Your guide to things to do in The Quays
The Quays is Greater Manchester’s waterfront and home to two of its biggest cultural attractions: Imperial War Museum North (recently re-branded IWM North) and The Lowry, both of which recently clocked up ten highly successful years. For many years, it felt as if The Quays began and ended with these two institutions; the monumental architecture of each giving a boost to the long, slow regeneration of what were once among the busiest industrial docks in the UK. But then came The Beeb. The arrival of the BBC at MediaCityUK was the big bang that kick-started a flurry of development that continues to this day. It’s a place in the process of reinventing itself, its story still being written, but all the more interesting for it.
Opened in 1894 by none other than Queen Victoria, the Salford Docks were central to Manchester’s Industrial Revolution success. The Manchester Ship Canal was built as a means of ensuring that ocean-going ships could bring their goods direct into Manchester – and avoid the charges levied by Liverpool’s dock and rail companies. The docks began to decline in the post-war years; they were bought in 1984 by Salford City Council and became one of the largest urban regeneration projects in the UK. In 2011, the BBC moved into new, purpose-built studios at MediaCityUK (itself the largest such media hub in Europe); ITV, The University of Salford’s media programmes and a host of production companies followed.
Infrastructure improvements including its own (MediaCityUK) Metrolink stop make The Quays far easier to get to from the city centre. It’s well worth the trip, and not just to gawk at the hyper-futuristic architecture. With two theatres, galleries and a studio space, The Lowry ably combines the performing and visual arts. It also holds and displays works from the world’s largest collection of work by local lad, L.S. Lowry, although its galleries also have a changing programme of contemporary exhibitions that blur the boundaries between performance and visual art. In addition to award-winning theatre, The Lowry hosts touring popular acts, classical, dance and is the regional base for Opera North.
Across the water, meanwhile, sits arguably Manchester’s most compelling building, IWM North. The museum’s fragmented design represents a globe shattered by war (inside, it has sloping floors and is completely devoid of right angles), while its interior houses a beautifully-presented permanent collection and series of changing exhibitions that consider the many ways conflict shapes society. An engaging programme of talks and activities make it a popular destination for all ages; the 360-degree Big Picture Show screens films every hour. Manchester United’s football stadium and the Lancashire County cricket ground at Old Trafford are just a short walk away (if you’re anywhere in the vicinity on a match day, there’s very little danger of those facts slipping your mind).
Eating and drinking in The Quays have yet to catch up with the rest of development here. The Lowry Outlet Mall, recently bought up by developer Peel Holdings, offers a few chain eateries including a Pizza Express, alongside outlets from retailers including Gap and Marks & Spencer, and a cinema. Both The Lowry and IWM North run their own cafes and restaurants with decent kids’ menus. Restaurant offerings at MediaCityUK are pretty limited; Wagamama or Prezzo is about as exciting as it gets. This situation is set to improve dramatically when lauded Heaton Moor restaurant Damson opens a new outpost here in early 2013, and there are rumours that Living Ventures’ swanky restaurant and boite, Alchemist, may follow suit.
For our money, the most exciting food around here right now can be found at Manchester’s first branch of Booths, which recently opened at MediaCityUK. It may be a supermarket but this is a family-run, Northern chain that specialises in local, sustainable produce. Waitrose, eat your heart out.