While I only had the chance for a flying half-day tour of Manchester, the city – the UK’s third-largest metropolitan economy behind London and Birmingham – left me with a really great impression.
Manchester has such a distinct look and feel. Part of this is down to the city’s rich industrial heritage, with the architectural styles showcased in its historic warehouses, railways, cotton mills and canals. The modern urban styling that comes through Manchester’s new creative and commercial industries is a mixture of old and new, industrial but trendy.
A walk through the city centre took me past some of the city’s most impressive Victorian Gothic architecture, the most eye catching being perhaps the Grade I listed Manchester Town Hall and Albert Square. I was lucky to catch a jazz festival that was taking place on the square, where I was able to enjoy the buzzing atmosphere and the music in the afternoon sun – a great way to spend an afternoon.
Just a ten-minute walk from the Town Hall brought me to a district that was architecturally a complete change of pace. The modern commercial buildings of Spinningfields – described as the “Canary Wharf of the North” – are home to hundreds of large companies, and have become the city’s main financial and commercial district over the last decade. Flagship buildings include the Civil Justice Centre and 1 The Avenue, which TV addicts might recognize as the backdrop for the BBC’s Dragons’ Den series.
Manchester’s connectivity is another readily apparent feature of the city as I walk around the centre. There’s a great variety of transport modes connecting local districts and areas further afield, most notably the trams and trains, while the ongoing investment in the city’s transport infrastructure is obvious from the scale of current improvement works.
Being a bit of a foodie, I’m a big fan of exploring a city by checking out what’s on offer when it comes to dinner time, and the multicultural nature of Manchester is apparent more than anywhere in the local cuisine. Within the city centre, only a few minutes’ walk from Harter Street (home to an IP Global project from 2015), you’ll find Europe’s third-largest Chinatown. Dumplings, noodles, you name it, it was a great place for me to get a taste of home away from home - I was even able to enjoy very authentic Taiwanese bubble tea for dessert.
Beyond that I was spoilt for choice, with The Avenue at Spinningfields having developed into quite the food quarter – with over 30 restaurants at last count. I went for Japanese-Thai fusion at Wagamama and only wish I could have stayed longer to try out some of the other great looking places. There’s even a beautiful green field in the middle of Spinningfields which is just perfect for an afternoon picnic.
I came away from Manchester with a real sense that this is a young and energetic city. I’ve read an article about Manchester’s young people being the most adventurous in the UK, leading the way in applying to travel and work in countries including the United States, China, Australia, Canada, Spain and Italy, and this energy somehow really comes across in the local atmosphere.
The links between China and Manchester are a particularly strong force guiding Manchester’s growing internationalism. China has been one of the biggest investors in Manchester over the last few years, particularly in the GBP800m development of Manchester's Airport City, and such projects are driving real cultural exchange, and definitely strengthening business links.
All in all, I like Manchester very much. The city’s strong, pioneering character, the mixture of old and new, the creative ways the city is reviving its rundown areas such as the bars and galleries under old rail arches or. There’s so much going on at the moment, there’s no doubt this is an up-and-coming city that’s full of investment potential.