Manchester is one of those cities that has a truly unique pulse. Not only does it have an astonishing industrial heritage, but also plays host to world-class sporting and cultural sights. Thanks to a very successful 2002 Commonwealth Games which drew some needed investment and modernization to the city, the result being that it now has the most interesting collection of museums and galleries outside of London.
Easily accessible by train from London (around 2 & 1/2 hours) the city is a visitors dream with extremely good public transport thanks to buses and trams. The station is only a short walk from the city center proper, where there are a vast array of hotels and hostels to match any budget. Even better, most of the key attractions – and the ones we’ll cover here – can be properly enjoyed over just a weekend break.
Of course, there’s a huge amount else to cover which we cannot squeeze into this quick guide. Manchester has one of the best nightlife and music scenes in the world, as well as two of highest profile soccer teams too (book tickets well in advance if taking in a game!). So without further ado, let’s get exploring.
Museum of Science & Industry
My traveling companion was a bit of a boffin and upon their insistence, we started off here. Arriving just after opening, there is easily enough to see here to take in almost an entire day. Amazingly there is no admission fee either – although you are free to donate as you choose.
Anyone who assumes this museum is going to full of old guys wearing oil plastered overalls need not worry! While they will be more than catered for, it is refreshing aimed at families and kids in particular who will be awestruck at the locomotives, airplanes and live demonstrations of the region’s historic heavy industry. It is a very unique museum housed in a former railway station that provides a suitably atmospheric feel.
There are sections divided by both time and specialty, with a whole wing devoted to the development of computing hardware and software – a true mecca for any computer obsessed kid (or parent!).
A short tram ride or about a twenty-minute stroll and you’ll be in the heart of the university district. Featuring classic Victorian architecture mixed with sparkling new blocs, the Manchester Museum is world renowned for its collection of antiquities. With fifteen galleries spread over four floors, this is once again a place you could spend several hours!
Having been founded back in 1821 you know what to expect – collection from around the world featuring everything from a fossilized dinosaur (‘Stan’ the T-Rex) through to a huge assortment of antiquities. There are sections devoted to Egyptology, South America, The Orient all the way to local collections and beautiful attached gallery as well.
Check out the special exhibitions (3-4 per year) which are publicized well in advance to see what is going to be on show on top of the regular gallery. Despite being an old building it has been made for easy access so wheelchairs and buggies will have no trouble at all. A great Museum and rightly regarded as one of the best ‘city museums’ in the country.
The Imperial War Museum North
The baby brother of the IWM on London, this museum was opened a couple of decades ago and focuses not just on the exhibits but especially on the social impact of conflict through the ages. Compared to the London one, there is certainly a more somber tone to this destination – and rightly so.
Of course, there are the usual assortments of weapons and materials used in warfare through time, but there is an astonishingly beautiful collection of artwork from mighty epics to soldier’s sketches. It is a little way out from the city proper but only a short bus/tram trip and worth every penny getting there. You’ll see why it has won many international awards not just for the collection, but also the striking architecture.
The National Football Museum
As the people’s game, it was no surprise to discover that yet again this is a free museum and the largest in the world devoted to football (soccer!). Everyone knows that this is a football crazy town – it is almost impossible to turn a corner without seeing the logo of one of the two local super clubs – and even if the sport isn’t your thing take the time to explore this one of a kind.
It’s not just about memorabilia and so forth. It explores the whole spread of the ‘beautiful game’ across the world has a very multicultural feel (as does the whole city). You’ll see one of a kind exhibits with, of course, the opportunity to kick a few balls around should the fancy take you! Great for a spot of interactive fun, and of course a must for any fan visiting the city.
Free again! This gallery is of course named after the artist and one of Manchester’s most esteemed sons. Incorporating many of his most famous works, the majority of which were painted in the city and surrounding countryside, there is also plenty of space for contemporary works as well.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is going to be a dusty old-fashioned style gallery – it is the central hub for a sparkling new development which includes three theatres/playhouses, libraries and a stack of great bars and restaurants. The perfect final destination after a day seeing the sights, and with a drink overlooking the historic quayside afterward.
Manchester Art Gallery
Recently enjoying a £35m refurbishment, this is a sparkling example of how to make a modern gallery accessible and enthralling to all. We only had a quick hour here before having to head to the train station and were sad to have had to leave it until last.
The main focus is on pre-Raphaelite paintings, craft and design, and early 20thC British art. There are also so many activities for kids to take part in – seemingly in almost every room. For older age ranges, there are regular talks by bona fide experts from the art world making this a real highlight for the cultural life of the city. Amazing – but next time we’ll get to explore this place properly!
So there we have it. Realistically, it could be worth thinking about adding a third or even fourth day to properly enjoy this most lively of cities. For instance, we had to skip the apparently magnificent People’s History Museum, the Manchester United Museum, and countless others. That’s before even considering the rest that Manchester has to offer. Highly recommended and ideal especially for families, you will not be disappointed.
Photo: DrPhoenix [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons
Photo: tatchie from lisburn, northern ireland [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Imperial_War_Museum_2008.jpg: pit-yacker from UK derivative work: IxK85 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons