What are the best things to do in Manchester, and why make a trip from London to Manchester? They include stunning museums, wonderful art collections, great industrial architecture, and tours of Manchester United's ground at Old Trafford. For sports fans, this will be one of the best things to do in Manchester.
Here's our alphabetical list of what we think are the best things to do in Manchester:
The Central Library isn’t usually one of the must-see attractions in most towns and cities, but the circular library in Manchester was the largest municipal library in the world when it was built in 1934. It is currently closed for refurbishment, due to re-open in 2013.
Free Trade Hall
The Free Trade Hall was built in the 1850s and for many years was one of the city’s main concert venues, home to the city’s famous Hallé Orchestra (who now play at the Bridgewater Hall). The Free Trade Hall is a Grade II listed building and now houses the rather grand Radisson Edwardian Manchester Hotel.
Manchester Free Trade Hall Photo: Donna Dailey
Imperial War Museum North
The Manchester branch of the Imperial War Museum is a stunning building and a stunning collection. It covers the subject of war in the broadest possible sense, with fascinating and stimulating studies of conflicts including Afghanistan, the Falklands, and Iraq. Easily one of the very best things to do in Manchester.
John Rylands Library
This remarkable library was founded in 1890 by Enriqueta, the widow of John Rylands, who was both an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, and became Manchester’s first millionaire. The Library was to commemorate her husband and to house his own extensive collection of books, prints and other objects. These have been added to over the years and the collection now amounts to over a million items. They include some fascinating books, including Bibles in over 300 languages, and thousands of papyrus fragments known as the Rylands Papyri.
The Lowry on Salford Quays is an arts centre with galleries devoted to changing exhibitions on the works of Salford’s most famous artist son, L.S. Lowry. It is also a home for drama, dance, comedy and other arts events, and there are plenty of courses and activities for children always going on.
Manchester Art Gallery
The ground floor of this three-storey building, which opened in 1824, depicts the history of the city, while the other floors contain an impressive collection of paintings and fine arts. There is an especially good collection of work by English artists, and it is noted for its collection of Pre-Raphaelites, but there are also paintings by Cézanne, Degas, Gaugin, Pissarro and Renoir.
Parts of the cathedral date back to the 145th century, although a lot was added in the Victorian era, and again after serious bomb damage during World War II. The bombing destroyed all the Victoria stained glass, but modern windows are slowly being added to the building. It’s not the finest cathedral in the country but is still impressive.
The collections here spread over five floors and range from Ancient Egypt to Zoology. There are dinosaurs and some living animals too, in the Vivarium, as well as one of the largest collections of Egyptology in the world. They also have over 40,000 items in a specialist Archery collection, as well as coins, rocks, fossils, human remains, and a great deal more besides. Allow plenty of time.
Manchester United Tours
Football fans will want to head straight out to Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, to visit the museum and take a tour of the ground. You can even sign up to do a tour with one of the team’s legends, like Alex Stepney. Check the website for availability and to book a tour.
Museum of Science and Industry
This is one of the best science museums in England, and you could easily spend a whole day here and still not see everything. One of its most famous exhibits is a working replica of the Planet, the locomotive built in 1830 by George Stephenson’s son Robert as a successor to his father’s famous Rocket. The collection ranges from ancient history to modern space exploration.
Manchester Town Hall Photo: Donna Dailey
Manchester Town Hall
Completed in 1877, Manchester Town Hall is undoubtedly one of the most magnificent town halls in the country. It has all the neo-Gothic grandeur of a fine cathedral or a palace, and do look inside to see its vaulted corridors and stained glass windows.
People’s History Museum
This is a worthy collection of items telling the story of the working classes, the trade union movement, of strikes and of protests. It’s interesting if it’s a subject dear to your heart but could perhaps be skipped by the casual visitor.
Take a look inside the home of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre to get a glimpse of the vast glass-vaulted roof. This was formerly the city’s Cotton Exchange and you can still see the final day’s prices on the trading board from when it closed for business on the last day of 1968..
Whitworth Art Gallery
The Whitworth has the biggest collection of textiles outside London, thanks to Manchester’s connections with the cotton trade (the city was known as “King Cotton”.) It also has a large collection of British art, in particular pre-1880 watercolours, but also a good Modern Art collection too, including Picasso, Henry Moore, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse.