Cut through by the world’s oldest industrial canal, studded with red brick warehouses and built on the partially excavated site of a roman fort, Castlefield wears its past well. It is also an area that speaks volumes about Manchester’s ambition. Many of those old warehouses have been turned into upscale apartment buildings, while plans for the soaring Victorian viaduct to undergo a High Line-style makeover have been in the pipeline for some time now. The constant chattering of trains and trams overhead forms a noisy backdrop to the dominant silhouette of Beetham Tower. The 47-storey building is the tallest in the city by some distance. Visitors find the building particularly handy; it’s difficult to get too lost when there’s a 171-metre monolith to use as a reference point – it even used to hum tunes on a windy day.
Once a hub of industrial activity, Castlefield is now one of the city’s most tranquil spots. That’s thanks, in part, to its designation in 1982 as the UK’s first Urban Heritage Park, which safeguarded canals and cobbles and created a largely traffic-free haven. Its moored-up, flower-decked canal boats are evidence of the slower pace of life here. Dukes 92, a canalside suntrap of a pub, is the ideal place to take it all in. Dukes sits opposite the elegant arches that house the weekly Castlefield Artisan Market, a Sunday afternoon treat for lovers of fine food, vintage and handmade goods. The nearby excavated Roman fort is what remains of the ancient garrison that gave Castlefield its name, and next to it sits the open-air Castlefield Arena, the site of occasional gigs and festivals.
Castlefield’s star attraction is unarguably Manchester’s own Museum of Science & Industry. On the edge by Deansgate Station, sits the small but influential Castlefield Gallery. While the giant nightclubs of Deansgate Locks, opposite, are popular with throngs of weekend revellers, we prefer the atmosphere at The Knott pub.
Tucked between Castlefield and Deansgate is one of the city centre’s newest large-scale developments, the high-end retail and office hub called Spinningfields. This is where global corporations have their HQs and Spinningfields’ main shopping street, The Avenue, is stuffed with boutiques including Flannels, Mulberry and Emporio Armani. But there’s more to this place than luxury goods: Spinningfields is also home to 16th-century hop kiln turned pub The Oast House, and a host of other eateries.
In summer, Spinningfields’ Hardman Square hosts outdoor cinema Screenfields, while in autumn and winter it’s home to the Buy Art and Great Northern Contemporary Craft fairs, a Christmas ice-rink and a seemingly never-ending parade of pop-up bars, eateries and seasonal events (we particularly like the Easter Duck Race). If your visitors have kids in tow, family-friendly restaurants Giraffe and Carluccio’s are safe bets, otherwise Mexican street food restaurant Lucha Libre is impressively authentic. Spinningfields is also home to two of the city’s most historic buildings: People’s History Museum, on the banks of the Irwell, and The John Rylands Library, a breathtaking red sandstone building on Deansgate, commissioned as a memorial by Henrietta Rylands to her husband, the industrialist and philanthropist.