Things to do in Manchester, Greater Manchester
The northwest city of Manchester is a vibrant university city with a cosmopolitan population.
Mancunians are fiercely proud of the city's industrial heritage, and recent regeneration following the 1996 IRA bombing has resulted in a revitalized city blending old and new.
Home to two leading universities, international business HQs and arguably the most famous football club in the world, the city is a leader in sporting events, business, music and nightlife, with excellent shopping, dining and theatres.
Names such as Armani, Chanel, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges comfortably rub shoulders with more down-to-earth shops in Chinatown and the Arndale Centre.
Street festivals and annual parades celebrate the diversity of this cosmopolitan city while the Manchester Central (formerly Gmex), Bridgewater Hall and the Event Centre host many conferences and exhibitions.
Accommodation ranges from converted Victorian mills along the canal to luxury apartments in the 47-storey Beetham Tower, currently the tallest building outside London. Add dozens of leading museums and art galleries and you will understand why Manchester is the second most visited city in England after London.
Things to Do
Manchester City Centre is crammed with historic buildings and the best way to see them all is from an open-top double-decker bus. The two-hour-long Sightseeing Bus Tours run every Saturday with a qualified guide. Book through the Tourist Information Office or just turn up outside Yates Bar on Chorlton Street. Tours are at 10:30 and 13:00 in summer and 11:30 from October to March.
The Town Hall is the city's crowning glory and tours are offered with qualified guides. Appreciate the Gothic architecture, Ford Maddox Brown Murals, Sculpture Hall and Clock Tower and learn the significance of the bees featured on the mosaic floor of the Great Hall.
The John Rylands Library on Deansgate contains the "Manchester fragment" which is the earliest known parts of the New Testament.
St Mary's Church is a hidden gem near Albert Square. It dates back to 1794 and has a magnificent arched entrance featuring the Agnus Dei, a stunning carved altar and an octagonal stained-glass cupola.
Manchester On a Budget
Manchester has over 50 museums and art galleries which all have free admission, so what are you waiting for?
Manchester Art Gallery has one of the UK's leading collections of sculptures and paintings.
The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) is the city's largest museum and is on the site of the world's first railway station. It has a 4D cinema, walk-through Victorian sewers and many interactive displays about Manchester's industrial past, including steam engines.
The Imperial War Museum is a collection of military memorabilia and weapons in an award-winning aluminium-covered building.
The Lowry, another stunning contemporary building, houses 300 paintings by this local artist.
Parsonage Gardens is tucked away behind Kendals Department Store. The observation platform offers great photographic opportunities of the River Irwell, Trinity Bridge and the Lowry Hotel.
Visiting with Kids
Attending a football match is definitely a family event and will be a memorable highlight of any visit to the city. Alternatively, go behind the scenes on an informative Old Trafford Stadium Tour.
Follow up with a trip to The Urbis, a huge glass building just behind Manchester Cathedral. It has recently reopened as the National Football Museum and has lots of crafts and hands-on activities including printing a football flag, trying to beat the goalie in a penalty shootout and a fantastic Hall of Fame.
The Manchester Museum is sure to capture the interest of youngsters with its full-size skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a comprehensive Egyptology collection including many mummies.
The Manchester Aquatics Centre on Booth Street East is a £30 million complex of pools, slides and a fitness centre. Watch water polo, learn to scuba dive or just go for a swim.
Just outside the city is Wythenshawe Community Farm, a popular city farm run by volunteers. See farmyard animals, join in seasonal activities and buy some new-laid eggs to take home!
Areas to Explore
Manchester is a sprawling metropolitan borough divided into several districts. Piccadilly, in the East Central district of the city, is at the junction of four main roads: Oldham Street, Newton Street, Portland Street and Mosley Street, and is the hub for buses and trams.
The sunken Piccadilly Gardens are a great place to rest your feet during a shopping spree! Chinatown and the Gay Village are part of this bohemian district.
To the southwest, along Mosley Street, is St Peter's Square, the Gmex Centre and Albert Square, home to the huge Town Hall building and the tourist information centre.
To the north of Piccadilly is the North Central District, the revitalized Millennium Quarter, the shops along Deansgate, Manchester Cathedral and the Spinningfields Business district. The Arndale Centre is also in this area, between Market Street and Corporation Street.
To the west is Peter Street, the upscale stores along Oxford Street, the original Roman site at Castlefields, the Exhibition Quarter and the Canal District.
Further afield, Old Trafford is home to Manchester United Football Club, Lancashire County Cricket Club Ground and the Salford Quays redevelopment.
