Your feel good guide to Manchester

An insider’s take on the best places to eat, drink, dance, see and experience in the ever-growing northern city

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An insider’s take on the best places to eat, drink, dance, see and experience in the ever-growing northern city

By Hollie Hilton09 May 2024
20 mins read time
20 mins read time

The north is having a moment. I can say that, I’m from there! But it’s true – Manchester is one of Europe’s fastest-growing cities, and even though I’ve always thought it’s great, it seems that other people are finally catching on, too.

Yes, we have our incredible music history, from The Smiths to Joy Division to New Order. We even have Warehouse Project, a cultural institution that brings the hottest dance and techno talent to a sweaty (often sold-out) crowd every weekend from August to January.

But there’s actually more than the stereotypes when it comes to experiencing Manchester properly. There are so many bars, communities and wellness activities that don’t get shouted about as much. In 2022, Manchester was named the UK’s Most Liveable City. So what makes living here feel so good? Welcome to the woo guide to Manchester (and adjacent – we’ve included some nearby spots that you can nip to on the train).

Where to eat


Every city has its flashy, Instagram-approved restaurants that don’t quite meet the quality their prices demand. Fenix is not one of those. This two storey eatery is a slice of Greece in what is often a cold, rainy Manchester. Taste an array of cocktails at its ground floor bar – these are organised into earth, air, water and fire, and recommended according to your taste buds by the resident mixologists. If, like me, you’re not into sweet drinks, then the Herbal Infusion featuring Brugal 1888 rum and kalamata olives is a must-try.

Each inch of the restaurant is beautiful, from the nude table settings to the alcove walls filled with pottery and dry plants. If you couldn’t see the grey skyline from the windows you’d think you’d been transported to Mykonos. The menu is vast, with small plates and set menu options, sharing plates, veg dishes and desserts. Honestly, try as much as your pockets will allow you to – it's all stunning. My favourites are the Athenian tartare with caviar, and the beef paccheri – a slow-cooked short rib pasta that you won’t want to share.


This wine-led rooftop restaurant is a perfect escape from the bustling city centre streets. Their menus change daily, and feature exceptional ‘Parisian expat food’, as their executive chef Luke Richardson best defines it. A sample menu may include hash browns topped with taramasalata and lemon (an incredibly crunchy delight that must be experienced if fate puts it on your menu that day), and stuffed cabbage, aubergine, cured bream and pork chops that are cooked simply and well. In their extensive wine collection – all 400 bottles of them – many originate from Burgundy, France.

Stretford Canteen

This place is proof that fine dining doesn’t have to be fussy. A pared-back neighbourhood French bistro in South Manchester, it's a local favourite, and was conceived by the daughter of the creators of the Beaujolais, a well-respected French fine dining establishment in Manchester during the ‘60s. A sample menu might include rabbit, moscatel potatoes and rump steak au poivre.


This modern, laidback small plates restaurant is run by a group of friends and renowned by the Michelin guide. Based in Ancoats, Erst specialises in natural, low-intervention wines and is another restaurant with a changing, small menu favouring seasonal produce. The minimalist interiors create a calming atmosphere which is great for catching up with old friends. Think: mid century style wooden chairs, wine bottle lined window sills and simple white crockery.

Where The Light Gets In

This Dua Lipa-approved spot is technically in Stockport (if we’re being pedantic). It’s an open plan, loft style restaurant where diners are treated to a surprise menu, based on what has been foraged and farmed that day. Chef Samuel Buckley puts sustainability at the heart of the creative process, farming his own herbs and veg atop a car park and through waste avoidance and selective sourcing on local farms, the efforts of which earned this restaurant one of the Michelin guide’s first Green Stars, which highlights those that are committed to a particular sustainable way of working.


This Middle East inspired restaurant isn’t exclusive to Manchester – they also have outposts in Liverpool, but it’s a must try. They’re masters at turning the simplest of vegetables into something tantalising. Take their ‘disco cauliflower’, for example, loved by even the most ardent of cauli-haters once it’s topped with chermoula, harissa, yoghurt, tahini, pomegranate, parsley and almonds. It’s a sharing dish but you might not want to after that first bite. Another standout is their chai old fashioned, a spicy take on the classic cocktail.

