Could anything be more exciting than stumbling across somewhere that not many other people seem to know about? Not for me! Manchester is peppered with hidden gems: museums, markets, backstreets and restaurants. The hardest part is knowing where to find them…
Take a bus out of the city centre and head towards Rusholme; or the "curry mile" as it is known locally. You know you've reached the right stop when you can see neon lights, family-run Indian restaurants and the scent of some of the best curry in the north of England. Drop into one of the many Indian sweet shops and ask for some laddu – a traditional ball-shaped sweet.
If it's nightlife you're looking for, head to Islington Mill. This abandoned-then-rescued former cotton mill houses artists' studios, a gallery, a café and a live music venue. The atmospheric performance space houses a diverse range of activities -- it welcomes bands and performers from around the world, and every now and then has a 12-hour movie-marathon sleepover (past nights have focused on chick flicks and action movies). The Guardian recently declared, "forget the Haçienda, Manchester's club scene is as vibrant as it's ever been".
The "world famous" Bury Market (30 minutes on the Metrolink from central Manchester) is one of the largest and most varied markets in the North. It has a pretty unique smell -- the Bury Black Pudding Company has been trading here for 50 years now. Younger shoppers might get bored of the stalls here, so if they do head to the Northern Quarter in central Manchester for your fill of independent boutiques and quirky gift shops.
With film director Danny Boyle, artist Damien Hirst and actor Helen Mirren as its high-profile patrons, Cornerhouse -- cinema, gallery, bookshop and café bar, is a major force in the British contemporary arts scene. Watch an independent film here and then discuss it over some of the best pizza in the city.
The sole survivor of the Northern Quarter's mercantile past is the Manchester Craft and Design Centre. This little gem, a former fish market with a glass-roofed atrium and wrought-iron frontage, has for 30 years been home to an array of artist-run studios. Head here for locally made art, jewellery, bags and accessories, as well as contemporary craft exhibitions. The café serves good homemade carrot cake and coffee. Look out for regular design classes and workshops.
If you're missing the green stuff (central Manchester noticeably lacks it), board a tram and head 15 minutes north to Heaton Park. The park itself is listed Grade II by English Heritage and contains nine listed buildings including Heaton Hall, an 18th-century neoclassical house. Children will love the petting farm; home to alpacas, rabbits and goats. The park has hosted some of Manchester’s biggest bands in recent years -- The Stone Roses and Oasis both played 3-night runs here, to around 70,000 people per night.
Whoever said that keeping fit had to be toilsome task? Dance teacher Anthony Padgett holds a weekly "Charlestonercise" class at the Central Methodist Hall every Thursday, followed by jive and lindy hop classes. No partner required; just turn up on the day and step back into the swing era. £5 buys you a cup of lemonade and a workout with a difference.
Head down into the bowels of Manchester with an underground tour. The winding tunnels below the city are the legacy of underground rivers, an abandoned tube line, Second World War air-raid shelters and six miles of nuclear bomb-resistant tunnels. Bring a torch and wear stout footwear.
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