09:00 Start off with a trip to the ultra-impressive Manchester Cathedral (manchestercathedral.org). Dating back to the first century, it survived the English Civil War, WW2 bombers and an IRA attack in the Nineties.
10:30 Get acquainted with the city, affectionately named (by southerners) as ‘The London of the North’, on foot. Spots to look out for are: The John Rylands Library (library.manchester.ac.uk), for its stunning architecture; and The Abraham Lincoln Statue, built to show Manchester’s support of his campaign against slavery. Finish up in the amphitheatre-style Exchange Square.
Exchange Square, Manchester
13:00 Get lunch at NYC-style speakeasy bar Black Dog Ballroom (blackdogballroom.co.uk). What Manchester doesn’t have in common with London is that it’s cheap. Expect to pay a reasonable £6.50 for a gut-busting 12” pizza and £5.95 for a gourmet burger.
15:00 Hit the Northern Quarter – which is a lot like Shoreditch – for cheap vintage from stores like Retro Rehab, Pop and Oklahoma. Try Afflecks for kitschy gifts.
19:30 For food, Australasia (australasia.uk.com) will give you a good taste of home. Gourmet Australian and Southeast Asian cuisine is served in off-white urban surroundings. Mains cost about £15 and the passionfruit marshmallow dessert with roast pineapple parcels and sorbet, £7, is a treat.
22:00 To find some of the best drinks in Manchester, watch the bar staff at The Alchemist (thealchemist.uk.com) expertly mix you an artisan cocktail in what’s decked out to look like an old apothecary. Opt for a Hansel And Gretel (vanilla vodka, Baileys and gingerbread syrup), or a Mexican Elbow (tequila, agave syrup, lime, Beck’s and ginger beer).
If you’re visiting the city between late September and early January, make sure you get to the legendary Warehouse Project (thewarehouseproject.com) for a beat-fuelled night. Previous acts include M.I.A., Calvin Harris, Aphex Twin and James Blake. If you’re in town any other time of the year, continue the night in the Northern Quarter, where you’ll find Noho (noho-bar.com) among the area’s plethora of bars. There you’ll find cheap drinks and indie DJs.
01:00 Go to Roomzzz Aparthotel (roomzzz.co.uk) to lay your head – the new-fangled hotel lets you sleep in what is essentially just like your own flat, but better.
Eat on Manchester’s Curry Mile
11:00 Once you’ve cooked yourself a hearty full English brunch in your aparthotel room, ease yourself into the day with a visit to Generation Pop Art Gallery (generationpop.co.uk). Film and animated artwork from the major Hollywood studios is on display, covering films including Star Wars. There’s also a collection on Muhammad Ali, to celebrate his 70th birthday this year, and iconic sketches and covers from Marvel and DC Comics.
13:00 One of Manchester’s biggest boasts is its music heritage; the city spawned The Smiths, Joy Division, The Stone Roses, The Ting Tings, Oasis, The Chemical Brothers, Mr Scruff, Badly Drawn Boy and a truckload more huge names. You wouldn’t be seeing Manchester properly unless you did something music-related.
Ever wondered what Inspiral Carpets are doing now? In between gigs, drummer Craig Gill is running Manchester Music Tours (manchestermusictours.com), giving muso-geeks a first-hand lesson on the city’s musical roots, stopping at legendary venue The Haçienda, Smiths hangout Salford Lads Club, and the Lesser Free Trade Hall, where the fledgling Sex Pistols notoriously played in 1976 to future members of at least four big Manchester bands. Tours start at £10pp.
18:30 Head to Rusholme in the south of the city for the famed Curry Mile, part of the Wilmslow Road. It’s bigger, brighter and much more colourful than Brick Lane on a Saturday night, and you’ll find plenty of cheap curryhouses. Mughli and Spicy Hut are popular.
Knock back a Guiness in The Lass O’Gowrie
20:30 Get back into town for a farewell night out. Next to the BBC building on Oxford Road is The Lass O’Gowrie (thelass.co.uk), which stands in what used to be the working-class Little Ireland area. It’s an unpretentious, old Irish pub with brick walls and a serious choice of ales.
23:00 Continue the music theme, and hit The Factory (factorymanchester.com), the old offices of former independent label Factory Records, which signed Joy Division, Happy Mondays and James. (Steve Coogan played founder Tony Wilson in the film 24 Hour Party People). There’s usually live music and ridiculously cheap drinks (£1.50 Carlsberg and £1 shots).
Virgin Trains travel from London Euston to Manchester in about 2hrs 10mins. Advance tickets cost from £11.50 each way virgintrains.co.uk Also see visitmanchester.com