Hangover grub

Fat Pat’s

Put simply, a hole in the wall sub shop with a cult following. Fat Pat’s has perhaps the most-photographed sandwich cross sections in the whole of Manchester. Their sandwiches come in an 8 inch milk roll that they bake freshly every morning. Fillings include hot honey fried chicken, philly cheesesteak, ‘New Dehli’ butter chicken and, for the veggies, eggplant muffuletta. Due to popular demand you have to order ahead, and they often sell out.

Shawarma Abo Al Abed

Honestly, what’s the point of coming to Manchester if you’re not going to pay a visit to the curry mile? The famed section of Wilmslow Road in Rusholme is known for its array of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi restaurants. People fight over where to get the best shawarma on Wilmslow Road, but my personal favourite is Abo Al Abed, where they serve them Arabic-style. You can also get a full roast chicken on your flatbread, if you prefer. The menu is packed with other traditional Syrian cuisine too, which is well worth sampling.

Shawarma Abo Al Abed don’t take bookings, but find them at 89 Wilmslow Rd, Rusholme M14 5SU.

Nell’s Pizza

Go big or go home is the philosophy of Nell’s Pizza. This eatery crops up at multiple locations across the city, including Common in the Northern Quarter or their very own New York Pizza Bar in Kampus, and you’ll also find it on takeaway apps. Order by the slice, or a full 22” pizza pan – Nell’s knows that pizza is for sharing. They’ve got all the usual pizza toppings: pepperoni, mushrooms, Hawaiian, but they also have some specialty concoctions: their ‘Cheese & Onion Pie’ is a Northern twist on the Italian dish that puts Lancashire cheese, burnt onions, mozzarella, chives and parm atop their 100% British flour pizza dough.

Hip Hop Chip Shop

We put gravy on our chips up north, so you better order a Feastie Boys – a classic, but very well served fish, chips and peas – while vegans can enjoy their ‘Plant-Tastic Vegan Fish’ alternative, with two (yes, there can never be enough) sides of gravy, which also happens to be vegan – no excuses! There are a bunch of chip shops that you can get a good portion of fish and chips at in Manchester, but Hip Hop Chip Shop in Ancoats is a great place to sit down and eat them too. While you tuck in, take advantage of their beer and wine selection, while their walls are adorned with vintage hip hop paraphernalia.


A roast might be everyone on Hinge’s favourite Sunday pastime, but where better to get one than Elnecot in Ancoats? It was even rated one of the top 10 roasts in the UK in 2022. Served every Sunday from 1.30pm until they run out, a hungover roast is also a great excuse for a bit of lie-in. Elnecot’s has all of the usual accompaniments – roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, roasted carrots & parsnips, sautéed greens, cauliflower cheese and a rich gravy – it’s all just done really well.

Where to stay

The Alan Hotel

A unique six-storey hotel in the centre of Manchester that any creative would feel at home in, The Alan has 137 rooms featuring large cosy beds, limewashed walls (great for Insta pics), and even skincare products from woo favourite Haeckels. On weekdays, their kitchen and dining space doubles up as the perfect spot to get some work done, with a coworking menu (£20pp) that includes unlimited tea, coffee and a two-course lunch.


Tucked on a side street near Manchester Piccadilly, Native’s subdued entrance quickly turns grand as you enter its vast hall. Part hotel reception, part record shop, part cafe, part bar, part restaurant, Native’s social hub Ducie Street Warehouse has managed to combine everything a Manc newbie would need under one roof. With DJs every weekend, disco brunches to kick off the day right, workshops and even a mini cinema, it’s a perfect spot to start your Manchester jaunt before you head into the city, if you even make it that far. And if you’re in town for a more chilled affair, bougie gym chain Blok is just downstairs, offering everything from punishing workouts to zen-filled sound baths.

