I love second cities. And like Porto, Chicago and others, Manchester is a second city in spirit, if not in actual population. I don’t know if the Manchester I visited is something new, or if it has always been this lively and creative. But whatever Manchester is doing, it’s working.
Arriving at Manchester’s airport, it’s just a quick hop on the elevated train to downtown. You’ll most likely head to Piccadilly Station, though for some of the hotels it’s actually quicker to hop off one stop early at Oxford Road. The city is eminently walkable, and the diversity of modern Britain is wonderfully on display.
I don’t know if Manchester is really considered a tourist destination. It’s not twee like nearby Chester. It’s not the home of the Beatles like nearby Liverpool. It doesn’t have a lot of things to, well, look at. The vibe is industrial – bricks and iron and canals and more bricks. Once a company town, reliant on textiles, the city has been reclaiming its industrial buildings and converting them into bars, restaurants, shops, breweries and trendy lofts. This doesn’t mean it has become posh – there’s still too much of a Peaky Blinders vibe for that. But Manchester has definitely become cool.
Manchester feels authentic. People are friendly, but also straightforward. People are doing their thing – their art, their music, their commerce, whatever – and you can join in or fuck off.
Manchester has an incredible music scene. The Chemical Brothers, Doves, Buzzcocks, Elbow, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, New Order, Joy Division, The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Smiths – Manchester punches above its population weight. I happened to show up during a music festival, with live bands playing in nearly every pub. I’ll never remember the band names (see my section on Beer), but it was brilliant. And the record shops – my god the record shops!
Manchester is brewing some of the most interesting craft beer in England. Cloudwater Brewing in particular is excellent and always interesting. And there are terrific craft pubs like The Port Street Beer House in the hip Northern Quarter. It has the feel of a traditional pub on multiple floors, but the beer menu is all liquid gold.
Manchester has the basic trappings of most English cities – an old town, museums, traditional pubs. And it has football, football and more football. It has two level one (Manchester City and Manchester United), one level two, and four level three football clubs, each with its own stadium. It also has this guy…
But those things aren’t what made Manchester feel special – feel like a place I could live. It’s an artistic yet pragmatic city. A second city. And I love second cities.
Chester is about an hour from Manchester by train. It is impossibly, ridiculously, perhaps even maddeningly twee. A tourist trap there is where I had my worst meal in Britain. It photographs well though.