Despite Manchester being the 3. visited place in UK, I don’t know anyone, who has been there. And not anyone considering going. Unless, you are into football! But UK has great museums and Manchester as well. And almost all of them have free entrance.
With my museum study group and alone, I visited 9 attractions in 2,5 days, but only 7 made the cut.
Top 7 Cultural Attractions
7 Manchester Art Gallery
Manchester Art Gallery has very high reviews, and it was the place I was most excited to visit as a museum interpreter. It did not disappoint. But primarily if you like me talk to the curator and engage in the same meditation session, I did. Otherwise, it’s just home to the city’s world-class art and design collection…
Art gallery may sound like it’s not for you, but it is. This cool place collaborates with people suffering form stress, homeless people and children with autism to make art a bigger part of everyone’s life.
The permanent collection is thus curated differently, and currently it’s set up in collaboration with a homeless organization to make you feel comfort. So huge lounge hairs are put up. Exemplary!
Check the events to see if they have an meditation session. It was such a good idea. In general, you look at an artwork for 9 sec. and the gallery want to change how you see. And after 10 minutes of zen in front of an abstract painting, you’ll want to focus more. In general.
I always advice fellow travellers to select a handful of artworks in any museum (but especially Louvre, Hermitage and Prado) and only focus on them. Otherwise you’re lost.
6 Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum North is build by architect Daniel Liebeskind, who also build the Jewish Museum in Berlin. You can recognize his museum buildings on the leaning walls and floors to give you an uncertain feeling and heighten your senses.
This is a pretty good museum, but it doesn’t top the list sine the one in London is also incredible and there other sights in Manchester, you can only find here.
It’s your typical museum with a lot of stuff, but there’s a temporary exhibitions as well. Right now: the conflict in Yemen. Every hour is an 360 degrees experience inside the main exhibition with projection on the walls, which you should definitely plan for. It was a very moving story about a Al Mutanabbi street in Baghdad.
The museum is located quite far off the city center. It’s a nice walk along the canals, but otherwise jump a tram. You just swipe your credit card before entering and again after getting off. So simple.
5 Whitworth Art Gallery
Manchester Art gallery and Witworth have the same rating on Tripadvisor. But this is just a little bit better (again without the meditation because that was excellent). Probably why they’ve won Visit England’s gold prize for Large Visitor Attraction in 2016 as well as the Art Fund’s Museum 2015.
Whitwort is just high class art. I mean when you get excited about an exhibition about wallpaper, they’re good. A temporary exhibition about the impact on the black community in Manchester from the viewpoint of a now demolished night club was very moving. It was so interesting, we didnt even bother with the Cezanne.
They also presents concerts and talks. If you get thirsty or snacky (as I always do) the museum café is nice overlooking the garden and has organic juices.
4 Science Museum
The Science and Industry Museum is a huge museum. It’s actually several museums in one, so make sure to get a map. This year, they celebrates 50 years!
It’s not the best science museum ever, but since Manchester is the first industrialized city in the world, you need to know the and appreciate the electric loom. Without, you would not be wearing what you are wearing, while reading this. Or have that electronic device you are reading this on.
I have sen better exhibitions (like the one in Amsterdam, read more in The Best Secret Museums in Amsterdam), but the temporary exhibition on the sun was excellent. It was also extra. If you bring kids or are like me, try catch a live show with experiments to answer physics questions.
One part of the museum is the world’s oldest remaining railway passenger station from 1830. It was closed for maintenance, but still pretty cool. In fact, they are do quite a lot of
Be sure not to miss the aircraft hangar on the other side of the street. The place is a little downtrodden – hopefully also up for restoration – but the old planes are magical. Besides this 50’s jet, you can see a biplane (two set of wings) from 1919 made for bombings in WW1, but ended up in the first non-stop transatlantic flight. One day, I’ll fly away.
3 Police Museum
Greater Manchester Police Museum might not be the largest or most interactive. But they have a real prison from 1885. And that’s worth visiting.
