A local’s guide to Manchester: from forgotten Victoriana to karaoke dungeons

Heritage tour guide Hayley Flynn strolls through Victorian alleyways and shares tips on hidden histories, art trails, cosy pubs and her favourite eateries

Hayley Flynn has lived in Manchester since 2008 and runs Skyliner Tours, which specialises in walks inspired by the city’s hidden heritage


I’m a fan of relaxed, daytime dining, so Trove in the Ancoats district, sister bakery to the Levenshulme original, is my favourite place for Scandinavian-inspired pastries (pictured), home-brewed chai and bestselling sourdough. The people behind it also run nearby Erst, the natural wine bar and restaurant, focusing on fresh, contemporary food.

trova pastrys on page

For dinner, The Spärrows, beyond the arches of Victoria train station, is a homely little place. The house speciality is dumplings and spätzle, a fresh-egg pasta from central Europe. I love their slow-cooked beef goulash Tyrolese.


I love wandering the public-realm borderlands around the edges of the city. I take inspiration for my walks from the old Victorian alleyways that are part of our erased-by-time heritage. My favourite forgotten space is Pomona Palace, a former botanical garden just beyond the Castlefield area. People don’t realise there are lots of inspirational open spaces within just 10 minutes of the city centre.


The Northern Quarter, between Piccadilly and Victoria railway stations, celebrates 30 years of renaissance this year. The council first commissioned artist-in-residence, Liam Curtin, to create art to trigger organic growth there in 1992. I use that art to tell the story of Manchester’s equivalent of a New York district. The Northern Quarter is now the city’s social hub, centred on traffic-free Stevenson Square.

Graffiti by Manchester artist Kelzo in the Stevenson Square area.
Graffiti by Manchester artist Kelzo in the Stevenson Square area. Photograph: Mark Waugh/Alamy

It’s often used as a film set; Dale Street was recently used for filming Morbius, the Spider-Man spin off. I take tours along the Tib Street public art trail with the poem Flags by Lemn Sissay set into the pavement, and the wall murals telling stories of traders from old Smithfield Market.

I keep uncovering snapshots of history here, like the mosaic sign on Port Street’s ice-cream parlour. The Northern Quarter is also home to a couple of stalwarts of alternative Manchester: Piccadilly Records and the indoor market at Afflecks.

Green space

There are some hidden-gem public spaces, such as Parsonage Gardens just off Deansgate, and Peel Park in Salford, one of the UK’s oldest public parks, dating from 1846. In the coming year or two we’ll have the new park at Mayfield, which is uncovering parts of the River Medlock. Heading up Oxford Road, meanwhile, there’s All Saints Park and neighbouring St Augustine’s Church by Manchester Metropolitan University.


‘Like a Parisian absinthe parlour’ – the Edinburgh Castle.
‘Like a Parisian absinthe parlour’ – the Edinburgh Castle. Photograph: Matthew Wilkinson/Alamy

The Edinburgh Castle in Ancoats is a friendly, cosy pub, but the back room has a great, almost mystic atmosphere – like a Parisian absinthe parlour. It’s my perfect pub. My other favourite is YES on Charles Street, with live music in the Pink Room, bar food by Doner Summer vegan kebabs, a beer garden and roof terrace. It hosts the best alternative karaoke night in the downstairs Karaoke Dungeon. My go-to tune? Jesus He Knows Me from Genesis’s We Can’t Dance album.


I really like the newly revamped Kimpton Clocktower Hotel (doubles from £107 B&B), near the Palace Theatre on Oxford Street. The former Refuge Assurance Company building is Grade II-listed, dating back to 1890, and the hotel retains lots of original features. The bar and restaurant, The Refuge, is a beautiful place that doesn’t put on any airs and graces. That sums up Manchester for me: a global city that still feels local for those who live there.


Interview by David Atkinson

The GuardianTramp

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