Castlefield: What To Do In Manchester’s Canal Basin
A great place to go on a Manchester summer afternoon is Castlefield. Situated at the southern end of Deansgate, Castlefield is a great spot for a few drinks and some lunch. The area sits in the city’s historic canal basin where converted warehouses are now home to apartments, restaurants and bars.
As local travel experts based here in Manchester, we’re always keen for visitors to explore more of this fascinating, diverse city. That’s why we lead food tours in Manchester! We love to show off the incredible variety of cuisines and cultures that make up the heart of the city.
If you’re looking for local things to do in Manchester and wanting to explore more of the real city, we’d love to show you around. For now, learn a bit more about the Castlefield area. Then you can plan your trip to Manchester and feel like a local.
A History Of Castlefield
Castlefield was the centrepoint of Manchester’s earliest beginnings. A Roman fort was built here around 79AD and from this springs the city we know and love today. The name Castlefield itself represents the fort (castle) which was then surrounded by farmland (i.e. the field).
We’ve already explained what the people of Manchester are called, but it’s these very Roman origins that give us the word we still use today for a person from Manchester: Mancunian.
Walking down Liverpool Road, you can see the ruins of Mamucium (the Roman name for Manchester) opposite the Science and Industry Museum. But ancient Roman ties isn’t the only historically significant part of the area’s story; in fact, Castlefield has remained at the heart of Manchester across the centuries.
A village developed and flourished in the area throughout the middle ages. Then, during the Industrial Revolution, the Bridgewater Canal, the world’s first industrial canal, arrived in Castlefield. This area was the at very epicentre of the industrialisation of Britain, a process of change that would have a global impact.
Liverpool Road was also the site of the world’s first passenger train service. In the 1830s, the route between Manchester and Liverpool opened here.
Sadly, after the boom years of the Industrial Revolution, Castlefield was to endure a period of neglect. The old warehouses and canals were left to ruin.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that life started to be breathed back into the area. Enterprising developers began to buy land around the canal basin. Soon, the old warehouses were turning into trendy flats and bars. The canals were cleaned up, and now it is common to see fish, ducks and other wildlife enjoying them.
Things to Do in Castlefield Today
Castlefield is a hive of activity these days. The area around Liverpool Road is where you’ll find the Science and Industry Museum and the old Roman Fort. We included the museum in our list of the best places to visit in Manchester, but there are loads more recommendations there for you to enjoy!
There is also a great bar near Castlefield called Cask, which has a fantastic array of craft beers to enjoy. Further towards the canal, you’ll find the Castlefield Bowl. This outdoor arena has a capacity of 8,500 and is excellent for live music.
Around the canal itself, there is a bar called Dukes 92. The name comes from the bar being housed in a converted warehouse next to the 92nd lock on the Bridgewater Canal. During the summer months, the huge outdoor space is full of Mancunians soaking in the sun with a few cold beers.
When visiting Manchester, take a walk around the basin in Castlefield. There, you’ll be sure to find some great photo opportunities and excellent people-watching.
How to Get to Castlefield in Manchester
Castlefield is straightforward to find once you’re in Manchester. You can get the tram to the Deansgate – Castlefield stop and then make the 1-minute walk to get there.
It doesn’t get much more convenient than that!
If you’d like to explore Manchester in a unique way, come and join one of our food tours at Manchester Bites. We love to tell the tales of the communities that built this great city. And, of course, we taste some of our favourite dishes along the way. If you have any questions about our tours or about Manchester, feel free to get in touch!
This article was originally written in August 2020 and updated in February 2022.
What Is Manchester Famous For?
