Hidden Gems of Manchester
Manchester is a pretty epic place. It’s a city that holds its heritage close while simultaneously pushing boundaries. It’s the place I’ve personally called home for the past 14 years and rarely does a week pass where I don’t learn something new about this great city. Some new discoveries are significant and others simply just make me smile - for example, did you know that there’s a pineapple on top of the Odd Bar in the Northern Quarter?
This got me thinking of what else was hidden in plain sight. What other gems did Manchester still have to offer after all this time?
We've also made a Google Map, where you can view all the locations of these points, here.
Buildings & Locations
Aside from Manchester’s incredible architecture, there’s so much hidden behind the walls of these beautiful buildings.
Manchester has no shortage of fantastic libraries. John Rylands is well loved for its stunning interior and Chetham's Library is one of the world’s first free public libraries. Plus, the recently refurbished Central Library has a wealth of things to discover in the excellent BFI Mediatheque.
But it’s the Portico Library that’s considered the real hidden gem. You’re probably familiar with The Bank (a fairly standard chain pub resting within an old bank on West Mosley Street), but did you know if you head towards a somewhat hidden side entrance, you’ll be treated to one of Manchester’s most delightful little libraries and gallery directly above a pub?
We’re big fans of Ancoats; there are some brilliant residential spaces popping up there and it’s often lauded as the new NQ. Go a bit further and you’ll find New Islington, which itself has some interesting architecture and even a marina.
But the reason we’re heading to Ancoats (apart from Rudy’s Pizza) is to find the Ancoats Peeps. Yes, we mean peepholes! If you walk around Ancoats, you may notice small brass eye holes to peer through. Created by artist Dan Dubowitz, these are the Ancoats Peeps and they give you a glimpse into previously walled up areas in buildings. There’s no trail or signage, so part of the fun is in discovering these ‘blink-and-you'll-miss-'em’ peep holes.
The Hidden Gem Church
Yep, the clue is in the name. But it really is hidden if you consider that it’s located between Deansgate, Albert Square, and John Dalton Street. On your way from Albert Square to Deansgate, take a right down a back street, and you’ll see its beautifully ornate door right there behind the Ape and Apple pub.
The Vimto Bottle
Take a walk down Granby Row, past Manchester University city centre campus and you’ll walk through Vimto Park and discover a delightfully odd, bottle-shaped monument. Built in 1992 on the site of the factory where the first batch of Vimto was made in 1908, this is the type of statue that reminds you of Manchester’s playful personality.
Just around the corner from Vimto Park on Fairfield Street is the Godlee Observatory. Another remarkable institution tucked away on a roof and mostly hidden from view. This is the base of operations for Manchester's Astronomical Society (who have a weekly meet up), and it’s open to the public (by appointment only) who are welcome to come inside and scan the skies.
Manchester has a wealth of forgotten underground spaces and tunnels; from an old tube station that never was to subterranean canals and former air raid shelters. Some are open to the public via guided tours, such as the ones under the Great Northern Warehouse and Northern Quarter, while some are closed off like the Victoria Arches. One which is under heavy security is the Guardian Exchange.
Hiding away just off St Peter’s Square on Back George Street is an unassuming building surrounded by a tall brick wall and razor wire. Several stories below is the Guardian Exchange, an old communications tunnel built post-WWII to protect communications from a potential attack from the Russians. And it’s big; the biggest concrete structure in the city, stretching from Ardwick to Chapel Street. Now owned by BT, it’s very difficult to get access to.
Another one you’ve likely walked past a few times and never spotted: Boardman’s Entry, which links King Street and South King Street. It’s a passageway curiously decorated with metal umbrellas and scientific equipment. There’s no available signage to explain why, but those in the know will tell you it’s not just an odd art installation, but a tribute to John Dalton, a famous Mancunian known for devising atomic theory.
