Back in my student days, Parklife festival was the highlight of the year for me – and thousands of other Manchester students. A reward for emerging from the May revision slog and a great way to bid farewell to friends before everyone headed home for the summer.
Half the fun was the fact that it was right on my doorstep. No sooner had I stepped outside my humble Fallowfield dwelling on the first morning of the festival than I found myself among a herd of excitable twenty-somethings all making their way to Platt Fields Park.
When the curtain came down on Parklife it was always a drag. Happily imprisoned inside my student bubble, I was led to believe this was Manchester’s main event and that I would be starved of large-scale festivities for another 12 months.
How wrong I was.
Parklife may be regarded by many as the jewel in the crown but a closer look at the city’s event calendar reveals that Manchester is home to more festivals than you might have ever imagined. Indeed, whilst Parklife has earned its recognition as one of Britain’s big daddy shows, lots of other special events are no more than a Metrolink ride away.
My only regret is not discovering this huge selection of Manchester festivals sooner. But thanks to this list, you won’t have that problem.
1Stay Fresh Fest 2
Saturday 28 January
The eager beaver of the 2017 festival season is undoubtedly Stay Fresh Fest 2, the long-awaited sequel to the mini-festival which proved to be an absolute smash last year. Crucially for a festival in January, Stay Fresh Fest 2 is cheap and cheerful, offering tickets for less than a tenner and a selection of lively bands including Luxury Death, Henge, Heavy On The Magic, The Orielles, Seize The Chair and Mums across multiple floors at famous Grosvenor Street venue Deaf Institute.
2Queer Contact Festival
Friday 10 February – Saturday 18 February
Whilst Manchester Pride sees the LGBT community in full-blown party mode, the same faces come together for a slightly more grounded and cultured gathering at the Queer Contact Festival. However, that’s not to say this week of celebration doesn’t have it raucous moments. Focused on continuing to raise awareness around LGBT issues and celebrating freedom of expression, Queer Contact Festival is choca-bloc with shows, films, musical performances, dance nights, art exhibitions and stand-up comedy across several venues in Manchester, treating you to some of the most memorable nights you’re likely to have all year.
3Wonder Women Manchester
Thursday 2 March – Sunday 12 March
Manchester’s annual feminist festival returns for the fourth year running with a programme of film, talks, workshops and exhibitions celebrating those who won the fight for votes for women. Wonder Women is the artistic response and interpretation of the suffragette movement in the city of its birth – Manchester. Led by cultural institutions, independent artists, women’s groups and networks, the ten day programme will focus on the issues and debates of feminism today.
4Manchester Film Festival
Thursday 2 March – Sunday 5 March
MANIFF seems to be a rising star in its own right as it has already garnered an industry nod with its nomination as the only film festival in the world in the coveted 2016 UK Festival Awards. The 2017 festival’s programme promises to be jam-packed with rising and established names from international and domestic cinema.
Wednesday 8 March – Saturday 25 March
Sick! Festival is all about attention – from the aggressive exclamation point in its title to the near-month long programme that kicks into action in March. Bringing together professionals in academic research, the health industry and philanthropy, Sick! aims to raise awareness of mental and emotional health issues through public speeches, Q&A sessions, artistic performances and art shows. Unique and offbeat, Sick! Festival is impossible to ignore – and that’s exactly the point.
6Manchester Irish Festival
Friday 3 March – Friday 17 March
St Patrick’s Day is resolutely Irish, but that never stops the rest of us getting involved, with green-enveloped festivities thrown all over Manchester on March 17th for as long as anyone can remember. The Paddy’s Day parties offer a little taste of Irish culture in Mancunia, but they’re a drop in the bucket compared to the Manchester Irish Festival. With book launches, gigs, dance classes and Irish markets popping up in the city for two wonderful weeks, the 2017 edition of this event is sure to be something rather special.
7Manchester Film Weekender
Friday 17 March – Sunday 19 March
Our beloved Cornerhouse may be gone forever but there’s still an opportunity for cinephiles to scratch their itch for arthouse flicks thanks to the Manchester Film Weekender. Starting on Paddy’s Day and continuing throughout the weekend, MFW casts a spotlight on German film-making for its 2017 season, and includes Q&A discussions with the directors and writers whose work is being beamed onto the screens.
