Looking for things to do in Manchester this weekend? As we wave goodbye to the delights of MIF, we welcome in a theatre festival, wild swimming, water fools and rare funk.
From our picks of the places to eat, boutique shops, historic sights, nights out, free events and more, the weekend surely starts here. Go on – you can have this one on us.
Friday 19 July
Start the weekend with a festival. No, not that festival – we’re talking about the 24:7 Theatre Festival, which marks its tenth year by staging 11 premieres over eight days. It kicks off on Friday with performances at the diminutive Three Minute Theatre. Or recreate the festival vibe with an intriguing gig at the Royal Exchange that organisers have dubbed a “festival of stories”. Pages from my Songbook (7.30pm, £12) features 18 micro-plays scatter-gunned across a single evening. With six playwrights working with local musicians, and each play the length of a pop song, the theatre reckons it’s all about “love, life, loneliness and lager” which we can surely all relate to. The Exchange itself is a thing of beauty: a former Victorian trading hall whose theatre space takes the form of a steel-and-glass theatre in the round. It squats inside the listed building like an alien interloper. Victorian grandeur on a smaller scale can be found nearby, at Mr. Thomas’ Chophouse. Good for traditional British grub (corned beef hash, anyone?) and hand-pulled ales, its tiled surrounds are a reminder of Manchester’s glorious industrial past. But we can’t overlook the fact that this is the final weekend that the MIF cultural juggernaut is in town; eat and drink al fresco at its hub in Albert Square, or check out This Variation by Tino Sehgal (4pm-9pm, free), an art installation that not only promises to plunge visitors “into a pulsating sensory landscape” but will is your last chance to have a gander at the derelict Mayfield Depot. The former station is also the location for the Stockholm-based choreographer, Mårten Spångberg’s Epic (8pm, free). Nine dancers make best use of the echoing, industrial space, upon which “are superimposed alien existences and objects that in turn reveal transient phenomena”. No, we don’t know what that means either, but that’s the joy of MIF: you’re never entirely sure what you’ve signed up for. Stop off en route at the Blue Pig (High Street), sip cocktails and dip into its Parisian deli menu. If you’re looking for late night high jinx, try Despacio (with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy; 10pm-late, £15) or head to the bowels of the Soup Kitchen to celebrate the first birthday of rare/eclectic funk night, You Dig? (10pm-3am, £3).
Saturday 20 July
Don’t miss the final weekend of Do It 2013 at Manchester Art Gallery, or head up Oxford Road to Cornerhouse – rightly loved by locals for its galleries, cinemas and excellent café-bar – and which is a near neighbour to Gorilla, a café, kitchen and gig space that coolly nestles beneath a railway arch on Whitworth Street West. Good for food, a gin palace and live music. If it’s too hot to stay underneath the arches, try Black Dog Ballroom (New Wakefield Street); its roof terrace is one of the city’s best. But don’t just feed your face, keep on with the art and head to Deansgate Locks for independent gallery, Castlefield Gallery. It is ploughing a post-apocalyptic furrow with current exhibition, Spaceship Unbound. Head then into Castlefield, an “urban heritage park” whose cobbles, canals and largely car-free environs are a peaceful riposte to Deansgate’s honking traffic, stopping off for a pint at the small but perfectly formed (and very blue) Cask (Liverpool Road). There’s a fish and chip shop next door; you’re encouraged to bring your own food. Finally, if you have an urge to splurge, may we point you in the direction of the People’s History Museum, which on Saturday hosts the Vintage Clothing Kilo Sale (11am-4pm, £1). The secondhand wholesaler brings five tonnes of retro goodies to the museum on Saturday, which, as the name suggests, are sold by weight. Organisers reckon you can bag up to five items for a lowly £15.
Evening entertainments come in various forms. Despacio continues, festival-goers hunker down in a car park for the Big Screen relay of Macbeth (sold out), while Dave Haslam’s (also sold out) Yellow closes the festival. Sigh, and goodbye MIF, it’s been brilliant. Elsewhere, culture of a spectacular nature comes courtesy of Ilotopie’s Water Fools at The Quays (9.30pm, free), a pyrotechnic and theatrical display on the Manchester Ship Canal that can best be seen from The Lowry or IWM North. The action here takes place on water: expect mechanical creations gliding across the surface of the Ship Canal, explosions and fireworks, and a rapidly-changing display that uses both the water and the dark night sky as a dramatic backdrop.
Sunday 21 July
With MIF officially over, we recommend you spend the day making the most of the sunshine. Combine art and a park at the Whitworth (brilliant little café, outdoor seating and an array of incredible works on paper from the likes of Picasso, William Blake, Gaugin and many other stellar names), or head back into Castlefield for its Artisan Market (vintage, food, music). The more energetic among you might want to check out the frankly bonkers Color Run (3pm, £25). It’s a 5k run. With colour. Think paintballing in trainers and you’re almost there: runners wear a white tee and get doused in paint at every kilometre stage of the race, all in the name of charity. Too messy? Try a guided walk instead. We once had the good fortune to work with punk professor, CP Lee, AKA the Nicest Man in Punk. This musician, author and man who once ate muffins with Andy Warhol leads Lights, Camera, Drizzle (2pm-4pm, £4), a gentle walk that uncovers the history of Manchester’s fascinating film industry. Or else get out of the city completely; our guide to wild swimming will have you wading into the Northern shallows quicker than you can ask “why don’t they do MIF every year?”
There is more – in a city like Manchester there’s always more – but hopefully this guide is enough to get your weekend started. Read our guide to easy eats or find out what other exhibitions are on now. Or head now into some of the features, interviews and previews we’ve published about MIF since its launch in March, such as our illuminating interview with the festival’s director, Alex Poots. Enjoy.