Rusholme is known as "Curry Mile" for its ethnic communities and international cuisine.
History of Manchester
The city of Manchester began in AD79 with the establishment of the Roman fort of Mamucium at Castlefield where the rivers Medlock and Irwell merge. The Romans retreated and abandoned the city in the 4th century. The remaining settlement had a flourishing market by 1282.
An influx of Flemish weavers established a flourishing textile industry in the 14th century. The next significant event was the building of a collegiate church in 1421 by the Lord of the Manor, Thomas de la Warre, which later became Manchester Cathedral.
The manufacture of wool and linen in the area broadened to include cotton production from 1600. With the opening of the Bridgewater Canal, the city became an important hub for cotton spinning and the textile trade. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century, Manchester became the first industrial city in the world.
It received city status in 1853 and the Manchester Ship Canal was opened in 1894, linking the new port of Manchester with the sea for vital exports and imports. Several riots by workers culminated in the city becoming the centre for the Anti-Corn Law League protests from 1838-1846.
The city has many connections with left-wing politics and Marxism. Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels lived for a time in the city and it was the birthplace of the Trades Union Congress, the Labour Party and the Suffragette Movement.
During Manchester's Golden Age in the late 19th century, many grand public buildings including the Town Hall were built, yet there were so many smoking chimneys and clattering factories that it was a grim place to live and work. By the end of the 1900s, cotton spinning was in decline with competition from other parts of the world, and after World War I the city was badly hit by the Great Depression.
By World War II, Manchester had become a centre for engineering, bomb-making and home to Avro aircraft and Rolls Royce engines. This led to devastating air raids including the 1940 Christmas Blitz when 37,000 bombs flattened much of the city.
Textile manufacturing and heavy industry never recovered and the port closed in 1982. The IRA bombing of the Arndale Centre in 1996 triggered a major regeneration of the city centre.
Today, Manchester is the UK's second city with many fine new buildings and shopping centres. The former mills have been converted into desirable loft apartments. Home to two top universities, a thriving music scene and several sports clubs including Manchester United and Manchester City, Manchester has never looked better!
- Manchester was home to the first modern computer (1948), the first passenger railway (1830) and the first free public reference library
- The first splitting of the atom took place here in 1917
- The city has provided the world with over 20 Nobel Prize winners
- Manchester is where Mr Rolls met Mr Royce; the rest, as they say, is history!
- Manchester University is the only place to offer a degree in "Mummy Studies"
- Greater Manchester is the UK's largest urban area after London
- Residents of the city are known as "Mancunians"
- The Roman fort of Mamucium was in the Castlefield area
- Manchester was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and the first modern industrial city
- When it opened, the Manchester Ship Canal was the longest navigable canal in the world
- The Trafford Centre is home to the largest Food Court in Europe and the busiest cinema in the UK
- Manchester Cathedral is the widest cathedral in England
- The city was the birthplace of the Trades Union Congress which led to the formation of the Labour Party
- Manchester is frequently named "Best Student City"
Popular Events and Festivals
Manchester's most popular events tend to be the football matches at Manchester United's Old Trafford and Manchester City stadiums. Cultural festivals such as the Chinese New Year are also well supported.
One of the biggest events is the St Patrick's Day Parade/Irish Festival in mid-March. Thousands of athletes hit the streets for the six-mile Great Manchester Run around the city landmarks while musicians and performers join in the Festival Europa which is also held at the end of May.
Summer in the city includes the Lord Mayor's Parade, the International Caribbean Carnival and the nine-day Jazz Festival in July, the Manchester Gay Pride event in August and the huge Proms in the Park in mid-September which attracts over 10,000 people.
The Manchester Literature Festival takes place in October along with the Manchester Food and Drink Festival. As Christmas approaches there's the Christmas Lights Switch-on and the speciality Christmas Markets to look forward to.
The City Centre is easily navigated on foot for shoppers and the new Metrolink Tramway is ideal for longer journeys. Metrolink serves the outlying areas of Altrincham, Bury, Eccles, East Didsbury, Oldham and Rochdale as well as Victoria and Piccadilly stations.
There are free Metroshuttle buses in the city, all operated by First Manchester. They run on three routes connecting all the railway stations (Piccadilly, Oxford Road, Deansgate, Salford Central and Victoria) with Spinningfields Business Park, the Arndale Centre and the Millennium Quarter.
Stagecoach buses run from Piccadilly Gardens to the Trafford Centre.
