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The most cosmopolitan city after London, Manchester is also one of Britain’s most modern cities, with a youthful and infectious vibe and cultural activities that are a class apart.  If you’re looking for a true slice of Britain then look no further than Manchester, often described as England’s second city.

Known the world over for its famous football teams and for being the first industrialised city in the world, today Manchester is a hub of all things cool. Its modern city centre boasts some pretty cutting edge architecture, a cultural scene that is right up there with London and, of course, a nightlife that is renowned as one of the best in the world. 

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Shopping


Manchester's ornate fire station, London Road, could have only been built in the Victorian era - and this previously abandoned landmark is the atmospheric location of an ice rink and indoor festival called The Winter Gathering. Enjoy food from stalls curated by the British Street Food Awards team, mulled wine, cocktails and a craft market featuring work by local makers. (Until 8 Jan 2017, http://elementalevents.com/thewintergathering/)




'Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond' is a new exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry which investigates future uses of the world's first truly 2D material. So strong that a thin layer could support an elephant, the carbon allotrope was isolated by Nobel prize winning scientists Professors Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim at Manchester University in 2004. For more information visit http://www.msimanchester.org.uk/en/whats-on/exhibition/wonder-materials.


Breaking with the trend for formal gardens, Alexandra Park's wild landscaping caused a stir in 1870 and recent investment has recovered much of its charm. Bring a picnic or tuck in at the cricket clubhouse café. Flowing, tree-lined avenues and ponds are a draw, or join the crowds at Manchester's annual Caribbean Carnival. (13/14 August, themanchestercarnival.com, alexandraparkmanchester.com)


Manchester hosts the European Festival of Science from 23 - 27 July. Leading galleries and exhibitions spaces including the National Football Museum and Museum of Science and Industry are taking part and there are many other free events to sample too. Look out for a Science Fest in St Ann's Square, the Science of Me roadshow in the Arndale shopping centre and Central Library plus drop-in talks and more, at 70 Oxford Street. http://www.esof.eu/

Sightseeing


John Rylands Library's latest exhibition focuses on an under appreciated icon of Mancunian counterculture, Jeff Nuttall. Called Off Beat, the exhibition showcases the work and life of this key figure in underground publishing who wrote extensively about the connections between the cold war and the art of the period. Includes original work by William S. Burroughs. (Until March 2017, The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate)


Manchester's Christmas Markets take over every inch of the city centre during November. Albert and Exchange Square are always packed but the stalls around the National Football Museum usually offer a little more space to enjoy hot mulled wine and pick up a festive gift or two. (Nov 10 - Dec 21, various locations in and around Manchester city centre, http://www.manchester.gov.uk/christmasmarkets)


Design Manchester is a celebration of local and international talent. The programme takes in everything from a Women In Print exhibition at The Co-op building to screenings of influential films at Home arts centre. Be sure to pick up a memento or two from the design fair at London Road Fire Station, just opposite Piccadilly Station. (12 - 22 Oct, http://designmcr.com/)


The world's largest circus company, Cirque du Soleil, presents a watery new spectacle, Amaluna, in a tented arena beside the Trafford Centre this month. Enjoy Olympic-standard twists and turns and costumes worthy of Elton John as the goddesses of the island tell their tale both on stage and in giant fish bowls. From 7 September until 9 October, https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna.


Marking the centenary of World War I, Fashion & Freedom is a large-scale new exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. Taking a sideways look at the legacy of war, the exhibition looks at lasting changes in British fashion triggered by women's engagement in the workplace between 1914 and 1918. Highlights include new work by British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and vintage pieces from the Gallery's collection. Until 27 November, http://www.fashionandfreedom.org


Manchester Jewish Museum is housed in the city's oldest former synagogue, dating back to 1874. Around ten minutes walk from the city centre, the museum offers an insight into North Manchester's cultural history as well as comedy nights, film screenings, feminist debates and more. Visit the website for full listings. http://www.manchesterjewishmuseum.com/

Key Areas


The Whitworth Art Gallery reopened in 2015 after a dazzling, £12m transformation. Highlights include the textiles collection and a new exhibition by British artist, Idris Khan. Khan's work references religious ritual through densely layered paintings and photographs. The gift shop sells local ales as well as art books and designer homewares and there's a excellent cafe too. (Oxford Road, http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/)


Manchester Literature Festival attracts huge names to the city's theatres and bookshops. This year Anne Enright, Margaret Atwood and Vivienne Westwood are hosting readings alongside the usual array of workshops, family events and more. 7-23 Oct, http://www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk/


Liverpool Biennial is a huge, free showcase of contemporary art from around the world. Highlights include a newly completed glow in the dark skate park by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and contemporary work inspired by (and displayed alongside) Ancient Greek artefacts at Tate Liverpool. Until 16 October, http://www.biennial.com, 45 minutes by car or train from Manchester.



Islington Mill, a fireproof Victorian cotton mill, is now an award-winning arts centre and live venue with a vegan cafe. The leafy courtyard, surrounded by red brick and greenery, is a particular delight, and there's an onsite B&B too. Recent shows include Peaches, Lydia Lunch and Pumarosa. (www.islingtonmill.com/)


Manchester's People's History Museum brings to life Britain's fight for democracy over the last 200 years in exhibitions such as Grafters, on now, which explores the industrial revolution in images and words. Inside, old and new features are combined in one of the city's finest museum extensions which includes a glass-clad cafe overlooking the River Irwell. (www.phm.org.uk)

Day Trips


Only 50 minutes from Manchester, the Peak District village of Edale is perfect for walks from the train station. Outings include the peaks of Mam Tor and Kinder Scout around the start of the Pennine Way. Pick up a map from the visitor centre and tuck in at the National Trust's Penny Pot cafe. http://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting/visitor-centres/edale


January is a special time at Yorkshire Sculpture Park where wide-screen vistas come as standard. Current exhibitions include work by video artist, Bill Viola, and a cascade of poppies by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper. The park is just over an hour's drive from Manchester and stretches over many miles of countryside. For more information head to ysp.co.uk.

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