Tired of the Edinburgh Arts Festival? Try Manchester instead

It’s not just the world-famous Edinburgh Festival where culture vultures can get their fill this summer. A less well-known, but equally wonderful, arts festival is currently taking place – in Manchester. Arguably best known for its two great football teams, the UK’s 2nd City is hosting the Manchester International Festival (MIF), the world’s first festival of original, new work and special events and the flagship event of the “rainy city’s” cultural calendar.

Staged every two years, the 2019 edition, opened this year by Yoko Ono, is at venues and spaces all over the city and will be the last festival before the opening of the North of England’s flagship new cultural venue, The Factory (due in 2021) which will be managed and programmed by the MIF team. The biennial arts jamboree this year includes work from Yoko Ono, Idris Elba, Philip Glass and more, making it a great time to visit the city with plenty going on and all in a great atmosphere.



The festival runs until 23 July and if you miss it fear not as there’s plenty of other great things taking place in the city, including Manchester Pride on August Bank Holiday (23 – 26 August). The newly renovated Emirates Old Trafford stadium will then play host to the popular Ashes cricket series in September when the fourth test match brings England and Australia head-to-head to see who will take home the coveted urn.

2019 also marks the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre, a major event in Manchester’s history and a defining moment for Britain’s democracy. Manchester Histories, working in partnership with key cultural organisations across the region including the People’s History Museum, is illuminating this story for visitors to explore from a contemporary perspective until August.

The birthplace of the industrial revolution, Manchester – as is evidenced by a packed programme of events this year – is now one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in the UK but one that, thankfully, also retains its own unique character. Set in a region that offers great value for money, Manchester welcomes visitors with its fine traditions of culture, music, sport and top-class events.

Recast for the 21st century as the original “modern city”, Manchester has experienced a contemporary resurgence marked culturally by the acclaimed reopening of the Whitworth art gallery and arts centre HOME; by a property and investment boom that has outstripped the rest of the country; and by major changes to its governance and infrastructure, positioning it the central focus of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ agenda. If any UK city is more than well positioned to repel any fall out from a damaging “no deal” Brexit, that city is Manchester.

While the city racks up accolades as the UK’s most competitive, economically productive, liveable and vibrant city, young people are flocking to Manchester to take advantage of its thriving economy, unrivalled student experience and smart jobs in science and the creative and digital sectors.

Even the city’s go-ahead tourism authority, Marketing Greater Manchester, admits it’s difficult to keep track of bar and restaurant openings and the plethora of new hotels (many enjoying 90 percent occupancy rates) to keep up with increased tourist numbers. By 2025 it’s estimated that tourism alone will be worth some €8bn to the local economy.

Manchester Airport is the UK’s 3rd biggest and its route network is also rapidly growing, connecting Greater Manchester with over 200 global cities, including Brussels.

But this is a city that doesn’t rest on its laurels and, looking to the near future, the RHS has unveiled plans to create a stunning new 63 hectare garden in the heart of the North West – by bringing back to life the lost historic grounds at Worsley New Hall in Salford, Manchester’s next door neighbour.The creation of RHS Garden Bridgewater, the Society’s first new garden in 17 years, will be the largest gardening project in Europe and have a phased opening from spring 2020.

The Factory, meantime, is a world-class centre for arts and culture being developed in the heart of Manchester, which will be the permanent home of the MIF and is expected to attract up to 850,000 visitors a year. This, in fact, is just one of 14 cultural investments in Greater Manchester totalling more than £200m.

An absolutely great base for any visit to the city is the Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Suites, the first dual-branded ‘double decker’ hotel in the north of England. This 19-storey building just off Manchester’s bustling Oxford Road boasts a 212-room Crowne Plaza and a 116-room Staybridge Suites. Opened last September, Staybridge Suites is located on the upper eight floors of the hotel and offers a warm, social and home-like environment through a mix of studio and one-bedroom suites.