Native’s rooms are no less impressive, the lift opening into an epic foyer, where huge red pipes and high ceilings combine with classy glasswork – the very definition of industrial chic. Inside, the suites are bigger than most London flats (sigh), with high ceilings (are you spotting a pattern?), a fully stocked kitchen, including a washing machine, and a separate bedroom and lounge. A luxury room – the Loft One Bedroom – goes for a very affordable price, ideal for a weekend stay or post-Warehouse Project kip: Depot Mayfield is just around the corner.


You can live your best life at Leven Hotel. The rooms are housed in a 20th century red brick building on the corner of Canal Street, which means tons of natural light. But there are also incredible facilities: the rooms include full kitchens so you don’t have to worry about ringing the front desk for a wine glass. It’s like you live here – which you can also basically do at Leven, with their ‘Living The Dream’ rooms available to hire for long-term stays.


If you’re in town to soak up some culture, Innside by Melia’s Manchester location is located near the lively First Street, just a short walk from HOME theatre, The Palace Theatre Bridgwater Hall and The Ritz. Stay in one of their Studio rooms for the extra space, free minibar and Peloton (yes, you heard that right). Despite having a 24-hour gym and wellness suite, you’ll also find a yoga mat and resistance bands in your room, so there’s really no excuses to skip those morning stretches.

Mollie's (coming soon)

The highly anticipated Soho House Manchester will include Mollie’s Americana-style motel when it opens in summer 2024. Set in Manchester’s Old Granada Studios, the ‘budget-luxe’ hotel will reinvent the legendary 1950s building, with 128 rooms and suites, a typical Mollie’s Diner, cocktail bar, library, live music venue and gym. The hotel is also curating a contemporary art collection that favours local and emerging talent. As part of the Soho House development, there will also be a rooftop pool for members to use – fingers crossed the designers know about Manchester’s heavy rainfall, though, and install a pergola!

To drink

Schofields Bar

Named the UK’s best cocktail bar on the 2024 Top Cocktail Bars list, bartender brothers Joe and Daniel Schofield’s eponymous venue should be on your radar. Set in an art deco building (one of the most iconic in the north of England), that grandeur is reflected in the menu, which is designed from a whopping 30 years of mixology experience. You can, of course, order classic cocktails, but the siblings’ in-house stylings is where the magic is at. Another fun addition to the menu is the ‘library’, where the brothers have selected their favourite books and paired them with cocktails. Why not pick up a copy of Casino Royale while you sip on a Vesper?

The Jane Eyre

The best bar for a sexy little date night. The Jane Eyre in Cutting Room Square, Ancoats, features great cocktails in a dimly lit interior with a handful of seats, creating the perfect intimate and romantic atmosphere. They also serve a small menu, of sharing dishes made from simple ingredients, including ham hock croquettes, pan con tomate and miso roasted cauliflower.

Love From

A new and unique addition to the city, Love From is an alcohol-free bar, for the teetotal and sober-curious among us. This space challenges the narrative that alcohol-free equals boring, with a menu of uniquely thought-out mocktails, and a stacked calendar of events featuring live music, DJ sets, bingo and quiz nights.

Kerb Wine

Natty wine lovers will adore Kerb – a dog-friendly neighbourhood natural wine store and bar in Ancoats. It's not a stuffy affair by any means, and the staff are passionate about serving wine that can be enjoyed by everyone, which is best explored at their weekly Thursday tastings. The bar also supports local creatives through art exhibitions and networking events with various collaborators across the city. Most recently they teamed up with Manc-based lifestyle brand Roop to make limited edition wine carriers (which are super cute!)

Clubs and Pubs

SK1 Records

This one’s technically in Stockport, but as it’s only an 11-minute train journey from Manchester city centre, it’s worth your journey. SK1 is an independent record store and cafe in the heart of the old town. In August 2022 they threw an impromptu street party with local DJs playing vinyl. What started as an organic bit of live music in the town centre has since become a monthly occurrence in the warmer months. Two-steppers can buy drinks in plastic cups from the neighbouring bars and pubs and stand outside with the crowd, or bring their own – there’s usually a few geezers splitting a nice bottle of red somewhere in the underbanks.


