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Manchester is home to some of the best-known attractions in the UK – boasting some of the biggest bands, two major football clubs and every variety of bar and restaurant you could wish for.
With so many things to try, however, Manchester leaves many of its finest offerings for you to discover yourself, providing the chance for some really unique experiences. Luke Wilson takes a look at some of the most weird and wonderful things to do in the city.
1. Go late night bowling
If the idea of bowling conjures thoughts of hyperactive children and deafening arcade machines, then the Dog Bowl in Manchester is certainly a better option for you. Offering not just bowling, but also a great menu of food and cocktails in a super-smart bar environment, say hello to an alternative nightlife experience way into the early hours of the morning. (website)
2. Take in Chinese masterpieces
Manchester is definitely not short of art galleries, but few can offer an experience as unique as the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art. Bringing the Far East to the North West, the centre presents the works of both English and Chinese artists using Chinese culture as the inspiration for their creations. Look out for their exhibition at the Asia Triennial starting this September. (website)
3. Become an escape artist
Those looking for group activities need look no further than Breakout Manchester. Visitors are given a choice of three themed rooms to be locked in, before being given one hour to figure out how to escape. Current rooms include a detective’s office, a virus outbreak and a Madchester time warp. Breakout is the perfect day out for you and your (non- claustrophobic) friends. (website)
4. Travel back in time
If Modern Manchester is just a bit too much for you, step through the doors of the Whim Wham Café and have a night in the 1930s. Take your seat in a bar designed in the décor of the era and enjoy live music, cabaret and great food and drink. (website)
5. Go mad for video games
Manchester Digital Laboratory, or Madlab for short, is Manchester’s home for digital and creative people. Regular events at the lab attract programmers, designers and game developers amongst many more creative industries to share ideas and build some of the most exciting upcoming projects in the area. If you’re looking for something to do that also might take you somewhere else, Madlab is the first place to go. (website)
6. Visit a Tiki Bar
Tiki bars aren’t exactly the most common choice for a night out, but Manchester gives you a choice of three. Head to either the Liars Club on Back Bridge Street, Hula Bar in the Northern Quarter or Lola Lo on Deansgate Locks to add a more tropical side to your nightlife. (Liars Club/Hula Bar/Lola Lo)
7. Go to a Fab Café
A TV and movie themed bar? Who could say no to that? Fab Café is sure to be one of the most distinctive bars you’ll visit in Manchester, with regular themed events and alternative music nights. It’s the perfect place to unleash your inner geek. (website)
Make your way to the Godlee Observatory at the University of Manchester and, if the weather permits it, enjoy the amazing sights made possible through their telescope. If the weather doesn’t allow for that, you’ll at least get a very good view of the city. (website)
9. See the future of theatre
Charity and performance venue Contact, on Oxford Road, is at the centre of some of the most inspiring performances coming out of Manchester at the minute. With a focus on bringing more young people in to theatre and encouraging diverse and experimental art and performance, Contact is an inspirational and exciting venue for audiences and creatives alike. (website)
10. See the future of comedy
The arena and Comedy Store might be the obvious choices for a laugh in Manchester, but the Frog and Bucket is the most exciting. This alternative comedy venue has an emphasis on nurturing the talent of tomorrow, priding itself on its amateur stand up nights and brilliant ‘Beat the Frog’ competitions. (website)
11. Dig the city
Manchester’s festival of urban gardening has just passed this year, but it is sure to be back soon with loads of the city’s businesses showcasing their take on a city garden. Add live music, talks, food and drink to that and Dig the City becomes one of Manchester’s most attractive new festivals. (website)
12. Get your grill on
From the number of bar and grills dotted around Manchester you might have already guessed that the city likes its meats as well as its greens. This won’t be any more obvious anywhere than at Grillstock, the city’s massive BBQ festival. Two days of music and partying are centred around a huge number of cooking and eating competitions. It’s also already gone for this year, but we will all be hoping Grillstock will make a grand return in 2015. (website)
13. Discover a secret bar
If you want to take your friends somewhere they’ve almost certainly not been to before, Under New Management is one of Manchester best kept secret bars. The name says it all really, UNM isn’t somewhere you will just happen to come across on a night out, relying entirely on its growing reputation to bring cocktail lovers down the back streets to its incredibly well hidden location.
14. Get out of the city
Manchester isn’t just a bustling city centre; the surrounding areas offer acres of stunning countryside, with views across the North West, Peak District and North Wales, the greener side of Manchester is not something to miss out on.
15. Check out precious junk
Of all the independent shops in the area, Junk Shop is by far the most suited to its location in the Northern Quarter. The store sells a range of sustainable fashion created by an in-house design time, and is proudly furnished using only recycled or reclaimed materials. They even offer several courses, so you can gather the knowledge to begin a fashion label yourself. (website)
16. Relive your childhood
You can try and convince us that you’re taking the kids to Stonerig Raceway, but every adult secretly wants to have a go themselves. With several large scale themed Scalextric tracks to race on, the venue in Oldham is an ideal choice for parties or just a really fun day out. (website)
17. See some ancient history
Discover some of Manchester’s past without having to visit the museums by strolling down to Castlefield, home to the reconstructed remains of the Roman fort Mamucium. (website)
18. Support independent film
It’s not one of Manchester’s best kept secrets, but the Cornerhouse on Oxford Road is a fantastic alternative to mainstream cinema. It supports visual arts and independent film through several art galleries and three cinema screens, as well as being home to a café, bar and bookshop. (website)
19. Get creative
If textiles and painting are more your thing than coding and Microsoft Paint, then the Manchester Craft and Design Centre is your place. The centre hosts several resident artists, regular events and a café, as well as giving you an opportunity to get creative yourself with workshops in everything from metalwork to jewellery-making. (website)
20. Go on a treasure hunt
If you want a more interesting way of exploring some of the key sights of the city, then a treasure hunt is one of the best ways to go. There are a number of companies offering explorations of different areas of the city, so pick your favourite and get discovering! (websites)
21. Go on a walking tour
With so much artistic, sporting and cultural history, it would be impossible to uncover all the historical secrets of Manchester without a bit of a helping hand. Luckily, New Manchester Walks are here to do exactly that, offering tours and stories of some of the most important locations in music, football, politics and industry. (website)
22. See a free concert
Chetham’s School of Music may not be much of a Manchester secret, but their free student lunchtime performances certainly are. There aren’t many ways to better spend your lunch break, and if you still have time left over afterwards, you can take a tour of the school itself – but you will have to pay for that bit. (website)
23. Cruise along the canal
The Bridgewater Canal stretches all the way from Runcorn through to the city, passing all varieties of things to do along the way. Cycle, sail and walk along the canal to make a day of the pubs, fishing, parks and museums all on offer across its 65km length.
24. Be an audience member
Everybody in Manchester is aware of Media City, but few take advantage of the fact that you can be in the audience for some of your favourite TV shows. Shows such as Countdown, A Question of Sport and Mastermind all make use of the facilities in Salford, so head to the Media City website and take your pick. (website)
25. Go somewhere else!
If you have somehow managed to exhaust Manchester’s ever expanding list of things to do, then get to Piccadilly Station, which has direct train links across the entire country. Within a couple of hours you could be in cities such as Leeds, Birmingham, York or (whisper it) London.