Located next to Alliance Manchester Business School on the Manchester University campus, from the moment you step into their bright and contemporary lobby you feel completely at home. Try to catch a glimpse of the city’s ever-expanding skyline from one of the fully self-contained suites. This is a place where you really can unwind after exploring all the city’s many outstanding attractions which include Manchester Science and Industry Museum. Situated adjacent to the site of the world’s first passenger railway station, this comprehensive museum tells the story of the history, science and industry of Manchester which details how Manchester rose to prominence as the world’s first industrial city.

Another “must-visit” attraction, not least for Belgian soccer nuts, is the National Football Museum, which displays replicas of the Premier League and FA Cup trophies. The museum has guided tours, opens daily and, with the new footy season looming, makes for a nice pre-match appetiser for City or United fans from this side of the channel.

Just out of the city, close to United’s Old Trafford stadium, is a chance to experience something quite different again: indoor skydiving at iFLY, ideal for anyone aged 3-103 and situated in the heart of Trafford City. Here you can soar like a bird in the first 4.3m diameter iFLY wind tunnel to be built in the UK. All first-time flights have two instructors – one to help in the tunnel, the other to control the air speed. Non-participants can watch some awe inspiring flyers taking to the air right in front of you.

After all that foot-slogging – and indoor flying – in and around the city you’ll probably have worked up quite an appetite and an atmospheric spot to sate any hunger is at The Refuge by Volta, particularly great for a Sunday roast (for which it is famous and is infused with Vimto!).

A major success on the city’s food and drink scene, it’s located in an imposing former insurance building and is the brainchild of Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey, a couple of local entrepreneurs. The terrific menu is inspired by the two DJ’s global travels so expect to find lots of world cuisine here, from Thai to Moroccan. The idea is to sample their small plates which are similar to tapas but notably bigger and very good value for money.

The restaurant’s airy Winter Gardens is a nice spot for a pre-dinner drink and also to admire the fine décor which includes many original features from what is one of the city’s most historic buildings. Informality is the order of the day here and the service, like the food, is top notch.

Another equally fantastic place to eat is the 300-seat Tattu restaurant, situated in yet another bustling and recently newly developed part of the city centre, which offers a lovely fusion of the best of Asian food. Priding itself on its dim sum, it also recommends sharing small plates in order to get the full experience of its fab food. Recommended starters, or small plates, include seared tuna and sticky beef ribs while popular mains offerings include saffron black cod and caramel soya beef fillet.

Look out for the quite beautiful cherry blossom tree in the centre of this very decorative eatery. Opened in 2015, other branches have since been launched in Leeds and Birmingham with a fourth due in Edinburgh later this year. The business was launched by a couple of Manchester brothers who are big fans of Chinese body art. It has enjoyed marked success but beware if planning to visit on a Saturday night as it has a waiting list of up to two months!

For those travelling by car from Belgium, accessing the North West is best done via the Eurotunnel which whisks you from Calais to Folkestone in just 35 minutes. There are up to 4 shuttles per hour and direct motorway access. The shuttle celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and is reassuring passengers that “whatever form Brexit takes” it’s business as usual.

Some might also like to know of the several Belgian links (apart from Vincent Company at City!) in Manchester including the Bock Cafe, which has the largest selection of Belgian beers in the North of England, alongside foods inspired by the Benelux country.

So, if you’re looking for last-minute ideas for a great summer break (or, in fact, any other time of the year) look no further than this great Northern city which is experiencing a real renaissance, not least thanks to the fine efforts of Marketing Manchester which is putting the home of Liam Gallagher on a national and international stage as a place to visit, invest, meet and study.

Embedded on the tiled wall of the grand old Refuge Assurance Building on the bustling Oxford Road is artwork showcasing the city’s skyline and a huge message that proclaims, “the Glamour of Manchester.”

It is an utterly appropriate symbol of the “new” Manchester and Gateway to the North.

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