Ah, Sammy’s. I debated even including this one, thanks to the gatekeeping devil on my shoulder. But it wouldn’t be fair to leave out the venue that’s contributed to some of my best nights out in the past year. Sammy’s is a pretty new, and still overlooked, kid on the block. Set between Northern Quarter and Ancoats, in what looks like an old kebab shop, is a small ‘70s wallpapered room, where margaritas are served frozen, and feet stomp across the tables to the best throwback tunes and emerging DJ talent. It’s an intimate affair that can often be mistaken for a house party – that is, nothing cringe or commercial about it. But good luck getting in, as it fills up fast.


One of the best independent music venues in Manchester, Soup has been around since 2010. Most of the live music is now played in the basement club, where line-ups are well curated, often pulling deeply from the local area as well as further afield. The organisers like to keep ticket prices accessible, with most club events coming in at £10 or less a ticket. If you want to get a taste of homegrown DJs and collectives, this is as authentic to contemporary Manchester nightlife as you’re going to get. But the ground floor bar is not to be sniffed at, either – it’s a great place to grab a drink and some decent grub. Soup were originally known for their vegan offerings and now host a rotation of local chefs and street food outlets in their kitchen.

New Century

This legendary music hall was recently brought back to life for a new generation. Featuring their original sprung dancefloor and disco ceiling, the venue has installed a state-of-the-art sound system and the hall now hosts an eclectic programme of live music and club events on its first floor. Their 2024 lineup? Ryoji Ikeda, Nadine Shah, Millionz, Fat White Family and more. On the ground floor is a stunning mid century modern style restaurant and bar known as The Kitchen. There you can taste the venue's resident independent food traders who cook up local and global inspired cuisines, while also offering a 90-minute bottomless brunch, if that’s your bag.

Pevril of the Peak

Known to us locals as ‘The Pev’, this pub is a little slice of history. It has the oldest serving landlady in the city (51 years of service, and counting), and has kept its original character. Having survived demolition and being turned into a flashy sports bar, the interior is all traditional bench seating, polished wood and stained glass. You may recognise the exterior too, particularly its lime green tiled walls, from some old Oasis pics. On a Friday night, it pulls in a young crowd, who still congregate round the jukebox and pool table.

Edinburgh Castle

Another old joint from the 1800s, this one reimagined, with exceptional food and drink. Upstairs is an intimate, 36-cover restaurant known for its locally sourced grub, and £15 ‘workers lunch’. Downstairs is a cosy pub serving great beers and a solid amount of whiskey. There’s always a nice atmosphere here.

The Derby Brewery Arms

You might recognise this venue from Channel 4’s It’s a Sin. Just like the TV programme, the Derby Brewery Arms is a queer favourite. Despite its grade-II listed status, this pub is far from traditional, championing inclusivity above all else. Every other week they host a Queer Pub Quiz and this venue is also a unique rave space, that requires all line-ups to include a female act, a person of colour and a queer DJ, with many of the nights raising money for LGBTQ+ charities, too.


Common Ground & Girls Trek

Founded in 2022, Common Ground is primarily a hiking group. This community-led initiative encourages like-minded individuals to explore and interact with nature. Their group hikes, which can sometimes be attended by up to 80 participants, are all accessible via Manchester, often meeting a short train ride away in the Lake District or Peak District.

As of last year, they also launched Girls Trek, a summer series just for the girlies, led by guides Leah De La Hunty, Anna Taylor and Carrie-Ann Parr. Their walks are usually beginner friendly, and many a friendship has been formed on a scramble in the British countryside. A great way to get out of the city, out of your head and meet some new people.

Partisan Collective

Partisan Collective is Manchester’s only non-profit, cooperatively run grassroots music venue, whose line-ups feature inclusive events. Check out ROJAK for a night spotlighting queer POC DJs, or Partisan Cinema for screenings from international and independent filmmakers. They also host political reading groups, and a ‘lesbian and lesbian-adjacent’ boyband choir.

Mandem Meetup

Another community-led organisation, Mandem Meetup work to help men with their mental health. But they also put on a lot of free, interactive events: chess clubs, photography meetups, poetry classes and indoor football. Everyone is welcome and equal within this group, and they couldn’t be more inviting to new members. If you’ve just moved to Manchester, this club is a great way of finding community spirit.

