I don’t know about you, but for me the word ‘picnic’ usually evokes memories of sitting on rugs in cow-dung ridden fields, coming under attack by wasps, and eating limp sandwiches while trying to weigh everything down with shoes to stop it blowing away.

I wish I had the sophistication to be a wicker hamper, Champagne and gingham rug kinda picnicker. But alas, things have just never turned out that way. That’s why I was thrilled to visit the Manchester Picnic today; an al-fresco foodie wonderland in the heart of the city centre with proper grub, loads of picnic benches, and plenty of things to do and see.

One half of the gardens has been turned into a huge open air restaurant, filled with picnic benches and lined with stalls selling food and drink from some of the city’s top eateries. It smells GOOD. Seriously, don’t eat anything before you head down there because with delicious cuisine from Abode, Aumbry, Harvey Nichols, Mint Hotel, Kro, The Mark Addy, Wasabi, Hey Little Cupcake and loads more, there’s more than enough choice to picnic morning, day and night for the entire weekend.

As the official charity of The Manchester Picnic, Forever Manchester has a stall in the thick of the action, where we’re selling lots of lovely Forever Manchester merchandise and special Forever Manchester cupcakes to raise money for the charity. Come along and say hi!

Activities that have so far entertained the crowds at the picnic include a wind up Vintage disco, ‘science busking’ (cool science tricks and demos from the Manchester Science Festival) and a giant spring roll competition. Yup, giant spring rolls. Hosted by TV’s Matt Dawson and judged by some prominent Manchester mouths including Manchester Confidential publisher Mark Garner, fabulous Drag Artist extraordinaire Winnie LeFreak, and chefs from local Chinese Restaurants, the competition took place over at the Monster Munchies tent and featured humongous spring rolls from two of the city’s favourite Chinese eateries.

Mark Garner and Winnie LeFreak at The Manchester Picnic

Tomorrow The Manchester Picnic is all about the kids, with a Teddy Bear’s Picnic from 12pm. There are 100 Build a Bear Workshop goodie bags up for grabs for the best dressed teddies, and the owner of the Best Dressed Bear wins a five person family tent and some camping games. There’ll also be he chance to get your hands of some ancient relics from the Manchester Museum, as well a plenty of drop-in craft activities.

Been down to the Manchester Picnic yet? See if you can spot yourself in any of our photos:

Manchester likes to keep its best bits hidden. It really isn’t the easiest place to get to know.  Oddly this is one of the most appealing things about the city. Some of my favourite spots really aren’t that obvious, and it has taken me over a decade to suss them out. Sadly there is very little hope for those dropping in for a weekend.  Perhaps that’s the point.  Does Manchester selfishly prefer not to shout about some of the things that make it so special?

Let’s start with food. My favourite eateries are all tucked away.  El Rincon for example, the ridiculously authentic tapas bar that makes you feel you’ve stepped onto Spanish soil the moment you enter, or Choice, the stylish canal-side restaurant under Middle Warehouse in Castlefield. I also love the front-room feel of the Market Restaurant, which has watched the Northern Quarter grow around it.

Now summer’s here I can revisit some of Manchester’s best outdoor  spaces, those harder to find beer gardens that are perfect if you want to avoid the crowds at Dukes 92. The terrace at the back of Atlas Bar has to be my favourite but others worth a mention include the roof top gardens at the Bridge and Deansgate pubs, the terrace at the City Inn, the tables outside Beluga and the sunny patio outside Lava bar in Castlefield

My favourite street has got to be Tib Street with its eclectic mix of boutique style shops, cafes and bars. It’s like Manchester’s equivalent of Penny Lane with the laid-back bustle of people going about their day but never too busy to stop and chat.  I particularly love Northern Flower florist, Matt and Phred’s jazz bar and the flirty French hairdresser, Olivier Morosini at the top. And I’ll miss the iconic Rags to Bitches vintage clothes shop, forced on-line by rising business rates.

The same elusiveness is true of the Manchester music scene.  Some of the best bands seem to be kept a closely guarded secret for years.  How long did it take for Elbow to become a recognised name outside the city?  Even today locally grown talent like The Jessie Rose Trip, Exit Calm and I am Kloot are plugging away without realising the level of attention they truly deserve.   Although the recent Mercury nomination for the latter may at least address that one.

Perhaps Manchester should be better at sharing its hidden treasures but because it doesn’t, you can’t help feeling a tad smug when you’re let into another secret and discover another gem.