Manchester - city-break destination and home to the International Festival

Manchester - City-break destination and home to the International Festival

If Manchester's ample charms aren’t already reason enough to book a city break, then the upcoming International Festival certainly is

Culture fans don’t really need an excuse to visit Manchester. What with Morrissey, Joy Division, the Hacienda and those Gallagher brothers, the city’s long been known as a hub of creativity. But if you’ve never properly explored this northern town, the upcoming Manchester International Festival, with its seriously impressive line-up should have you all but running for the next train south.  

This July will be the 4th MIF. Founded in 2007 and taking place every 2 years, it’s quickly become one of the most exciting arts events around. A showcase for new work (almost all of the programme is commissioned especially for the festival) -- its past projects have featured such artists as Marina Ambramovich, Jeremy Deller, Damon Albarn, Bjork and Kraftwerk. While tickets for many of this year’s highlights have already been snapped up, there’s still an abundance of events to discover across the city.

Alight at Piccadilly station and you’re just a few metres away from what is one of the festival’s most captivating venues, Mayfield Depot. Sitting behind the station on Fairfield St, it’s been abandoned for the best part of three decades. A cavernous warehouse, exemplifying the city’s industrial past, it was originally designed as a station in the early 1900s. Opening for the first time to the public in July, this abandoned space will host Massive Attack v Adam Curtis. Far more than a gig the event will combine visuals and sounds from Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja and documentary maker Adam Curtis (whose most recent project was BBC documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace) and has been created in collaboration with Felix Barrett, the director of immersive theatre company Punchdrunk (whose high profile collaboration with the National, The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable opens in June).

Walk up Fairfield Street towards the centre of town and you soon reach The Village, aka The Gay Village and its renowned focus: Canal Street (remember Queer as Folk, yep, this is where those party guys hung out). Popular bars line the canal, while reminders of Manchester’s central role in the industrial revolution can be seen in the grand Victorian architecture of Princess Street. Head further into town and you pass Chinatown (a good place to grab a bite to eat pre- or post- shows, take your pick from the many restaurants clustered around Faulkner Street) and then Manchester’s Art Gallery. During the festival the gallery will host do it 20 13 an interactive performance project started in 1993 where instructions left by artists are re-enacted. This 20th anniversary exhibition, taking place across 4 rooms offers a chance for the audience to take part, as well as seeing examples of other artists who’ve participated over the past 2 decades.   

Still on Princess Street you soon come to leafy Albert Square, in the shadow of the austere neo-gothic architecture of Manchester Town Hall. For much of the year the cobbled area is a quiet spot to sit on a bench and watch the world go by. For MIF it will be the focus of the festival with food and drink and a pop-up venue, the Pavilion Theatre, which will host DJs for each night of the festival.

Shopping addicts might want to take a detour at this point. Nip down Cross Street and you’ll reach the picturesque King Street and St Ann’s Street, filled with upmarket high street stores. You’re also not far from Exchange Square here, where you’ll find Selfridges and the most visited shopping centre in the UK, the Arndale Centre.

From Albert Square you’re only a few moments away from Peter Street and the Albert Hall. Here Scottish post-rockers Mogwai are set to put on a hypnotic show: they’ll be peforming a live soundtrack to Douglas Gordan and Philippe Parreno’s mesmeric portrait of one of the world’s greatest footballers, Zidane.

Away from the city centre, in Salford, an intriguing experiment into urban agriculture will be set up. The Biospheric Project will be taking over a deserted mill by the river Irwell and transforming it into a curious hybrid of farm, laboratory and research project. They’ve got a host of events taking place, including family events and you can book a place to visit too. 

With all this high culture you might want a taste of Manchester’s more informal creative happenings. The Northern Quarter is the focal point of the city’s alternative scene. Dotted about Oldham Street are vintage shops, record stores and independent cafes and bars with bags of character. We especially liked hippy Oklahoma cafe on High Street, essentially Manchester’s equivalent of Glasgow’s Mono with wholesome veggie food, mismatch furniture and a cute gift shop attached. For guaranteed tasty burgers, nachos and paninis Home Sweet Home (49--51 Edge St) is a great port of call and has super efficient and friendly staff. For tea and cake aficionados TeaCup on Thomas Street is a must with an overwhelming array of loose tea options. Vintage clothes fans on the other hand will be in heaven in Afflecks (52 Church St), a Manchester institution with thrift, retro and punk goods spread over 2 floors. Plus there’s an Oxfam Originals (51 Oldham St) just around the corner selling one-off second-hand clothing that’s a little bit special. 

Manchester International Festival, various venues, 4--21 Jul. For full programme details visit

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