Watch woo’s video series with the group to learn more about them.

Altogether Otherwise

If you’re a hobbyist, or just a bit of a procrastinator, then this hobby house will have something for you to get involved with. From Mindless Mushroom Hour, where you can chat about all things funghi with local shroomy experts and learn how to grow them (the legal kind) yourself; to the Wavy Wool Club where you can make all sorts of objects out of surplus wool retrieved from local farms.

After Hours Club

Supper clubs have been popping up in most major cities over the last few years and Manchester is no different. My favourite is After Hours, a dining experience for like-minded creative women in the city to meet, connect and understand each other. Their founder Ailsa ensures a curated line-up, often of local female chefs and artists, who create everything from the food you eat to the plate you eat it on. She also has a hand in the guest list, often encouraging people to come alone, rather than with friends, so that everyone has the opportunity to meet someone new.

Snappy Runners

For the more athletically inclined, Snappy Runners is a running community based out in Ancoats. Led by a group of volunteers, they run twice a week and everyone is welcome. There are no sign-up fees, so you can simply show up, run and maybe have a chat too. They aim to build a stronger community through running, and create connections that extend beyond the pavements they run on.


The Farm Club

Another one technically outside of Manchester, but close enough. A 30-minute drive will land you in this 300-acre wellness hub in the heart of the Cheshire countryside. The Farm Club is all about immersing yourself in nature for wellbeing. Start your day right with a ‘Wake & Shake’ session on a Saturday or Sunday morning, where you’re guided through yoga and breathwork sessions before taking a cold dip in the lake. Or if you’re more into winding down, try a Friday evening ‘Sunset Session’ that also includes a picnic on the lawn after a dip in the lake.

The hub has a cafe where you can appreciate some locally roasted artisan coffee by KickBack Coffee and freshly baked cakes, and if you’re loving it all so much that you don’t even want to get back to the city just yet, you can stay in The Hide, an eco home by The Farm Club featuring two bedrooms and two bathrooms, that allows you to immerse yourself in the Cheshire countryside that bit longer.


Barry’s Bootcamp certainly isn’t exclusive to Manchester. The famed intensive fitness classes started in Los Angeles, and have slowly built a cult following all over the world – including some A-list fans. This outpost is their first in the UK outside of London, and features a few small updates, such as the Manchester bee (the city’s symbol) appearing in studio artwork across the gym. Try out the original HIIT workout if you dare, or just pop by for the Fuel Bar, where they make customised shakes and grab and go goodies.

Float Level

Flotation therapy is one way to get out of your mind and body – that’s how it feels, anyway. This wellness activity involves entering a sensory deprivation tank, filled with body temperature water and salts. The purpose of floatation is to free you from the often overwhelming flood of sensory input we have to process every second of every day, feeling weightless can help you to relax too, and is often touted as being good for sore muscles. You can experience this at Float Level, in the city centre, the only spot dedicated to flotation therapy.


Aviva Studios

So far, Aviva Studios has proven itself to be a very diverse venue. From intimate theatre shows to impactful exhibitions (Yayoi Kusama!) to huge multimedia performances and warehouse-scale gigs from the likes of Sampha, Adrianne Lenker and Janelle Monaé, its programme is creative and innovative. Conceived as a permanent home for cultural festival Factory International, the venue was designed by Ellen Van Loon to provide a canvas for artists from near and far to create bold new works.

Home Cinema and Theatre

The best spot in Manchester for independent cinema. HOME is an arts centre, cinema and 500-seat theatre complex based on First Street – walkable from most city centre destinations. There’s also a restaurant, cafe and book shop, so you’ll find plenty to while away a couple of hours.

Whitworth Gallery

The Whitworth is home to an internationally important collection of more than 60,000 works of art, textiles and wallpapers. Their exhibitions range from history to contemporary, and often platform local talent and community voices. Set in the beautiful Whitworth Park, the gallery features a glass ceiling-to-floor cafe, where you can feel immersed in nature – they often have a rotation of chef’s specials that pair with the exhibitions’ themes.

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