Manchester is widely known as the UK’s second city for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the biggest of all is its rich history and the resulting cultural hot spots that populate its many streets. The city and its surrounding areas have had a massive impact in a wide range of fields from music and sport, to industry and science. Manchester’s trailblazing contribution to all of these important cultural conversations over centuries has given birth to an endless array of cultural attractions dotted around the city, providing intrigue, education and entertainment to millions of people.
Below we have constructed a rundown of the 20 cultural attractions in Manchester to visit, each of which has something truly unique to offer.
Unsurprisingly, Manchester is a major player in the arts. The greatest evidence of this lies in the historic Manchester Art Gallery. Boasting an eclectic mixture of classic and contemporary work to suit all eyes and tastes, every person from the curious to the connoisseur can find something to light their fire at the Manchester Art Gallery. The art collection here spans an impressive 6 centuries! The gallery is particularly well known for its British paintings from the 1800s. The collections and displays are always being updated, so this particular gallery is well worth a few return trips should you get lost in its splendour on the first occasion. The chances are, that’s exactly what will happen.
Everyone knows about Manchester’s history and continuing relationship with the world’s most popular sport, football. Manchester United and City are two of the most successful clubs on Earth, whilst also being two of the biggest brands. The former in particular has a rich history dating back to earlier in the 20th century, resulting in their current standing as one of the biggest – if not the biggest – sporting brands. It seems especially apt then that the country’s pre-eminent museum dedicated to the sport is located in Manchester. Chronicling the long and storied history of British football in an exciting fashion, this is the place-to-be for lovers of the beautiful game.
Since Manchester stood at the forefront of the society-shifting industrial revolution, it is of no surprise that the area has continued to forge new and exciting pathways forward in the fields of science and industry. This makes the existence of the Museum of Science & Industry a necessary and exciting inclusion within Manchester’s cultural landscape. Visit this truly stunning museum in order to learn more about the ideas that have changed, and continue to change, the world around us. The museum is situated on the world’s oldest standing railway station, deep within its very first industrial city. Where better to learn about the history of science and industry than here?
The must-see museums don’t stop there. Manchester also has an important history when it comes to war and conflict over the past hundred years. The Imperial War Museum North (IWMN) is an interactive space built solely for the purpose of telling the most vital, powerful stories of war from across the region. The entire structure was built around an impressive, genuine fighter jet! Each of these factors lead to a museum visit that becomes much more than that – it’s an experience. Immersive, important and emotive, this is one story you don’t want to miss.
Acting as something of a centre piece for the city as a whole, this iconic building is home to a plethora of events, attractions and reasons to visit – not least the venue itself. That building, built in the mid-1800s, is one of the greatest instances of neo-gothic architecture that you will find anywhere in the world. The Town Hall building is made up of 14 million bricks, which is an impressive workload even now. Similarly astonishing is its original cost of 1 million pounds. As you can imagine, in the 19th century this was an eye-watering figure.
This Salford based destination is one of Greater Manchester’s most prestigious arts centres. Focusing on visual and performance art, the theatre and gallery spaces offer regular bouts of opera, music, comedy, dance, theatre and much more. On top of all this cultural goodness, The Lowry also acts as a charitable foundation dedicated to furthering the positive impact of the arts on people’s lives. When you spend money here, it is going to a good place.
Designed by competition winner and architect Vincent E. Harris (who also built the town hall extension) in the early 20th century before being built between 1930-34, this unique building is a treasure trove of reference material, information, knowledge and inspiration. Its distinctive circular design and front pillars is a look inspired by the famous Pantheon in Rome, lending the library a classical look that remains awe inspiring to this day. Whether you’re coming to study, seek out particular information, or just sit and relax with a book in the large reading room, this is as good as libraries get.
For the library lovers amongst us, the fun doesn’t end there. The John Rylands Library, now run as part of the similarly prestigious University of Manchester, is a grade 1 listed building. The library opened in 1900 at a cost of £200,000, and has been renovated on just 3 occasions over the 118 years following its emergence. John Rylands Library is home to some extremely precious works, such as the papyrus 52 and the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
As home to the aforementioned world-famous Manchester United Football Club, this is the UK’s largest club stadium with a maximum capacity of around 76,000 spectators. It’s called ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ for a reason. The facilities are also world class, with cafes, restaurants, VIP boxes, event spaces and even a museum with accompanying tour. With a history as rich as any football club in the game, the museum tour is a particular highlight for anyone looking to soak up some of Manchester’s most well-known culture.
Replacing the famous Cornerhouse cinema a few years ago, HOME has become the go-to cultural hub for film and theatre. Encased in a modern yet classy structure, this beautiful and homely venue showcases the very best in unique and independent cinema, theatre, visual art and cross-medium pieces. A joint enterprise between the Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre Company, there is no greater place for those who appreciate the arts.
