2020 was a year that most of us would rather forget and we’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for. Thankfully, 2020’s loss was 2021’s gain and, despite a delayed start, Greater Manchester is ready for a rollover year packed with an array of unmissable moments as soon as restrictions are lifted.
With so much to look forward to we’ve chosen 21 of the best things to get excited about across the rest of 2021 and beyond, including new outdoor experiences, rich new cultural developments, new and refurbished hotels, diverse food and drink offering, and some truly world-leading events.
Opening of Europe’s largest garden project in Salford
At the top of many visitor’s lists for 2021 will be The Royal Horticultural Society’s first new garden in 17 years, which is set to open in May in the lost historic grounds of Worsley New Hall in Salford.
RHS Garden Bridgewater will be a 154-acre garden and is currently the largest gardening project in Europe. When it opens it will feature a Weston Walled Garden (one of the largest in the UK), a visitor centre and café, community teaching allotments, a Kitchen Garden, orchards, a woodland play area, and a Chinese Streamside Garden, alongside Ellesmere Lake, woodland and other garden spaces.
What’s more, if you’re lucky enough to be a resident of Salford, you’ll be able to visit for free every Tuesday.
UK’s largest urban farm and eco-park set in 160-acres of land
Sticking with the outdoors theme after we all found a much greater appreciation of nature in 2020 is Northern Roots. You might not have heard of this 160-acre green space being developed in Oldham yet, but you’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the coming years.
Offering woodland, moorland and seasonal wetlands, the site is home to an abundance of native and migrating birds, plants and animals and has plans to grow into the UK’s largest urban farm and eco-park. It will also include hands-on community projects such as beekeeping, animal husbandry, forestry, as well as mountain biking, performances and frisbee golf.
One of the other reasons we love Northern Roots is that it plans to generate its own renewable energy, become a ‘carbon farm’ that sucks carbon dioxide out of the air and into the trees and they also have a plan in place to support biodiversity, hoping to see a 25% increase in wildlife. Truly the antidote to 2020 that we need!
New Special Exhibitions Gallery at the Science and Industry Museum
This new gallery will reveal striking historic spaces on the lower ground floor of the Science and Industry Museum’s Grade II listed New Warehouse. It has been designed by award-winning architects, Carmody Groarke, and will originate and host some of the world’s best science exhibitions, helping to establish the museum as a beacon for contemporary science and a major cultural destination for years to come.
The Special Exhibitions Gallery will open in May in line with Government restrictions being lifted. It will launch with a free exhibition called Top Secret which will explore over a century’s worth of communications intelligence through hand-written documents, declassified files and previously unseen artefacts from the Science Museum Group’s and GCHQ’s historic collections – time to channel your inner James Bond!
In summer 2021, the museum will also open a highly anticipated exhibition that’s been rescheduled from last summer. Use Hearing Protection: The early years of Factory Records will tell the story of Manchester’s famous Factory Records, and the distinctive voices that came out of the early years of the record label, featuring previously unseen items from the Factory archives, including creations from Joy Division, New Order, and Peter Saville. And if you want to prepare yourself and brush up on your Manchester music knowledge beforehand, make sure you watch the free documentary, Manchester Music Then and Now: Music Worth Fighting For.
An extended, more interactive Manchester Jewish Museum
Another attraction that you might not know much about yet but will do soon, in summer 2021, Manchester Jewish Museum will re-open its doors following an extensive makeover and extension. The museum, which is housed inside a former synagogue built in 1873, will double in size complete with a brand-new gallery, learning studio and kitchen, shop and café, alongside the majorly renovated synagogue which will also double up as a performance space
The new building will launch a new programme for the museum, with a commitment to using Jewish stories to connect to the world and to our society. The museum has over 31,000 eclectic objects and personal histories in its collection, telling stories of Jewish Manchester as well as broader stories of migration, communities and identities that are a key part of Greater Manchester’s diverse make-up.
Fashion Gallery to open at Manchester Art Gallery
A new dedicated Fashion Gallery is set to open at Manchester Art Gallery in November 2021 as part of a permanent shift of the costume collection from Platt Hall Gallery of Costume, which closed a few years ago and is set to take on a new to-be-confirmed use – watch this space.