8Gin Festival Manchester
Friday 24 March – Sunday 2 April
9Fat Out Fest
Friday 14 April – Sunday 16 April
Nope, it’s not a misprint. Fat Out Fest is a peculiarly named promotion housed at Islington Mill in Salford. Focused on supporting and promoting the more adventurous musicians on the planet, Fat Out is a dizzying concoction of experimental acts and performances, beginning on Friday 14 April.
10Manchester Punk Festival
Thursday 20 April – Saturday 22 April
11Sounds From The Other City
Sunday 30 April
Chapel Street and surrounding parts of Salford transform into something else entirely for Sounds From The Other City, with local pubs, event rooms and even healthcare centres shedding their day job attire and dressing up for the musicians who are coming to town. Once a festival band is wrapped tightly around your wrist, you’ll be issued with a map of the area and left to wander through an eclectic musical maze of genres ranging from deep house to indie to heavy rock. One of my favourite memories of 2016 was joining an impromptu limbo competition in one the festival’s beer gardens as the outdoor DJ blasted Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. SFTOC is that kind of festival. Casual, cool and a hell of a lot of fun.
12Dot To Dot Festival
Saturday 27 May
With Mystery Jets, Augustines and Temper Trap in the headline slots and a wave of additional musicians dispersed over 20 different venues, Dot To Dot Festival takes over much of the Northern Quarter for a full day in spring. Now in its 11th year and still going strong, Dot To Dot has previously been awarded the coveted title of Best Metropolitan Festival by the UK Festival Awards board and bursts into life in our splendid city on 27 May.
Saturday 10 June – Sunday 11 June
14Manchester International Festival
Thursday 29 June – Sunday 16 July
For 18 days across the summer, the bi-annual Manchester International Festival is back in town. A bold, ambitious project that provides a platform for the new wave of exciting up-and-coming artists and performers, MIF 2017 will be a fusion of free and paid events sprinkled across an assortment of city centre venues. The full catalogue is currently under construction, but several events are already pencilled in, including the Manchester self-portrait What Is the City but the People? in Piccadilly Gardens, the deeply moving play Fatherland at the Royal Exchange Theatre (written by Simon Stephens, author of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), and the dance show 10000 Gestures, in which an ensemble of performers will attempt to reinvent the language of dance in a yet-to-be-named Manchester location. There’s nothing quite like Manchester International Festival, and you shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to witness such a magnificent occasion happening right on your porch.
Friday 23 June – Sunday 25 June
In the current climate, some will argue that 0161 Festival has never been more important. An anti-fascist DIY benefit, this unique summer weekender takes its moniker from the local area code but its reach goes much, much further than Manchester. There will be music acts, films, and a diverse range of food stalls and activity stands at St Kent’s Irish Club in Fallowfield from 23 -25 June, with all money raised going towards funding the fight against fascism in Europe.
16Sounds of the City
Friday 30 June – Saturday 8 July
The Levellers, The Waterboys, James, Hacienda Classical and Blossoms all step down into the iconic Castlefield Bowl for Sounds of the City 2017, a boisterous annual summer celebration taking place against the beautiful backdrop of gentle Manchester canal waters. Each act will own the makeshift stage on four separate nights across June and July, playing to sell-out crowds down by the waterfront just off Deansgate Locks.
A festival that refuses to let the music spirit in Manchester die, Sounds of the City doesn’t so much offer a nostalgic nod to the Madchester era but rather picks it up and throws it into modern-day Castlefield, giving Mancunians the perfect opportunity to celebrate their city’s awesome history whilst enjoying a sweet taste of the next chapter in the evolution of popular music.
17Manchester Jazz Festival
Friday 28 July – Sunday 6 August
Saturday 29 July – Sunday 30 July
Labelling itself as the UK’s largest free tribute festival, Festwich is an off-grid celebration of the best tribute acts in the country taking place at St Mary’s Park in Prestwich in July. Last year saw the likes of Dressed To Kill, Supreme Queen, Fell Out Boy, Megadeath UK, The Killerz and Stiffbizkit on the bill, and 2017 is promising another talent-swathed, fun-filled programme.
