Find the Beat of Manchester With This Music Lover’s Guide to the City

best things to do manchester

Manchester, a city steeped in a rich and illustrious history, has left an indelible mark on the world stage.

Renowned for its pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution, this dynamic metropolis has also played a significant part in the realms of science, politics, music, arts, and sport.

It is the birthplace of groundbreaking achievements, from the splitting of the atom to the advent of the world’s first passenger railway and the invention of the modern computer. It’s even nurtured iconic bands like The Smiths, Oasis, Joy Division, and The Stone Roses, whose music resonated with audiences worldwide. But, in recent years, travellers have slept on the charismatic city as a destination—until now.

It’s the enigmatic jewel of the industrial north of England and it’s experiencing a renaissance. If you look beyond the clichés of football and drizzle, you will find vibrant neighbourhoods pulsating with an artistic fervour that is truly infectious. Discover why Manchester is a must-visit destination in 2023.

best things to do manchester
Photo: Rob Jones

Gigs, Bands, and Warehouse Raves

While the Madchester era may have faded into memory and the famous Haçienda nightclub transformed into residential flats, the beating heart of Manchester’s musical heritage continues to resonate with unyielding vitality.

The city, known for its remarkable ability to foster talent, has birthed and nurtured countless bands throughout the years while also providing a vibrant stage for live performances today.

In 2023 alone, there is a huge variety of must-see gigs and festivals, with artists including Lizzo, Florence and the Machine, Hot Chip, Chris Brown, Snoop Dogg, and Paramore all gracing the city.

Immersing yourself in the electrifying atmosphere of a live gig stands as one of the quintessential experiences Manchester offers after dark. From the renowned Band on the Wall and the Deaf Institute showcasing emerging talent to the grandeur of the AO Arena, which attracts global superstars, the options are limitless.

This year alone, a wave of new venues has entered the scene, with the newly opened Factory International bringing the stunning exhibition by Yayoi Kusama, featuring inflatable sculptures titled “You, Me and the Balloons”, to the masses.

The biennial Manchester International Festival (June 29 – July 16) follows, showcasing immersive performances, including “Free Your Mind,” directed by Danny Boyle, which reimagines The Matrix films. Prepare for a captivating blend of art and performance that pushes boundaries and sparks the imagination at this cultural destination.

best things to do manchester
Photo: Ducie Street Warehouse

The newly opened Ducie Street Warehouse is part of the new wave, housed within a beautifully transformed former railway goods warehouse. This multifaceted space encompasses a striking bar, a restaurant, and even a mini cinema. As one of Manchester’s beloved social hotspots, it hosts many exciting events, including DJ sets, live music, and engaging talks. Indulge in their renowned disco brunch while savouring delicious drinks, nibbles, and a menu featuring a tempting selection of small and larger plates.

Although, we can’t forget about the city’s institutions. The Warehouse Project, tucked under the city’s train lines, forever changed the vibrant music scene back in 2006. This revolutionary concept brings together groundbreaking artists from various genres and showcases them in a mesmerizing warehouse space over three months each year. With more than 30 events held annually, this iconic venue pulsates with energy. Whether it’s an evening of live performances by Caribou, James Blake, and Bonobo or a night filled with dance music legends like Seth Troxler, Fatboy Slim, Carl Cox, Above & Beyond, The Chemical Brothers, Skream, and Four Tet, there’s something for every music enthusiast at The Warehouse Project.

Then there is the future of music—Co-op Live. This music-focused venue is set to open in Manchester in late 2023 and is expected to transform the city’s Northern Quarter. Co-op Live, backed by local and global pop sensation Harry Styles, is an enormous music venue capable of accommodating a staggering 23,000 attendees, making it the largest indoor music venue in the UK. With a smart bowl design, state-of-the-art visual and acoustic technology, along with over 32 food and drink concepts, this new music venue is the future of concerts. Keep an eye out for its opening. We have a good feeling Harry Styles might be the first act.

best things to do manchester
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Music Tours

Looking for a music tour in Manchester? Manchester Music Tours has a deep connection to the city and its musicians. Join a tour to discover the city’s renowned ‘Madchester’ music scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s and explore iconic venues like The Haçienda, where legendary bands such as The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays performed, and learn about the cultural impact of the ‘Madchester’ era.

