Section Two: Manchester Neighborhoods
Although Manchester is one of the UK’s largest urban sprawls, the city center itself is only a mile in diameter and easily traversable on foot in 20 minutes. The most intriguing neighborhoods are located in or around this district, which makes life easy for visitors.
Travelers flock to the commercial bustle of Market Street, the exotic color of Chinatown, the waterside heritage of Castlefield, the arty and fashionable Northern Quarter, as well as slightly further afield to districts such as Rusholme, where a large British-Asian community are resident, the leafy conservation area of Victoria Park, and the students’ favorite Fallowfield, where many great pubs and clubs are situated.
The City Center
Even though Market Street has been pedestrianized, the sheer bustle of shoppers can be overwhelming enough. It is here that the commercial and financial heart of Manchester beats: banks and financial services are sited here along with grand shopping malls such as the Arndale and the largest Marks and Spencers in the world. You’re also likely to see buskers and string quartets entertain the crowds on the section of Market Street close to Piccadilly Gardens. A dancer who honed his skills here recently won a national TV talent contest in Britain. For those wishing to move on, there is a convenient Metrolink tram stop at the eastern end of the street.
One of Manchester’s many axes of multiculturalism, Chinatown is just 5 minutes’ walk south from Market Street and is bordered by Portland Street, Oxford Street, Charlotte Street and Mosley Street. Even a casual visit to this neighborhood will stay with you forever, as will the scent of spicy noodles cooked in streetside woks and the sight of the largest Chinese dragon in Europe being paraded through the streets on Chinese New Year. The neighborhood was effectively founded 40 years ago by Chinese immigrants who opened up restaurants and cafes in the disused cotton warehouses around George Street and Nicholas Street. Nowadays, though, the cuisine on offer has branched out and Japanese, Korean and Thai eateries are all to be found in this neighborhood. Arguably the best Japanese restaurant in Manchester is Teppanyaki on George Street, where the waiters cook your entire meal at your table. One of Manchester’s most attractive monuments is the Ming Dynasty Imperial Arch situated on Faulkner Street. It was a gift from the nation of China and is a magnet that draws not only tourists but thousands of British-Chinese every week.
Sandwiched between two of Manchester’s main retail districts, the Northern Quarter stretches from Ancoats in the north down to Piccadilly in the south. A compelling mixture of residential, social and commercial aspects, the Northern Quarter is known as Manchester’s ‘creative zone’, a place where artists, musicians, writers and designers live, work and hang out. Its twin hubs are the ArtZu Gallery which has been involved with international projects such as the Burj Khalifa sculpture, and the Northern Quarter Art Gallery that specializes in avant-garde and experimentalist work. Manchester’s most fashionable bars, cafes and shops located here; Affleck’s Palace on Church Street is a conglomeration of retro clothes boutiques, Japanese import bookstores and the famous chocolatier, the Cocoa Emporium. Just west of the Northern Quarter on Quay Street is the 2,000-seater Manchester Opera House that stages world-renowned ballets, operas and a large-scale pantomime every Christmas.
For respite from the urban hustle, head southwest to the quiet waterside neighborhood of Castlefield. Anyone who is interested in the history of Manchester must spend some time in this, the so-called birthplace of the city. It was here that the Romans built their original fort, ‘Mamucium’, almost two millennia ago. During the industrial revolution, Castlefield became a crucial station in the local canal system and it is this heritage that the modern museums and monuments celebrate. The Castlefield Urban Heritage Center contains an impressive reconstruction of Mamucium and period photos of railway viaducts, bridges and tramlines. It is located on Liverpool Road, towards the city limits in the southwest. Castlefield is also a rather picturesque place to go for a drink; some of the best pubs such as the Rain Bar are situated on Great Bridgewater Street from where you can look at over the river as the sun sets while sipping your Boddingtons, the beer that is known as the ‘cream of Manchester’.
Head two miles south of the city center and you will soon arrive in the district of Rusholme, roughly bordered by three pleasant parks: Whitworth Park to the north, Alexandra Park to the west and Platt Fields Park in the southeast. Its origins lie in the 13th century when documents of the time referred to it as the ‘village of Russum’. Immortalized in the Smiths song ‘Rusholme Ruffians’, Rusholme has had recent problems with gang-related crime but this has never involved tourists, who come here instead for the district’s reputation as a dynamic melting pot of diversity.
Some of the best curryhouses in Britain are located in the Curry Mile neighborhood, in actual fact a little less than a mile of 70 restaurants serving South Asian, Iranian, Turkish, Afghan and Arabian cuisine. These restaurants, along with great live music pubs such as Bar Odder, are located in and around Wilmslow Road. On the Muslim festival of Eid, Wilmslow Road is transformed into a 24 hour party during which bright lights that rival the Blackpool Illuminations are beamed around the neighborhood. Unfortunately, in recent times the event has been marred by crowd trouble, prompting the police to adopt a heavy-handed attitude. Given the high proportion of British-Asians living in Rusholme, all around the district are vibrant shops selling South Asian jewelry, clothing, DVDs, incense, herbs, spices and perfumes.
Reprinted by kind permission from World Trade Press