Manchester has been around since AD 79 and has always been an important city in England. The first programmable computer was built here, and many other extremely important inventions. Industry, music and football are the big attractions in this vibrant city. The textile industry started here, with huge mills spinning cotton and employing thousands. The chemical industry bloomed in Manchester, as well as the financial services companies.
Music is part of the fabric in Manchester, spawning dozens of famous rock groups, the BBC Philharmonic and the Halle symphonies, the Free Trade Hall, Brass Bands–you name it!
There are plenty of great museums to explore here as well as historical buildings, antique shops and good restaurants. Are you a rocker? There are well over 500 liscened rocking nightclubs, breweries, public houses, bars, pubs and fun nighlife attractions here. You’ll never be bored in Manchester.
If you’re driving to Manchester from the south on the M6, leave the motorway at exit 19. Manchester itself is not a place to explore by car; vastly preferable ways to get around the city are public transportation or simply your own two feet.
Although it was an important Roman center, the city is generally thought of as a manufacturing center that grew up during the Industrial Revolution. Enormous wealth was generated here in this period, and the revenues partly went to finance the building of temples of the arts and seats of learning. The down side of industrial progress was terrible environmental pollution and the shocking poverty of the working class. Manchester has long suffered under the stereotype of being a dirty, crime-ridden city, but in the last few years a city rejuvenation program has started to bring about a new and improved quality of life.
Not far from Piccadilly Station, in Dale Street, a stairway leads down to the banks of the Rochdale Canal which, to your left, passes through locks two centuries old beneath the 20th-century bustle of traffic on Piccadilly. This quiet towpath emerges next to the law courts. From here, go right on Chorlton Street to get to the busy shops on Portland Street. If you take Charlotte Street on the other side, you will find the Chinese Arts Centre at No. 36, with George Street, part of Manchester’s Chinatown, on the left. The craftsmen who built the Chinese gateway here were brought in from Peking, as were the materials they used.
Destinations in Manchester
Turn right on Princess Street and walk to Mosley Street for the City Art Gallery. The gallery is renowned for its collection of French Impressionists and major British painters.
Further along Princess Street are Albert Square and the Town Hall, a beacon of mercantile Victorian confidence. A statue of Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, stands in the square, perhaps somewhat uncomfortable to find itself close to that of Abel Heywood, a former mayor so radical by the standards of the time that the Queen refused to visit Manchester while he held office.
Across the road, in the pedestrian precinct of Queen Street, there’s a surprise for American visitors – the familiar figure of Abraham Lincoln. At the end of the street, on the other side of Deansgate, stands the John Rylands Library, another striking building from the 1890s. It has the finest collection of rare books in the North of England.
A left turn on Deansgate leads to Peter Street and the home of the world-famous Half Orchestra, the Free Trade Hall. Charles Halle left Germany after the revolution of 1848 and came to Manchester where there was already a large German community. Appalled by the state of music in the city, he and his wife toured the world to raise money for an orchestra of international standard. The Halle was founded in 1858. But the Free Trade Hall hosts a wide range of other events, as well, from classical concerts to pop to comedy evenings with local star Mike Handing.
To the right of the GMex Centre, once a railway station and now a complex for trade fairs and congresses, is historic Castlefield; an elevator gives access to the site. Here the Romans built their fort, now partially restored, and here the first commercial canal, the Bridgewater, delivered passengers on its packet boats. Today the arena is a venue for concerts.
Nearby, the Museum of Science and Industry occupies the building that was once the world’s first passenger train station. Exhibited in the Power Hall are machines built in Manchester, ranging from locomotives and steam engines to vintage Rolls-Royces from 1904. In the “Xperiment” in the Lower Byrom Street Warehouse, visitors can get hands-on experience in areas such as electricity and light. The Air and Space Gallery is more concerned with the history of flight: pride of place goes to Britain’s first motorized aeroplane, the Triplane 1, manufactured in 1909 by engineer A. V. Roe.
At the end of Liverpool Street, in Water Street, television fans can join the Granada Studios Tour. Manchester is the location of Britain’s longest-running and perhaps best soap, Coronation Street.
If you want another taste of the “real” Manchester, take in a game of the local football (soccer, that is) team Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Manchester Museum on Oxford Road, part of the university, is particularly known for its Egyptian, archaeological and ethnological collections. There is also a Jewish museum, a police museum, a transport museum, a museum of labor history and a museum of the women’s movement housed in the home of the Pankhursts, leaders of the suffragette movement in England.
Elegant shops line St. Anne’s Square. At night, theaters and concert halls, pubs and clubs (including the Hacienda) offer a wide range of entertainment.