Canal Street

Manchester, England

Canal Street is home to Manchester’s one and only Gay Village.

Love finding Manchester secrets? Discover more on a Manchester Treasure Hunt / Scavenger Hunt!

Read more
Canal Street 8
- David McKelvey

Discover Canal Street and the Gay Village

Manchester's Gay Village is recognised as one of the first spaces dedicated to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender culture, to flourish in the UK. The Village began to take shape with the opening of Manto in 1990, a bar on Canal Street that became a pioneer for change in the area. By 1997, the Village had fully established itself as a lively neighbourhood, offering a welcoming environment for the LGBTQ+ community. Fast forward to today, and Canal Street is a world-renowned symbol of inclusivity and celebration.

Situated just south of Chinatown, along and around Canal Street, the Village has become known as the UK's LGBTQ+ centre outside of London. It's the birthplace of the iconic 'Queer as Folk' series and more recently featured in 'It's a Sin.' It also boasts over 40 LGBTQ+ friendly bars and hosts annual events such as Sparkle the Trans Festival, the Bears Bash, and The Skins Weekend. The thriving lesbian community finds a home in venues like Vanilla, while Manchester Pride remains the most successful annual Pride event in the UK, drawing tens of thousands of attendees.

Canal Street 7
- Mikey

Origins of Canal Street and the Gay Village

The Gay Village and its surroundings have evolved dramatically over the centuries. The Rochdale Canal, which still runs alongside the pedestrianised Canal Street, was opened in 1804. This canal was vital for transporting trade (at the time, cloth) from the Pennines through Lancashire to Manchester and then onward to the docks at Liverpool.

As traffic along the canal flourished, so did the pubs and businesses that catered to the canal's users, particularly around the locks where many would stop. However, by the 1950s the cloth trade was declining and the once busy canal became a quiet and secluded place filled with derelict warehouses.

Whilst industrialisation of the area did occur, dominated by the cotton factories, this trade also soon collapsed and the area quieted once more, inadvertently creating a clandestine meeting spot for gay men. Near the dark, secluded street was key transport links like Oxford Road and Piccadilly railway stations, providing a discrete yet accessible location for the LGBTQ+ community, during a time when homosexuality was still criminalised in the UK.

Canal Street 6
- David Jones

Canal Street in the 1980s

Despite the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967, society’s acceptance lagged, and the legal environment remained restrictive, permitting physical expressions of love only in private and for those over 21. The darkened streets of Canal Street became a hunting ground for young men exploring their sexuality, reminiscent of Nathan from the 1999 TV series 'Queer as Folk.'

Harsh policing tactics led by the then Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, James Anderton, included patrolling Canal Street and conducting raids. Anderton’s approach, however, was widely condemned as discriminatory and oppressive. Despite his denials of anti-gay prejudice, Anderton's practises caused fear amongst Manchester’s gay population, especially after raids such as the one on Mineshaft club in the late 1980s, when numerous innocent men were arrested.

Canal Street 4
- Tecmark Ltd

Acceptance of Canal Street in the 1990s

It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that the situation began to shift. The formation of the North West Committee for Homosexual Law Reform, later becoming the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), highlighted the city's commitment to gay rights. Manchester City Council rallied to the cause including non-discrimination policies and the establishment of a HIV/AIDS unit. Relations with the local police also improved dramatically, after the appointment of a Police Liaison Officer dedicated to the gay community.

And then came Manto. In 1990 the opening of this gay bay, by property developer Carol Ainscow and her partner Peter Dalton, was a significant turning point for Canal Street and the Gay Village. With its large plate glass windows—a bold departure from the traditionally covert venues—it was not afraid to make a loud and proud statement to the community: "we're here, we're queer – get used to it."

Alongside significant events such as the purchase of Sackville Street Gardens in 1990 and the council’s backing of civil partnerships reflected this supportive stance. This era also saw the annual Manchester Pride festival and the Queer Up North Arts Festival grow into major events attracting thousands of participants. As more and more bars began to spring up in the early 2000s, it wasn’t long before Canal Street had become the UK’s first successful Gay Village.

Canal Street 1
- Rachel D

Problems in the Village

By the mid-2000s, Canal Street faced economic challenges, with concerns about falling revenues in its bars and clubs. Pioneering venues like Manto closed in 2013, highlighting the evolving nature of the Village. The rise of mainstream popularity led some to fear that Canal Street's role as an LGBTQ+ sanctuary was coming to an end.

Outside the village challenges were posed by redevelopment plans. The construction of 800 "upmarket" homes overlooking Canal Street sparked fears of conflict between future residents and existing LGBTQ+ establishments. However, in response to these challenges, Manchester City Council launched the Manchester's Gay Village Action Plan in 2024. This aims to "maintain, preserve and improve the LGBTQ+ quarter" by collaborating with the LGBTQ+ community.

Canal Street 9
- David McKelvey

Events on Canal Street

Here are some events held on and around Canal Street in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community:

Manchester Pride

When: August

The crown jewel of Manchester’s LGBTQ+ calendar, Manchester Pride is an annual extravaganza that promises a long weekend of pure joy and celebration. Held every August, the festival lasts from Friday to Monday, with the Gay Village at the centre of festivities.

The Village Party offers endless entertainment, while MCR Pride Live, taking place on Saturday and Sunday, features headline acts such as Annie Mac and Zara Larsson. The event showcases LGBTQ+ talent in music, dance, film, and more during the Superbia Weekend. Youth Pride, Family Pride, and the Human Rights Forum ensure there's something for everyone, making Manchester Pride a truly inclusive event.

