Whether you’re a theatre-lover or history buff, visiting the Palace Theatre is the perfect way to round off your Manchester city break in style. Not only does it show high-quality dramas, children’s shows and musicals hot from the West End, but a visit to the Palace also gives you the chance to enjoy a truly authentic piece of Manchester’s theatrical history.
Handily located in the city centre, the Palace Theatre has been an Oxford Street landmark since its opening on 18 May, 1891. Known as the Grand Old Lady, over 3,000 people a night flocked through its ornate doors, paying just a sixpence to watch legends like Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Harry Lauder take to the stage.
In the late 1970s the theatre was renovated and it reopened with a bang in 1981, with a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Since then, it’s kept its reputation as Manchester’s premier touring venue by hosting lengthy runs of spectacular musicals, including The Producers, Les Misérables and Sister Act. But while the shows may be bang up-to-date, a trip to the Palace feels like a journey back in time. There’s nothing like sinking into its red velvet seats and admiring the ornate gold decorations to take you back to Victorian times.
No matter what production you’re here to see, turn your Palace Theatre visit into a real show-stopper by booking into one of our Manchester hotels. Our Premier Inn City Centre Portland Street hotel is near the venue, so you can hit the town afterwards, knowing there’s a comfortable bed waiting in the wings whenever you’re ready to bring the curtain down on your big night in out.
With one of the biggest stages outside of London, the Palace is widely agreed to be the home of theatre in the North. You may even be lucky enough to catch a premier, because so many West End shows actually open their touring productions here.
If a show’s been a smash on the West End stage you can guarantee it’ll appear at the Palace when the show tours. Recent productions have included Funny Girl, Sister Act and Wicked. In addition, it’s a great spot to watch musical shows with tributes to Queen, Michael Jackson and The Beatles set to get you dancing in the aisles.
Ballet and opera
The Palace is very much a northern outpost for ballet, with companies such as the National, the Moscow State and the Northern Ballet all pirouetting here in recent years. You may also be lucky to catch some opera while you’re here - the Palace staged the world premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s opera Prima Donna, for example.
From pantos to stage shows of the Snowman, children are always well-catered for in the festive run-up. But there are shows suitable for kids all year-round. Recent performances have included the Teletubbies, Madagascar and Matilda the Musical. You’ll also find authors like David Walliams taking to the stage to read their latest books.
Experience the secret history of this landmark building - and get a few frights along the way. Ghost hunts start at 6pm with a two-course meal and a drink in the venue’s Oxford Street Bistro. Then you’ll tour the depths of this historical building and get to take part in séances and Ouija boards sessions (although it’s OK just to watch).
The venue does carry out rigorous bag searches, so try to leave large items like suitcases or rucksacks back at your hotel - and leave yourself plenty of time to get into the theatre before curtain-up.
Operated by the Ambassador Theatre Group, who own 40 other theatres UK-wide, the Palace is recognised as one of the best-equipped theatres outside London.
You’ll find the Palace Theatre nestled on Oxford Street and its address is 97 Oxford St, Manchester M1 6FT. The box office is open from Monday to Saturday between 12pm and 6pm and on performance days it closes 15 minutes after the show starts. On Sundays, the box office opens two hours prior to the performance and close 15 minutes after it starts.
At stage-level, the Stalls is the largest section, with 750 seats offering great views of the stage, particularly in the mid-front rows. Directly above the Stalls, the Circle seats over 600 people and the best views here can be found in rows A to H. The Grand Tier is the smallest level at the top - the view is good, but you may feel a little more distant from the stage. The best seats here can be found in rows C to H.
The box office is on street level and has a lowered counter. There are four wheelchair spaces - these can all be found in the Circle, which has lift access from the foyer. There are also seats reserved for those of limited mobility - these are easy to get in and out of, and handy for the accessible toilet. The Stalls is not recommended for those with mobility issues as you’ll need to go down 15 steps, with two steps up into all toilets.
With its central location, a visit to the Palace Theatre’s a great excuse to check out some of Manchester’s other cultural highlights.
Well worth the ten-minute stroll is the John Rylands Library. This Gothic masterpiece is free to enter, and its vaulted ceilings and crooked staircases look like something out of a Harry Potter film set. But it doesn’t just look pretty - there’s an original fragment of the New Testament on display here which is fascinating to take a look at.
Even closer to the stage door is the Manchester Art Gallery. Again, it’s free to explore the impressive collections of fine art, including 19th century British paintings, and Pre-Raphaelite works.
There are two places to eat and drink at the venue, but there’s no need to let that limit your options. Being right in the city centre, many of Manchester’s most glamorous bars and restaurants are on your doorstep.
What better place to have a drink than the bar that’s right in the venue? Recently refurbished, the Stage Door Bar serves wine and beer, but it specialises in afternoon teas and cocktails. These are often themed around the show that’s playing (some delicious green concoctions appeared when Shrek the Musical was on, for example).
Get a three-course meal without having to rush through dessert to take your seats at the Oxford Street Bistro Restaurant. This first-floor restaurant boasts luxurious velvet seating, great views and spectacular glass chandeliers. But while the decor’s super stylish, the atmosphere here is still informal. Choose from the signature Bistro Burger, or go for one of the risotto or pasta dishes.
Just seconds from the theatre, you’ll spot this burrito bar a mile off - it’s the one that’s likely to have queues of people out the door. With quick, efficient service, Chilango is ideal if you’re pushed for time but need to eat before your show. Each burrito is made in front of you to order, but there are other Mexican favourites here to tempt you, like tacos and nachos. Whatever you choose, wash it down with a frozen margarita or try Salford’s own Se7en Brothers craft ale - which is also used in one of the salsas.
Looking for a cool bar to have a drink before your show? With its chic, industrial look, Gorilla fits the bill. Just a short walk from the theatre, it’s one of the best-known small music venues in the city, but it also has its own gin parlour. Sip a tasty Gin Flip, made with house buttered gin, smoked Benedictine, cream, egg, sugar and nutmeg. Then tuck into stacked hotdogs, burgers or grills. Coming to the Palace Theatre for a matinee? Gorilla has a special brunch menu with the theatre crowd in mind.
You’ll find the Palace Theatre on the corner of Oxford and Whitworth Street. Getting there is easy, as you’re not far from all the main bus, train and tram options.
Put M1 5EJ in your sat nav - this will take you straight to the Oxford Street car park, where you can get a discount if you’re watching a show. Just bring your car park ticket to the cloakroom at the theatre for it to be validated.
By bus and tram
Many local buses serve Oxford Road - and most major bus routes either stop very near the Palace or close by. The nearest tram stop is in St Peter’s Square, which is a five-minute walk away, down Oxford Street.
Most inter-city services bring you into Manchester Piccadilly train station, a five minute walk away. Oxford Road train station is closer, with trains from Blackpool, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield all stopping here.