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Arts and culture in Manchester

Manchester has an incredible music history that has embraced everything from the classical excellence of the Hallé to the edgy pop of the Chemical Brothers and it’s the perfect place to catch some live music at its coolest venues like Gorilla, Rebellion, and the O2 Ritz.

World-class venues

For those who love a classical concert, Stoller Hall, next to Victoria Station, is part of Chetham’s School of Music, the UK’s largest specialist music school and the only one based in the north of England. It is a high-spec, flexible auditorium that can seat up to 482 concert-goers in the stalls, balcony and gallery.

Catch the latest bands at the Deaf Institute, Victoria Warehouse, Soup Kitchen and the Academy or a stadium gig at the Manchester Arena. The Rem Koolhaas-designed Factory, a £110m groundbreaking new multi-arts venue is scheduled to open in 2021 but it is already having an impact, proving the catalyst for world-class companies to make an appearance in the city showcasing the kinds of work that we can expect there. The Factory will be home for the Manchester International Festival an extravaganza of new commissions and which in 2019 included work by David Lynch, Yoko Ono and Laurie Anderson.

HOME is a £25m purpose-built centre for international contemporary art, theatre, film and books

HOME is a £25m purpose-built centre for international contemporary art, theatre, film and books

Manchester is renowned for having more theatres than anywhere else outside London with HOME, a £25m purpose-built centre for international contemporary art, theatre, film and books, the place to catch film and theatre. At the other end of the spectrum, Hope Mill Theatre in the trendy Ancoats area of the city is one of the most successful and reputable independent venues in England – winning Fringe Venue of The Year at The Stage awards in 2018.

In the city centre, the Palace and the Opera House are where to see the big theatre shows. Traditionally, they were always the try-out theatres for productions heading to the West End so Manchester audiences were always the first to catch famous stars treading the boards before they went anywhere else, and this is still happening.

For those who love a classical concert, Stoller Hall, next to Victoria Station, is part of Chetham’s School of Music, the UK’s largest specialist music school and the only one based in the north of England

Art galleries

The Lowry, on Salford Quays, and the Royal Exchange are also world-acclaimed venues staging everything from Shakespeare to stand-up comedy. But there are many other places to check out new theatre and cutting edge performance ranging from the Contact Theatre to Three Minute Theatre at Afflecks Arcade and Salford Arts Theatre. Outside the city there’s Bolton Octagon, Sale’s Waterside Theatre, Pyramid and Parr Hall, all delivering quality live entertainment.

The one thing Manchester isn’t is elitist. Its art galleries, such as the award-winning Whitworth, part of Manchester University, welcome everyone, from small children to art lovers or those who just love the peace and quiet of its art garden.

The University itself is housed inside the neo-Gothic Alfred Waterhouse-designed campus on Oxford Road, where you could catch a public lecture or a concert at the student union. This is also the location of Manchester Museum, a treasure trove of over four million objects and a full sized replica skeleton of a T Rex, nicknamed ‘Stan’ as well as The Gallery of Costume, which holds one of the most important fashion collections in the UK.

A walk down Oxford Road brings you to the Contact Theatre an innovative performance space and to the Manchester School of Art, the largest art school outside London. Also on campus is the Sir Kenneth Green library which contains 175 years’ worth of art and design, from rare children’s books to Victorian ephemera.

Manchester’s art galleries, such as the award-winning Whitworth, welcome everyone, from small children to art lovers or those who just love the peace and quiet of its art garden

Library lovers

Lovers of libraries can explore Manchester’s Central Library on St Peter’s Square, a grand building with a magisterial entrance that was updated a few years ago so that now it not only houses a magnificent book collection but boasts state-of-the-art technology. The refurbished Reading Room is where the archives are to be found alongside new digital interactive features and if you need to access information or send an email, this is the perfect place to come and surf the web.

Chetham’s Library is the oldest free public library in the English speaking world and has its home in the renowned music school that has produced world-class musicians, while the stunning John Rylands Library is a beautiful neo-Gothic delight incongruously placed on the busy shopping and partying area of Deansgate, with an interior that is truly stunning.

