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Manchester

Central Manchester is alive with the vibe of cutting-edge popular music and a swank, often fancy café, cocktail bar, and restaurant culture. The city's once-grim industrial landscape, redeveloped since the late 1980s, includes tidied-up canals, cotton mills transformed into loft apartments, and stylish contemporary architecture that has pushed the skyline ever higher. Beetham Tower, the 11th-tallest building in Britain (the tallest outside London), stands proud and prominent above it all. Bridgewater Hall and the Lowry, as well as the Imperial War Museum North, are among the outstanding cultural facilities. It still rains a lot here, but even the rain-soaked streets can be part of the city's charm, in a bleak, northern kind of way.

The now-defunct Haçienda Club marketed the 1980s rock band New Order to the world, and Manchester became the clubbing capital of England. Other Manchester-based bands like Joy Division, the Smiths, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, and Oasis also rose to the top of the charts throughout the '70s, '80s, and '90s. The extraordinary success of the Manchester United football club (which now faces a stiff challenge from its newly rich neighbor, Manchester City, owing to a stupendous injection of cash from its oil-rich Middle Eastern owner) has kept the eyes of sports fans around the world fixed firmly on Manchester.

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