Manchester is one of the UK’s most widely known and well-loved cities. Having been one of the engine rooms of Britain’s industrial revolution, given birth to countless artists and musicians, and produced a staggering 25 Nobel Prize laureates, Manchester’s historical significance is firmly established. However, the creativity at the heart of so much of Manchester’s story continues to flourish today. Manchester is a beautiful blend of tradition and innovation, possessing a vitality that means lists like this one will surely get longer with each passing decade. That being said, as proud Mancunians, we’ll take any opportunity to discuss the things that make Manchester special, so please join us for some of the things that made, and continue to make, Manchester famous. And while you’re here, you may want to browse our Manchester Food Tour — From Canals to Canapés, which gives a history of our city through 10 tastings and explores a couple of the city’s coolest areas.
Manchester has long been established as a cultural hub, a city that seems to speak to the creativity in its citizens and inspire collaboration. One need only take a cursory look at a history of the city’s music scene to appreciate just how many world-famous musicians the city has produced: Joy Division and New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, Elbow… The list goes on, and we’re pleased to say new bands are forming all the time. Art lovers, meanwhile, have long associated Manchester with the work of LS Lowry, who lived for many years in Salford. Today, Manchester is home to The Lowry, a museum and exhibition space dedicated to his inimitable paintings. And to see this famous creativity on display today, visitors should head over to the Manchester Craft and Design Centre. Housed in a Victorian former fish market, the Craft and Design Centre has been nurturing creative talent and businesses since 1982. We wrote a blog dedicated to the centre here. Whatever your own creative passions, Manchester is a city that will inspire.
We could talk at length about Manchester’s long and proud history of liberalism, openness, and tolerance and some of the famous trail blazers the city has produced like Emmeline Pankhurst and Alan Turing, but, given our tours’ focus on Manchester’s food scene, let us mention in particular the diversity that shines through Manchester cuisine, which provides a fine glimpse into the 21st century fabric of the city. Surveys indicate that around 200 languages are spoken in Manchester today. The city continues to flourish as a multicultural population as it has done historically when Irish, Caribbean, and Asian communities came to call Manchester home. The city’s food culture celebrates this cultural brew and diners have available to them a veritable world atlas of flavours (the Manchester Evening News were even able to compile an A to Z country list of Manchester dining possibilities, from Armenia to Zimbabwe!). From the Curry Mile to the 2nd largest Chinatown in the UK, award-winning sushi to Mexican street food, Manchester today is known far and wide for a food culture diverse enough to rival any other city.
Perhaps ranking higher on the fame charts than anything else, Manchester is famous for football and the city’s dominant position in the sport only looks set to continue. Home to Manchester United, the most successful club in English football history, and their rivals Manchester City, who have enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years, bagging one trophy after another. It’s no exaggeration to say Manchester is one of the world’s great footballing cities. The roots of football in Manchester stretch back to the late 19th century and the very founding of the modern game. Today the city is host to the National Football Museum, an expertly created collection that gives a fantastic insight into the history of ‘the beautiful game’. Manchester United and Manchester City also both offer tours of their famous stadiums, Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium, respectively.
As we said at the beginning, Manchester harmoniously blends the old with the new, the innovative with the traditional. For all the boundary pushing establishments to be found across the city, hatching new flavour sensations in their kitchens, some of the most beloved foods are the most famous, those tried and tested comfort foods known since youth. First produced in 1908, and beginning its life as a health tonic, the grape and berry flavoured soft drink Vimto is a Manchester institution. Now produced for markets across the globe, the instantly recognisable taste of Vimto has gone from humble Lancashire origins to being world famous. Other famous sweet foods from the city include Manchester Tarts (a custard and jam filled pastry — we wrote about them previously on our blog) and Eccles Cake (a pie stuffed with sweet dried fruits). For those who love savoury flavours, you may enjoy a Bury Black Pudding (blood sausage) or Rag Pudding (a suet pastry filled with meat and gravy), two of Manchester’s famous local dishes. But if you’re a vegetarian, or vegan, never fear. Manchester has a booming veggie scene with chefs often ingeniously creating meat-free versions of classic recipes. If you’re vegan, you may want to consider joining us for our Vegan Food Tour of Manchester.
