This is the UK’s so-called “Second City” — London’s red-brick kid brother. If you’re going to visit Manchester, get ready for a city that stands on its own, with an outstanding collection of museums, historic sites, foodie fun and, naturally, a whole lot of football. Add Manchester to your London vacation and you’ll find a city emerging as its own cultural powerhouse, not standing in anyone’s shadow.
Here are seven perfect reasons you should visit Manchester — the original modern city.
1. There’s a Gothic library straight out of Harry Potter — and you can explore it for free.
Manchester’s libraries are kind of amazing — more on that later — but for Gothic grandeur and the sneaking suspicion you’ve stumbled into a school for wizardry, look no further than John Rylands Library.
Founded by a wealthy Manchester industrialist (like a lot of the city’s grand edifices) this romantic fantasy of arching stone vaults, carved scrollwork and curving staircases all leads up to one amazing moment: entering the Historic Reading Room. It’s a peaceful, sunlit space devoted to the magic of books and literature. Once you’re done picking your jaw up off the floor (and taking some great Instagram shots) visit the Rylands Gallery and discover antique manuscripts, books, maps and other precious artifacts.
2. You don’t have to like football to love Manchester — but you might like it when you leave.
That’s because Manchester is home to not just two major football teams — Manchester United and Manchester City. And not only do both teams’ grounds offer museum exhibits and tours, the city is also host to the National Football Museum.
Here you can really unpack the national passion Brits have for football, and maybe cultivate an interest of your own. It might not be a bad idea — in the US, soccer’s popularity is rapidly gaining on baseball, basketball, and good old “American Football”. You can listen in on archived BBC Radio commentary from the sport’s great moments, learn the history of the game, discover more about football fandom, and just about anything else related to football in the UK and around the world.
Of course, if you already support one of Manchester’s teams, you know what you have to do. Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, offers a museum and tour at its impressive stadium (the second-largest in the country). The behind-the-scenes tour goes into the dressing room, through the player’s tunnel to the pitch, and into the dug-out — plus the press room and other VIP-only spaces.
Man City’s your team? Visit Etihad Stadium for the Man City Stadium & Club Tour, featuring backstage areas like the player’s facilities, and learn what it’s like on match day for the team athletes.
3. It has a food hall that’s voted the UK’s best.
Manchester has loads of markets, from crafts to delicious local foods, but Altrincham Market took the prize for best market from Observer Food Monthly after a revitalized version of the Manchester suburb’s old covered market reopened with local chefs, communal tables and a fresh outlook on food culture.
It’s led the way for the neighborhood’s retail resurgence, with plenty of new boutiques to admire after you’ve filled up locally-sourced cheese, artisan pizzas and award-winning pies. So enjoy the tram ride from Manchester Piccadilly to Altrincham if you’re in the hunt for some delicious new Manchester flavors.
4. There’s a world-class Museum of Science & Industry.
Steam engines made central Manchester the red-brick Edwardian beauty it is today, and so it’s fitting that the Museum of Science & Industry, housed in a former former railway station and warehouse, devotes a considerable amount of floor space to the history of steam-powered machinery.
From early steam and hot air engines to enormous spinning and weaving machines, early train locomotives and a replica of the extraordinary Manchester Baby — the world’s first stored-program computer — this museum’s exhibits are true stand-outs. Across from the main buildings, the Air & Space Hall features a large collection of airplanes and antique automobiles in the light-filled space of a Victorian covered market hall. Free to explore, Manchester’s Museum of Science & Industry helps explain the story not just of the machine age, but of Manchester itself.
5. Manchester is home to the UK’s oldest public library.
We said we’d get back to libraries, right? This one is Chetham’s Library, and it’s located within an extraordinary medieval compound that dates back to 1422. The library itself has been collecting books and welcoming scholars since 1653. Its incredible collection includes more than 100,000 books, many pre-dating the 20th century.
A walk through its collection is an incredible step back in time, with antique books chained to their shelves to prevent theft, and gated aisles that will have you wondering just what’s kept in this library’s Restricted Section!
6. You’ve already been to Manchester… thanks to these film locations.
Turns out, Manchester is a very popular place to film shows and movies. The city’s Edwardian brick and masonry facades make it a great stand-in for New York City–just check Captain America: The First Avenger, for some glimpses of Manchester’s Dale Street acting alongside Chris Evans.
Other Manchester film locations that turn up again and again include the city’s magnificent Manchester Town Hall (Peaky Blinders, The Iron Lady, Sherlock Holmes), the Northern Quarter (doing time as NYC again for Alfie and Genius, as well as those Captain America city streets), and John Rylands Library (Darkest Hour).
7. One word: Mummies.
Manchester Museum’s Egyptology collection is massive: about 18,000 objects including tomb artifacts, Roman Period mummy masks, and of course, the mummies themselves — twenty humans, and fifty animals. It’s one of the largest Egyptian collections in Britain. The mummies have been the subject of extensive research over the years, including the famous Manchester Mummy Project, which used mummies to study the living conditions present in ancient Egyptian life.
Elsewhere in the Manchester Museum, you’ll find a T-Rex fossil named Stan, a unique Archery collection, and even a living reptile and amphibian collection called the Vivarium.
Get ready to visit Manchester
Visit Manchester easily from the US with daily direct flights on Virgin Atlantic, or add it to your London vacation with a comfortable ride on Virgin Trains West Coast. With great transit options including a quick train ride into the city center from Manchester Airport, and train arrivals at the centrally located Manchester Piccadilly, it’s the perfect way to experience more of the United Kingdom!