so, this guide has been a long time coming. i moved to salford quays almost 18 months ago now (where has the time gone??!) and those of you who follow me on instagram will know that i frequently post shots of my glorious surroundings on my feed – it truly is a wonderfully photogenic place. i’ve finally gotten myself in gear and have rounded up a few of my favourite things to see and do – both at the quays and media city (which are part and parcel of the same place for those not familiar with the area) – to hopefully inspire you to visit sometime soon.
mediacityuk is located on the banks of the historic manchester ship canal; once britain’s third busiest port situated right at the heart of the industrial revolution. in the past decade it’s undergone a dramatic rebirth, transforming into a dynamic creative centre that’s home to the world famous lowry centre and both bbc and itv studios.
it’s a vibrant and buzzy place that truly comes alive in the summer months when the beautifully landscaped outdoor spaces can be properly appreciated. i love to head down to the piazza in the late afternoon, grab an iced drink from the shack and laze in a deckchair for a while next to the blue peter garden, or down on the dockside steps with a good book.
it seems that every other week there is something new and exciting taking over the mediacity piazza, including many large-scale arts events organised by quays culture. their artistic programme immerses audiences in new and exciting public-realm exhibitions, with a focus on technology, creativity and digital innovation. this summer we’ve been treated to an electrifying performance by motionhouse, which saw the dance circus company recreate their exhilarating multimedia show charge as an outdoor spectacular for the first time – you can see a few clips from the show on my instagram story highlights under ‘quays’.
the piazza has also played host to several art installations and light displays in the eighteen months i’ve been living here: from last summer’s unnatural borders quartet of endangered animals which cast an impressive skyline and started discussion around endangered species and human impact on the planet, to last december’s light waves which saw dozens of giant neon sculptures erected across outdoor spaces at the quays, including tom dekyvere’s hydrozome which had audiences jumping to create light and sound interactions with the enormous sculpture of rope. who knows what you will discover when you visit..
if you’re looking to kickstart your day at the quays with a boozy brunch, then be sure to head down to the alchemist.
opened late last year, the ‘dark arts’ cocktail bar have made their mark on the area by creating a unique and futuristic venue, with a spectacular golden roof and a stunning terrace that cantilevers out over the canal between heron basin and north bay. designed by reid architects, this ‘golden spaceship’ offers the perfect place to indulge in a long boozy brunch or cocktails late into the evening, especially during this glorious heatwave we’ve been experiencing of late. the bar does get pretty heaving after work though, so my recommended time to visit is for brunch, especially on a sunday now that they’ve launched a special ‘saved by the brunch’ offer: your choice of a brunch dish (including all the classics), plus three breakfast cocktails for £25. i went along with my sister a few weeks ago and spent a wonderfully lazy morning soaking up the sunshine on the terrace overlooking the imperial war museum, munching our way through beautifully presented avocado on toast and delectably moreish waffles laden with maple syrup. cocktail-wise, we started our morning with perfectly spiced bloody marys before moving on to a chase the rainbow (chase pink grapefruit with fizz) and rounding out our morning (sorry; afternoon) with a sweet hit of peaches and cream (briottet peach and pink grapefruit with prosecco). all are highly recommended.
the alchemist, the bund, the quays, media city, m50
grindsmith media city
if it’s coffee you’re after, be sure to head round behind the blue tower and check out grindsmith. there are a number of reasons i chose to make salford quays my first home in manchester but the most important consideration for me was having a spot that offers good coffee and fast wifi a short walk from my home. happily, grindsmith more than delivers on both these fronts!
grindsmith media city is the manchester coffee roaster’s third city site, following their 5 x 3m wooden pod on greengate square that opened in 2013, and central working hub on deansgate launched in 2015. their media city outpost is probably best known for their spectacular stained glass window which casts brilliantly colourful shards of light across the venue as the sun moves from east to west along the canal (although sadly a new building going up opposite will limit this effect somewhat). it’s my coffee shop of choice in the area and you can frequently find me here perched up at one of the window seats tapping away on my laptop (like now!) or getting distracted watching the world pass by outside.
grindsmith are the first manchester coffee shop to ban the use of takeaway coffee cups in their city centre pod in an effort to reduce plastic waste, and while they still offer takeout cups in their media city branch (for now), they also have the nicest reusable biodegradable cups on sale – made from bamboo by ecoffee cup – which i certainly recommend you picking up.
grindsmith, unit 5&6, the garage, media city, m50
despite the fact i’m pictured here simply enjoying coffee at pokusevski’s, i heartily recommend this european style deli for a little lunchtime indulgence. pokusevski’s began life in heaton moor as a local delicatessen championing authentic creative spanish cuisine, and since opening their media city outpost in 2014 their offerings have expanded to include a wide range of moroccan and middle eastern dishes alongside their iberico staples, often drawing upon on personal family recipes from their staff. rotating daily options are prepared freshly on the premises and available for take-out (to the sunny media city piazza), or to enjoy in their quirkily decorated interior, which is strung with hanging lanterns and planters, and adorned with movie posters. oh, and the coffee is pretty damn good too!
