Manchester is constantly referred to by many as the Gay Capital of the North, and its famous gay scene is well-known throughout the UK and much of the world, thanks to it being brought to the wider public attention on the controversial but popular Queer As Folk. Its annual Pride, held over the bank holiday weekend in August, is one of Europe’s biggest as well, with a reported 150,000 attendees last year, and it also hosts the world’s largest trans festival, Sparkle, every July. So what exactly is there for people to do in Manchester, especially LGBT visitors? The city does admittedly lack famous landmarks or other must-see sites that the likes of London, Edinburgh and other major UK cities have, but that’s not to say its not completely free of any good tourist attractions. Here we give you a guide of some of the best places to go to, see and do in Manchester, with a special focus on those that are LGBT-owned and LGBT-friendly, as well as where to drink, eat and stay.
If you’re a sports fan, Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium (on the Salford and Trafford border) and Manchester City’s Etihad stadium (in the aptly-named area Sportcity) are both popular attractions, but if you’re more into TV and entertainment, then the relatively new MediaCityUK in Salford Quays is the place to visit if you want to try and get a peek at where some of BBC and ITV’s shows are filmed and broadcast. Then, of course, there’s the set of Coronation Street on the Deansgate and Salford border of the city centre, which is a must if you’re a fan of the soap.
For LGBT visitors, the Out in the Past heritage trail – a guided walk throughout Canal Street and other parts of the city that have are related to Manchester’s 200-year LGBT history – is most certainly something worth doing. The Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall in Rusholme (a straightforward bus journey from the city centre, past the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, the Curry Mile and towards Fallowfield) should be of interest to those who love fashion – and what gay doesn’t? The gallery is home to one of the most important costume collections in Britain, second only to the V&A in London, and contains over 20,000 fashion items from as far back as the 17th century right through to the present day. Most of the collections feature couture from London and Paris, and their current main exhibition focuses on designer Christian Dior (running until 12 January 2014), as well as Yves Saint Lauren, who joined Dior at the age of 19.
If you happen to be around Salford Quays, then Harry Goodwin’s ‘My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock, Photographs from Top of the Pops 1964-1973′ exhibition at The Lowry is also something we recommend you check out. The renowned photographer has snapped pictures of hundreds of big-name music stars from the UK and abroad – many of whom are famous gay icons – including Elton John, the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
Manchester has a number of theatres throughout the city, and many national tours of shows stop off there for a spell. Some popular ones that are coming up include Wicked, War Horse, Singin’ In The Rain, Ghost and Strictly Confidential (as in Strictly Come Dancing). For full theatre listings, click here.
In the city centre, the Arndale shopping centre and Market Street are places for shopping, but if you’re looking for an even bigger area and a larger number of shops to roam around, then the Trafford Centre is not far to get to by car or direct bus. The city’s Northern Quarter is the best place if you’re into vintage music, clothes and furniture shops as well as other quirky tidbits; Affleck’s Palace is a haven for all these things. It’s like a mini Camden Town market in one building.
Many of the bars along Canal Street offer great food at affordable prices, such as Eden, Villagio, Tribeca, Via, Queer and Taurus, but if you’re looking for somewhere a little more upmarket, then why not try Velvet? The Molly House, perhaps lesser known since it is tucked away in a little alley alongside the Richmond Tea Rooms, also serves food, and is definitely good value for money, particularly their tapas. Just across the road from the village is Chinatown, which has an abundance of Chinese and other Asian cuisine restaurants to choose from, and on the edge of the village is Genghis Khan, a Mongolian restaurant, if that takes your fancy.
If you want somewhere a little further into the city then try the elaborately decorated, if a little pricey, Room restaurant; it looks like a ballroom turned into a restaurant and bar, and instead of chandeliers, huge lamps adorn the ceiling. We tried what was probably the taster menu, with ridiculously tiny portions of food further minimised by being served in oversized plates, but looking at other guests’ dishes, the usual menu looks far more appetising and filling.
Manchester’s gay scene is one of the country’s most prolific. Nearly all its gay and lesbian bars are situated in ‘the village’ along and around Canal Street, and this area is not only popular with the LGBT community – straight people also like coming here, although you’ll usually find most of them stumbling towards it after everywhere else is closed and they try and get into one of the village’s clubs that open until the early hours of the morning.
With so many places to choose from, here is our pick of a select few bars and clubs to go to: London’s famous G-A-Y bar has been in Manchester for a good couple of years now and has already cemented itself as probably being the most popular throughout the village, especially because of its ‘£1.50 on all drinks’ offer from Sunday through to Thursday; Napoleon’s is a favourite for many people who identify as trans, and their busiest night is on Wednesday when the rest of Canal Street is usually rather quiet; and Vanilla and Coyotes are the village’s only lesbian bars (although guys are welcome in both) and ironically play the least camp music.
Baa Bar is a popular chain of bars in Manchester and the northwest, famed for their wide range of £1 shooters, and their Canal Street branch is where you’ll find most straight people (probably because it’s one of the few places they can get into). The Thompson’s Arms, located on the edge of the village, is a favourite for many (particularly men) with £2.50 double spirits and mixers all day every day and a different show on each Thursday – the most attended ones being those where drag queen royalty Thunderpussy and buff strippers perform for punters’ pleasure. But if you’re looking for somewhere less busy and perhaps more sophisticated, then some of the aforementioned bars in the Eating section would be more for you. There is also the newly refurbished Manto, next to G-A-Y and opposite Eden, and the village’s latest addition, Oscars, whose name gives away its interior design theme of blockbuster films and musicals, Broadway and the West End.
However, if you’re a man who’s bit more mature – as well as erm, ‘adventurous’ – then you’ll probably feel more at home at The Eagle or Company Bar, who cater towards older guys, or at least those who aren’t afraid of a bears and a bit of fetish fun. The Northern Quarter is also a good area to check out, with many great high-end bars, although it’s usually a little pricier than elsewhere in the city – as is On The 7th, an exclusive members-only bar (£120 for a year) that is part of Eclectic Hotels, located in Salford Quays (if you do happen to venture down that way).
For clubbing, Manchester’s gay village doesn’t offer that many places, as most bars are usually where people like to party, but the few that do exist are: Alter Ego along the aptly-named Princess Street, which plays host to the ever-popular Poptastic every Tuesday (the place to be; like the village’s ‘student night’) and Saturday and the quirky, eccentric Bollox once a month on a Friday; AXM; Canal Street’s oldest club, Cruz101 and its downstairs counterpart Sub101, which is open Thursdays (one of the busiest venues on this day) to Mondays; and Morning Glory in Boyz (underneath Queer), which as the first part of its name suggests, is open until 10am most nights (well, days).
A lot of people prefer not to stay in luxury, expensive hotels when travelling, especially if they’re for a short stay or are there to mainly sample the area’s nightlife, meaning they do very little in the hotel other than sleep and shower. But if that kind of accommodation is your thing, then Velvet is for you. The four-floor hotel has 19 rooms, 13 of which are individually designed king rooms – from North American hunter-style to post-modern art, three even larger rooms with balconies overlooking Canal Street, and three luxurious duplex suites. Rates vary depending on the room and other packages you may want, but typically range from £85 to more than £400 per night. If that’s far out of your budget, then REM Bar & Hotel and the newly renovated Le Ville are also based along Canal Street.
But if you’re looking for something a little different, then Gay Homestays has over a dozen accommodations available to choose from, usually a spare room in someone’s flat or house, let by LGBT or LGBT-friendly hosts.
So why not visit Manchester and explore what this industrial-turned-modern and metropolitan city has to offer for everyone?