St Johns Gardens
One thing the city centre could really do with more of is quality green space. There’s Vimto Park (mentioned above), Sackville Gardens (check out the Alan Turing memorial while you’re there) and Cathedral Gardens, but these are mostly very much a part of the usual city hustle and bustle. One exception, however, is St John Gardens. Close to the Museum of Science and Industry, this small park is a welcome retreat from big city life, which is often overlooked. Perfect for lunch or just to read a book on a bench.
Abe Lincoln Statue
That’s right, there’s a statue of the 16th president of the United States of America. There’ll be many of you who’ve walked past this statue on Brazennose Street and never noticed that it was such a recognisable figure. Gifted to Manchester by sculptor George Grey Barnard in 1919, it was to made to celebrate the link between Manchester and Lincoln, when the city famously boycotted cotton producers who used slave labour. Considering at that time there was no other city in the world that used more cotton than Manchester, that was a big statement, and one that Lincoln didn’t forget.
Northern Quarter Murals and Graffiti
Not so much a hidden gem, but definitely worth a mention as it’s always changing and never the same design twice. A simple stroll through the NQ is always a joy.
Food and Drink
You can’t go too long without a new trendy hotspot or super-exclusive bar opening in town. We’re truly spoilt for great places to eat, drink and generally have a fantastic time with friends.
Piccadilly Beer Mile
Manchester is well served for excellent boozers; Briton’s Protection, The Marble Arch and Peak of the Peveril are all top-class pubs. And famous spots such as Corbieres and the former public loo (turned bar), Temple are well represented on these kind of lists. But what is really interesting is the increasing number of brew taps popping up across the city. Breweries occupying the arches behind Piccadilly Station such as Cloudwater, Alphabet, Chorlton Brewing Co, Track, Beer Nouveau, Manchester Brewing Co and Squawk have started opening up their doors for the general public to consume their beers, with most opening Fri-Sun every week, which makes for an excellent pub/brewery crawl. A similar setup is occurring on the other side of town in the Green Quarter with Beatnikz Republic, Blackjack and Runaway who are also opening up brew taps. It’s a great way to experience exceptionally well-made and good value beer somewhere a little different.
You may have heard of this one. The Washhouse is getting a lot of attention at the minute. Masquerading as a laundrette in Shudehill, this quirky cocktail bar is reminiscent of a speakeasy and located behind a secret washing machine entrance. You’ll need to make a booking in advance and tell them how many loads you’d like to drop off *wink* *wink*.
Wood and Co.
Ever walked down South King Street and seen a sign for Wood and Co., labeled as the Goods Entrance? And have you ever wondered where the public entrance is? Wonder no more; that’s the entrance. Enter and you’ll once again be taken down into another underground cocktail den.
There’s a lot of secret bars popping up in Manchester and part of the fun is in finding these secret locations and their nondescript doors. If that’s the case, then Peggys's is likely to be the best time you’ve had finding a bar. Formerly known as Corridor, this new cocktail bar and seasonal eatery is located on the edge of the city, heading into Salford. Notorious for being difficult to find, you’ll be rewarded with a huge selection of classy cocktails.
If you thought secret bars was as trendy as it got, then you’re totally not ready for ‘secret bars within a bar’ bars. That’s right, to get to 17 Below, you have to first find Dog’s n Dough, which is somewhat hidden on a side street near Albert Square, and then navigate through the restaurant and down another few flights of stairs. Who knew going out for a drink was so much effort? 80’s themed, this place has you covered for pool and retro arcade machines.
Science and Industry
If you’ve visited Cain and Grain in the NQ recently, you may have spotted a few people entering a secret door to the side. That’s right, we’re talking about another secret bar-within-a-bar. Science and Industry now occupy the first floor of Cain and Grain and specialises in guess what? That’s right, cocktails. The twist here is that these are mixed and made using scientific equipment and methods.
Richmond Tea Rooms
Let’s give the cocktails a break for a second. If you’re looking for something more traditionally English, a nice cup of breakfast tea and some scones for instance, then you can’t do much better than Richmond Tea Rooms. Hidden away near the Gay Village, Richmond Tea Rooms is quirky, campy and quintessentially English, with an absolutely fabulous interior.
