Idealist City Guide: MANCHESTER

Manchester is a former hub of the Industrial Revolution (and cradle of Trade Unionism and Marxism) that has become synonymous with music and media. Thanks to Affleck’s Palace, the Northern Quarter and a thriving student and music scene it is a great destination for design fans and culture.

A cultural centre with a working class heart

An inordinate number the world’s best loved indie bands have started out here: The Smiths, Joy Division, New Order, The Stone Roses, Oasis. While the hip Northern Quarter neighbourhood is still filled with concert venues, it also offers tons of trendy bars, restaurants and places to shop for industrial design relics and reinterpretations. Today’s Manchester is a cultural centre with a working class heart.

Shopping Manchester

Architectural Salvage

Insitu Manchester, 252 Chester Road, is an architectural salvage showroom that carries everything from stained glass to reclaimed timber and iron fittings. Now based just on the outskirts of Manchester’s trendy Castlefield, in a Grade 2 listed Victorian pub building, it is an exciting venue to find high quality and interesting pieces to create unique homes and express individual style. Designers will love sourcing original classic design elements here; everyone else can learn a thing or two about how things were once made to look good and last.


Levenshulme Antiques Village, 965 Stockport Road Levenshulme, in Manchester’s Victorian Old Town Hall, is a hypermarket for vintage furniture and collectibles. In addition to providing space for vendors 7 days a week, the market keeps the past alive with workshops in traditional services ranging from re-upholstery, bespoke furniture makers, antique chandeliers and fireplace restoration, ironmongers, stripping and restoration.

Clean Lines

Urbansuite, 2 New George Street, could be a relief from all the industrial era clutter with its clean lined collection of European furniture from the likes of Vitra, Tonin Casa and Lightyears.

Craft and Design

Manchester Craft and Design Centre, 17 Oak Street, located in a former Victorian fishmarket building inthe Norther Quarter, houses studios and workshops for artisans in ceramics, fine jewellery, printmaking, furniture making and more. We love the steam-bent ash coat hooks by Joshua Till.

Emporio Eclectico

Affleck’s (52 Church Street) is something of an institution. They describe themselves as an emporium of eclecticism, a totem of indie commerce in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and above all else a fantastic place to shop. It’s been home to all things indie since before The Smiths were formed and is something of a Mecca for fans of the more miserable northern indie for which the wet streets of Manchester is famous.

Staying Over

Hotel Gotham Manchester

5-star chic

Hotel Gotham, 100 King Street, is an opulent, 5-star, design conscious option with 60 gorgeously appointed rooms in monochromatic shades of grey, black and white. The hotel – housed in a former Edward Lutyens-designed Art Deco bank – often partners with nearby Manchester Arena on concert and stay packages.

Abel Heywood

Old world charm

Abel Heywood, 38 Turner Street, is a Northern Quarter pub hotel (it’s operated by the local brewery Hyde) with luxury amenities and old world charm. It’s small, just 15 rooms, and situated perfectly for exploring the bustling NQ district. Or just visit the relaxed lounges for exalted pub grub and brews.

Manchester’s Galleries and Museums

The Whitworth Art Gallery


The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, is located in a stunning building in Whitworth Park hard by the University of Manchester. The Gallery has a wide ranging collection of contemporary and more historic paintings, sculpture, textiles and prints. A well regarded cafe (designed by MUMA) overlooks the park and has a seasonal, largely organic menu for lunch and afternoon tea.


As you’d expect The People’s History Museum, Left Bank, Spinningfields, is dedicated to the history of working people in the UK. Although not an art museum per se, areas such as the Textile Conservation Studio are of special interest from a design perspective. Here banners used in protests and rallies by British workers and activists through the ages are preserved and studied; visitors can watch the conservators at work. And there’s a onsite shop where you can stock up on radical gifts such as a suffragette board game or protest banner cross-stitch kits.

Where to Eat

Manchester House


Grab a pint at The Temple, 100 Great Bridgewater Street, a re-purposed public toilet just off St. Peter’s Square in city centre. There’s no kitchen so perhaps start or end your night at this off beat music industry favourite.

Michelin Stars

Manchester House, 18-22 Bridge Street, is the passion project of Michelin starred chef Aiden Byrne. And while tasting menus here don’t come cheap, foodies will think they’ve died and gone to heaven. Also worth checking out is the lounge, for sunset cocktails with views across the city scape or afternoon high tea.


Cottonopolis, 16 Newton Street, is owned and designed by architect Nick Muir. The stylish interior references Manchester’s industrial past with lots of copper and distressed wood, while the kitchen channels Japanese cuisine with fusion dishes based on the elements of ice, fire, steam and oil.

Must see Manchester

A popular tourist attraction, The Lowry (Pier 8, The Quays, Salford) is a performing arts venue on the waterfront near Salford Quay (across the water from Old Trafford, home of the Manchester United football club). The building is a spectacular monument to art, all glass and shiny metal. Take in a play or an art exhibit, or just gaze at the Ship Canal and the lights of the city from the Pier 8 bar and restaurant – it has magnificent views.

Football fans will want to check out the free National Football Museum, Urbis Building
Cathedral Gardens, perhaps in conjunction with a home game for local heroes Man U and Man City. One of the world’s largest collections of football artefacts and memorabilia is on display, and you can test your own skills with the interactive Football+.

How to get there

Regular flights leave daily from all London area airports, but Manchester is close enough to take a fast train. Direct trains run from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly every 20 minutes, with an average journey time of around 2 hours and 10 minutes.

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Courtesy Affleck’s Palace mural courtesy of We love pandas. All other images courtesy of respective stores.

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