What's it really like?
While London may be the most obvious English destination for most people, Manchester has a special place in the hearts of gay travelers. Unlike gay London, where the scene is spread across the city’s sprawling layout, gay Manchester has one clearly defined destination: the gay village in Canal Street.
Like many gayborhoods around the world, Canal Street was once a darker, grittier place, which became popular with gay men during Manchester’s post-industrial decline. Once the city began revitalizing in the 1990’s, and after funding from the council which was keen to advance gay rights in the aftermath of the AIDS crisis, Canal Street began flourishing into the vibrant nightlife hub it is today.
A picturesque pedestrianized street by Rochdale Canal, Canal Street – also known by its tongue-in-cheek nickname “Anal Street” – is home to dozens of gay bars, clubs, and restaurants, with something for everyone. The gay village even spills beyond the canal, so it’s worth exploring the overall area around Picadilly Station to get the full impression of the gay scene.
On a night out in the village, you will find underground dives, cozy cabarets, traditional English pubs, glitzy dancefloors, cool lounges, fetish clubs, and one of the best drag scenes in the country. There is also a popular gay sauna, Base, open 24 hours during weekends.
Most venues are open to all, but some are specifically oriented towards gay men and will protect their spaces by enforcing a “regulars-only” policy. The good news is that gay men don’t usually struggle to get into places, but it can get complicated if you’re in a mixed group.
There is a reason for this protectiveness: as the city has gentrified, Canal Street has become an increasingly mixed place, with many claiming it has been overrun with bachelorette parties and straight groups of friends. Many long-time frequenters of the village are keen to preserve it as a queer space, which results in the sometimes confusing door policy at certain venues.
Gay Manchester is popular year-round, but the best time to be in town is definitely during the summer pride celebrations. The city’s official Pride brings in some first-rate international acts (the 2019 Pride welcomed the likes of Ariana Grande, Years and Years, Kim Petras, and many more) while Canal Street becomes even livelier than usual, with almost every venue hosting special parties of their own. Other cool gay events include The Great British Bear Bash (May), Drag Fest (April), and Queer Media Festival (November).
You can easily spend your time exploring gay Manchester’s scene, but there is much more to discover. Manchester is a cool, vibrant city, with its fair share of great museums and art galleries, an exciting foodie scene, and plenty of interesting neighborhoods to explore. There are also loads of fun day trips you can take from Manchester, including the Lake District, Liverpool, and the seaside resort of Blackpool.
The Gay Village’s proximity to Manchester Picadilly station means that the surrounding area is filled with great hotel options. Manchester’s gayborhood is one of the city’s most popular areas for nightlife, and it also happens to be a short walk from both the city center and Manchester Picadilly.
Look out for hotels connected to gay venues to be as close to the party as possible, or choose something a little further away from the main part of Canal Street if you want some peace and quiet.
The UK is a progressive and tolerant country, with extensive protections for LGBT citizens and almost complete equality under the law – gay people can marry, enter civil partnerships, and adopt, and the right to legally change gender is also recognized.
Generally speaking, most of the UK’s big cities will be welcoming to LGBT visitors. Manchester is especially known for being gay-friendly, thanks in part to a large student population. You will feel right at home in the gay village of Canal Street, and you are unlikely to attract any attention in the rest of the city center.
The Northern Contraception, Sexual Health and HIV Service provides free, confidential testing across several clinics in Manchester. You can also register as a temporary patient at a GP (General Practitioner), who can provide advice and guidance.
Note: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, most health clinics in the UK are only accepting telephone or online appointments, and providing at-home test kits. If you need a test during this time, call a clinic to discuss your options.
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