The first exhibition at the new fashion gallery will focus on male image and the ‘dandy’ style fashion, made popular in the late 18th and early 19th century. Bringing together fashion, art and photography, Dandy Style will meld the historic with the contemporary and will include approximately 75 extravagant outfits from the Platt Hall collection.
Another highlight at Manchester Art Gallery to watch out for is the postponed and highly anticipated exhibition Derek Jarman Protest! which will now open in May 2021 and will be accompanied by a programme of Jarman’s films at art centre HOME. It joins Grayson’s Art Club which has had its run extended until October, featuring works selected by Grayson during the popular Channel 4 TV series.
New building for one of the region’s best-loved theatres
After being closed for three years to allow for a major refurbishment, Octagon Bolton, one of the region’s best-loved theatres, will finally welcome audiences back for socially distanced performances in 2021 – keep an eye on their website for imminent programme announcements.
The refurbished theatre includes new seating in the auditorium, a two-floor café/bar, a purpose-built studio and classroom for community drama lessons, greater accessibility for improved wheelchair access and a larger, fully accessible rehearsal room for performers.
UK’s leading youth theatre transformed in building revamp
Another venue that’s undergone a complete transformation project, the UK’s leading young person’s arts organisation Contact is set to reopen in autumn 2021 and will feature the country’s first dedicated space for art, health and science in a UK theatre.
Contact has been making news by appointing the UK’s first-ever young chair to board at a major performing arts venue as part of their decision to ensure that 50% of the board would be made up of young people.
Ahead of its opening, Contact will be running a series of online virtual performances including Queer Contact, the organisation’s annual LGBTQ+ festival which will take place in April and will be headlined by prolific British screenwriter and television producer Russell T Davies.
Manchester’s oldest music venue will expand
Band on the Wall has been entertaining Manchester for generations with a history stretching far back to the 19th Century and beyond; then a small corner pub called the George & Dragon, it has borne witness to more of Manchester’s musical history than arguably anywhere else in the city.
Fast forward to September 2021 and the venue will have expanded into the Victorian Cocozza building that has been derelict to the rear of the venue for decades, taking the venue’s total gig capacity from 340 to 540 people.
The expansion project will also see a new learning suite for the next generation of musicians created, as well as an enhanced archive and visual exhibition documenting the rich social and musical history of the building and the surrounding Northern Quarter neighbourhood.
Biennial arts and culture festival MIF returns for the summer
A major highlight in the cultural calendar will be the return of eighteen days of dynamic, innovative and forward-thinking new work as part of the biennial Manchester International Festival in July 2021.
Following a successful 2019 outing which featured work from Yoko Ono, Idris Elba, Skepta and David Lynch, this summer’s event will be a Festival for our times with work by some of the world’s most exciting artists responding to the moment we’re in – the full programme will be announced soon. In addition, Festival Square will return in a new city centre location – expect fun-filled days of food, drink, and free entertainment.
North of England’s biggest LGBT+ Pride festival returns
Following the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 festival, The Manchester Pride Festival weekend will return in 2021 with more colour and energy over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Thirty years since the first bar with windows, Manto, opened on Canal Street in 1991, refusing to be hidden away, Manchester Pride Festival will hold extra special significance as people from all walks of life come together once again for four days of events including the Pride Parade, Manchester Pride Live, The Gay Village Party, Superbia (LGBT+ arts festival), Youth Pride MCR and the Candlelight Vigil.
Events for 2021 may look slightly different to the usual programme, but you can expect the city to be celebrating in full rainbow colours across the weekend.
The Rugby League World Cup finals come to Greater Manchester
And now one for the sports fans, and it’s not all about football, although the return of fans to live matches will undoubtedly be a massive draw for visitors again in 2021.
In this case Old Trafford Stadium, usually home to Manchester United, will be playing host to both the Rugby League World Cup and Women’s Rugby League World Cup finals as a double-header event on 27 November 2021, making it one of the biggest UK sports events of the year.
