What To See in Manchester
If you mention Manchester to anybody across the globe it’s likely they’ll respond with either two topics of conversation — football or music. The city’s reputation precedes itself. For good reason too.
While they’re both a huge draw, the city offers much more than just the beautiful game or ‘Madchester’ music. A revolution has happened and Manchester is now a truly modern, global city.
Manchester City Centre is the place to be. Urban living is in vogue. Young professionals are flocking to the city. Former factories are now craft breweries or modern offices. Brownfield sites are now sleek apartment blocks.
Neighbourhoods have been transformed with independent traders, stunning street art and more, thanks to that age-old Mancunian attitude of getting things done. Here, there’s always something going on.
Here’s what to see in Manchester, including our favourite places, so you won’t be missing out.
The City Centre
Why not go on a walking tour of Manchester City Centre and look at what’s around you? The sky might be grey, but that adds to the charm. A product of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester is littered with warehouses, railway viaducts, cotton mills and canals. Each one has its own story to tell. A little piece of a larger history.
Manchester Town Hall is a prime example of Victorian, neo-gothic architecture. Standing tall between Albert Square at the front and St. Peter’s Square to the rear, this stunning Grade I listed building, which was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, was completed in 1877.
The 85-metre-tall clock tower, which dominates the outside view, contains a bell weighing more than eight tonnes. The bell is known as Great Abel and is named after former mayor Abel Heywood.
Along Deansgate, you’ll find John Rylands Library. Another example of Victorian, neo-gothic architecture, it opened in 1900 and is now a Grade I listed building. It’s a historical treasure trove and is free to go and wander around. The stunning Reading Room is the perfect place to go and work or study quietly.
Manchester Cathedral stands towards the northern end of Deansgate on Victoria Street. This historic building, which dates back as far as the 7th century, is now nestled between more modern counterparts. A grade I listed building, it now hosts concerts and fairs as well as religious ceremonies.
Not far from the cathedral is Chetham’s Library, which is the oldest free public reference library in the English-speaking world. It opened in 1653 and is widely known as the meeting place of Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels, who went on to write The Communist Manifesto.
Chetham’s stands near Urbis — a modern museum and exhibition centre which is now home to the National Football Museum. Opened in 2002, it is one of a plethora of modern buildings to gaze up at as you explore Manchester.
The Renold Building, opened in 1962 at the University of Manchester, is a key example of Brutalist architecture and one for the modernists out there. It appeared in Season 4 of The Crown on Netflix. You also cannot miss the blue and gleaming 47-story Beetham Tower, which opened in 2006. It was the city’s tallest building until 2018.
The Northern Quarter is Manchster’s livelist neighborhood and where you’ll find lots of independent clothes and record stores, cafes and bars. It’s the place to catch live music or grab a bite to eat.
It stretches from Piccadilly Gardens northwards towards Great Ancoats Street along Oldham Street. Here are our top tips for the hangouts you’ll want to check out, starting with a Manchester drinking institution.
For a proper pub experience, The Castle Hotel on Oldham Street cannot be beaten. Gullivers, across the road, is under the same ownership, and has almost nightly gigs worth seeking out. Try them both out, then head to the Crown & Kettle, which is across Great Ancoats Street at the end of Oldham Street.
Port Street Beer House is a great spot for craft beer and ale lovers. While Soup Kitchen, on Spear Street, has a busy upstairs cafe and live music venue downstairs. You can catch local and international touring bands and DJs most nights of the week in its legendary basement.
If you want a bite to eat there’s North Tea Power on Tib Street or Fig and Sparrow on Oldham Street. If you want to browse the latest vinyl records while sipping on a coffee then Eastern Bloc in Stevenson Square fits the bill.
Street art is the order of the day in the Northern Quarter so keep an eye out and see what you spot.
Museums and galleries
Manchester City Centre has some great art galleries and museums ideal for those with curious minds.
Manchester Art Gallery on Portland Street has artwork spanning six centuries and a regular rotation of exhibitions. Established in 1823, the gallery is known for its collection of pre-Raphaelite works and houses over 2,000 oil paintings, as well as a growing number of contemporary works.
