We lived in Manchester in the late 1990s for close to a year and although I wouldn't say I was actively miserable most of the time, it certainly was one of least favourite periods in my life. Hey, I really didn't like Manchester.
Yes, it had the big-city buzz, a thriving Gay Village, clubs, restaurants and high culture of quality at prices much lower than London's, but in all honesty, none of it made up for the fact that the place was grim and grey in more than one way. If you are a local with a Mancunian connection, or if you develop one through your university years (Manchester has a huge student population), you will likely grow to like it, as the social factor is pretty good. As a married incomer in my late 20s I found that the minuses outweighed the pluses by miles.
Manchester shares the weather conditions with much of the west coast of Britain - which means it rains a lot and it's cloudy even more - without any of the redeeming features coastal or rural locations have. It is a little like that city in Blade Runner - or maybe we were unlucky - but I felt that as you pass Leeds on M62 driving west you enter a permanent cloud that is simply always there, Manchester sitting under it like a soggy puffball. One of the reasons cotton industry took off in Manchester is the moisture levels in the air!
Now, I cannot comment on the massive urban regeneration project in Salford (technically a separate city north of Manchester but for all purposes part of the same place, with a continuing urban fabric in between) which resulted in the Salford Quays development, notable for its modern architecture, the Lowry centre and Imperial War Museum North as I have not visited that complex. From what I can gather this alone makes Manchester (or Salford, rather) a place that should be placed on any itinerary that covers the North of England. My (not particularly ancient) memories of Salford are of depopulated streets of redbrick terraces, going to seed, and rows of newer council houses, burned out and boarded up, as seen from the bus I took daily to work from where we lived towards Bury to the centre of Manchester.
The huge urban regeneration project that followed the IRA bombing of the Arandale centre in 1997 has been universally hailed as a success, but I don't really like ''urban regeneration projects'' (unless grand public buildings are created, then it doesn't matter) and often find such areas soulless and rather fake. And thus with the re-glazed an re-built Exchange Square and, by extension, Mancunian celebrated ''Northern Quarter'' (originally a rag-trade district). But as time progresses, reality tends to colonise such spaces and I have a feeling that twenty-thirty years hence it will be what it was envisaged as: a post-industrial, urban area full of varied human life (but with perhaps less hype).
The old centre of the city has some interest, and a little beauty. Manchester's cathedral is nothing spectacular but not bad either, while the massive edifice of the Victorian Town Hall is a true testament to the mindset of the Victorian capitalists, the same ones who owned mills described so devastatingly in Engels' ''Conditions of the Working Classes in England''. Call me a spoilsport, but for me the Mancunian pavements, alleyways and walls still oozed the sweat, tears and misery of those who toiled here at the height of the Empire, the powerhouse of the world which barely gave its own people crumbs from the table. The Library is an expression of a more edifying Victorian sentiment, and still a handsome building, with a domed reading room and round galleries.
Castlefield is another gentrified-by-design location with fake cobbles and fake cast iron, but the Museum of Science and Industry there located is a definite must see for anybody with even a smidgen of interest in the social history or industrial development.
Overall, Manchester is a city for doing things ore than for just ''being in' and its in its entertainment (and to some extent food) options that its attraction lies.