pokusevski’s, unit 2, bridge house, media city uk, m50
imperial war museum north
the imperial war museum north is hard to miss; the aluminium-clad building with jutting angles has become an iconic part of the salford quays skyline since it was built in 2002. however, it’s not just the outside of the building that’s spectacular; the whole building was designed to enhance the stories within and give visitors a multi-sensory experience of war. i have to confess that i haven’t visited the london imperial war museum since i was young and visited on a school trip, and probably wouldn’t have visited the northern one had it not been for a visiting friend’s keen interest, despite it being on my doorstep.
but i’m so very glad i did because once you venture inside, it’s an experience that is hard to forget. iwm north was the first building in the uk designed by the internationally acclaimed architect daniel libeskind, who designed the jewish museum in berlin and was recently behind the masterplan for the ground zero site in new york. born in poland, libeskind was the second child of polish jewish parents who had survived the holocaust. he was insistent that the architecture of the museum should give richer meaning to its subject matter and wanted visitors to feel the unsettling nature of war. he has done this by dividing the space into three sections – the earthshard, watershard and the airshard – which represent conflict on land, sea and in the air. the airshard entrance is small and bunker-like, quite different from the grand entrances of traditional museums, and there are several other architectural devices used throughout the museum to disorientate and further confuse visitors, enhancing the multi-sensory presentation in the main exhibition space. you’ll have to visit and experience these for yourself though, i don’t want to spoil to effect!
it’s also worth noting that the site of the iwm north is extremely significant; it was in trafford park, on the southern bank of the quays, that vital munitions were built for the first and second world wars, making it a primary target in the manchester blitz. the site that iwm north stands on today is where the hovis grain silos once stood before they were bombed and burnt down during the second world war, and when the foundations were dug for the museum, shrapnel and an anti-aircraft cartridge shell were found.
imperial war museum north, trafford wharf road, stretford, m17
the cultural heart of the quays, the lowry was part of the flagship development in the area to convert the derelict docks into an area for leisure, culture and tourism in the late nineties. designed by michael wilford, the architecture of the lowry centre, opened in 2000, reflects the surrounding landscapes and flourishing waterways, clad in stainless steel to ‘reflect dramatic nighttime lighting.’
inside the lowry offers various performance and exhibition spaces alongside a permanent gallery housing a vast number of works by the centre’s namesake, and celebrated salford artist, l.s.lowry. there are also two theatres which host touring plays, comedy and musical events; i recently saw the acclaimed national theatre production of war horse at the lowry’s lyric theatre, as well as the end of year performances from the lowry centre for advanced training in dance at the quays theatre last weekend. it was also at the lowry that i saw rupi kaur on her recent uk tour, performing a selection of her poetry upstairs in the compass room, against a backdrop of 360° views across the quays.
on the last weekend of every month, the makers market takes up residency on the piazza outside the lowry with a wide array of stalls showcasing the finest local food, drink, art, design and modern craft from manchester artisans and business local to the north west. it’s always an extremely popular event, accompanied by live music and interactive performances, and you’d be hard pressed to visit and leave empty handed!
the lowry, pier 8, the quays m50
the quays themselves are – of course – a huge draw to the area, especially on a bright sunny day! whether you just plan to stroll alongside the water and catch some rays, breathe in some fresh air and get your daily steps in, or take advantage of the watersports options on offer at the helly hansen centre – including wakeboarding, dinghy sailing, canoeing and open water swimming – there are plenty of ways to enjoy being down by the water.
no visit to the quays is complete – in my opinion at least! – without a trip across the water to visit old trafford, aka the theatre of dreams and home of my beloved manchester united. whether you’re just taking in a tour of the museum and stadium, or are lucky enough to have tickets to a match, it’s a must-visit for every sports fan.
my first ever trip to manchester was – of course – to visit the stadium, and while i now manage to get along to four or five matches a season and see the stadium every time i pop to my local supermarket or get the tram into town, i still drew breath when i catch sight of this iconic place. the theatre of dreams tour gives you exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the stadium including inside the home and away team dressing rooms, the player’s tunnel, dug-out and manager’s hot-seat, ending at the old trafford museum, which boasts over 500 medals and trophies from throughout the club’s 140-year history.
old trafford, sir matt busby way, stretford m16
and there you have it: my guide to sunny salford quays* – hopefully i’ve convinced you it’s worth a visit sometime soon? do give me a shout if you’re visiting, and let me know what you got up to!
*disclaimer: it’s not sunny all the time!
salford quays is serviced by the media city and eccles tramlink from the centre of manchester
all photography of the quays © kate baxter; all photography featuring me © alexander ward.