Make the most of a stay in the industrious heart of England’s northwest.
The award-winning novelist Jeanette Winterson perhaps best described her home city’s unique place within the fabric of Britain when she wrote “Manchester is in the south of the north of England. Its spirit has a contrariness in it – a south and north bound up together – at once untamed and unmetropolitan; at the same time, connected and worldly.”
Situated between the glowering peaks of the Pennines to the east and the promise of Liverpool’s port and the Irish Sea to the west, that connectedness was key to the place’s appeal. In the century from 1750, Manchester grew from a town of 20,000 people to become Britain’s third largest city, yet retained a benevolent, forward thinking and democratic spirit throughout.
The nation’s first free public library opened here in 1653, while modern vegetarianism, the suffragette campaign and the worldwide co-operative movement all began in this proud city. That ability to think big, to look for the light in the pouring rain, is part of Manchester’s enduring charm.
Capture the spirit
For the quickest summation of the Manchester spirit, head to the People’s History Museum. Billed as the national museum of democracy, it contains permanent displays of political paraphernalia, protest banners and more. A temporary exhibition, Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest (until 23 February 2020), marks the bicentenary of the infamous Manchester massacre.
Walk the hallowed halls
Head along Bridge Street to the John Rylands Library, a university facility housed in a Harry Potter-esque neo-gothic building. Be sure to climb the entrance hall staircase to the dramatic, church-like Historic Reading Room. Cut through to Albert Square to admire the Manchester Town Hall, another neo-gothic marvel with an unusual triangular footprint.
Discover a city of invention
From gaslights and steamboats, to modern computing and thermodynamics, Manchester has been at the centre of technological advancement for centuries. The Science and Industry Museum celebrates this, with historic exhibits including Stephenson’s Rocket locomotive.
Take a literary break
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is the former home of an author who vividly documented Victorian England in novels such as Mary Barton and Cranford. Learn about her life and times as you explore the chintzy house and period gardens, lovingly restored following a £2.5 million investment.
Visit a suffragette parlour
Emmeline Pankhurst was a close neighbour of Gaskell. Her former home is now the Pankhurst Centre, a tribute to the legacy of a family at the forefront of the suffragette movement that campaigned successfully for women’s right to vote. This tiny museum allows a chance to visit the parlour where the first suffragette meeting took place.
Explore art in the park
Cross Oxford Road to visit The Whitworth, the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year in 2015, set within the leafy Whitworth Park.
An ambitious programme of contemporary art is offset by displays from the collection which majors on textiles and prints.
Whether relaxing after a hard day’s work or sightseeing, Exchange Square is the perfect place. The Tudor half-timbered Old Wellington Inn first opened in 1552, while the relatively sprightly Sinclair’s Oyster Bar dates back to the 1730s. Both historic buildings were moved piece-by-piece about 300 metres during city centre developments in the 1990s.
Find no place like HOME
Although only opened in 2015, the cinema and arts centre HOME rose from the ashes of two beloved Mancunian venues: the Library Theatre and the Cornerhouse.
Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, who grew up in nearby Radcliffe, is one the patrons of a space that specialises in arthouse films, exhibitions and touring theatre.
Watch theatrics from all sides
The Royal Exchange is a relic of Manchester’s industrial heyday, a former trading hall hewn from Portland stone. That imposing classical shell houses a modern theatre-in-the-round that looks as if a spacecraft has landed in the Great Hall.
Famed for productions filled with young talent, the likes of Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet graced the stage here before they were famous.
Stay in a former Palace
The arrival of the Principal Manchester in 2016 has rejuvenated a late Victorian building originally designed by Natural History Museum architect Alfred Waterhouse. Now the central bar and restaurant, The Refuge by Volta, is a vibrant destination open until the wee small hours.
Sleep in style
The façade of the Midland Hotel is one of Manchester’s most reassuring sights, a beacon of late Victorian grandeur around which the modern city continues to rise. It was here that Charles Rolls and Henry Royce signed their first deal, and the Beatles were turned away for being too scruffy.