For fans of The Smiths and Joy Division, the “Smiths Tour” is a must. Led by knowledgeable guides, this tour takes you to significant sites related to these influential bands, including the Salford Lads Club and the grave of Ian Curtis. You will gain insights into the Manchester music scene of the 1980s and its enduring legacy.

Whether you’re a rock, indie, or electronic music fan, Manchester’s music tours offer an opportunity to immerse yourself in the city’s diverse and influential music culture and discover something you might not have known.

best things to do manchester
Photo: Piccadilly Records

Record Stores and Art

With a legendary music reputation, it makes sense for the city to be a haven for record stores. From iconic establishments like Piccadilly Records, where you can explore a vast collection of vinyl and discover new sounds, to Vinyl Exchange, offering a treasure trove of rare and second-hand records, these stores cater to diverse musical tastes. Afflecks Palace is another gem, housing various independent record shops within its alternative marketplace.

For a dose of art, head into UNITOM, an independent magazine and book store where you will find quirky titles and zines. The Manchester Craft and Design Centre is also a well-known spot to discover the region’s most talented designers, makers, and artists under one roof.

best things to do manchester
Photo: New Century

Fostering The Next Generation of Musicians

After years of hiding in plain sight, New Century breathes new life into Manchester’s musical legacy by blending it with stunning mid-century modern architecture. The innovative venue acts as a social hub and creative platform across three floors.

The first floor boasts a resurrected ambience, complete with a sprung dance floor, dazzling disco ceiling, and cutting-edge sound system. Expect a diverse lineup of events to keep you entertained on this level.

On the ground floor, resident independent food traders tantalise taste buds with a constantly evolving menu featuring local and global culinary delights, from Italian pizza to bao buns and contemporary Indian flavours, complemented by a long list of beers, wines, cocktails, and spirits from the central bar.

In the basement, you will find dBs Institute nurturing the next generation of artists and performers. Here, the institute offers music technology and game design courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in a state-of-the-art facility.

best things to do manchester
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Food Halls and Restaurants

Manchester’s street food scene has exploded in recent years, moving beyond burger vans and transforming Victorian markets into vibrant food halls. In the trendy Northern Quarter, you will find just about everyone from locals to travellers packed into the foodie haven and Instagrammer’s dream, Mackie Mayor. Whether you’re craving a delightful breakfast, leisurely brunch, satisfying lunch, or indulgent dinner, Mackie Mayor provides. With its mesmerising glass roof, you can spend an entire day feasting without ever leaving the atmosphere. Vegetarian and vegan options are also on offer, ensuring a diverse range of culinary delights for all dietary preferences.

Another food hall worth mentioning is GRUB, located just steps from Manchester Victoria station. Here, a converted textile warehouse hosts the longest-running street food market, where you can grab anything from Greek cuisine to Sri Lankan. There’s a secret beer garden, too, if you can find it.

best things to do manchester

Where to Stay

Experience five-star luxury at The Edwardian Manchester, awarded ‘Leading Hotel of the Year 2019’. Following a recent multi-million-pound redesign, this stunning hotel resides within the historic Grade II*-listed Free Trade Hall. Enjoy sweeping city views from a suite of award-winning Japanese and Mexican cuisine at Peter Street Kitchen, or savour a Parisian-inspired menu at The Library curated by Assouline.

With a contemporary spa and gym, meeting spaces for up to 500, and unrivalled access to Manchester’s business district and vibrant nightlife, The Edwardian Manchester is the perfect place to base yourself in the heart of the city. Delve into its musical heritage, having hosted iconic performances by Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Pink Floyd, and more, shaping the city’s music history.

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