This brings to a close our list of just some of the famous things that Manchester is known for. If you have any questions about this blog or our tours, please do not hesitate to contact us.
What are the best places to visit in Manchester?
Welcome to Manchester! We’re a little obsessed with our home city and just love sharing it with visitors from all over the world. It’s why we offer foodie walking tours to help visitors learn the real stories of the city and its people.
Whether it’s your first time visiting or you’re coming back for more, we want to share some of the best places to visit in Manchester. Some are the top tourist attractions that you’ll likely find on TripAdvisor and in your travel guides. But, as locals, we also have our own favourite spots we recommend you check out to get a different view of the city.
So, without further ado, some of the top places to check out when visiting Manchester…
Top Tourist Attractions in Manchester
Let’s start off talking about some of the top tourist attractions in Manchester. After all, there’s a reason these are the top spots!
We’re big fans of Castlefield and even wrote about what to do in Manchester’s Canal Basin. You’ll find fascinating history, cool cafes, endless gathering spots, and this is even where you’ll find the Science and Industry Museum (more on that later).
Whatever you’re into, Castlefield can’t be missed when you come to Manchester!
Officially named “The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George”, Manchester Cathedral is a notable landmark and well worth visiting to admire the stunning architecture for a moment of tranquility. Occasionally, there are even gigs hosted in this beautiful venue!
Old Trafford & Etihad Stadium
The historic home of Manchester United at Old Trafford is the UK’s biggest club football stadium. But don’t miss the state-of-the-art Etihad Stadium, home to Manchester City. With quite the rivalry between the teams (just reference The Derby), football is an intrinsic part of life in Manchester.
Whether you’re a fan or not, visiting the stadiums offers interesting insights and a behind-the-scenes look into two of the world’s biggest football clubs.
Manchester Town Hall
One of Manchester’s most beautiful buildings, the Town Hall is historic and architecturally significant. It’s often regarded as one of the best examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in the entire UK. The murals in the great hall depict the depth of history here in Manchester, while the clock tower is awe-inspiring.
Manchester Central Library
Manchester has quite the claim to fame when it comes to libraries: Ours was the first local authority to offer a free library for the general public to access. It opened in 1852, with Charles Dickens in attendance at the opening ceremony! Learn more about the Manchester Central Library and then go visit Manchester’s Parthenon for yourself.
Favourite Local Spots in Manchester
While the top tourist attractions are certainly worth checking out, there are so many local spots in Manchester that you just have to visit! We (obviously) are partial to the food-related spots, but there are plenty of areas to check out all over the city.
Here are some of our top recommendations…
You can’t visit Manchester and skip Chinatown! As one of the largest Chinatowns in all of Europe, you’ll be spoilt for choice when looking for dining options. The Chinese New Year celebrations here are exceptional, so don’t be afraid to visit Manchester in winter!
Want to learn more? We wrote about some interesting history and gave recommendations for Manchester’s Chinatown that you should miss.
Mackie Mayor Food Hall
One of our favourite spots in Manchester! Mackie Mayor Food Hall is a must-visit in Manchester for its history and its excellent variety of food stalls. Now a Grade 2 Listed Building, this space has adapted and evolved over the centuries to accommodate the changing needs of the community. It’s one of our favourite stops during our Foodie Walking Tours of Manchester.
Altrincham Market House
Altrincham Market House is one of the best things to do in Manchester. We love that story of its revival after a rough period of decline (check out the blog for more details). Nowadays, this is a hot spot for locals with some exceptional food options, live music in the summer, and a positive vibe all around.
You can’t visit Manchester and not enjoy a night out on Canal Street. Known as the Gay Village, this area boasts plenty of bars, restaurants, and clubs for gathering with friends or making new ones. It’s the spot in town…but if you ask us during a tour, we’d be happy to share our own personal favourite nightlife options.