Red Bank Co.
An out-of-the-way bar ‘slash’ coffee house in a railway arch out past Victoria Station into the Green Quarter. Quirky, with plenty of character, Red Bank Co offers an unpretentious and simple environment to sample great local beer, cocktails, and stone baked pizza.
If you’re looking for authentic, homemade Indian food down a back alley then you’re well catered for in Manchester with Cafe Marhaba and This and That, which both offer a completely different dining experience to popular curry houses like Akbah’s and East Z East. But if we’re talking about hidden gems then we’re putting forward Kabana. It’s a pretty easy find in the heart of the Northern Quarter on Back Turner Street. But what makes it special is that it regularly holds the ‘No Such Thing’ event in which free meals are given out in exchange for the rarest of things these days; a conversation with a stranger. It’s a wonderful concept to go with the wonderful food.
Railway arches are becoming popular locations for lots of business these days. Get the product right and people will make the effort to come out to you. Such is the case with one of Manchester’s newest bakeries - Pollen. Located just around the corner from Piccadilly train station, you’ll often find a long line on a Saturday morning of people waiting to get their hands on a slow-proved sourdough, artfully created patisseries and the signature ‘cruffin’. Yep, that’s a croissant crossed with a muffin.
When was the last time you ate in a supermarket cafe? I imagine it had something to do with a hangover. This might change when you visit Siam Smiles, a Thai supermarket in Chinatown. Simply, but expertly made, they offer a range of basic Thai dishes such as noodles and salads packed to the brim with amazing flavours.
Walk a few steps in any direction in central Manchester and you’ll be able to find a cup of coffee. But if you’re looking for something a bit different and quite frankly with a bit more flavour, then check out one of the city’s fantastic independent coffee houses. Takk, Grindsmith, Northern Tea Power - all are great shouts. But a favourite is PotKettleBlack, based out of Barton Arcade which links St Anne’s Square to Deansgate. Again, this is a pretty central location, but often gets overlooked since it isn’t visible from the street. But those in the know, know that it’s there. It’s one of the best places to pick up amazing coffee.
We’re a city that likes to occasionally dance on tables, but you’ll find Mancunians a cultured lot. With everything going on in the city, it’s easy to forget about the wonderful array of museums, art galleries and theatres to enjoy at a more relaxed pace. Places like HOME, Palace Theatre, and MOSI are all worth your time and are all world-class in what they offer, but here are a few hidden gems to help you find something a little new and wholly unexpected.
Craft and Design Centre
Set back from the main Northern Quarter streets you’ll find this intriguing looking building. A hub of creative makers and crafters. From handmade jewelry to art, fabric, and textiles. The Manchester Craft and Design Centre is a celebration of some of the city's most creative independent retailers.
Islington Mill isn’t ever just one thing. It’s almost organic. An ever-evolving space shaped by its devoted community. Public arts programmes, residencies and galleries sit alongside recording studios, an events space and a bed and breakfast. It’s a little bit of everything and well worth a visit.
Based out of Affleck's Palace, the folks behind 3 Minute Theatre have fitted out a former shop unit into a 70-seat theatre space, which is fast becoming one of the city's most exciting performance spaces. They provide an eclectic mix of innovative and experimental performances in addition to working with the Manchester Shakespeare Company and even their own Actor Training Academy.
The Wonder Inn
Next to Paramount Books in Shudehill (also somewhat of a hidden gem) you’ll find the inconspicuous Wonder Inn. Looking somewhat like an abandoned building, this food serving bar also provides a mix of esoteric events, and with its distinct decor, makes it onto the list in the culture section.
PS Mirabel and Paper
Based out of artist-led studio, Mirabel Studios, near the Manchester Arena, these are two galleries which look to support new and emerging artists from universities across the north west. Exhibitions usually rotate every 6 weeks. As the name suggests, Paper focuses solely on paper based projects. Open Saturdays 11-5 or by appointment.
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