Reading spots in Manchester: All booked up

Kate Feld
Photo of a wall of books with their pages played and a black arrow pointing to the right

Finding good places to read isn’t always the easiest – here’s our guide to Manchester’s best, for fair weather or foul.

Sure, we’re all big readers here. But many of us don’t give reading its proper due. It’s something to do before we fall asleep or when we don’t have anything else on – a way to sidestep boredom on the commute. When was the last time you actively chose to spend a significant amount of time reading, in public, on your own? If you have the desire (and the time) to take to the city with book in hand, we’ve got you covered. Here’s our rundown of Central Manchester’s choicest reading spots.

The Great Outdoors

When it’s fine, why would you want to be inside? Do you not understand how rarely this happens here? In Manchester we live our lives poised to wring every last drop of enjoyment from the few sunny days we are allotted. This city may not be blessed with the bountiful park life of London or New York, but if you know where to go you can steal an hour of blissful communion with a book, sprawled on the grass, right here in the city centre.

Avoid the obvious green spaces like Piccadilly Gardens: they’re paved with bodies as soon as the sun starts shining, and anyway they have the wrong sort of feel for reading. Instead, seek out lesser known pocket parks tucked into the quieter quarters of the city. Tiny Sackville Gardens in the gay village can be quite nice but my favourites are off Deansgate: Parsonage Gardens is a peaceful patch of green nobody seems to know about, and if you get hungry you’re next door to the excellent Côte.

Down the other end of Deansgate, St. John’s Gardens, the site of a long-demolished church, is more expansive – and it’s said to be haunted, which adds a nice frisson to things. There’s the odd picnic table of committed day drinkers to contend with, but there’s usually enough space and trees to afford you some peace and quiet. If you’re up the Northern Quarter end and game for a short walk, Angel Meadows Park is typically deserted apart from Cooperative workers lunching al fresco. Other good outdoor spaces include the green bits around Manchester Cathedral (but not the oversubscribed lawn in front of the Football Museum, which they will persist in calling Cathedral Gardens.) And I love the canal basin next to Bridgewater Hall for reading, a willow-lined bowl where dancing leaf shadows and plashing fountain weave a spell of deep tranquillity – tune out the soft tooting of trams and you can convince yourself you’re somewhere very far away.

Bookish places

Okay. Libraries. I may be drawn and quartered for publicly admitting this, but I don’t enjoy reading in the Reading Room at Manchester Central Library. It’s a remarkable space, but something about all those other people reading and revising makes me claustrophobic, and the sound carries, amplifying every turned page and whispered remark. You should probably try it for yourself, though. I like John Rylands Library better – it’s beautiful, easy to find a nice spot, and tends to be much quieter than Central Library. Aesthetically it’s a bit more along the lines of the stage-set worthy Reading Room at The Portico Library, which remains my ideal indoor reading spot in Manchester: a shrine to the written word complete with that bewitching old book smell that drives us literary women wild. However, it’s sadly off limits to all but paying members.

Bookstores. Another obvious choice, but one with clear advantages: they are full of books. My current favourite is the armchairs in the poetry section at Waterstones Deansgate. Usually a bit quieter in this room with all the ‘serious’ books, and they’re used to people treating the place like a library so won’t hassle if you grab a big pile of books you have no intention of buying and settle in for a nice long read (but obviously, if you need to buy a book, buy it there! In the meantime: treat them gently, keep your hands clean and always be conscientious about re-shelving). Over at Blackwell’s they have a café and thoughtfully-curated book stock, but let themselves down somewhat in the comfy seating department. To be fair, if they had room for 14 overstuffed couches, they wouldn’t be able to sell as many books (stock up here and head to All Saints’ Park if it’s nice, or Sandbar if it’s not). And good luck finding a place to sit in Shudehill’s Paramount Books.

Pubs, Cafes, Hotels

Light and space are important considerations when selecting a reading spot. What I really want is the after-hours diner in the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks, but this place, if it even exists anymore, is almost certainly in New York. If you see anything like that around here, give me a call. At night most of Manchester’s pubs are too busy for reading anything more than a beermat, but during the day they can be quiet places to hole up. Glorious old pubs like The Briton’s Protection and Peveril of The Peak can make cosy and characterful reading spots, ideal for those winter afternoons when it gets dark at 3pm.

As far as cafes go, I like Propertea. Those gigantic windows and views of the Cathedral create the right state of mind for reading – and the tea’s pretty great too. Just keep in mind it gets busy at lunchtime. If you want a place with outdoor seating, the chilled out cafes and restaurants of Stevenson Square can be quite a suntrap on fine days, and there’s good Northern Quarter people watching on offer when you need to rest your eyes. Hotel bars and lounges can be great places to read, it’s something to do with the anonymity and the deep plush sofas – and the fact that you can loiter there almost indefinitely. The lounges at the Radisson Blu Edwardian and The Midland Hotel fit the bill nicely.

Happy reading, folks. And remember: reading a book in public is now a subversive act. Let’s be subversive all over town.

What’s your favourite reading spot? Tell us in the comments.

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