoats, borders the Northern Quarter. One of the best areas in the city centre for food, Ancoats was once an industrial textile hub; walk its mill buildings and canals.

Look for the terraced houses on Anita Street, originally called Sanitary Street, that was built in the late 19th century for workers. Then head to Islington Marina, between the Rochdale and Ashton canals, to see colorful canal boats, dog walkers galore, and waterside coffee shops and bars.

For something different, book a time slot to leaf through the records on the cheerful yellow and royal blue floating canal boat shop, Rubber Ducky Records. Specializing in electronic music, it can be found moored up next to Redhill Street when it’s in the city. 

You can’t visit Ancoats without eating. Book in advance to get a table at Michelin-starred Mana where owner-chef Simon Martin and his team prepare beautifully presented tasting menus in its open kitchen. A couple of doors away, Erst has a selection of well executed small plates and natural wines.

After food, finish the day with a pint in the Edinburgh Castle pub, which has been in Ancoats since 1811, or nip around the corner to natural wine store and bar Kerb.

If wine is your drink of choice, explore the city with Manchester Wine Tours. Run by food and wine writer Kelly Bishop, you’ll be taken to four wine shops, restaurants and bars, tasting wine and learning about some of Manchester’s highlights along the way. 

Another canal-side neighborhood worth exploring is Castlefield, at the other side of the city centre. This is the oldest part of Manchester, with the Roman fort of Mamucium. Start on Castlefield Viaduct, a Victorian steel viaduct that’s been turned into a High Line-style “sky garden.” 

Aviva Studios is less than a 10-minute walk from here in a striking white angular corrugated metal and concrete building. Designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, lead architect Ellen van Loon says that it “embraces Manchester’s industrial as well as its creative past.” Check what’s on or just pop in for a drink in its bar. 

a Victorian steel viaduct turned into a highline- style “sky garden" in Manchester
Castlefield Viaduct, a Victorian steel viaduct turned into a highline- style “sky garden.”

Aviva Studios is just one of the new buildings changing the skyline in this part of the city and a development that you can’t miss is the four gleaming towers of Deansgate Square. In its shadows, try the fastest growing racquet sport in the world, padel, at the new Club de Padel, which offers coaching.  

Afterward, eat at modern Greek-Mediterranean restaurant Fenix, which has opulent interiors—think lighting that mimics the sun setting in Greece and a spiral staircase surrounding a 25-foot olive tree. Or try 20 Stories, a restaurant and bar whose rooftop terrace has some of the best views of the city’s skyline.

Cozy Another Hand is on Deansgate Mews, the Great Northern Warehouse’s hidden street. You’ll enjoy creatively put together small plates (try its hay-roasted Hasselback potato).

Higher Ground, on the border of Chinatown, is worth seeking out too, as the British bistro serves some of the best food in the city. Focusing on seasonal ingredients—many from its partner farm, Cinderwood Market Garden—it has a laid-back atmosphere.

So, while a concert or an exciting football match should feature on your list of things to do in Manchester, they are only a part of what makes it special. Allow the city to surprise you.



View the latest issue of Herein
, now exclusively available to Owners of Marriott branded Residences.

back to top
Translate »