12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Manchester
As the commercial and cultural capital of Lancashire, Manchester is a celebrated center for the arts, media, and higher education. Together with Salford and eight other municipalities, it forms the metropolitan county of Greater Manchester, in which some three million people now live.
Like Liverpool, Manchester has undergone something of a renaissance with the introduction of initiatives such as the Castlefield project, with its museum complex on Liverpool Road. The extension of the city's entertainment and sports facilities has also considerably enhanced its appeal for tourists. Notable examples include the excellent Opera House, with its roster of theatrical and music performances, and the thrilling Chill Factor, Britain's longest and widest indoor ski slope. It has also become a favorite for shoppers with an enormous range of retail opportunities, including the elegant shops of St. Anne's Square, King Street, and the Royal Exchange, as well as the large covered market halls of Bolton Arcade.
See also: Where to Stay in Manchester
Designated an "Urban Heritage Park," Castlefield is an excellent place to begin exploring Manchester, and a walk among the lovingly restored Victorian houses along the old canals or through the reconstructed Roman Fort is time well spent. Be sure to explore the Bridgewater Canal, constructed in 1761 to transport coal from the mines at Worsley to Manchester, and the many old warehouses that have been restored and turned into offices, shops, hotels, and restaurants. (A trip on one of the Bridgewater tour boats is highly recommended.)
Other interesting tourist attractions include the Castlefield Art Gallery, with its exhibitions of contemporary art, and Bridgewater Hall, home to the Hallé Orchestra and first-class concerts.
Location: Castlefield, Manchester
2 Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) is on the site of the world's oldest railroad station. Its 12 galleries include the Power Hall, with water and steam-driven machines from the golden age of the textile industry, as well as vintage made-in-Manchester cars, including a rare 1904 Rolls Royce. The history of the city from Roman times through the Industrial Revolution to the present day is documented in the Station Building. The Air and Space Gallery is another must-see and is home to numerous historic aircraft, including a replica of Triplane 1 by A. V. Roe, the first British plane to successfully fly.
Also worth visiting for its collections of fighting vehicles and aircraft is Imperial War Museum North. Highlights include audiovisual presentations and exhibits dealing with the history of warfare and its role in shaping civilization, as well as large machines such as tanks, aircraft, artillery, and handheld weaponry.
Address: Liverpool Road, Castlefield, Manchester
3 Manchester Cathedral
Perched on the banks of the Irwell, Manchester Cathedral dates mostly from 1422 to 1506 and was raised to cathedral status in 1847. Particularly attractive are its chapels on both sides of the nave and choir, built between 1486 and 1508 with further additions and alterations in almost every subsequent century. Particularly notable are the choir stalls, with some of the most richly decorated misericords in the country. St. John's Chapel is the chapel of the Manchester Regiment, and the little Lady Chapel has a wooden screen dating from 1440. The octagonal chapterhouse, built in 1465, has murals that include a figure of Christ in modern dress.
Another religious site worth visiting is St. Mary's Catholic Church, built in 1794 and also known locally as "The Hidden Gem." Don't let the structure's rather plain exterior stop you from popping in for a look inside, where you'll find numerous fine Victorian carvings. Highlights include the marble high altar, statues of saints, and a unique Expressionist-style stations of the cross. (Guided tours are available.)
Address: Victoria Street, Manchester
4 National Football Museum
Home to two of Europe's top football teams - Man City and Man United - Manchester is a great place to pay homage to the country's favorite sport. First stop should be the National Football Museum. This football shrine features fascinating memorabilia related to the sport, including such gems as the very first rulebook, as well as historic trophies and clothing. A variety of great short movies show the history of the sport, while fun hands-on (and feet-on, for that matter) displays provide plenty of additional entertainment for youngsters.
It's also worth paying a visit to one (or both) of the Manchester teams' home stadiums. Manchester City's Etihad Stadium offers a variety of fun tour options, including behind-the-scenes and deluxe dinner tours, while Old Trafford - home to Manchester United - offers guided tours that allow access to private boxes and the chance to tread the field itself.
5 Chetham's Library
Chetham's Hospital, just north of Manchester Cathedral, dates in part to 1422. Originally a residence for priests, it's now home to a music school and Chetham Library, one of the oldest public libraries in England. In continuous use since 1653, the library has more than 100,000 books, more than half of them printed before 1850. Chetham's is also famous as the meeting place of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels during Marx's visit to Manchester.
Other libraries of note are the Manchester Central Library next door to the Town Hall, and the Portico Library, which houses the literary collection of Dalton and Joule, founders of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. The Victorian John Rylands Library, now part of Manchester University, is also worth seeing for its many special collections, including medieval texts, a Gutenberg Bible, and collection of early printing by William Caxton.
Location: Long Millgate, Manchester
6 Manchester Art Gallery
The Manchester Art Gallery possesses one of the largest art collections in Britain outside of London. The gallery includes works by the pre-Raphaelites; Flemish masters of the 17th century; French impressionists, including Gauguin, Manet, and Monet; and German artists such as Max Ernst. There are also pieces from well-known English artists, including Stubbs, Constable, and Turner, while the sculpture collection includes works by Rodin, Maillol, Jacob Epstein, and Henry Moore.
