Manchester is major cultural hub, it houses the oldest English speaking library in the world! Alongside this you will find fantastic shopping - this city was the beating heart of the textile industry during the industrial revolution. There are some really incredible places to eat and drink, and something you cannot forget is the music scene! Manchester has produced some of the worlds finest bands - Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis.....the list goes on.
This week we caught up with Nathan Whittaker, the main behind Manc Wanderer. Nathan was born and bred in Manchester and is a photographer who specialises in live music and city photography, who better to show us around the city?
Nathan, thank you so much for speaking with us, tell us about yourself, how long have you lived in Manchester and what do you love most about the city?
I was born in Manchester and grew up just 20 minutes or so outside of the city centre. I’ve lived in the centre itself for around 8 years now and I really can’t see myself living elsewhere. For me what I love most are the parts of the city that remind me most that it is home; it could be the Northern Quarter where I like to catch up with friends, the steps leading to Oxford Road train station I used to pass on a former daily commute, or just bumping into people so often (and we have some of the friendliest people here!).
Describe your perfect day wandering around the city – where do you go, what do you do?
I’d have breakfast at Koffee Pot (full Scottish being my favourite from there), and being in the Northern Quarter use it as an excuse to visit a few of the independent shops – the best ones for clothes, records and homeware are around here (Pop Boutique, Piccadilly Records and Oklahoma to name one for each). For lunch I’d be tempted to head to either Hatch or the Arndale Food Market where there’s loads to choose from. Then I’d spend the afternoon visiting a tourist site or two – it’s hard to see past the John Rylands as being one of the best given its magical reading room. As it’s me I’d have my camera in hand for the whole day and I’d be looking for what to capture, there really is so much when you start to have a look around despite Manchester not being known as being a “pretty” city. I’d then love to have a few pints at some of the proper pubs around the city, and once gigs are allowed to happen again catching live music is one of my very favourite things and it would be great to catch one in the evening; perhaps with some pizza before or after (or during if you catch the gig at Yes). On that note we’re blessed for good pizza places in Manchester, but my favourite is Ciaooo.
Where would you take visitor’s to show them the ‘real’ Manchester?
The Northern Quarter of course I know is an obvious one, but I’d prefer to stick to the pubs/bars that have been there the longest and especially ones which host gigs regularly. A few that can boast both of those qualities are Night and Day, Soup Kitchen, The Castle and Gullivers; all within a two-minute walk of each other. The other side of the city centre has a few slightly newer venues that also showcase super live music and are great places to grab a drink; so, I’d recommend Big Hands, Yes and the Deaf Institute.
Afflecks Palace (or just Afflecks as it’s now known) is a must – it’s not just because you can buy pretty much anything in there, but that wandering its many floors gets you lost (usually quite literally) in a maze of vintage clothing, game consoles you forgot existed, tattoo shops and all kinds of creations by locals; and shamelessly I should say myself will be included in that soon. I’d also be very tempted to take them on a Skyliner walking tour – I’ve been on three myself now and they really do show you the city in its truest way. That and you learn loads!
Where’s your favourite area in the city and why?
It’s very hard to not again say the Northern Quarter, but for me there’s something very special about the stretch of road down from St Peter’s Square all the way down towards the universities. It might be that I used to live in that direction, but there’s something about the combination of architecture and the array of bars you can visit. From St Peter’s Square you can see the gorgeous Central Library, back of the Town Hall and Midland Hotel, then pass by St James’s Building (with the Temple opposite: a bar built in a former public toilet which Elbow famously sung about) and then the famous clock tower which recently reads Kimpton; most know it as the Refuge which is the name of the amazing bar/restaurant that has an interior I think none compete with in Manchester. Just one minute further and you’re near the likes of Yes, Font and the Salisbury (something for everyone between those three) and then you’re close to Hatch which is a very new collection of independent food, drink and shop outlets underneath the Mancunian Way – a must visit. If you want to keep walking further towards the universities things are admittedly a little more spread out, but you’re treated to the sight of the UoM building itself (also a lovely free museum) and then you can treat yourself with a drink at Big Hands which is one of the best indie bars in the city!
What would you say is Manchester’s best kept secret?
Perhaps not to city centre residents, but I know many people who’ve never visited Islington Marina; a peaceful area to relax in beside the canal and some rare trees while having the option for the best pastries in town (Pollen) or some great beers (Cask).
When you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre, where do you head to?
I most recently went to Dovestones where you can go for a good walk and has the benefit of being next to Saddleworth; which has a decent number of pubs and restaurants worth visiting. Oh, and it’s less than 30 minutes on the train!
When in need of a little retail therapy, where do you head to?
I love visiting Oklahoma as mentioned above, and recently opened is the Glass House which is a plant shop that looks like it’s out of a Wes Anderson film. There are a few clothes shops in Barton Arcade which are worth visiting just to see the building itself, and Oi Polloi in the Northern Quarter is one I’m a huge fan of too.
Are there any hidden gems you can recommend?
The Marble Arch is a very old pub that’s really hidden away on its own and is incredible; not just for its beers (from their own brewery around the corner) but their food including an amazing Sunday roast is right up there with the best. Go Falafel is a perfect place to grab the best falafel in the city to go (great for a budget). Arcane is one of the city’s best cocktail bars and tucked away on a side street off Deansgate; it’s themed a little like a library and a perfect place to end a night/get post meal drinks. NQ64 is a relatively new underground computer games bar in the Northern Quarter – very cool.
What are you top 3 tips for visiting the city?
It’s quite difficult due to how much space it takes – but try to avoid most of the Piccadilly Gardens/Portland Street area. It will give you a very bad impression of the city and it’s not the safest place to be at night (except for Bundobust and Fab Café at opposite sides of Portland Street; both worth a visit for very different reasons). I’ve mentioned the Northern Quarter a few times but on a Friday Saturday night Stevenson Square has become the place to party; while there’s good reason for that there can be huge queues and to be totally honest there’s nothing that separates those bars from others. So if there’s the biggest queue at GBA then next door at Lost in Tokyo will be just as fun – the queues don’t mean they’re better as they all play the same music and cater for the end of night crowd in the same way.
When is your favourite time of year in the city and why?
It’s hard to say given Manchester’s ever changing weather, but probably over the summer when lots of bars in the city make the most of areas for people to drink outside; and pretty much any day of the week you’ll feel a really fun vibe across the city centre.
Manchester’s Best Bits;
Coffee – Foundation
Dinner – El Gato Negro
Brunch – Federal
Drinks – The Pilcrow
A little culture – John Ryland’s Library
A night out – Albert’s Schloss
Push the boat out luxury hotel – Gotham
Somewhere to stay which is a little more budget friendly – Abel Heywood