The shops and department stores begin in Piccadilly and run throughout the northern quarter to fashionable Afflecks Place. The Arndale Centre on Market Street has almost everything you could wish for under one roof, including a huge covered market. Deansgate has many designer names with Selfridges and Harvey Nichols close to the Cathedral.
For markets, head to St Ann's Square which has many themed markets including a Christmas Market in December.
The newer Trafford Centre to the west of the city at Trafford Park is now a major draw. It offers a unique shopping experience with baroque architecture, marble and statues everywhere. The Food Hall is designed as a steamship!
Entertainment and Nightlife
Manchester has exceptional nightlife with many thriving clubs, pubs and bars. The Canal Street area and the Gay Village are great spots to find live music while Castlefield has many waterfront bars and restaurants.
The Northern Quarter is a hip area for those staying in the city centre and is home to the famous Dry Bar where musicians such as Shaun Ryder famously hang out. Top nightclubs include Bijou on Chapel Street and the six themed bars in the upmarket Tiger Tiger on Corporation Street.
For music concerts, there's the Manchester Academy, Apollo and the MEN Arena. Bridgewater Hall, home of the Hallé Orchestra, and the Opera House also offer a range of musical and theatrical productions.
There are two main theatres: the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Palace Theatre.
For movies, the Odeon IMAX Theatre and the AMC on Deansgate offer a wide choice of the latest releases while the Trafford Centre Cinema is the busiest in the UK.
Where to Eat
The City Centre has some excellent restaurants, particularly in the luxury hotels in the city such as the Lowry, the Midland Hotel and the Hilton on Deansgate. They also serve delicious afternoon tea.
Home to a multi-cultural community, Manchester excels at international cuisine. For an authentic curry at a bargain price, head to Rusholme's "curry mile" and take your pick of restaurants. Akbar's on Liverpool Road claims to be the "best in England".
Chinatown on Whitworth Street has excellent Chinese restaurants including all-you-can-eat buffets. One of the best restaurants is the Great Wall on Faulkner Street.
There is a fabulous and very affordable sushi counter at Wing's Dai Pai Dong in the Arndale Centre.
Manchester City Centre also has plenty of historic pubs where good food is particularly inexpensive. Try the Old Wellington Inn on New Cathedral Street which dates back to 1552, or the Grey Horse Inn on Portland Street.
Where to Stay
Luxury: Tucked away off the beaten path, yet within walking distance of the city centre, the five star Lowry Hotel boasts a peaceful canalside position and is favoured by footballers and visiting celebrities. Who knows who you may find yourself rubbing shoulders with at the bar!
Mid-priced: The 3-star Britannia Hotel on Portland Street is in a grand 19th-century building. Gilded detailing and chandeliers in the foyer give way to modern bedrooms with understated décor.
Economy: Days Hotel on Sackville Street is within walking distance of the Palace Theatre and Piccadilly Railway Station, making it popular with both business and leisure guests. Complimentary Internet access, flatscreen TVs and tea/coffee makers are standard in the modern guestrooms.
Family Choice: Four star accommodation and stunning views, along with plenty of space, make the Place Apartment Hotel a top choice for families. The loft-style apartments have modern kitchens and can sleep up to 6.
Manchester is an important part of Britain's industrial past and a visit to its museums, shops, restaurants and attractions is a wonderful way to appreciate this spirited multicultural city.
If you're visiting with your loved one, there are many Romantic Things to do in Manchester, including cocktails high in the sky at the Cloud 23 bar, a night out together at the Royal Exchange Theatre, or a lovely summer's afternoon together at Heaton Park.
If you're visiting Manchester on a budget, check out our Best Free Things to do in Manchester page.
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By Air: Manchester Airport is 9 miles south of the city centre with connecting trains to Piccadilly Station.
By Road: The main circular route around Manchester in the M60 which connects with the M6 and the M62. From the south, use the M56 and the A556.
By Rail: Manchester has three main railway stations in the heart of the city making it easy to reach by train. Piccadilly Station has regular services from London, Birmingham and Glasgow along with a few local services. Local services are provided mainly by Northern into Victoria Station and Manchester Oxford Road Station, which is conveniently close to the University.
There is limited on-street metered parking in the city and multi-storey car parks such as the Arndale Centre car park can be busy and expensive. Spaces can usually be found behind Piccadilly Railway Station or opposite the Cathedral. As a last resort try the Coach Station car park.
Park and Ride services are recommended. From the M60 take junctions 9 or 10 and park free at the Trafford Centre. Buses frequently run into the city centre. Alternatively, the Ladywell Park and Ride is off the M602, junction 2 and offers free parking at the Tram Station.