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City Guide: Manchester

Post-industrial ‘Cottonopolis’ home to vibrant gay village

Canal Street in the gay village is one of Manchester’s liveliest nightspots. Credit: Parrot of Doom

It took the TV series Queer as Folk (the original British version) to put this city in England’s northeast on the gay map for many North Americans, but area pubs have welcomed a gay clientele since at least 1940.

Manchester has grown to become Britain’s second largest metropolitan area, with a population of more than two million. Once dubbed “Cottonopolis,” during the heyday of textile manufacturing, when 65 percent of the world’s cotton was processed in this area, Manchester became the world’s first industrial city during the early-19th century.

“What Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow” was a 19th-century saying, and the first train station was built here. Later, the first programmable computer was built at the Victoria University of Manchester, and scientists at the Manchester City College of Technology are credited with first “splitting the atom” in 1932. The atomic trio was Irish, English and a New Zealander, illustrating the long-time cosmopolitan character of this city, the commercial centre of a far-flung empire.

Today, with the factories gone, Mancunians have moved decisively into the post-industrial age, retaining the best industrial architecture, recycling buildings that survived the war, and creating new urban models — especially since the late-1980s.

The incredible stretch along Canal Street is arguably the finest example of a Victorian commercial district in England. Now, instead of transporting coal and cloth, the old canals serve as a backdrop for chic to funky boutiques, thronged bars, renowned dance clubs and top DJs who create cutting-edge music trends — one of the world’s most vibrant gay villages.

The Festival of the North East takes place each June throughout the region, with artists, museums, galleries and other organizations celebrating local creativity and innovation. Manchester Pride happens over 10 days in August, an event that brings in visitors from around the country and the world.

As befits a city with such a history of industry, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Museum of Transport have major collections of steam locomotives, machinery, aircraft, buses and trams.

The Manchester Museum has Egyptology and natural history departments of note, the Manchester Art Gallery is known for European paintings, and the Whitworth Art Gallery has displays of modern art, sculpture and textiles.

At Chetham’s Library, the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, the economics books read by Karl Marx can be seen on the shelf, as can the window seat where Marx met Friedrich Engels.

Getting there
Manchester Airport has direct flights from nine North American cities, 10 Caribbean airports, more than 100 European cities, as well as from points in Africa and Asia. 

For the most up-to-date travel information on gay Manchester, see our City Guide, Listings Guide, Events Guide and Activities Guide.