Central Library houses a magnificent book collection and boasts a state-of-the-art technology

Central Library houses a magnificent book collection and boasts a state-of-the-art technology

Manchester is famed for its long-running soap opera Coronation Street which used to be filmed in the city but has now decamped to MediaCityUK, Salford, home to the BBC in the North. This is a prime location for film and TV programmes and a good place to star spot but it is also here you’ll find The Lowry which is worth visiting for the largest collection in the world of its LS Lowry paintings.

The area around Salford Quays has an illustrious history as the former docklands, now home to the stunning Imperial War Museum North, which was designed by world-renowned Daniel Libeskind to represent a globe shattered by conflict. It reveals how war shapes lives through its powerful exhibitions, though its best-kept secret is the viewing platform from which you can get a bird’s eye view of the Quays, now transformed into a lively leisure destination.

The refurbished Reading Room is where the archives are to be found alongside new digital interactive features and if you need to access information or send an email

Music scene

Manchester is renowned too for its music scene, but it is remarkable just how many legendary musicians actually hail from the grittier Salford mean streets – the late Mark E Smith of the Fall, Bernard Sumner from New Order and Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays to name just three. ‘The original modern city’ is how some have dubbed Manchester and, even culturally, it is constantly re-inventing itself. Currently it is acknowledged as one of the centres for video game and CGI specialists.

Manchester has a literary heritage, too, claiming as its own writers such as Thomas de Quincy, Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess, Elizabeth Gaskell and Booker Prize-winner Howard Jacobson and it has a flourishing literary scene. Former Poet Laureate, Carol Anne Duffy, lives in south Manchester, while the annual Literature Festival, held in October, has become an important date on the literary calendar.

The bookish can immerse themselves in the world of Elizabeth Gaskell at her house on Plymouth Grove, which opened in 2014, or join in discussions and screenings at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on Cambridge Street.

Architecture is another cultural attraction. Not only does the city have an impressive collection of Victorian buildings, but interesting new additions designed by contemporary architects. On Deansgate, for example, the 1900 Gothic sandstone John Rylands Library has a beautiful modern extension that complements the original building.

Manchester Town Hall, across in Albert Square, is a neo-Gothic masterpiece completed in 1887 by Alfred Waterhouse and in the Grand Hall on the first floor it’s possible to take a look at the magnificent pre-Raphaelite Murals by Ford Madox Brown. A short stroll away is the contemporary Bridgewater Hall, home of the Hallé Orchestra.

Architecture is another cultural attraction. Not only does the city have an impressive collection of Victorian buildings, but interesting new additions designed by contemporary architect

Events and festivals

Manchester loves to create a sense of occasion in the city with a calendar of cultural events across the year. These include its jazz festival in May with free stages, food stalls and festival bars. The sell-out Parklife festival at Heaton Park is in June with a 2019 line up that included George Ezra. In October there are festivals for food, comedy, science and film. The August Bank Holiday is legendary as Manchester Pride weekend but it also brings with it a whole extra arts festival strand. There’s the Indie Flicks short film festival on the first Monday of every month and outdoor cinema at Screenfields, Spinningfields throughout the summer. Movie buffs can also catch the latest blockbuster at the Great Northern and The Printworks cinema complexes.

Any time of the year, visitors can enjoy the permanent collection at Manchester Art Gallery, which includes famous pre-Raphaelite paintings, as well as works by Francis Bacon and George Stubbs.

Björk performing at Manchester International Festival

Björk performing at Manchester International Festival

The Museum of Science and Industry on the site of the world’s oldest surviving passenger railway station on Liverpool Road pays homage to some of this industrial past with its mill engines, textile machinery and historical costumed characters who bring the city’s past to life, while the People’s History Museum follows Britain’s struggle for democracy over two centuries via displays and changing exhibitions housed in a splendid four-storey restored Pump House.

The city’s Jewish Museum, Transport Museum, Museum of Science and Industry and National Football Museum bring specific parts of the city’s heritage gloriously to life too. These reminders of the past share a city with a thoroughly contemporary art to modern galleries such as Contemporary Six Gallery at the Royal Exchange Arcade and Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art and Richard Goodall Gallery in the Northern Quarter.


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Image credits: ©Alan Williams/The Whitworth; Carsten Windhorst/Manchester International Festival; Joe Watts/Unsplash; Paul Karalius/HOME; Manchester Art Gallery; Shutterstock.com; The John Rylands Library; VisitBritain/Andrew Pickett

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