The world cup will also see two Greater Manchester towns take part in the competition – Bolton will host the Men’s Quarter Final and England v France games at the University of Bolton Stadium and will be the home training ground for the France team whilst visiting. Elsewhere, Leigh Sports Village in Wigan will host three Men’s rounds featuring Wales, Ireland, Lebanon, Jamaica and the Cook Islands.
BrewDog to open England’s first beer hotel in Manchester
Scottish beer brewing giants BrewDog have announced that they will open their first hotel in England in June, following the success of the DogHouse brand in Scotland and the USA. The 18-bedroom hotel, bar and restaurant will be centrally located just off Manchester’s Market Street.
Not shy of innovation, plans suggest that the hotel will feature Punk IPA on tap in every room, beer fridges in the showers, a rooftop terrace with fire pit, and will allow guests to bring their pets. At reception, guests will receive a welcome beer on arrival from one of the 28 unique beers on tap
Environmentally friendly green hotel opening on Deansgate
Climate conscious brand Qbic are bringing their fourth European hotel to Manchester, with pre-configured rooms made from largely recycled materials taking home in a former office block.
Opening in May, the hotel is all about sustainability, rewarding guests with free drinks for choosing green and not having towels or linen changed, using organic mattresses made in the UK, and reducing plastic use by providing filtered water in rooms.
The on-site bar and restaurant Motely has a goal to keep all food low-mileage, sourcing from the local area, and offering a large selection of vegetarian and vegan food, paired with local craft beers and signature cocktails. Like DogHouse above, the hotel is also a big fan of pets, allowing guests to bring their four-legged friends on a stay!
New Kimpton hotel embraces the Spirit of Manchester
Kimpton’s fourth hotel to open in the UK, Kimpton Clocktower Hotel (formerly the Principal Manchester) has recently brought the international brand’s cosmopolitan style, cool culture and luxury service to Manchester.
The iconic Grade II* star listed hotel began life in 1895 as The Refuge Assurance Building, and in homage to the origins of the building the hotel’s on-site restaurant The Refuge will continue alongside Kimpton to be one of the most popular restaurant spaces in the city.
Kimpton Clocktower might be the latest hotel to rebrand and refurbish, but it’s not alone. Other hotel’s that have taken the opportunity to refresh during the Covid-19 crisis include The Midland, Manchester’s ‘grand old dame’ and 5-star The Edwardian, which has gradually developed with new spa facilities, a highly praised restaurant, Peter Street Kitchen, which brings a fusion of Mexican and Japanese, and a new bar/lounge partnership in The Library curated by Assouline.
First dedicated poetry library in the North West to open
Manchester has a rich history as home to award-winning poets; with the likes of Tony Walsh and his famous This is The Place inspirational poem about Manchester, Salford-born John Cooper Clarke, Dame Carol Ann Duffy DBE, Lemn Sissay MBE, and Jackie Kay MBE, all calling the city-region home.
Building on Manchester’s UNESCO City of Literature status, awarded in 2017, the Manchester Poetry Library will open in summer 2021 adding to a rich literary tourism trail that includes places like the iconic John Rylands and Chetham’s Libraries and The International Anthony Burgess Foundation.
Part of Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, the library will welcome the public to access poetry featuring texts and audio recordings, reflecting Manchester’s diverse culture in over 200 languages, and will encourage new creative writing with workshops and events.
Celebrated author’s bedroom added at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
May will see the opening of a new chapter for Elizabeth Gaskell’s House with the public launch of the celebrated author’s bedroom; recreated to reflect how it would have looked when she lived at the property.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s bedroom will add a new dimension to the visitor experience, revealing more of her character and life as an author in Victorian times. The Grade II* listed property was restored in 2014, enabling visitors to discover how Elizabeth lived, where she wrote some of her most famous novels, where she entertained guests, including Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens, and the gardens she cherished.
While in the vicinity of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, you can also make a beeline for nearby The Pankhurst Centre – the birthplace of the suffragette movement – which will reopen its doors in summer 2021 with a new permanent exhibition At Home with the Pankhurst Family.