19The Greater Manchester Fringe
Saturday 1 July – Monday 31 July
There’s no need to schlep all the way up to Edinburgh if you want to see some of the best emerging talent in the country because Manchester boasts its very own Fringe Festival throughout July. The bumper programme is being put together as we speak and the organisers are actively encouraging locals to get involved. Fringe will take place across a number of locations, from intimate venues like Chapter One Books, grand establishments like Albert Hall and Hope Mill Theatre, and pubs and clubs like Joshua Brooks, Night & Day Café and The Ruby Lounge.
Saturday 12 August – Sunday 13 August
A weekend-long party overflowing with Red Stripe, rum, steel drums, jerk chicken, and more colour than Joseph’s dreamcoat, Manchester’s Caribbean Carnival is a loud, proud, joyous occasion – and it’s absolutely free. Dancing into town from midday on Saturday 12 August at Alexandra Park, this superb celebration of Caribbean culture remains in full swing right up until the following evening, with the sounds of live music and the aroma of tropical food drifting through the air from start to finish.
21The Great Northern Ska Festival
Saturday 19 August
A sublime celebration of ska culture and music (a mishmash of Jamaican mento, R&B, and calypso melodies), the full-day Great Northern Ska Festival grooves into gear during the hottest month of the year with hordes of enthusiasts and newbies alike coming together to sample the fresh food, check out the entertainers, and enjoy a bumper ska music bill that includes the likes of Neville Staple, The Selector and The Beat, and many more. Pork pie hats not compulsory.
Friday 25 August – Sunday 27 August
A passionate celebration of equality, Manchester Pride offers LGBT communities an opportunity to come together and party the weekend away on Canal Street and beyond. A sundry selection of chart-topping artists from across the country visit this colourful corner of the city in the summer and play to huge crowds. A whopping £149,000 was raised for LGBT causes last year and the festival will be going all out to deliver another record-breaking year this time around.
23Festejar Spanish Festival
24Manchester Whisky Festival
Friday 1 September – Saturday 2 September
What better way to cling on to the balminess of the fading summer than by sipping on a heart-warming whisky? A real autumn treat, the Manchester Whisky Festival offers you an excuse to slip from stall to stall all evening sampling the finest single malts, with exhibitors on hand to answer any questions you may have about the scotch in your hand and where you might be able to grab yourself a bottle.
25Manchester Food & Drink Festival
Thursday 28 September – Monday 9 October
26Manchester Literature Festival
Friday 6 October – Monday 20 October
Manchester Literature Festival is a celebration of writing and reading that offers you the rare opportunity to meet your literary heroes and discover exciting new authors. You’ll have to wait until October for the full festival experience of conferences, Q&A’s, and pub tours, but you can get a taster in the coming weeks as mini-events hosted by Eileen Myles, Mohsin Hamid, and Simon Armitage are held in January, February and March respectively.
Saturday 7 October
Neighbourhood Festival made its Manchester debut last year and proved so much of a success it’s returning in September this year. Like Sounds From The Other City and Dot to Dot Festival, Neighbourhood takes place across multiple venues, with a single wristband granting you entry to all eleven. Over 100 artists will descend upon Manchester for this music celebration. Last year’s bill featured the likes of The Pigeon Detectives, Blossoms, White Lies and Circa Waves, so it’s safe to expect acts of similar quality to perform at Neighbourhood in 2017.
Wednesday 18 October – Sunday 22 October
29Manchester Science Festival
Thursday 19 October – Sunday 29 October
The Manchester Museum of Science and Industry hosts a festival of spectacular innovation and transcendent experience, offering you the chance to revel in the wonders of modern technology. Last year’s programme featured immersive audio-visual experiences at the Arndale, eye-popping space journey shows at The Albert Hall and beautiful art installations in Castlefield, and the 2017 Manchester Science Festival is set to go one giant step further.
30Doki Doki Festival
Saturday 11 November
As 2017 draws to a close, Doki Doki Japanese Festival will just be getting started. A vivid and vibrant celebration of both historic and modern Japanese culture, Doki Doki 2017 invites authentic traders (hair & beauty, clothing, jewellery, anime merchandise), artists and special guests to swing by for the day, with proceeds going to the Aid For Japan Charity that specialises in offering long-term support for victims of the 2011 Tohoku disaster. A distinctive and fascinating experience, Doki Doki 2017 will be held at Sugden Sports Centre just off Oxford Road on 11 November, with an after-party a few doors down at The Footage.
Any we’ve missed? Let us know and which you’re most excited about in comments below…