Police officer’s caps, weapons from prisoners, an old stuffed police horse and so on are found in the first of two buildings. I learned for instance, that originally, the police uniform came from the English military uniform, which you can easily see from the older uniforms.
The signs are not that great, so save your time for the prison and courtroom. The entire room from 1885 was moved here from Denton and reconstructed. Try sitting in the box for the accused or the lawyers small seat.
You can book a private group tour – for free! We were guided by Ian; a retired police constable with both sons in the force showing us the place. That’s getting close to the locals. Maybe too close… He wasn’t to happy with the current status of the world…
2 Chetham's Library
I had to choose between The John Ryland Library and this. And even though this is a hidden gem, I’m sad I missed the other.
I love old libraries – used to work in the Danish National Library-, but this doesn’t top the list because similar and more impressive libraries can be seen elsewhere like in Dublin.
Entering the old courtyard with the low stone house and the Gothic windows, you feel the damp air, and can easily imagine how cold it must have been in 1421 without the windows in the British winters. But at least they had one of the world’s first indoor toilets(!) In 1653, the owner gave made a public library, which is now on the first floor.
You immediately notice the sweet smell. Many of the books are so old, they are written not on paper, but pergament. Books used to be chained to the shelves (as you might have seen in movies or GOT) because every book was so valuable many being hand decorated.
The buildings themselves are very well kept today and looks pretty much the same. Windows and electricity have been added. Many of the books are extremely valuable today, but they may not be sold. And forget trying to steel some. The good stuff are hidden in a locked vault.
MARX & ENGELS
The library has another special feature. The German philosopher Friedrich Engels lived in Manchester in the early 1840’s and was visited by Karl Marx. They sat in the corner in the library and discussed capitalism and the consequences or the workers, which was clear in the world’s first industrialized city: Manchester.
The building is from 1421 and has been a public library since 1653. It might be the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.
The story of libraries meaning archives goes back 5000 years to Babylon (now Iraq), Egypt and Assyria. 2000 years ago collections of scrolls are found in China and in 400 an institutional library can be found in Athens. But the most famous is the one in Alexandria, which unfortunately burned. Later Constantinople (now Istanbul became a center for knowledge, and the rise of Islam sparked the idea of libraries in Damascus and Baghdad. In the 13th, 14th and 15th century with universities arrive private collectors opened up their collections like this one.
On the entrance, it says “hospital”, but this doesn’t mean hospital. It means school, built to get boys out of poverty. The guides couldn’t stop raving about the humanitarian founder. Today, it holds a music school with long waiting lists. Make sure to book in advance. The entrance fee is 6,5 GBP.
1 National Football Museum
GOAL!!! Manchester is all about football (or soccer). Even if you don’t really care about it, you’ll be confronted with United and City. So obviously, there’s a National Football Museum. It’s not my favourite (that’s #2), but it is the most important museum to visit when in Manchester.
But luckily, it’s not just all nerdy stuff about local gamers. The museum is full of interactive elements and great for kids and adults, like dribbling, goalkeeping, fun facts about injuries(!) and even a bad attempt to incorporate artworks. And you can touch the Premier League trophy (I think it is…)
Football was after all invented in England in the middle of the 18th century, but the idea of kicking or pushing a round thing around for sports started all the way back 3000 years ago in Mesoamerica. I’ve seen some of the courts in Mexico and read that the loser was sacrificed. A little higher stakes than money. Although, football does seems to be a religion in some places…
The museum also do shows for school classes in the middle of the day, so try and catch that. The small girls and boys in their uniforms trying to answer nerdy questions are great fun to watch. I spoke to some of the curators of the museum, and they also do cool workshops for elderly people with dementia. Hats off!
Surprisingly, the souvenir shop doesn’t sell United t-shirts, so I had to go elsewhere for the mandatory gift for my son. And then it turned out, it’s more a Qatar Airways t-shirt, so I dropped the idea.
If you want to see a football game – I can’t help you. But if you want more museums, find the Top Museums in Warsaw, Poland or in Stockholm, Sweden
Looking for another weekend trip? Head to city breaks here.