From Judi Dench to Oasis, Manchester has nurtured some of the finest talent in British entertainment. So it figures that here’s where you’ll find some terrific live acts, including West End-worthy plays, international rock tours and exciting new stand-ups. There are cool events like Manchester Pride and Parklife to enjoy and, with not one, but two Premier League football clubs, expect to find some of the brightest stars of the sporting world, too. Here’s our city listing of where to catch the best shows in town and, wherever you end up, one of Premier Inn’s clean, comfortable Manchester hotels will be just around the corner.
Not surprisingly for a city that gave us both the Stone Roses and Take That, Manchester’s music scene is as diverse as it is creative. You could watch a different act here every night of the week, whether you want to stand shoulder to shoulder with huge crowds at massive arenas or prefer to watch the latest up-and-coming acts at a more intimate venue.
Formerly MEN Arena, Manchester Arena is the largest indoor venue in Europe, with space for some 21,000 fans. Since opening in 1995, it’s hosted live music acts including U2, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Pavarotti, along with local bands Take That, Oasis, The Verve and Simply Red. It’s also staged comedians like Peter Kay, as well as world swimming, boxing and basketball events.
Manchester Academy is in fact four music venues, all used by the University of Manchester students’ union and all located in or near the union building on Oxford Road. Over the years, live acts have included Prince, The Damned, Kylie Minogue, The Stranglers, The Cure, Blur, Oasis, Kings of Leon, Ellie Goulding, Nirvana, Supergrass, Manic Street Preachers, The Libertines and Lady Gaga.
The O2 Apollo Manchester was opened in 1938, by actress Margaret Lockwood, as a multi-purpose cinema and variety hall. In the 1970s it stopped presenting films and became solely a concert venue. Today, the Grade II-listed building retains its striking art deco style, playing host to live music and comedy for up to 3,500 guests.
The city’s theatrical history goes back to 1845 when the Theatre Royal first opened on Peter Street. Since then, acts such as Norman Wisdom, Spike Milligan and Judy Garland have all trodden the boards here - and it’s a great place to watch major West End productions when they’re on tour.
Originally known as The Grand Old Lady of Oxford Street, Palace Theatre opened in 1891 with the ballet Cleopatra. It’s since staged artists like Gracie Fields, Noel Coward and Laurel and Hardy, and today hosts major touring musicals, operas and ballets. Hit shows include The Producers, Mamma Mia!, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and Mary Poppins.
A combined hub of entertainment and the arts, The Lowry is home to The Lyric and The Quays theatres and The Lowry Gallery. The building is a work of modern art, with bright orange staircases, sloping blue floors and purple walls.
HOME is Manchester’s answer to London’s Barbican Centre. This gorgeous, light-filled building houses two theatres, five cinema screens and gallery space, not to mention facilities that rival any world-class arts venue. A fashionable place to eat, drink and hang out, it’s also Manchester’s go-to space for thought provoking plays and arthouse, independent movies.
Like a glass-domed lunar spacecraft inside, the grade-II listed Royal Exchange theatre is cleverly designed over three levels, with each of its 750 seats no further than nine metres from the 360° stage. It means every performance is an intimate experience. Royal Exchange Manchester has welcomed big names like Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren and Tom Courtenay.
If classical music and opera are more your thing, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Manchester.
Opera buffs should check the listings to see what’s on at The Lowry - the arts centre is partnered with Opera North, who have put on productions here, from Madame Butterfly to Tosca.
Bridgewater Hall is Manchester's concert venue and host to more than 250 performances a year. These include classical, rock, pop, jazz and world music, plus it holds regular ‘Night At The Opera’ events. The Hall is home to three resident orchestras: the Hallé (the UK's oldest extant symphony orchestra), the BBC Philharmonic (it’s their primary concert venue) and Manchester Camerata. It also programmes its own International Concert Series.
Manchester Opera House opened as New Theatre in 1912 and today stages everything from ballets and pantomimes to operas and musicals. The Grade II-listed building hosted the 1958 European premiere of West Side Story and the 1993-95 run of The Phantom of the Opera, while recent productions range from The Mousetrap and King Lear to Aladdin.
Whether you’re here to watch the action or to honour a hero, Manchester is home to a wealth of sporting attractions. Of course it helps that the city is home to two of the world’s most famous football clubs and played host to the 2002 Commonwealth Games, giving rise to the elite-class Sportcity.
Nicknamed by Bobby Charlton the ‘theatre of dreams’, Old Trafford has been Manchester United’s ground since 1910 and is the biggest club stadium of any British football team. If you’re not here on matchday, do the next best thing - a guided tour of the stadium. You’ll even get a certificate to show that you’ve walked the tunnel and sat on the bench! Whatever brings you to the home of the Reds, booking into the Premier Inn Manchester Old Trafford hotel means you’re less than a five-minute walk away from all the on-pitch action.
The Etihad Stadium is a must-do destination whether you wave the City flag or not. The 48,000-seat venue was built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. It runs stadium tours from the press room to dressing room via the dugout along the way. There's even a Legends Tour, with a Man City legend as your host!
Manchester Sportcity lays claim to being home to the biggest concentration of sporting venues in Europe. It includes Manchester Velodrome, National Squash Centre, Regional Tennis Centre, Manchester Regional Arena and Etihad Stadium. While it’s a go-to destination for world-class events, Sportcity also has venues open to the public. So you can book a tennis court, pay as you go at the fitness studio or take the family biking around Philips Park.
This party-loving city didn’t get its Madchester moniker for nothing. With a year-round calendar of shows and events, there’s plenty here to keep you occupied
Party with the locals at Parklife, the city’s best-known music festival. Held over two days each June, this dance weekender attracts some of the world’s best bands and DJs. Over 140,000 music lovers flock through the gates in Heaton Park, eager to watch the likes of Calvin Harris and Mark Ronson take to the decks. And if you hate the thought of an uncomfortable night under canvas, you’re in luck. Parklife is a no-camping festival, so you won’t feel like you’re cheating by booking into the nearby Premier Inn - our Manchester Heaton Park hotel.
A 12-week festival full of world -class bands and DJs? It could only happen in Manchester. With a series of nights running from September to New Year’s Day, the Warehouse Project has taken over where the Hacienda left off, putting the city back on the clubbing map. Forget slick super clubs, this has a real warehouse feel - its current location in Store Street used to be an air-raid shelter. Expect top names, a long night and a hedonistic atmosphere.
Taking place every August, Manchester Pride is one of the UK’s longest-running LGBT festivals, attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the city. Preceding the weekend spectacular is the Pride Fringe Festival - ten days of arts, music and cultural events held all over the city. But it all culminates in The Big Weekend - a huge, 72-hour party in Canal Street, complete with a parade that weaves a trail of glitter through the streets of Manchester on the Saturday.
From much-missed comedy legends such as Les Dawson and Caroline Aherne, to stars of today like Jason Manford, there’s no shortage of variety in Manchester’s comedy heritage.
Comedy’s biggest stars, such as Michael McIntyre and Flight of the Conchords can be found at Manchester Arena, while the likes of Kevin Bridges and Ross Noble have all appeared at the Manchester Apollo.
Taking its lead from The Comedy Store in London, The Manchester Comedy Store is a 500-seat venue in trendy Deansgate Locks. It has theatre-style seating, a spacious bar and dining area, plus a VIP room which you can hire for private parties. There’s live comedy four nights a week, featuring the best names in stand-up as well as brave new talent.
The LOL Comedy Club at the Palace Theatre showcases four stand-up comedians each week, and has previously booked the likes of Sarah Millican and Jason Manford.
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