One might understandably be mistaken in thinking that the UK’s capital, London, is also its cultural capital. After all, London is huge; the Queen lives there, and there are multiple Tate art galleries. There’s even a bridge that looks like a castle. However, Britain’s real cultural hotspot actually lies 163 miles north of it: The City of Manchester. As well as Manchester’s bustling music scene, the city also has renowned galleries, unique festivals, and the best grub you’ve eaten this side of the Thames. In short, Manchester is just cool.
HOME is Manchester’s newest contemporary arts multiplex, hosting a range of entertainment from music to theater and movies to studios. HOME’s patrons already include Trainspotting director, Danny Boyle and Genesis drummer-cum-frontman, Phil Collins. 2019's program is jam-packed full of intriguing and exhilarating exhibitions including a gallery of all things David Lynch. Who knows what else HOME will bring to Manchester in the next few decades, but you'd be remiss if you went to the city and didn't check it out at least once.
Canal Street is at the center of Manchester’s Gay Village. Along with Brighton, Manchester has always been one of the UK’s cities where the LGBTQ lifestyle is celebrated. If you ever saw Queer as Folk - the British version - that was primarily based on and around Canal Street, which sits in the middle of the city. The buzzing street is aligned with cafés, bars, and old school pubs; all of which fly the rainbow flag proudly. Furthermore, on the other side of the canal, you can see the Alan Turning Memorial which celebrates the life of the outstanding mathematician and code breaker who was arrested for being gay.
Whitworth Art Gallery is one of the city's oldest art institutions. Located in Whitworth Park which is in the south of Manchester, the gallery has belonged to the University of Manchester since 1958. Its first building was completed fifty years prior, in 1908, and in 2015 it went under a huge refurbishment, funded by the government. That very same year, the gallery was awarded the ‘Museum of the Year’ prize. Some of the artists whose pieces are housed in the gallery are David Hockney, Pablo Picasso, and even Vincent Van Gogh. And that’s just scraping the barrel of the incredible collection the Whitworth has to offer its some 440,000 visitors.
Think Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Silverlake in Los Angeles; the Northern Quarter is Manchester’s creative heart. Although located in the northeast corner of the city, its vibrancy stands outside of the rest of the city’s streets. The Northern Quarter is where you'll find artisan bakeries, trendy music venues, and charmingly independent coffee shops. Each turn onto each street in the Northern Quarter provides visitors with exceptional street art and hidden gems. If you visit the Northern Quarter, keep your eyes open for the Tib Street Horn; a sculpture that's a cross between a steampunk serpent and a trombone. Also, grab some coffee at Fig + Sparrow and then go rare vinyl shopping at Piccadilly Records.
Vinyl lovers on both sides of the pond might have heard of Piccadilly Records. It’s been in Machester for forty years, opening in 1978 and going through several different addresses until settling in a then-uncultivated Northern Quarter. Piccadilly Records isn’t a place to go to get the latest album that’s going to get to number one. It’s a place for all music lovers to browse, to buy, to listen and to experience music the way they want to. Furthermore, if you go there on Record Store Day, you might just run into your musical soulmate.
There’s also something for the bibliophiles in Paramount Books, an independent comic and book store where they still buycomics. You know, like in the olden days of the 1990s. There’s often music blaring out of the small shop on the borders of the Northern Quarter and sometimes even free fruit to be had when browsing the shelves. Within those shelves, you can find everything from naughty vintage magazines and rare Marvel comic books to first edition poetry and philosophy volumes. It would be a shame not to pop in. As they say, “When In Manchester.”
From the outside, this iconic Manchester venue resembles a cross between London's British Library and the Royal Albert Hall. However, it was actually first opened in 1934. Located in St. Peter's Square, you'd be forgiven for walking by without realizing that you can visit the library. But you can and you should. The Central Library is unlike any other building in the city. Inside, you can wander around and take in the atmosphere or allow yourself some time in the Wolfson Reading Room.
Just north of Chinatown is the Manchester Art Gallery. What was formerly known as Manchester City Art Gallery has been open since 1823 and is composed of three connected buildings. The gallery has a gigantic art collection including watercolors, oil paintings, and decorative objects from ancient history and the present. Within the gallery's walls, paintings by Cézanne and Turner are joined by other notable classics. Furthermore, until recently, John William Waterhouse's 'Hylas and the Nymphs' also hung in its great halls.
In the 18th Century, Manchester was part of the industrial north. Its main export - and, incidentally, the thing that would keep the city going - was cotton. When the cotton industry started booming, the need for a more permanent place for trades to take place got all the more necessary. That was when the building that now houses the Royal Exchange Theatre came to be. With the decline of the industrial north centuries later, a group of artists took over the building and made it into the theater it is today.
Manchester's rich music history is no more prevalent anywhere than it is at Band on the Wall. In the 1970s with the rise of punk, Manchester was in its prime, and it was in this once-theater-now-venue that bands such as The Fall and Joy Division played their very first shows. Since its beginning, it's gone on to host a variety of artists like Bjork and Cinematic Orchestra. If you're a music fan in Manchester, you're going to want to go here.