The only thing that’s ever certain about Manchester these days is that it won’t look the same in six months. We live in the 6th fastest growing economy in the whole of Europe and the proof of that is in the cranes on the skyline. Grand, stylish but compact, the city centre mixes historic and new architecture rather well.
In amongst ‘70s blocks are gems visitors might like to look out for the Charles Barry-designed, Grade I-listed Manchester Art Gallery, or its neighbour, the diminutive neo-Classical Portico Library. Close by is Central Library, a 1930s vision of Roman classic splendour. Next door to that is Alfred Waterhouse’s splendid Victorian Gothic Town Hall, which makes regular TV appearances, often standing in for the Houses of Parliament. In the sculpture hall take tea amongst busts of Manchester’s great and good alumni.
Not far away, the Bridgewater Hall, floats on earthquake-proof isolation bearings that mute all external noise – handy given the trams rattling past. Nearby are The Briton’s Protection andPeveril of the Peak, two of Manchester’s finest traditional pubs; Manchester Central, a conference centre housed in a converted railway station; and the lavish Midland Hotel, its terracotta and polished granite exterior hinting at the £1m it cost to build back in 1903.
Some buildings combine old and new in one go: The Royal Exchange is a former trading hall that became a theatre in 1973. It was severely damaged by the 1996 bomb, underwent a £32m redevelopment and reopened two years later with its seven-sided glass and steel theatre in the round that hangs from the pillars inside the Great Hall.
Medieval Manchester includes the Cathedral, which dates back to 1215 (and arguably one of the set venues for gigs in the whole city) and the 15th-century Chetham’s Library. Its glorious, ancient interior would make it noteworthy alone, but it is also where Friederich Engels and Karl Marx, wrote the Communist Manifesto. National Football Museum in the impressive Urbis flat-iron building completes the key attractions in Cathedral Quarter although down in the arches beneath Victoria Station and over on the Salford side of the river it is possible to find small galleries and studios springing up too.
For most visitors, and despite Marx’s efforts, the centre’s main attraction is shopping. We’ve got everything from mainstream retailers to the luxury shops along King Street, from specialist markets to the wincingly expensive concessions that line New Cathedral Street. It is almost impossible not to buy something, whether perambulating through the 18th-century St Ann’s Square or strolling past the House of Fraser.
When it comes to eating and drinking, visitors will be spoiled for choice. There’s our compact but excellent Chinatown, packed with everything from Teppanyaki bars to bubble tea cafes. Favourites include Japanese at Yuzu, fiery Szechwan at Red Chilli, or the pork buns at Ho’s Bakery. Traditionalists should head to Mr. Thomas’ Chop House for good British fare, and more modern foodies will want to make a pilgrimage to Simon Rogan’s restaurants at the Midland Hotel, the upscale (book well in advance) The French or the more casual Mr Cooper’s Garden.