Art & Culture

Six must-see bookish havens in our literary city

Words by local author, Katie McCall.

The Manc The Manc - 8th March 2024

If you live in Manchester, you’ll be quite used to the chatter surrounding our city’s legendary musical offering, football heritage and art scene.

But, fear not, bookworms: for those of you who spend most of your leisure buried in books, there’s a rich written lineage here in Manchester too and if you’d rather seek out quieter ways to spend your downtime, there are plenty of bookish hidey-holes right in the city centre.

After all, iconic writers such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Lemn Sissay and Elizabeth Gaskell; Anthony Burgess, Jeanette Winterson, John Cooper Clarke and countless others have all called this place home

So, pop your reading glasses on and come with me on a tour of our literary city and some of the best reading spots in Manchester.

The best places to read in Manchester city centre

1. Portico Library

With 19th-century texts stacked up high to its majestic, domed ceiling, this library feels like an uncovered secret, tucked away from the bustle of Piccadilly Gardens. You’re free to wander around, enjoy their exhibitions and peer through their ‘Handling Shelf’ of vintage literature.


Entry is free and it costs just a tenner for a weekly Reader pass, giving you access to the exclusive, private reading room at the back of the building. Give Portico a go.

2. House of Books and Friends

This beautiful bookshop and social space on King Street is just as stunning on the inside as its extraordinary exterior. It’s also one of our favourite cosy little spots for a brew in the city centre.


Daylight pours through the enormous windows into their café area, where they run regular events, book clubs, and author interviews to tackle loneliness in the reading community.

Books and mates, what more could you ask for?

3. John Rylands Library

Part of the University of Manchester, you could say that John Rylands is the spiritual home of books in our city and probably the closest thing you’ll find to a real-life Hogwarts.


With its impressive neo-Gothic architecture and catalogue of more than 250,000 publications, the sweeping stone arches and stained-glass windows give the impression that you’ve stumbled into a place of worship. It’s also set to undergo a multi-million-pound renovation in the coming years.

Every year thousands of internationals visit these hallowed halls to pay homage to the written word and it’s not hard to see why, just look at it. A truly magical place.

4. Chetham’s Library

If John Rylands is the cathedral in Manchester’s literary kingdom, then its spookier, medieval counterpart, Chetham’s Library, is surely our castle. Nestled behind a stone gateway in Cathedral Gardens and around the corner from Victoria, this is the oldest library in the English-speaking world.

It was originally set up as a priest’s college but in 1595 it became home to Dr John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s warden, who was a famed alchemist, academic, magician and occultist. According to legend, in between séances, Dr Dee supposedly summoned Satan himself.

If you’re feeling devilish, book on to one of the library tours where you can touch the scorch mark Beelzebub’s hoofprint left on the original table. See if you can spot the eerie death masks and carved devil’s face peering out from the shadows, as well. There’s some real history to this place.


5. QueerLit

Across town, you’ll find a door into a more specific corner of Manchester’s reading community. Historically, the stories of LGBTQ+ people have been silenced and that’s why QueerLit is such a special place; this place is all about celebrating inclusion and bringing those narratives back to the forefront.

A fifteen-minute stroll away from the thrum of Canal Street, they stock thousands of titles in their Northern Quarter shop, including authors and characters representing a diverse, queer readership, covering everything from historic fiction to comic books.

Not just a great reading spot for people in Manchester but an important one too.

@the.manc The perfect shop for pride month #manchester #pride #lgbtq ♬ Coffee & Books – JerryJeyy

6. Chapter One Books 

The final stop on our literary tour is Chapter One, a cosy café and bookshop with a whole range of welcoming clubs to help you meet other like-minded folk — there’s a real community vibe here.

Their friendly groups cover creative writing, meditation, and poetry, as well as introductory sessions to woodwork and sculpture. They also have the wonderful Middle East-inspired Gulf coffee and teahouse in the back which, like any good book, is one of the most transportive places little rooms in town.


Read more:

That’s not all. There is, of course, the mighty Central Library on St Peter’s Square, and across the city there are dozens of other public libraries and independent bookshops for you to duck into.

No matter where you are in Manchester next time the rain starts to fall, you can always take shelter between the pages of a good book.

And if you’d like to hear more from the wonderful Katie McCall, you can check out her uncanny, gothic fiction and short stories which have been published right here in the UK and over in the US.

She’s just finished writing her second novel, a folk horror set just down the road in the Peak District. For further spooky, bookish musings, follow her on Instagram.

For all the latest news, events and goings on in Greater Manchester, subscribe to The Manc newsletter HERE.

Featured Images — House of Books and Friends (via IG)/The Manc Group/Chapter One (via IG)