A Day Out In Stockport: Yes Really!

If you need a break from the cultural smorgasbord that is Buxton, there are several destinations within reach. Perhaps somewhat overlooked until recently is the town of Stockport 18 miles away. Often misperceived as a city, Stockport has enjoyed a newfound status recently as the best place to live in the North West of England, rewarded by The Sunday Times. Explore Buxton decided to head down there for the day, to see what all the fuss is about.

Great Underbank, Stockport

The fresh excitement about Stockport seems to centre around the trendy district surrounding the indoor market hall, the so-called Underbanks (named after streets Little and Great Underbank) but the main shopping centre also buzzes with activity and there aren’t as many empty units as you see in other town centres. There are shops Buxton doesn’t have such as Primark, HMV, River Island, Waterstones and an Ikea Plan and Order Point to name but a few.

Little Underbank, Stockport

The chain stores soon give way to the star of the show: The winding streets of the Underbanks and a sequence of independent shops, cafés and bars. Each façade bursts with colour and a proudly-original identity. Accompanied by alarmingly low-flying planes in Manchester Airport’s flightpath, you will find yourself pleasantly bamboozled. There are several fantastic vintage shops, hawking forgotten items from your childhood and unusual homeware from the four corners of the globe, and the prices aren’t crazy. As you feast your eyes on the kaleidoscope of offerings, the rear recesses of your brain will be redesigning parts of your home. We particularly loved Squound! The flashes of street art round here also add to the character of this lesser-known enclave of Stockport.

Squound (vintage shop), Little Underbank, Stockport

We didn’t sample much of the bar scene but we imagine this wouldn’t be a bad choice for a night out. It’s easy to get to Stockport via public transport, so everyone in your gang can have a drink; it takes about 45 minutes on the train or you can get on the 199 bus which is much cheaper (just £2 for a single ticket each way as part of the current ‘Get Around for £2 government scheme) but takes almost twice as long. The atmos is reminiscent of Manchester’s Northern Quarter or Camden in London but Stockport’s Underbanks has a feel of its own; like a rebellious teenager that’s broken off from the pack and found its voice. As well as the drinks and eats and a million ways to make your pad more interesting, there seems to be a generous smattering of barber shops. We can only conclude that the hipsters that crew these streets need regular maintenance.

Little Underbank, Stockport

As we continued to meander along, we pass more indie retailers. Still Life Story catches our eye; thoughtfully curated Nordic inspired contemporary homewares and eye-catching art prints. Further along was Plantshop. Taking house plants to another level, they also offer a re-potting service, advice on plant care and deliver. 

Plantshop, Stockport

These winding slopes feel like they’re heading somewhere; an ultimate destination, and this reveals itself as the market hall. Dating back to the 1860s, this handsome rectangular glass building boasts a local market that isn’t just surviving but positively thriving. The interior bustles with commotion and it doesn’t just feel a novelty for tourists, every square inch looks like its being used by local people for local people, harking back to a time before supermarkets and the internet arrived to suck out our souls. As residents of Buxton, a town with the somewhat senseless combination of a hostile microclimate and outdoor market, we were particularly jealous of this cosy indoor format.

A busy Market Hall
Stockport Market Hall

Is this all Stockport has to offer? Far from it. If heritage is your bag, there are no less than six museums: Stockport Museum, Staircase House, Hat Works Museum, Air Raid Shelters, Bramall Hall and War Memorial Art Gallery. Where many towns in the UK struggle to hold on to just one museum, Stockport is almost rubbing it in by maintaining half a dozen. Some of these places charge admission, which probably helps, but there are heritage open days when they’re all free. Stockport also has a great cinema: The Light, where the seats are like armchairs and an equally impressive theatre in the form of The Plaza, whose 1930s Art Deco architecture is so well-preserved, it featured in tv drama Peaky Blinders. We concluded our visit to Stockport with tea and cake at The Plaza (which was excellent), mounting its well-worn steps to become immersed in its period ambiance. Even the staff wear 1930s attire, transporting you back to a more civilised age.

The Plaza, Stockport

Stockport has been give a hard time over the years but it’s got the last laugh. Like many places in the north of England, the challenge has been to transform it from a gloomy industrial landscape into a bright and cheerful playground for the 21st century. Rising to the lofty summit of the best place to live in the region will no doubt invite even more attention and investment. Succeeding where many are failing, the town has many of its bases covered and others would do well to treat it as a blueprint for their own success.

Do your have your own experiences of Stockport? Or is there somewhere else you think Explore Buxton could send its reporters for a fantastic day out? If so, get in touch on social media channels or email our team at [email protected].

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