Canal Street 3
- Phil King

Sparkle Weekend

When: July

Sparkle Weekend is dedicated to the local trans community, held every July in Sackville Gardens. This free, family-friendly event has stalls, live music, and DJs. The proximity to nearby clubs offers the perfect opportunity for bar hopping once the event concludes. Attendees are encouraged to support the Sparkle charity, ensuring the ongoing success of this beloved community event.

The Bears Bash

When: Typically in February

The Bears Bash is the UK’s leading gathering for the bear community, transforming Canal Street each February. This four-day event is a highlight of the annual calendar with everything from pulsating club nights to relaxed social events and mouth-watering food. However you identify: as a bear; cub; chub; otter; pup; or chaser, you'll find your tribe here.

Manchester Rubber Weekend

When: Predominantly during the ‘ber’ months (September to December)

For those who are enthusiasts of rubber, Manchester Rubber Weekend is a non-profit event that stands out as the friendliest fetish scene around. This event brings together rubber aficionados from all over the world, offering four main club nights, a fetish market, an art exhibition, and charity fundraising activities. It’s a unique celebration of community and kink that fosters connections and raises funds for good causes.

Canal Street 2
- Ian Betley

Exploring Canal Street in Manchester

Whilst there are many fun things to do in Manchester, here are some of our favourites near Canal Street and the Gay Village:

Sackville Gardens

  • Address: Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3HB
  • Highlight: Visit the Alan Turing Memorial at the Sackville Gardens, a tribute to the "father of modern computing" and a key figure in LGBTQ+ history.

Northern Quarter Nooks

  • Address: Piccadilly Station Approach, Manchester, M60 7RA
  • Description: Embark on a mesmerising journey through Manchester's Northern Quarter with this engaging outdoor mystery walk, reminiscent of an escape room but outdoors. If this one doesn’t take your fancy, there are others to choose from.
  • Operating Hours: Fully flexible

Bar Pop

  • Address: 10 Canal Street, Manchester, M1 3EZ
  • Description: Known for its playful entertainment such as karaoke, cabaret, and drag nights. It’s a fun and friendly spot with events like ‘Skint Mondays’ where drinks are just a pound.
  • Operating Hours: Monday to Thursday 3:00 pm to 3:00 am; Friday 3:00 pm to 4:00 am; Sunday 12:00 am to 3:00 am


  • Address: 63 Richmond Street, Manchester, M1 3WB
  • Description: A lively club popular with a young crowd, offering pop tunes, cheap drinks, and a vibrant atmosphere. The venue also has a rooftop terrace and hosts a variety of events including drag shows and themed nights.
  • Operating Hours: Daily 12:00 pm to 4:00 am
Canal Street
- David McKelvey

Richmond Tea Rooms

  • Address: Richmond Street, Manchester, M1 3HZ
  • Description: Enjoy a whimsical afternoon tea experience with an Alice in Wonderland theme. They offer a range of homemade breakfasts, lunches, and cocktails in an enchanting setting. For other afternoon tea experiences read our latest blog.
  • Operating Hours: Monday to Friday 10:00 am to 7:00 pm; Saturday 9:30 am to 8:00 pm; Sunday 9:30 am to 6:00 pm

Peru Perdu

  • Address: 74 Princess St, Manchester, M1 6JD
  • Description: A Peruvian-inspired restaurant offering Uruguayan Wet Aged steaks and plant-based options. Known for its delicious cocktails and lively atmosphere.
  • Operating Hours: Sunday to Wednesday 12:00 pm to 9:00 pm; Thursday 12:00 pm to 9:30 pm; Friday to Saturday 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm

ON Bar

  • Address: 49 Canal Street, Manchester M1 3WD
  • Description: A new bar concept by Orange Nation featuring events like 'Butterflies' popular with the trans community.
  • Operating Hours: Monday to Thursday 5:00 pm to 3:00 am; Friday 2:00 pm to 5:00 am; Saturday 12:00 pm to 5:00 am; Sunday 12:00 pm to 2:00 am
Canal Street 7
- Mikey

The Molly House

  • Address: Richmond Street, Manchester, M1 3HE
  • Description: A rustic-style pub offering home-cooked tapas, cakes, and a selection of ales and wines. The atmosphere is cosy with music kept at a low volume for easy conversation.
  • Operating Hours: Monday to Thursday 1:00 pm to 11:00 pm; Friday and Saturday 1:00 pm to 1:30 am

Cruz 101

  • Address: 101 Princess St, Manchester, M1 6DD
  • Description: A legendary nightclub in a repurposed shipping warehouse, known for its late-night parties and themed events like Disco Inferno nights. It’s open until the early hours, making it perfect for night owls.
  • Operating Hours: Thursday 11:00 pm to 5:00 am; Friday 11:00 pm to 6:00 am; Sunday to Monday 11:00 pm to 5:00 am; Wednesday 11:00 pm to 3:30 am

Village Brasserie by Velvet

  • Address: 2 Canal St, Manchester, M1 3HE
  • Description: A 4-star boutique hotel with a stylish bar and restaurant serving dishes like Pan-Seared Duck Breast and Niçoise Salad, with options for vegetarians and vegans.
  • Operating Hours: Wednesday to Thursday 4:00 pm to 9:30 pm; Friday to Saturday 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm; Sunday 12:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Please note: opening times may vary so please always check the relevant websites in advance.

Canal Street 5
- David Jones

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our CityDays Manchester Treasure Hunts - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of Manchester.

Canal Street Questions


What you need to know

Canal Street
Canal Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M1 3
53.478198, -2.234975
Official Website
Tips before you visit