I recently had a few hours to kill in Manchester after taking my friend to the airport, and I decided to spend my afternoon in the Northern Quarter after hearing rumours that it is the most arty, ‘hipster’ area of the city.
Turns out the rumours were true. The Northern Quarter is a district in Manchester city centre with its own distinct culture and atmosphere; a jumble of streets filled with independent and alternative stores, cafes and coffee shops (and also the most amount of barber shops I’ve ever seen in one area for some reason – maybe all the hipsters go there to get their beards trimmed).
It’s well worth spending an afternoon here, so here are some ideas…
1. (Window) Shop and soak up the bohemian culture and atmosphere
The Northern Quarter is a great place to visit, even just to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. You’ll find street art around every corner, and so much depth of culture that somehow even the dirty backstreets suddenly seem appealing. The old red brick buildings towering above the narrow streets are reminiscent of an old New York (in fact, the Northern Quarter has been used as Manhattan in several films), and definitely gives Manchester its own distinct feel as a UK city.
There are many vintage and independent stores to visit. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s worth window shopping in this area. Make sure you explore Oldham Street as this is home to many vintage clothes shops, second hand record stores and art/design shops.
2. Spot Street Art
Manchester’s Northern Quarter is famous for its street art and you won’t have to search for it. Wander around and explore and you will soon find some quality murals. If you want to find the most iconic pieces make sure to check out Tibb Street, Oldham Street, Spear Street and Stevenson Square.
You can find out more about where exactly to find Street Art in Manchester’s Northern quarter here
3. Shop at Afflecks Palace
Afflecks is an indoor collection of independent shops and stalls on 3 floors. It accurately describes itself as an ’emporium of eclecticism’ and is the coolest place to shop for anything ‘from top hats to tattoos’. It’s full of vintage clothes and pop culture memorabilia, and you can even get your hair cut and a tattoo on the premises – there’s surely something here to please everyone. The walls and stairwells are decorated with art from local artists, and there’s even several cafes inside, including Ginger’s Emporium and a Superhero themed cafe on the top floor.
4. Eat brunch, drink coffee (or, have breakfast for lunch)
The Northern Quarter is full of independent coffee shops, street food vendors and small brunch/lunch cafes, so you won’t have to look far to find something to your liking. I went to Fig + Sparrow on Oldham street. It couples as a small store as well, has a friendly atmosphere, and for £6 they served me more avocado and smoked salmon on toast than I could eat. That gets my vote.
I also discovered this amazing chain of cafes called Black Milk. Black Milk serve a combination of cereals in edible chocolate bowls (!) topped with wondrous things such as molten chocolate, salted caramel icecream or torched marshmallows to name just a few. It’s basically a full on dessert made with cereal and sounds like my kind of heaven. They also serve ‘Freakshakes’ (think the most decadent milkshake ever), waffles and smoothie bowls. I’m raving about them already and I didn’t even get a chance to try it (too much avocado toast) but if you’re anything like me and have a sweet tooth and/or a thing for breakfast cereal this should probably be top of your list. You can find Black Milk in Affleck’s and on Oldham Street.
5. Relax in Piccadilly Gardens
At Piccadilly Gardens you can relax on the lawn, enjoy the bands and singers playing live music around the park, and head down the street a little to Gino’s Gelato to get the freshest gelato in the city. You’re welcome.
Apparently, the Northern Quarter has more bars per km than London and (unsurprisingly) has a reputation for great nightlife too. I was only there in the day, so I’ll have to let you know about that another time! I’d love to visit and explore more sometime soon.
Getting there: The Northern Quarter is located between Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria train stations in the city centre, and can easily be walked to from either location (around 10 mins). If you don’t want to walk you can even catch the FREE MetroShuttle bus 1 or 2 from outside either station (both go through the Northern Quarter).
Have you visited the Northern Quarter, and what was your experience? Let me know in the comments below!