For more arts and culture tourist attractions, check out HOME, Manchester's international center for contemporary visual arts and independent film, located at 70 Oxford Street.
Address: Mosley Street & Princess Street, Manchester
The colorful home of one of the largest Chinese communities in Britain, Chinatown is only a stone's throw from the Manchester Art Gallery. The richly decorated arched gateway leading into the district is especially striking. Many shops and restaurants offering a wide range of culinary delicacies from Hong Kong and Beijing have become established in this quarter, while unique Chinese handicrafts and artworks are at the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art.
Address: Boyle Street, Cheetham, Manchester
8 Manchester Town Hall
The imposing façade of the neo-Gothic Town Hall (1877) graces pedestrianized Albert Square, and the tower offers excellent panoramic views of the city. Inside, the Council Chamber merits special attention, along with the cycle of Ford Madox Brown paintings that depict the history of the city. While there, visit the Free Trade Hall, opened in 1951.
The centrally located Manchester Central Convention Complex, one of the largest such sites in England, hosts many musical performances throughout the year and is unique in that it was built amid the former Victorian railroad station on Windmill Street.
Location: Albert Square, Manchester
9 People's History Museum
The People's History Museum is the national center for the collection, conservation, interpretation, and study of material relating to the history of working people in Britain. Located in a former pumping station, the museum showcases the history of British democracy and its impact on the population, as well as extensive collections of artifacts relating to trade unions and women's suffrage.
Two other museums close by are the Manchester Jewish Museum, with its collection dealing with the city's Jewish community, and the Museum of Transport, with its many old buses and other vehicles belonging to the city transport services.
Location: Boyle St, Cheetham, Manchester
10 Heaton Park
Covering some 600 acres, Heaton Park is the biggest park in Greater Manchester and one of the largest municipal parks in Europe. Heaton Hall, built in 1772, lies in the very heart of the park and although not currently open to the public, it remains an impressive sight. The park has been extensively restored and retains many of its original buildings and vistas. Sports enthusiasts will enjoy its 18-hole golf course, driving range, mini putt, and tennis courts, while families can explore the boating lake, animal farm, woodlands, ornamental gardens, observatory, adventure playground, and volunteer-run tramway and museum.
Also worth visiting is Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden. Founded in 1917, this large green space - part botanical garden and part wildlife habitat - is an engaging contrast to the busy city center. Popular things to do here include enjoying a stroll or picnic (there's also a pleasant café) or playing more strenuous activities, such as tennis, rugby, or football.
Address: Mosley Street, Manchester
11 Platt Hall: Gallery of Costume
Platt Hall, an elegant Georgian house built in 1764 and now part of the Manchester Art Gallery, presents an excellent overview of English fashion and costume from 1600 to the present day and is perhaps the only collection to rival London's Victoria and Albert Museum. Strengths of the museum include its many examples of everyday dress, with the Gallery of Costume containing one of the largest collections of costumes and accessories in Britain.
Location: Platt Hall, Rusholme, Manchester
12 University of Manchester
Manchester's educational precinct, encompassing the University of Manchester (1851), includes a variety of institutes and halls of residence. The university can claim three Nobel prizewinners: Ernest Rutherford (1871-1939), who laid the foundations of modern atomic physics; physician James Chadwick, who in 1932 proved the existence of the neutron; and Sir John Cockcroft (1897-1967), one of the leading physicists in British and Canadian atomic research.
Housed in the university, the Whitworth Art Gallery is famous for its collections of British watercolors, drawings, prints, modern art, and sculpture, along with the largest textile and wallpaper collections outside London. Also close by is the Manchester Museum, with its extensive scientific collections and Egyptian exhibits.
Address: Oxford Road, Manchester
Where to Stay in Manchester for Sightseeing
As in any big city, it's hard to find a hotel that is near all the main attractions. But many of Manchester's at least cluster in three areas: the Urban Heritage Park and museum complex on Liverpool Road in the Castlefield neighborhood; the shopping district between King Street and the cathedral; and Chinatown to the south, where you'll find the Manchester Art Gallery. These highly-rated hotels in Manchester are convenient for sightseeing:
- Luxury Hotels: With a good-sized pool and a spa, Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester sits between Chinatown, the Liverpool Road museums, and the smart shopping district north of King Street. The chic and charming Great John Street Hotel, in the new museum district, has a hot tub on the roof. The Midland, opposite the library and well located for visiting museums and the City Hall, has a gym and spa with a small pool, Jacuzzi, and steam room.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Beautifully furnished rooms, thoughtful amenities, and superior service make Velvet a luxury choice with a mid-range price, between Chinatown and Piccadilly rail station, where trains arrive from London. Right next to Chinatown, Roomzzz Manchester City has stylish, well-designed rooms with rain showers and good soundproofing. DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Piccadilly is directly across the street from Piccadilly Station, a 10-minute walk to the central attractions, and near the free shuttle bus stop.
- Budget Hotels: Premier Inn Manchester City Centre Piccadilly Hotel is excellent value, with well-furnished rooms less than a five-minute walk from Piccadilly Station. Travelodge Manchester Central has plain but comfortable rooms just across the bridge from the cathedral and shopping district. At the edge of Chinatown with plenty of restaurants nearby, Ibis Manchester Centre Princess Street Hotel offers comfortable rooms with few frills.