Twenty years ago, one of the most influential gay television series of all time, Queer As Folk, unfolded in Manchester. It’s no surprise the once-industrial city served as inspiration for Russell T Davies iconic series as it has transformed over the centuries into a bastion of progressive ideals with a thriving LGBTQ community.
From the city’s storied music scene to its massive student population, Manchester is a city crackling with energy.
Just a quick train ride from London, the “Gateway to the North” is a must-visit for any gay traveler. Here are a few of our favorite reasons to plan your next getaway to Manchester.
1 – It’s got a vibrant gay scene
Like San Francisco’s Castro, Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Chicago’s Boystown and Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, Manchester boasts a proudly queer district. Manchester’s Gay Village is centered around the pedestrianized Canal Street, running alongside the Rochdale Canal and easily accessed via Piccadilly rail station. Nearby Sackville Gardens has a touching Transgender Memorial sculpture, the Beacon of Hope light sculpture and an Alan Turing memorial statue.
There are bars and clubs aplenty, no matter your taste. Saturday nights tend to be the liveliest, but gay sports groups hit the bars on Thursdays. Due to Manchester’s large student population (one of the largest in all of Europe) lots of bars have special nights and discounts for students.
If you’re having deja vu at one of the most popular clubs, Cruz 101, there’s good reason. The exterior served as the backdrop for the fictional “Babylon” nightclub in the original Queer As Folk. In addition to its small-screen fame, it’s a favorite spot for dancing, DJs and performance.
There is dancing seven nights a week at Bloom (formerly AXM) on Bloom Street, or, for all you night owls, there’s Void. The underground house club boasts a weekend after-hours party that runs until 10 a.m. There’s a Manchester outpost of the Eagle leather and fetish club (which boasts a fantastic drag cabaret on Sundays), and London’s famous G-A-Y even has a low-key Northern outpost. Stop by the massive bar Via for a bite and a drink and you may be blown away by one of Manchester’s drag superstars. Away from the Village, regular alternative queer parties include Homoelectric, Bollox, and Kiss Me Again.
2 – The social calendar is jam-packed
While there’s always a party to be found in the Gay Village, there are some events worth planning your travel around. First and foremost, Manchester Pride is one of the premier LGBTQ community celebrations in the world. Thousands of visitors flock to Canal Street and the surrounding areas for the Candlelight Vigil, Superbia Weekend sober events, the Gay Village Party, Manchester Pride Parade and the big Manchester Pride Live performances. The event coincides with the August bank holiday, this year from August 23-26. Some of the events require paid wristbands, including the Manchester Pride Live concert featuring this year’s headliners Ariana Grande, Years & Years, Bananarama, Kim Petras and more.
Bears, cubs, otters, wolves and all the other woodland creatures you can think of come together to party a bit earlier in the year when the Great British Bear Bash comes out of hibernation in May. The largest annual bear event in England features a massive 100-plus person pool party, Superbeareoke and a special bear-sized installment of the popular party night Big Scrum, where lovers of all manner of sportswear from jerseys to jocks come out to play.
Entering its fourteenth year, the world’s largest free-to-attend event celebrating gender diversity, Sparkle Weekend, returns in July. Last year’s event drew more than 18,000 visitors to the Sparkle in the Park festival for performances from trans and non-binary performers, supporting trans and trans-friendly businesses and information on local organizations and partners. This year’s event takes place July 12-14.
3 – There’s an array of lodging options
There are loads of places to stay in Manchester that fit any budget, from cost-effective efficiencies to beautiful boutique lodgings, the options are extensive.
If you’re looking to stay near the Gay Village, you’ll find plenty of place to lay your head whenever you decide to kick your dancing shoes off for the night (or early morning). The award-winning Velvet is smack in the heart of the Gay Village. Each room is individually designed and decorated, ensuring a unique experience each time you return. Treat yourself to a luxurious stay at ABode Manchester. This sophisticated space was once a 19th-century textile factory and offers rooms in categories like “Comfortable, Desirable, Enviable and Fabulous.” Other nearby, posh hotels include the Principal Manchester and the Midland, a classic Manchester hotel where the Rolls-Royce company got its start. Manchester’s largest four-star hotel, Macdonald Manchester, has a sauna and spa that is not to be missed. You can also find a lot of value at Motel One Manchester-Piccadilly, Le Villé and Pendulum.
