Whilst glistening skyscrapers and countless cranes represent a ‘new’ Manchester, it only takes a walk around the Northern Quarter to see – and indeed feel – an unmistakably Mancunian sense of pride in its industrial past.
A popular hotspot for creatives, young professionals, and post-graduates to live and work, the Northern Quarter is no longer ‘up and coming’, it’s officially the here and now.
Self-named ‘NQ’, the district built its reputation on a love for independent businesses, incredible food, world-class nightlife, and one thing you can’t ignore – street art around every corner. Known as the ‘street-art capital’ of the city, the Northern Quarter is Manchester’s answer to Shoreditch, Brooklyn, or West Hollywood.
This blog will also cover the Northern Quarter’s closest (and coolest) neighbour, Ancoats. Once a gritty textile district, Ancoats is now a landmark destination, recently voted one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world by Time Out Magazine.
Characterised by Edwardian mills and Victorian warehouses ideally placed to be converted into independent eateries, cafes and restaurants, it’s no surprise that Ancoats also just won ‘Foodie Neighbourhood of the Year 2022’.
Here are 11 unmissable places to give you a (mouthwatering) taste of Manchester’s most iconic area, the Northern Quarter and Ancoats.
1. Walk down Tib Street
For a real sense of the Northern Quarter’s ‘support local businesses’ culture, walk down Tib Street starting at Just Between Friends coffee shop (grab a coffee here if you get chance).
You’ll walk past a row of independent businesses including The Freemount pub, florist Northern Flower (you won’t miss the window display); café Sugar Junction; popular jazz club Matt & Phreds; artisan butcher The Butcher’s Quarter; craft beer shop Beermoth; and local bookstore Anywhere Out of the World.
Tip: Grab a coffee and a pastry from Just Between Friends for the walk.
2. Ramona, Ancoats
If you’re looking for a slice of Manchester’s casual food and drink scene, Ramona is your go-to.
Since its 2020 opening as a takeaway pizza kitchen during the pandemic, it has become nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, attracting people from all over the UK.
The converted car-garage creates a whole new league of Detroit-style pizza and margarita cocktails, served around a real campfire. Heated tipis and Aztec blankets create an intimate hangout all year round, with local DJs playing every night.
Tip: Order the hot honey sauce and pour into the cheesy garlic bread. You’re welcome.
Narrowing down the best independent cafés in the Northern Quarter isn’t an easy job. But for me, it has to be Evelyn’s. One of Manchester’s most popular brunch spots, this warehouse-chic eatery is the very essence of the Northern Quarter.
Serving Middle Eastern inspired food, fresh coffee and epic cocktails, Evelyn’s feels like an urban garden, with leafy plants hanging from industrial light fixtures and exposed brick walls. It also has its own underground cocktail bar, The Daisy – another popular hangout for locals.
Tip: For the best people-watching spot and street art views, ask to sit in the window. Also, try the Za’atar Mushrooms.
4. Affleck’s Palace
This unassuming red-brick building can be easily missed when walking through the Northern Quarter, but don’t be fooled by its humble exterior. Affleck’s Palace is home to 70 independent businesses and is at the heart of the Northern Quarter’s success story.
One of Manchester’s most loved cultural icons since its opening in 1982, the 5-storey market is a platform for artists, fashion designers and everyone in between to showcase their work. Whether you’re in the market for vintage clothing, second-hand records or bespoke artwork, add Affleck’s to your ‘must’ list.
Tip: Try something different and head to the top floor for a Tarot reading.
This Japanese-inspired restaurant and bar sits in the heart of the Northern Quarter inside a Grade II listed building. If you’re into sashimi and maki, you’ll love Cottonopolis.
A nod to Manchester’s days as a textile powerhouse, Cottonopolis is named after the city’s 19th Century alias when it was responsible for 80% of the world’s cotton production. And the heritage theme doesn’t stop there. Menus and interiors are adorned with the Manchester worker bee – a well-known symbol of the city and its unity for over 150 years.
Cottonopolis achieves what it sets out to – despite serving traditional Japanese food in an open kitchen, you have never been so sure that you’re in Manchester.
Tip: Try the Karaage Cauliflower.
6. Experience the vintage stores
In this hipster neighbourhood centred around urban renewal, sustainability and affordability are core values. And nowhere makes second-hand clothing cooler than the Northern Quarter.
A popular favourite is Cow Vintage, notably for its line of re-worked clothing, made up of different branded shirts stitched together to create a one-off garment. Other thrift stores include Blue Rinse and newly opened Bare Necessities, which has a daily delivery of second-hand vintage clothes.
Tip: Be prepared to route through rails of clothing to find the hidden gems!
7. Check out the art scene
In the Northern Quarter, every wall is a canvas for art. When walking through Stevenson Square, It’s not uncommon to see artists with brushes or spraycans in hand, in the middle of a comissioned piece.
If you’re a creative, Cass Art shop is definitely worth a visit. An emporium for artists, the Instagrammable window display reads ‘Let’s fill this town with artistis’ – and that’s the aim. Designed to encourage people to intereact with art materials and try something new, all staff members are artists themselves and can give the best advice to beginners or professionals.
If you’re more of an appreciator of art rather than a creative, Fred Aldous or the Northern Quarter Gallery in Affleck’s Palace is right up your street.
Tip: Local artists often sell their just-painted pieces on the street. You could get it framed at indepdent picture framing shop Manchester Framing Co on Tib Street.
8. Cutting Room Square, Ancoats
This pedestrianised square is the beating heart of Ancoats. Attracting a thriving community, the square is lined with bars, restaurants, and cafés, connected by outdoor seating. With so many incredible food options, the only problem is deciding where to go.
To narrow it down to three restaurants:
- Rudy’s – You won’t regret a visit to this incredible Neapolitan pizzeria.
- Elnecot – One of the best Sunday roast dinners in Manchester.
- Mana – This Michelin Star restaurant is just off Cutting Room Square.
Tip: Try the garlic bread with cheese at Rudy’s and pre-book in advance to avoid missing out.
9. Go to a music event
The birthplace of world-class bands such as Oasis, The Stone Roses and The Smiths, Manchester’s music scene is central to its status as a cultural powerhouse.
Big on supporting up-and-coming artists, the Northern Quarter has some incredible music venues with events every night of the week. Soak up the culture and book a random event at iconic jazz club, Matt & Phreds, or showcase talent venue, Band on the Wall.
10. Mackie Mayor, Ancoats
This cosmopolitan food hall is a Grade II listed building, comprised of indepdendent eateries from all over the world. Originally opened as a fresh produce market in 1858, Mackie Mayor is the only in tact building from the former Smithfield market.
Whether you go for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Mackie Mayor won’t disappoint. Delicious food, a buzzing atmosphere and great service seamlessly combine to provide an amazing experience.
Tip: Go when you’re hungry and try the food from a few different vendors. Save space for dessert.
11. Stevenson Square
Nowhere in Manchester captures the cultural moment quite like Stevenson Square. A pedestrianised square of independent bars and eateries against a backdrop of art installations, this unique space encourages people to come together
The decision to permanently pedestrianise the area comes after the square initially closed back in 2020 during the pandemic to encourage people back into the city centre. The Council explained that giving more space for pedestrians and cyclists was ‘incredibly positive’ and ‘signalled a shift in how people want to interact and engage with the city.’
Tip: Try up-market kebab spot, BAB, where the team of chefs make their entire menu from locally sourced ingredients, including fresh flatbreads in the open theatre-style kitchen.