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Why Manchester is the UK's most exciting cultural hub right now

The Northern powerhouse is stepping into the spotlight with a string of cultural events scheduled for this year and beyond, from immersive exhibitions to reinvigorated venues.

Published 12 Sept 2021, 06:06 BST
Revellers pack out MIF x WHP Special Edition, a club night held in 2019. It was ...

Revellers pack out MIF x WHP Special Edition, a club night held in 2019. It was part of a series of events gearing up for the opening of The Factory in 2022, a venue that will be operated by MIF (Manchester International Festival). 

Photograph by Liam Tarnish Vision

Manchester has long been a poster child for innovation, from its canals and railways to the iconic counterculture that helped it evolve from its industrial past — and now the city is embracing a flurry of openings and makeovers to guide its post-lockdown future. Chief among them is the revamp of the Manchester Jewish Museum, which has doubled in size thanks to an extension that’s been two years in the making. There’s a new gallery, learning studio and cafe, while the restored, 19th-century onsite synagogue plays host to an immersive installation by Turner Prize-winning artist Laure Prouvost until the beginning of October. The Science and Industry Museum, meanwhile, has unveiled a new Special Exhibitions Gallery — the first stride in a long-term renovation plan that will see improved connections with the city and a goal of achieving net-zero emissions.

Building on Manchester’s credentials as a UNESCO City of Literature is the Manchester Poetry Library, set to open later this year at Manchester Metropolitan University. It’ll be the shining new beacon on a literary trail that also includes Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, now complete with a recently unveiled bedroom. Meanwhile, having toured 70 cities in the past 10 years, the immersive, multi-sensory Van Gogh Alive experience is set to pitch camp at Manchester’s MediaCity this October. The travelling exhibition will fill a 17,500sq ft venue with 360-degree screens, a sunflower-flanked trail and a walk-in reconstruction of Bedroom in Arles, bringing the Dutch master’s work to life with spectacular style.

Further ahead, all eyes will be on The Factory, a new cultural space scheduled for completion in late 2022. The venue will act as an avant-garde home to the team behind the biennial Manchester International Festival, and its year-round programme of events will cover the full artistic gamut, from visual exhibitions and large-scale installations to dance, music and theatre performances. Ahead of the official opening, a series of online artworks inspired by the project’s architecture, people and history — and foreshadowing its digital ambition — is available at virtual-factory.co.uk.

Read more: How to experience Manchester's booming nightlife scene

Visitors admire the tulips at RHS Garden Bridgewater, the Society's newest garden which opened to the public earlier this year in Salford.

Photograph by © RHS

Three more new openings


1. RHS Garden Bridgewater
The new 154-acre RHS Garden Bridgewater is abloom in Salford. Opened this spring on the former grounds of Worsley New Hall, it features a Victorian walled garden and a Chinese-inspired streamside area, plus orchards, meadows and woodland. And that’s not all: construction has also started on Manchester’s Mayfield Park, due to open in 2023 as the city centre’s first new public green in over a century.   

2. Qbic
Dutch hotel chain Qbic opened its first Manchester property in May, bringing a mix of out-there design and affordability to Deansgate. The hotel — a repurposed office block — has 261 modern rooms, an onsite restaurant and screwball interiors inspired by Mancunian ‘saints and sinners’ (think Alan Turing, Emmeline Pankhurst and William Cowherd). There’s an emphasis on sustainability, with rooms built using recycled materials, and green-minded guest rewards. From £69.30, room only. 

3. Band on the Wall
In a city with such a legendary music status, the renovation of Band on the Wall, one of Manchester’s oldest music venues, has struck a chord with local virtuosos. The not-for-profit space — which hosted early performances by the likes of The Fall and Joy Division — will reopen in December with increased guest capacity, a new learning suite for young musicians and an enhanced archive on the history of the building and the Northern Quarter. 

Published in the October 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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