Everyone loves a good bookshop. The smell of countless volumes, the peace and quiet save for the occasional turning of pages, and the tranquillity that comes with seeking out your latest unputdownable discovery. However, there is something even greater than a trip to Waterstones or The Works – finding a hidden wealth of used and sometimes rare books. Such a place exists in Manchester, and that place is Paramount Books. Its exterior can be deceiving, which just adds further to its vintage allure. Once inside, you will find more unique magazines, paperbacks and hardbacks than you can shake a kindle at. That well-known bookstore smell remains too, only it’s that much richer.
The Manchester Ship Canal represents another little slice of Manchester history and pride. After opening on the 1st January 1894 as the largest river canal anywhere in the world, the Port of Manchester became the third most frequently used in the UK. With the port now closed and the canal traffic significantly down from its 20th century heyday, the canal whilst still operational also works as a reminder of a bygone era – and Manchester’s part in it. Going for a stroll along the canal during the day can be a peaceful and fulfilling experience, especially for those looking to get to know the city and its surrounding areas. It’s 36-miles-long though, so it’s probably best to limit just how far you go.
This treasure trove of east Asian culture is the 2nd largest ‘Chinatown’ in the country. Here you will find a massive assortment of differing restaurants and shops offering food & goods from cultures such as Chinese, Thai, Japanese and many, many more. This is a fantastic place to grab some food, particularly if you are fond of Chinese cuisine and similar eateries. The most recognisable part of Manchester’s Chinatown is its majestic archway, known as a paifang. Covered in symbols such as dragons, this was crafted in the 1980s as a gift from the council to Manchester’s thriving Chinese populace.
If gorgeous food, a fine dining experience and an environment steeped in history are your thing, then make The French your next restaurant of choice. Based within Manchester’s grand Midland Hotel, The French became one of the first UK restaurants to be awarded the honour of a Michelin-star. Since reopening in 2013, and again undergoing refurbishment in 2016, the restaurant has made rapid progress towards once again becoming one of the finest eating destinations in the country. The current chef, Adam Reid, prides himself on his ‘modern British cooking.’ If you’re looking for great British grub, you’ll find exactly that at The French.
As far as theatrical experiences go, nothing comes close to the thrill of catching a live show. Be it a drama, a comedy act, a musical, Shakespeare or some combination of them all, Manchester’s thriving arts scene make it one of the best places to take in theatre. The Royal Exchange building and its theatre have survived a lot, having been badly damaged during both World War II and the Manchester bombing in 1996. Such a profound history extends to the talent it has nurtured or attracted, with many stars and future stars appearing on the Exchange’s boards throughout its history. These great actors include the likes of Michael Sheen, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, Gary Oldman, Julie Walters, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, David Tennant and Andrew Garfield. The Royal Exchange Theatre is one place you are guaranteed to catch a show worthy of your time and money.
Based at the site formerly occupied by the historic Manchester docks, this area of modern development is a bastion of business, entertainment and beauty. The contemporary cluster contains the aforementioned Lowry and Imperial War Museum, whilst Old Trafford isn’t too far away either. Salford Quays is also home to Media City, a property development dedicated to the media and creative industries that has seen significant development in the city’s standing within film and TV production in particular. Aside from being full to the brim with things to do, it’s also a delightful area to simply walk around and take in its visual splendour.
This staple of the always-thriving and influential Manchester music scene has stood as a home for live music in the city for 80 years. Its Art Deco design is a sign of its original purpose as a cinema and variety venue, though it has been a home to just music since the 1970s. With a capacity of less than 4,000, the Apollo rides the line between large arena and intimate venue perfectly, providing the perfectly balanced musical experience. The historic architecture only adds to the charm.
Based inside the Trafford Centre, which in itself is something of a modern landmark, this aquarium is the perfect destination for kids and adults alike, whilst also providing a good combination of education and fun. If restaurants, arts centres and museums are out of the question, then this works as a great alternative that offers something different. It’s the only place in Manchester you can come face-to-face with a shark. If that doesn’t make you turn around and run in the opposite direction, then Sea Life Manchester is more than worth your time.
As previously mentioned, this Salford Quays based site boasts the latest and greatest in the media and creative sectors. From film & TV production at the highest level (including BBC and ITV) to advertising and marketing powerhouses, Media City has turned Manchester into the epicentre of the UK’s creative scene. For this reason alone it is worth having a look around, or perhaps you are seeking opportunities for yourself? To those people we say, good luck! You’re in the right place.
Having perused the massive spread of cultural attractions across Manchester we have detailed so far, it’s likely that you’re already on cloud nine. But what if we can offer something even better? Take in some cocktails, afternoon tea or a delectable meal at Manchester’s highest bar. That’s right, Cloud 23 is inside the city’s largest building ‘Beetham Tower.’ Not only is it part of the tower, but it is situated on, you guessed it, the 23rd floor. This means you can have that drink whilst overlooking the greatest city on Earth. What a view! Cloud 23 is an experience not to be missed.
As you can see, Manchester isn’t short of cultural attractions. If you are looking for a place to love, learn and laugh, then this city will leave you spoilt for choice. Take a chance on one of our picks and let us know about your own experience. We’re sure it’ll be one that you won’t forget in a hurry.