4 – No one goes home empty-handed
If you’re in need of retail therapy, you can shop till you drop all over the city. Label queens can hit the designer shops at Exchange Square. You can pop in high-end fashion boutiques on King Street, or peruse vintage goods at Afflecks, a self-styled ‘Emporium of Eclectic’ in Manchester’s Norther Quarter.
Given Manchester’s rich musical history, including claiming the start of acts like the Verve, Oasis and The Smiths, make it a point to stop by Piccadilly Records. One of the world’s most renowned independent record stores, the shop has been a go-to spot to stock up on every genre since 1978.
5 – It’s Music to the Ears
There’s live music galore to be found all over Manchester. Once you get your fill of the pop and house music in the clubs, venture out of the Village and explore the sounds of the city.
Dare to be different with cutting-edge artists. You’ll find Gorilla under the Whitworth Street West railway tracks serving up food, drink and live entertainment. Another great option is the Deaf Institute, which, for a former — you guessed it — institute for the deaf — now is a gorgeous venue for music.
Bridgewater Hall is the place to be for orchestral music. The BBC Philharmonic has an annual season, or you can check out the Manchester Camerata, a Bridgewater chamber orchestra in residence with a reputation for their adventurous arrangements.
6 – There’s art and architecture galore
Even before considering the fact it houses the oldest known piece of the New Testament and a 1476 edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the John Rylands Library is a feast for the eyes. The Victorian Gothic architecture is simply breathtaking. It’s a worthy spot on any traveler’s itinerary, even if you’re not a bibliophile.
Fine art fans can find Victorian, pre-Raphaelite and contemporary works at the Manchester Art Gallery. Take time to recharge with the special exhibit And Breathe … exploring the relationship between art and mindfulness. It’s part of the larger Mindful Museum campaign that explores how art and culture can help promote health and well-being.
A massive, £15 million development in 2015 transformed The Whitworth, doubling the size of the gallery and integrating the park. Check out the art garden, sculpture terrace, café in the trees, orchard garden and more.
Film, theater and visual art meet at HOME, a thrilling space dedicated to contemporary art. HOME is the product of a merger between arts organizations Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre Company, and its opening weekend was led by acclaimed filmmaker Danny Boyle.
7 – You can root, root, root for the home team
OK, so it’s not America’s pastime, but Mancunians are just as passionate about football (that’s soccer to us), if not more.
Feed your fandom at the National Football Museum, one of the world’s largest museums dedicated to the sport. Explore the history and culture of football through a variety of artifacts, exhibitions and interactive activities. Even if sports aren’t your “thing,” you can enjoy the upcoming Football Is Art exhibit running from April through October.
It’s dangerous to run afoul of football fanatics in Manchester, so your safest bet is to visit both the Manchester United Museum and Tour Centre as well as the Manchester City Football Club Stadium and Club Tour. Both spaces allow behind-the-scenes looks at the football clubs.
8 – You’ll never go hungry
All this activity is bound to work up an appetite, and Manchester’s culinary scene offers plenty to please palates.
If you really want to maximize your opportunity to taste the best Manchester has to offer, consider timing your trip with the Manchester Food and Drink Festival, Sept. 26 through Oct. 7. For 21 years, the festival has showcased the diversity of Manchester’s food scene across multiple venues in the city.
Don’t fret if that doesn’t jive with your travel plans. You’ll find excellent food all year round. Hawksmoor serves up sizzling steaks in a stunning Edwardian interior, while Tattu puts a clever, Ink Master spin on cocktails (with names like Smokin’ Aces, Skull Candy and a Cherry Blossom Negroni) served alongside contemporary Chinese cuisine.
Some like it hot, and for them there’s lots of spicy food on Curry Mile, Manchester’s area of Wilmslow Road concentrated with South Asian and Middle Eastern flavors.
The Vegetarian Society held its first annual meeting in Manchester, and that legacy has kept vegetarian and vegan cuisine at the forefront of the food scene. There’s 1847, so named for the very beginning of the Vegetarian Society; Manchester’s first vegan fine-dining restaurant, The Allotment Vegan Restaurant; V-Rev Vegan Diner and tons more.