A fresher’s guide to Oxford Road, Manchester – the ultimate city for the student experience

Welcome to Manchester. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the ultimate city for the student experience, so make the most of it – but don’t forget to do some studying.

Every year freshers make the same old mistakes – ending up on buses to Burnley, asking for a bacon teacake (it’s a barmcake, love) and much much worse.

With this in mind, we want to equip you with everything you’ll need to know about Manchester but were afraid to ask.

We’ll start with a walk down Oxford Road from the university to Central Library – the two places where you will, of course, be spending most of your time. Ahem.

Oxford Road is the long corridor which links the universities to the city centre. [Tip: if you want to sound like a local, don’t call it the city centre. Call it ‘town’]. It’s home to the main University of Manchester campus, Manchester Metropolitan University’s All Saints campus and The Royal Northern College of Music, to name a few. And plenty of pubs, bars and takeaways.

Oxford Road is changing. It’s in the process of becoming a bus, bike and pedestrian-friendly boulevard, a creative corridor which will be at the forefront of science and technology by 2025, and the university has plans to create a world-class single campus with enhanced pubic space by 2022. So watch this space.

By the way, apparently Oxford Road is the busiest bus route in Europe. If you see fewer than three buses nose to tail at any one time during the day there’s probably something wrong.

The University of Manchester Student Union

This concrete building may not look appealing on the outside but there’s plenty of appeal on the inside as the Students Union is where you will get all your cheap drinks, big portions of food and plenty of advice. Built between 1953 and 1956, it’s also known as the Steve Biko building or just the Biko building after the South African anti-apartheid activist. Located just before the main campus begins, close to the quirky-looking Contact Theatre on the left and also Manchester Academy (check out the gigs here), this is your first point-of-call for student-related worries.

The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus

This towering Grade I listed Jesuit church opposite the Students Union building was completed in 1871 and has a 185-ft tall spire.  Some people say it’s even better looking than Manchester Cathedral. It was immortalised in The Smiths track Vicar In a Tutu in which Morrissey sang ‘I was minding my business lifting some lead off the roof of the Holy Name Church’. Why not go and take a look? Just leave the lead alone.

The University of Manchester

Oxford Road is home of the largest single-site university campus  in the UK and includes the neo-gothic quadrangle designed by Alfred Waterhouse and the grand Whitworth Hall on the left-hand side of the road. On the right, heading towards the Booth Street junction you will find more iconic university areas, many related to the sciences including the Alan Turing Building and National Graphene Institute. Buildings associated with the university spread into the city centre across an area which resembles a boot with some of the old UMIST and old Victoria University buildings forming what is now known as the North Campus on Sackville Street 

Manchester Museum

Pic University of Manchester
Pic University of Manchester

Situated within the core of the university’s 1871 neo-gothic buildings, this an impressive museum, home to a large archaeology, history, anthropology and nature collection.  It’s free to visit (with a small charge for the special exhibits) and attracts over 360,000 visitors a year. It’s also a good place to leave your parents. Here you can meet Stan, a life-sized cast of a T-Rex, and browse thousands of artefacts. The natural history collection has a preserved number of species amounting to many millions!

Manchester Aquatics Centre

On the other side of Oxford Road is The Aquatics Centre, a venue purpose built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games which was opened in 2000 by Queen Elizabeth II. The slight smell of chlorine is a bit of a give away. It’s home to the world’s largest area of moveable floors in a swimming facility, two 50m pools and there are plenty of other features including a diving area, flumes and bubble pools. Open to the public.

Royal Northern College of Music

Opposite The Aquatics Centre is Manchester’s main conservatoire or music school. It celebrated its 40th anniversary back in 2013 and currently offers undergraduate and graduate courses through The University of Manchester and research degrees with MMU. It also doubles up as a great place for live classical music and student showcases. No mosh pits here though.

The Footage

You can’t miss the green and cream terracotta tiles of what used to be the Grosvenor Picture Palace which in its time was one of the largest cinemas outside London. It’s now a pub and home to two of the biggest screens in the city for watching live sport with a balcony view. The Footage has themed nights so be sure to check it out during the week for food and drink deals.

Eighth Day

A vegetarian grocery with a cool basement café where meat-free options are available all day, served fast and fresh. Eighth Day has a chilled-out vibe with many vegan and gluten-free options available, as well as health supplements, cosmetics and gift ideas. You can take away a healthy treat of your choice at the deli counter and the fresh baked bread and brownies are particularly good.

MMU All Saints

Manchester Metropolitan University is the second most applied-to university in the UK. The All Saints campus is located on the stretch of Oxford Road just after the RNCM. Here you will find the Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, The Manchester School of Art, The Manchester Law School and the Sir Kenneth Green Library, to name a few. Close by used to be home to what became infamously known as The Precinct – a concrete-faced shopping area – where Manchester Uni and Met students used to battle it out over the last tins of cheap lager and baked beans. It’s finally been flattened to make way for something new. We’ll still miss the Spar though

The Dancehouse

Just before Oxford Road Station on the left is The Dancehouse which as the name suggests is where you can see ballet and dance performances and some brilliant alternative theatre and comedy too. The number of eating-places around here is  enough to keep your spirits high – and your cholesterol levels too. These include Subway, Café Nero and tucked just down Chester Street, Panchos Burritos. There’s also the healthier Indian-inspired street food from Kukoos.


Pic Wesley Harding
Pic Wesley Harding

A vodka bar. Enough said.

The Thirsty Scholar

Pic Wesley Harding
Pic Wesley Harding

A bit further down, this quirky drinking den is tucked under the bridge next to Oxford Road station. It is covered in Manchester-inspired graffiti, delivers a well-priced pint and plenty of live music events. Above it is Zombie Shack, an infamous venue for club-style nights out. The Scholar is definitely one to try if you want to experience the grittiness of Manchester – and they serve some awesome vegan food too. Also close and worth a visit are Sound Control and Font.

Grand Central

The sheer number of pubs and bars near the train station means you will never go thirsty in this part of town. This is a proper pub as well as a dedicated rock and metal venue with live music Thursdays. The Salisbury is also close by, tucked right under Oxford Road station – another old-school boozer with a quality soundtrack of nostalgic tunes.

The Palace Theatre

Pic Wesley Harding
Pic Wesley Harding

A good marker that you’ve nearly reached your destination is the impressive cream facade of the Palace Theatre, one of the most popular outside London. It was originally known as The Grand Old Lady of Oxford Street, took a direct hit from a bomb in World War Two and has survived to bring you a massive range of West End style stage shows and concerts

Central Library

Pic Aidan O’Rourke

Congratulations! You’ve reached your destination. Why not reward yourself with a coffee and a piece of cake in the cafe here.  The impressive domed library in St Peter’s Square is loosely modelled on the Pantheon of Ancient Rome but isn’t quite as old as it looks. It was built between 1930 and 1934 and was the biggest public lending library of its time (it’s now the second largest after Birmingham). Thanks to a £40 million facelift a couple of years ago you can now enjoy high-tech touch screen tables as well as the original features in the historic domed reading room.  Morrissey revised for his A Levels here. We’re not sure if it was before or after he stole the lead from the roof of the Holy Name.


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