Manchester Free Trade Hall
This beautiful building boasts plenty of interesting history for Manchester, from corn laws to orchestras. But it might be most recognisable to music fans as the site of “that Dylan concert” that helped change the music industry. It’s now a hotel, but still worth checking out for its architectural beauty and history.
Manchester Craft and Design Centre
We don’t just support local restaurant owners and foodie creatives…we also support local artists! Explore the Northern Quarter and visit the Manchester Craft and Design Centre to purchase locally-crafted, unique items. The creativity here is astounding and it’s certainly a favourite local spot to visit in Manchester.
Top Manchester Museums to Visit
We’re never ones to stop learning, and there are tonnes of museums to visit in Manchester where you can explore everything from local history to pop culture to science and art. This is a city of innovators and creatives, so you’ll have plenty to take in whatever your interests may be!
Here are just some of the top museums we recommend visiting on your Manchester trip…
Science and Industry Museum
One of the top museums in Manchester, the Science and Industry Museum is located in Castlefield so you can enjoy two of our favourite spots. With the industrial past in this city, you can bet that innovation and invention were regular trends here. Check it all out for an educational experience.
The Manchester Museum is always popular and for good reason. Its collection is diverse and interesting, spanning from dinosaurs and mummies to beetles and frogs. It’s a great spot for families visiting Manchester, or for those inevitable rainy days.
People’s History Museum
The People’s History Museum shares fascinating information on the history of democracy. Manchester has always been a city of the people, and those people were often fighting for social justice (and often still are). Check this one out to dive deeper into Manchester’s involvement over the years in various social and legal causes.
Imperial War Museum North
Explore the history of war from the First World War through the following century. The Imperial War Museum North is one of the Imperial War Museums, which are a collection of world-class museums highlighting conflict and its impact.
Manchester Art Gallery
The Manchester Art Gallery is centrally located and offers free entry, so it’s certainly worth checking out — especially for an escape from the rain! There is quite a variety of art to enjoy from world-renowned artists.
Learn about Manchester’s Suffragettes at the Pankhurst Centre, a museum dedicated to telling the story of women’s fight for the right to vote from the building where the movement started.
National Football Museum
If you’re a football fan, beyond visiting the aforementioned stadiums, you should check out the National Football Museum. It offers insight into the history of the game and shares endless stats and details on league history. You can even test your own football skills!
So, what do you think? Are these all the best places to visit in Manchester or did we miss your favourite? We’d love to actually take you to some of our favourite spots during our Manchester foodie tours. We’re all about sharing the stories of the people behind the food, the people who make this city so great. Come join us and enjoy the best of Manchester!
Manchester Central Library. What to do in Manchester.
Manchester Central Library is one of the most famous buildings in the city. If you’re looking for a unique building to visit then put this on your list. The Library sits on St Peter’s square right next door to the town hall. Completed in 1934 it is Manchester’s version of The Pantheon.
Another Manchester First.
Manchester was the first local authority to open a free to use library for the general public. The Manchester free library opened in September 1852. Charles Dickens was one of the attendees at the opening ceremony. The library had a number of sites until finally settling at it’s current spot in 1934.
On the opening of Manchester central library in 1934 King George V said “In the splendid building which I am about to open, the largest library in this country provided by a local authority, the Corporation have ensured for the inhabitants of the city magnificent opportunities for further education and for the pleasant use of leisure”.
Central Library’s unique architecture.
The huge rotunda was inspired by Rome’s Pantheon. The dome on the outside is just the library’s surrounding roof. Inside the dome that covers the main reading hall fits inside this surround. Many people visit the library just to look up and admire this.
In the basement of the building there was originally a theatre which was home to the Library Theatre company. Since 2011 they have moved to a new site on First street. The old theatre is now part of the library.
Central Library Today.
In 2014 the library reopened after a major renovation project. Since then millions of Mancunians and visitors have walked through the doors. Many come for the art festivals that are held here. A lot of the city’s students still choose to study here and many locals still use it for it’s original purpose of a library. It’s free to enter and there’s a nice coffee shop on the ground floor for you to relax in.
