Your travel guide to Castlefield, Spinningfields & Manchester Deansgate
Cut through by the world’s oldest industrial canal, studded with red brick warehouses and built on the partially excavated site of a roman fort, Castlefield Urban Heritage Park is an area that wears its past well. It is also an area that speaks volumes about Manchester’s continuing ambition. Many of those old warehouses have been turned into upscale apartment buildings, while plans for the soaring Victorian viaduct to undergo a High Line-style makeover have been in the pipeline (sorry) for some time now. The constant chattering of trains and trams overhead forms a noisy backdrop to the dominant silhouette of Beetham Tower. The 47-storey building is the tallest in the city by some distance. Visitors find the building particularly handy; it’s difficult to get too lost when you have a 171-metre monolith to use as a reference point – it even used to hum tunes on a windy day.
Once a hub of industrial activity, Castlefield is now one of the city’s most tranquil spots. That’s thanks, in part, to its designation in 1982 as the UK’s first Urban Heritage Park, which safeguarded canals and cobbles and created a largely traffic-free haven. Its moored-up, flower-decked canal boats are evidence of the slower pace of life here. Dukes 92, a canalside suntrap of a pub, is the ideal place to take it all in – we recommend a pint and one of their legendary cheese platters to aid contemplation.
Dukes sits opposite the elegant arches that house the weekly Castlefield Artisan Market, a Sunday afternoon treat for lovers of fine food, vintage and handmade goods. The nearby excavated Roman fort is what remains of the ancient garrison that gave Castlefield its name, and next to it sits the open-air Castlefield Arena, the site of occasional gigs and festivals.
But Castlefield’s star attraction is unarguably MOSI, Manchester’s own Museum of Science & Industry. Manchester was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, the birthplace of the computer and nuclear physics, and bizarrely, thanks to an enthusiastic local clergyman, was at the forefront of early submarine design. It’s only right then that MOSI is one of the biggest attractions in the city – literally. Largely housed in the magnificent buildings of the world’s first passenger railway, the sprawling site encompasses the Grade I-listed 1830 Warehouse, part of the original Liverpool & Manchester railway tracks, the former Liverpool Road station, engine-filled Power Hall and an air and space gallery. This is all before you get to the main building, which benefitted from a £9m overhaul in 2011; its interactive science playground Experiment! and the Revolution Manchester gallery are usually packed with kids getting hands-on and happy.
On the edge of Castlefield, by Deansgate Station, sits the small but influential Castlefield Gallery; a sure bet for thought-provoking contemporary art which has recently been updated and rebranded. While Deansgate Locks, opposite, is inevitably popular with throngs of weekend revellers, we prefer the less raucous atmosphere at The Knott. Nestled under the iron railway bridge (the place rattles when trains pass overhead) this boozer sells an enticing range of ales including brews from local beer heroes Marble. Slightly further towards Oxford Road is specialist gin saloon Whim Wham Cafe, or, if you’re feeling flush, the Hilton’s Cloud 23 on the 23rd floor of Beetham Tower serves cocktails with an admittedly unparalleled view.
Tucked between Castlefield and Deansgate is one of the city centre’s newest large-scale developments, the high-end retail and office hub called Spinningfields. This is where global corporations have their HQs and Spinningfields’ main shopping street, The Avenue, is stuffed with exclusive boutiques including Flannels, Mulberry and Emporio Armani. But there’s more to this place than luxury goods: Spinningfields is also home to 16th-century hop kiln turned pub The Oast House, which has an impressive selection of beers and an attendant, fire-warmed teepee in the frosty months.
In summer, Spinningfields’ Hardman Square hosts outdoor cinema Screenfields, while in autumn and winter it’s home to the Buy Art and Great Northern Contemporary Craft fairs, a Christmas ice-rink and a seemingly never-ending parade of pop-up bars, eateries and seasonal events (we particularly like the Easter Duck Race). If you have kids, family-friendly restaurants Giraffe and Carluccio’s are safe bets, otherwise Mexican street food restaurant Lucha Libre is impressively authentic. And if late nights are more your style, or you need a stiff drink after flashing the cash on The Avenue, there are plenty of grown-up bars to choose from, including inventive newcomer Elixir Tonics and Treats and the lushly appointed Alchemist bar and restaurant.
Spinningfields is also home to two of the city’s most historic buildings: People’s History Museum, on the banks of the Irwell, and The John Rylands Library, a breathtaking red sandstone building on Deansgate. Finished in 1899, this neo-Gothic library has a collection which includes preserved papyrus fragments, the letters of local author Elizabeth Gaskell and an original Gutenberg Bible, and an engaging programme of changing exhibitions.
The People’s History Museum is slightly less showy but every bit as special. Part Grade II-listed hydraulic pump house, part weathered-steel exhibition centre, the museum tells the story of the 200-year march towards British democracy. This national story draws added resonance from its location here in Manchester, the birthplace of Socialism, the British Labour Party, and universal suffrage. The museum features a collection of painstakingly restored labour movement banners, has a dedicated community gallery and a busy calendar of exhibitions and events that make history come alive. Ponder Manchester’s socialist story from its café, or from excellent gastro-pub The Mark Addy, which sits opposite, on the other side of the River Irwell.