With Manchester Pride hitting the city from August 28-31, here at Attitude we headed north over the past weekend to experience all the city has to offer in a whirlwind 48 hours. Consider it our 'Pride dry run', if you will:
The city’s Northern quarter is in the midst of a renaissance, filled with independent shops, cafes and bars. It’s heartening to see the sort of shops that have all but died out in increasingly expensive London holding their own in Manchester: Wonderful used clothing stores, from the high-end vintage to the ‘rummage around for a bargain’ op shops. Music, too, is everywhere here - record shops are on just about every corner. Remember when people bought music in stores
After a relaxed morning wandering the city's vintage and high street stores, we decided on a whim to catch a Saturday matinee of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert
, playing at the Manchester Opera House until August 29. With Blue star Duncan James in the lead role of Tick, a disco-filled soundtrack and a brilliant supporting cast, it's hard not to love this show, no matter how many times you've already seen the stage show or film before. Even better is an appreciate non-West End crowd: in our matinee, the crowd was a mix of families, gay men and the occasional hen’s night, all on their feet and dancing by show's end.
Really, it’s all about Canal Street. As Queer As Folk
fans will know, the city’s LGBT haven is crammed into this one little street and its surrounds, meaning competition for the partygoer’s dollar is fierce - if you do a few laps of the strip, expect more than a few drag queens sweet talking you to come into their establishment for a drink (thankfully, the competition means drink specials are plentiful, too).
There's something for everyone on Canal Street, from intimate bars with cabaret-style drag shows to GAY, with its twinky crowd and top-40 hits. The fact that all venues are nestled by cheek by jowl next to each other means if you're not feeling the vibe at one place, you can venture to another. On our Saturday night alone, we started with a cocktail on the couch at Velvet Bar while perving on the impossibly handsome bar staff, threw some embarrassing shapes at the light-up dance floor in Kiki, settled into a nook in the cavernous, church-like Via, then ended up in GAY, where the drinks were as wonderfully cheap as the music.
Where to stay
We opted for the Manchester Renaissance City Centre Hotel, part of the Marriott Group. It's an imposing 13-story gem in the heart of the city's retail area, with a friendly - and very LGBT-friendly - staff (Case in point: The woman who checked us in late on Friday night, sensing she was dealing with two boys who'd come fresh from a tipple on Canal Street, introduced herself with an entirely straight face as 'Pussy Galore'. FAB!). You can either opt for a Deluxe or Superior room, and both options are wonderfully large (or depressingly, when you realise your room is twice the size of your entire London flat).
The Renaissance Hotels pride themselves on their 'Local Navigators', staff in their lobbies who act as experts in the local area and are on hand to provide custom recommendations. Each time we left the hotel, we did so armed with maps criss-crossed by the Navigator, circling everything from the best coffee shops to the most raucous gay bars.
On-site food options are plentiful too, thanks to the stylish Blackfriars Bar. We had dinner and a cocktail at Blackfriars before hitting the town on Saturday night - they make a mean martini - but it's their breakfast that's hard to go past. A full, all-you-can-eat buffet with omelettes made to order while you watch, the staff will even provide you with a takeaway bag so you can pack a pastry with you as a mid-morning snack.
Getting there and away
The train from London is the easiest, most comfortable option - we opted for a Friday evening Virgin train from Euston, and christened the start of the weekend with a couple of mini bottles of Prosecco from the on-board cafe (treat 'yoself). Best of all: Manchester Piccadilly station is little more than a two-minute walk away from Canal Street, meaning you can plonk yourself right in the middle of the action for a little people watching once you hop off the train.
Trams and buses are plentiful - but central Manchester’s a compact little city, and you can easily walk from one side of town to the other in under 20 minutes. Pack good walking shoes as you’ll want to explore what the city has to offer on foot.
Be friendly to the locals. They pride themselves on being a chattier sort than those down south - within seconds of getting off our train, we were bailed up by a beefy rugby player type on the platform who asked us if it was our first time in Manchester. I wasn’t sure if he was mugging me or hitting on me. Neither, it turns out: he was just being friendly
Get too annoyed by the roadworks. Manchester's packed with them at the moment - seems every second road intersection is being ripped out. Also don't forget to pack warm: more than 200 miles north of London, Manchester gets a little chillier.
Yes, Pride’s just about to hit Manchester, and there’s a buzz in the air. The Big Weekend
takes over Manchester from August 28-31, with headline acts including Texas, Dannii Minogue, DJ Fresh, Union J, Little Boots, Atomic Kitten and many more. If you're heading up, now's the time to sort that last minute accommodation and transport - get on it!
Special Pride offer for Attitude readers
Marriott and Attitude have created an exclusive digital Pride Guide for anyone booking a stay as part of the #PrideSelf package.
The package also includes a complimentary selfie stick, free Wi-Fi, breakfast and a 2pm checkout – to give Pride goers a much needed lie-in after a fun-filled weekend of partying.
The digital Pride Guide includes exclusive content, hints and tips and city guides, as well as interviews with the likes of singer-song writer Rob Thomas, X-Factor star Ella Henderson, musical royalty Kylie Minogue and pop hunk Olly Murs.
For more information and to book your stay, head to marriottweekends.co.uk/Pride.