If you’d like to find out more about Manchester and explore it’s hidden side streets, why not book you and your friends on our Manchester food tour. www.manchesterbites.com for more info or contact email@example.com
Where to buy the best fresh fish in Manchester.
A common question our food tour guides are asked is “Where to buy the best fresh fish in Manchester?”
One of the many benefits of the UK food scene is that as an island we have a fantastic array of seafood to enjoy. Fish and chips is probably our most famous dish and us Brits eat a whopping £1.2 billion worth per year of the dish.
Over time our tastes and expectations in the kitchen have evolved. Now Brits are not just diving for the cod and haddock but more exotic species such as bass, skate and sole. Many people are understanding the healthy benefits of eating more fish and TV chefs such as Rick Stein and Mark Hix are showing the nation how to easily cook and enjoy the catch of the day.
Whales Fish Market in Manchester’s Arndale
On our food tour of Manchester we explore a small corner of Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre. This is a real locals spot, away from the glitzy and fashionable shops. The fish market has been here since most of us can remember. Growing up it was always the best place to visit as it was full of noise, smells and sights you’d never seen. City chefs would come here early in the morning to bag the best fish but there has always been plenty left for us home cooks.
Whales fish market sits right in the middle of the market and has what seems like an ever increasing supply of seafood. Fresh crabs, lobsters, scallops are all displayed over the ice cubed counters. Huge salmon from Scotland, fresh trout and mackerel are all available alongside dozens of other species. This is where to buy the best fresh fish in Manchester.
Explore Manchester’s food scene
If you’d like to explore more of Manchester’s food scene why not join one of our unique food tours. Over 3 hours we’ll traverse the back streets of the city, stopping in at some of our favourite local businesses. Try dishes representing Manchester’s past, present and future and meet the chefs and owners that feed the city. You can book your food tour here www.manchesterbites.com/tours.
Each tour supports the local food industry as well as our local tourism community.
Explore the Northern Quarter. Manchester Craft and Design.
If you explore the Northern Quarter you might come across the Manchester Craft and Design centre. We all know how important it is to support our local small businesses. From food to fashion and everything in between, small businesses are the backbone of the UK. Well the Manchester Craft and Design centre is the place to go and support your local craft artists. In the very words of Elbow front man Guy Garvey, “If you like to give personal gifts then there is nowhere better in the North West. I’m proud to be a patron.”
Hidden in an old Northern Quarter Fish Market.
The first thing that will strike you when you visit the centre is the actual building it is housed in. The building is a former Victorian fish market. Inside you can still see some of the old fish shops that would have plied their produce to people across Manchester (see main picture). It really adds an atmosphere to the place. Left derelict, like a lot of the Northern Quarter in the 70’s, the building wasn’t resurrected until 1982 when the craft community took over. Since then it has been one of the main catalyst for the regeneration that has taken part in the Northern Quarter.
An Oasis of calm right in the city
The centre has until recently housed a great little cafe called The Oak street cafe which did some of the best soups in Manchester. Sadly due to covid the cafe has closed but they are looking for pop ups to take its place with a view to a more permanent fixture when the world gets back to normal. It is still a really unique and beautiful place to visit. You can walk around the 2 floors and pop in to the artists studios and stores. From bespoke jewellery and ceramics to abstract paintings and glass works, the centre is a perfect place to buy that gift for someone who has everything. Have a look at a list of their residents here.
Another great reason to visit is that there is always an exhibition on. Supporting local artists and encouraging all of us to appreciate their work a bit more.
Explore the Northern Quarter
If you’d like to learn more about Manchester and explore some of its hidden gems like the Arts centre, book a tour with Manchesterbites. We run tasty food tours around our city. Showing you not only the best parts of the world’s first city but also eating some amazing locally produced dishes as we go. Check out www.manchesterbites.com/tours for more details.