Manchester: The northern powerhouse that is this year’s ultimate city break

First Chanel – which hosted its Métiers d’Art fashion show in Manchester in December – and now Michelin. These are just two of the upscale French and international brands making a beeline for the British city with the most buzz about it.

Manchester, the bustling Northern powerhouse that has been using the symbol of the worker bee as its emblem for nearly 200 years, was chosen to emphasise the efforts Mancunians have put into making their city great. This, rather than relying on patronage from, say, the prime minister, who last year took a knife to the contentious HS2 rail project, which was to connect the North with the capital.

But last week, while Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham was in the House of Commons trying to save the final legs of the botched rail project, plenty of others were gazing in the opposite direction. Manchester is gearing up for one of its most exciting years ever.

With major music, sport, art and food openings and events scheduled over the coming months – kicking off on Monday with the Michelin Guide UK & Ireland awards for 2024 – Manchester is in fine fettle for a city break this year.

This is the first time in 30 years of hosting UK awards that Michelin has ventured beyond London. There are currently 203 British and Irish restaurants with Michelin stars, but only a single star in all of Manchester. That was won by Mana in 2019, the city’s first in 40 years.

Why, then, is the restaurant organisation going to Manchester? I ask chef Adam Reid, who heads The French restaurant at the Midland Hotel that is hosting Monday’s event, why it matters. “It’s the most exciting food industry event to be held in Manchester in living memory,” he enthuses. “It’s a special privilege for the city to host Michelin and shows the esteem that Manchester, its food scene, and the Midland Hotel are held in.”

There are plenty of rumours as to who might go to bed with a new star, including Reid. Higher Ground, the 2023 opening critics flocked to review, was last week awarded a Bib Gourmand, one of 20 new UK restaurants rewarded for high quality, good value food.

An anticipated opening this spring is Skof from Tom Barnes, previously executive chef at L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, which has three Michelin stars, though he’s not in the running just yet.

Adam Reid Chef Image supplied by
Chef Adam Reid heads the French restaurant at the Midland Hotel

Of course Michelin is not a bellwether of a city’s culinary scene – Manchester’s has thrived without its attentions. You could say it’s an ageing institution keen for a bit of Manchester’s sparkle. Both The New York Times and Time Out have named the city a must-visit for 2024. There are restaurant chains like Hawksmoor and soon-to-open Flat Iron. Flashy joints like Sexy Fish and Fenix. And hip spots such as Erst, Flawd, Stockport’s Where The Light Gets In (which has a Green Michelin star for sustainability), Another Hand, Edinburgh Castle, and upcoming Maya and Medlock Canteen.

Lovingly Artisan, a bakery in nearby Altrincham Market has just been voted Britain’s best by industry experts.

“The funny thing is that we Mancunians have been telling everyone Manchester is the best city in the world for decades,” says Thom Hetherington, founder of the Manchester Art Fair and hospitality and cultural consultancy Landing Light.

“Manchester is without doubt having a moment,” he says. “It’s thrilling but also vaguely nerve-wracking – the eyes of the world are upon us!”

The showstopper opening of the year is Co-Op Live, the £365m arena due to open in April next to the Etihad stadium, Manchester City’s home ground. Backed by Harry Styles, who has reportedly advised on the bowl-shaped design along with Bruce Springsteen, the world’s largest indoor arena (capacity 23,500) will soon welcome Olivia Rodrigo, Nicki Minaj, and homeboys Liam Gallagher and Take That.

It’s not all megastars, points out Andy Burnham. Winners of his “Mayor’s Artist of the Month” will also perform at the arena. “Greater Manchester has always been proud of its creative output and there’s no sign of this slowing down this year,” he tells i. “It’s very important that we continue to invest and support our cultural sector, especially through what are very difficult times, and through our Culture Strategy we back this sector and our night time economy.

There are smaller venues, too, keeping up the legacy set down by Tony Wilson, the Haçienda, and Joy Division, as well as Morrissey and the Madchester scene in the 80s, from Aviva Studios at Factory International, to re-opened The Snug.

In ancipication of more visitors, there are several new hotels opening in the city: Treehouse Manchester, Malmaison Deansgate, Mollie’s Motel & Diner (from Soho House – the members’ club will open in the same building, the former Granada Studios), and Victoria Warehouse will add more than 500 rooms to the city. The Station Agent’s House at the Science and Industry Museum will open as a very special Landmark Trust holiday let, for eight.

Image supplied by Johns, Ryan (Marketing Manchester)
Co-Op Live will launch in the city (Photo: Johns, Ryan/Marketing Manchester)

The English National Opera (ENO) has announced it will move to Manchester by 2029 but there’s plenty of culture to soak up before then. The Manchester Museum recently re-opened, there’s a new RHS Garden (Bridgewater in Salford) and RHS Urban Show at Depot Mayfield. The snooker World Tour Championship is coming to Manchester for the first time in April.

Describing this as Manchester’s moment in the sun isn’t the right metaphor for a place in the rainy north-west. Nor is this era likely to be ephemeral. “Manchester is in the midst of delivering a run of trophy events and institutions which must confound other regional cities across the UK and Europe,” says Hetherington, “and which seemingly makes light of our own central government’s efforts to hamstring the North at every turn.”

Getting there

Manchester Piccadilly is served by TransPennine Express, Northern, CrossCountry, Avanti West Coast, Transport for Wales and East Midlands Railway.

Manchester Victoria is served by TransPennine Express and Northern.

Metrolink trams run across the city.

More information

visitmanchester.com