Manchester Museum is owned by the University of Manchester and contains around 4.5 million items relating to natural history, archaeology and anthropology. Situated on Oxford Road this sprawling attraction is a great place to take young children.
The Science and Industry Museum looks at the city’s innovative past in science, technology and industry. It’s a great place to learn about what makes Manchester the city it is today.
Situated on Liverpool Road, on the site of the world’s first passenger railway station, there are displays where you’ll see cars, planes and trains, as well as technology relating to textiles and computing.
The Royal Exchange Theatre, which opened in 1921, is housed in a Grade II listed building located in St. Anne’s Square. The building was originally part of a wider commodities exchange, with trading ceasing in 1968. It remained empty until 1973 when it was first used as a theatre space.
These days, theatre productions are performed in the round, within the theatre company’s 800-seater spaceship-like structure which opened in 1976 at a total cost of £1 million.
Other theatres in the city include The Palace Theatre on the corner of Oxford Road and Whitworth Street. Originally known as the Grand Old Lady of Oxford Road, it has an illustrious history, with Judy Garland and Laurel and Hardy treading the boards in years gone by.
In 2019, the musical The Book of Morman ran at the Palace Theatre between June and August.
For something more leftfield, HOME Manchester, just a few minutes walk from the Palace, is a centre for international contemporary arts, theatre and film. It has two theatres — 500-seats and 150-seats — and five cinema screens plus a comfortable cafe and restaurant.
Canal Street is home to Manchester’s vibrant Gay Village. Lined with restaurants, bars and clubs, this pedestrianised thoroughfare provides a welcoming environment for everybody who passes through.
Since the 1990s, it has become one of Europe’s most lively gay areas. It comes alive during the annual Manchester Pride celebrations which take place each August attracting crowds from far and wide.
Parks and Green Spaces
When it’s time for some respite from the city centre, you’ll find lots of green spaces including Heaton Park, which is home to a Grade I listed, neoclassical 18th century house and wonderful gardens.
It’s the largest municipal park in Europe, making it a popular choice on a summer’s day. Also keep a look out for live events with Parklife festival and concerts taking place there each summer. Located four miles north of the city, the Metrolink from Piccadilly Station to Heaton Park takes 22 minutes.
Fletcher Moss, in Didsbury, is home to vibrant Botanical Gardens and is a nice place to go on walks and get a breath of fresh air. A walk can easily link up with the River Mersey, which is surrounded by green spaces and a number of lush golf courses set in pleasant surroundings.
Watch Premier League football
Are you a red or a blue? That’s a good way to start a conversation with a Mancunian in this city obsessed with football. There are smaller teams in the area but they are dwarfed by the two old rivals — United and City.
Manchester United, who play at Old Trafford, to the south of the city, are the most successful club historically. Neighbours Manchester City, who’s stadium the Etihad is to the east of the city, have had most success in recent years. Watching one — or both — of these teams when you can is a must.
Both cubs play at home numerous times each season. While they also run stadium and museum tours so you can compare silverware and see how these historic rivals stack up against each other.
The National Football Museum at Urbis is the place to swat up on the history of the game in the United Kingdom. If you fancy a quick drink, the city centre is teeming with pubs that show matches on TV.
If you’re a lower league football enthusiast fallen out of love with the game at the highest level, then you’re spoilt for choice. In Greater Manchester you can watch Salford City, F.C. United of Manchester, Oldam Athletic, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and Altrincham, just to name a few.
It wouldn’t be fair of us to leave out a few hidden gems. With the following intel you’ll be ready to impress your friends with your wide-ranging knowledge of Manchester’s best kept secrets.
The Temple Bar on Oxford Road is an underground bar in a small and narrow former public toilet. It’s worth a visit just to say you’ve been. For a late night dance you should head over to Salford to the White Hotel, which is located in a former garage in the shadows of Strangeways Prison.
Finally, as you wander around, try and find the emblem of the city — the mighty worker bee.
A symbol of Manchester’s hard-working industrial past, there are seven on the city’s coat of arms. You’ll see the humble bee on everything, from bollards to people’s skin in the form of tattoos.
What to see in Manchester
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