RNCM Open Day: A guide to help you make the most of your day in Manchester

Susie Stubbs
Levenshulme Market in Northern Quarter photo Ed Sprake 7

Checking out RNCM as somewhere to study? Well, take some time to get to know Manchester too with this three-day itinerary – its cultural and historic highlights, the best places to eat and some intriguing things to do.

Monday 21 September – evening

You’ve just arrived, and while your focus is on the open day tomorrow there’s no need to let that get in the way of spending an evening in the city. Head to the Royal Exchange, a former Victorian trading hall that’s now a theatre in the round – one of the most critically acclaimed in the country; tonight it’s a new production of Arthur Miller’s classic The Crucible (7.30pm). Eating and drinking close by abound; on Cross Street, you’ll find Victorian gastro pub Mr. Thomas’ Chophouse, good for traditional British dishes such as its famous Corned Beef Hash and Manchester Steak. After something casual? Bryon’s (Deansgate) won’t disappoint, or for an upmarket treat try Hawksmoor (Deansgate). Newly opened, its excellent menu and impeccable service has established it as one of the city’s most popular restaurants. There’s fine dining, too, at The French, the restaurant inside the historic Midland Hotel; run by acclaimed chef Simon Rogan, its emphasis is on seasonal ingredients. Finish up at Cloud 23, the high-rise bar inside Manchester’s tallest building, whose cocktails come with a sparkling a view of the city laid out below.

Tuesday 22 September – all day

This morning sees you up at RNCM and we’ll assume you don’t want to stray too far – which is fine, as there are plenty of things to do nearby. RNCM is on Oxford Road, and turning right takes you to Manchester Museum (open 10am-5pm). Housed inside a listed building, the museum’s six million objects span everything from Egyptian remains and dinosaurs; it’s currently showing The Phantoms of the Congo RiverHead further up Oxford Road (around a 10 minute walk), past the castle-like towers of Contact (a performing arts space with an international reputation for new theatre), and you’ll come to the Whitworth (open 10am-5pm).

The UK’s original gallery in a park has been extended to the tune of £15m; it reopened only in February. Beautiful new gallery spaces overlook its namesake park, while exhibitions here are a mix of contemporary commissions and historic displays. Currently on show is Starry Messenger by critically acclaimed artist Bedwry Williams, works by Richard Forster and Cornelia Parker’s embroidery Magna Carta. Don’t miss the Whitworth’s glorious café in the trees; it overlooks both an art garden and the park.

Head now towards the city centre, walking past MMU’s All Saints campus – you’ll know you’re there when you come to Grosvenor Square, a tiny patch of green on the site of a former church. On one side sits the Holden Gallery; run by the largest school of art outside London its exhibitions regularly pull in some of the biggest names in contemporary art (10am-4.30pm). On the other is MMU’s Special Collections (in the Kenneth Green Library, open 10am-4pm). This library and archive started life as a hands-on resource for students of Manchester School of Art. Over 175 years later its collection and exhibitions continue.

Keep walking down the road, past the Palace Hotel and the Palace Theatre and you’ll come to one of Manchester’s best libraries. Manchester Central Library reopened last spring after a £50m refurbishment; its Henry Watson Music Library may be of particular interest – it contains 380,000 books and individual items of music, from historic manuscripts to digital recordings. Close by is HOME, Manchester’s newest cultural facility currently showing Kneehigh’s outstanding adaptation of The Beggar’s Opera,  Dead Dog in a Suitcase and a new exhibition for autumn,  I Must First Apologise by Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige. HOME is great  for excellent eats.

Wednesday 23 September – morning

Make time for a leisurely morning and begin with brunch. We recommend Home Sweet Home, which can be found in the Northern Quarter, which is the district to head to for boutique shops, bars, design studios and record stores. Nestled in the middle is Manchester Craft & Design Centre, a former Victorian market hall that now houses craft studios and a great café. Close by is independent menswear outlet, Oi Polloi – a small shop with a national reputation – and the music institution that is Piccadilly Records. Almost opposite is homewares store and café, Fig & Sparrow – sit at its window and watch the world go by – and, next door, design bookstore Magma. While the Northern Quarter can be rough round the edges, this is where much of the city’s contemporary identity, from its art shows and music festivals to design agencies, springs from – which means that there’s always something going on here. Try the Castle Hotel for a pint in a historic pub that is also one of the city’s best live music venues.

If the siren call of Manchester’s many shops is too much to resist, strike out for Selfridges or peruse the high-end shops of King Street and Spinningfields; the latter is also home to the Oast House (a restaurant modeled on a 16th-century oast house), Iberica (excellent Spanish tapas) and one of Manchester’s two national museums, the People’s History Museum. Manchester’s other national museum is the National Football Museum; it can be found near the 600 year-old Manchester Cathedral, which can in turn be found close to the afternoon tea delights of Proper Tea.

But you were only staying for brunch, weren’t you? In which case we’ll leave you to it – although by now we hope you’ll agree that the joy of Manchester is that it’s big enough to have an international beat, small enough to find your way around – and a place you can quickly feel entirely at home in.

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