Iconic Wigan Pier waterfront brought back to life
Wigan Pier – made famous by George Orwell’s 1937 book, The Road to Wigan Pier – will be given a new lease of life when the long-vacant 18th Century industrial buildings are transformed into a new neighbourhood waterside attraction.
Expected to be ready in 2021, the former icon of the industrial North will become a gin-distillery, micro-brewery and food hall, and will hold weddings, events, exhibitions and conferences, with the former education centre set to be used as a cultural hub.
Tasks and trials from new I’m a Celebrity… Jungle Challenge attraction
A brand-new family entertainment attraction celebrating ITV’s popular show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! is set to open at the new The Watergardens development at MediaCityUK.
The I’m A Celebrity… Jungle Challenge attraction will bring an exciting mix of tasks and trials based on the hit show, including jungle zip lines, treetop ropes course and vertical climbing walls in summer 2021. ‘Campmates’ will experience a specially created jungle to navigate a series of obstacles and challenges.
The new experience follows ITV’s sell-out tours of Coronation Street – also at MediaCityUK – which shows visitors around the set of the world’s longest-running television soap that turned 60 in December 2020, with behind-the-scenes access to the live production studio.
First World War poppy tribute to take permanent home at IWM North
Following the success of Poppies: Wave and Weeping Window, which toured Imperial War Museum London and North during the final year of the First World War centenary and encouraged millions of people across the country to reflect on their own links to the First World War as a shared experience, from November 2021 the poppies will be displayed permanently within the Air Shard of the architecturally renowned Imperial War Museum North.
A deluge of new food and drink spots to look forward to
Anyone will tell you that the number one thing they’ve missed most in the last year is eating out and having drinks with friends. Throughout lockdown we got used to seeing some of our favourite places do meal kits and takeaways, but we can’t wait to get back into bars and restaurants.
Pre-Covid, Greater Manchester had one of the most varied and buoyant food and drink scenes in the country and it now looks raring to go with plenty of new places to try.
There are a host of brand new venues and operators that either opened during the pandemic – see vegan spots Four Side Pizza and What the Pitta – or that are due to open as soon as they can from May. In the latter camp are places like Ramona which will be serving up Detroit style pizza in a former M.O.T garage, new underground food halls Society and Hello Oriental, and cocktail bar Schofield’s.
And that’s just in the city centre. Thanks to homeworking and a greater appreciation of the suburbs and local areas that we’ve been confined to over the past year, a raft of new openings are peppered throughout neighbourhoods across Greater Manchester. From new bakeries like Bread and Long Boi’s Bakehouse in Levenshulme to new bars BrewChimp in Stretford and Draft in Sale.
Sprawling party venue continues to evolve
By far the runaway success of venues that launched during the Covid-19 crisis was Escape to Freight Island when it opened in summer 2020 as a 600-seat open-air venue, with live music and events alongside street-style food and drink from independent traders.
The site will be further developed in 2021, taking over the cavernous inner parts of the former Mayfield Station, with more traders, independent shops and long-term plans for live music and club nights, making it one of the must-visit places for those looking to party and reconnect with friends in 2021.
The Kantina Weekender has been announced for the late May Bank Holiday and promises an incredible line-up of chef and restaurant takeovers including Simon Martin from Manchester’s Michelin-starred restaurant Mana, Mary-Ellen McTague of The Creameries and Where The Light Gets In’s Sam Buckley.
There’s also much more to look forward to in Greater Manchester beyond 2021.
Highlights include a transformation at Manchester Museum to add a South Asia Gallery and a new China Gallery, due to open in August 2022 followed by the highly anticipated opening of The Factory, a world-class cultural space designed by Rem Koolhaas’s architects Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in late 2022. At 13,300 square metres, The Factory will be ultra-flexible, enabling large-scale artistic work of invention and ambition that isn’t made anywhere else in the world.
Then in 2023 Manchester’s first new city centre park in over 100 years, Mayfield Park, is set to be open, as well as the UK’s first city-based wellbeing resort Therme, a new large-scale music venue, Co-op Live Arena, and Modern Surf Manchester surf lagoon, from the same company behind Surf Snowdonia.