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At the end of the 18th century, Manchester was the cotton capital of the world (it was nicknamed “Cottonopolis”) and ships loaded with raw materials would go up the river from Liverpool to, after making the final product in the smoking factories of Manchester, load it and return to the city where ‘The Beatles’ would be born some two hundred years later.
However, this way of transporting the many goods produced in Manchester was not the ideal solution, given that production grew disproportionately. The remedy came by steaming and moving on steel rails. The railway, as a world invention, was born in Manchester in April 1830. And nothing would be the same anymore.
Manchester, with the arrival of the railway, became the main focus of the Industrial Revolution and grew without control of any kind, including its urban facet. Hundreds of red brick buildings emerged near the river and in the center of the city, along with smoky chimneys, day and night. Red became black and prosperity brought a darkened urban landscape and accentuated social inequality.
However, the 21st century Manchester that I discovered a few weeks ago has nothing to do with that of the 19th century. I found a modern, beautiful city, in which those buildings that housed machines and exploited workers, are now museums, department stores, alternative shops and tastefully renovated houses. A centre of art, culture and higher education that stands out in the UK and Europe.
I let myself be surprised by a city that I carry in my heart. Here are some good plans to make in Manchester:
1. Museum of Science and Industry
Undoubtedly, this museum is one of the best attractions to see in Manchester. The city where the Industrial Revolution was born could not help but have such a museum.
Housed in the world’s first railway station, the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry has enchanted me ever since I walked through its doors. On the ground floor I found an informative exhibition, with some of the best inventors (and their works) in History. After this zone, I entered the area dedicated to the development of the textile industry, so important in the life of this city. Old industrial machines, replicas of working environments, cotton bobbins and other fabrics here and there… A real industrial time machine.
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The top floor is ideal for the youngest members of the family, with devices that teach them simple laws of physics through games. In addition, it also seeks to raise awareness of the importance of recycling and care for the environment.
However, my preferred area was the part of the museum I found across the street. I crossed over to the opposite sidewalk and visited the hangar that showed the evolution of the aeronautical industry. Different models of airplanes, helicopters and spacecraft components grabbed my attention for almost two hours that flew past me.
In short, one of the best places to see in Manchester.
The access is free (you can leave a donation) and the schedules vary according to the time of the year. You can see the complete information on the museum’s official website.
Impossible not to include in the list of best places to see in Manchester this site so freaky and alternative. I was happy at Afflecks.
In a central red brick building, there is a group of cinema shops, second-hand vintage clothes, curiosities and various strangenesses that receive the visit of a really varied public. In addition, there is also a place that serves great vegan food and juices.
I was stuck for more than half an hour on the first floor. There I was trapped by a store of old posters and other cinema objects. Posters of epic films, varied merchandising of ‘Star Wars’, ‘Indiana Jones’ or ‘Return to the Future’, plates of unforgettable scenes from the cinema… A cult temple for any film buff who prides himself.
On the second floor, an eye-catching store sold wigs, colorful and exaggerated dresses, accessories of all kinds… And I gave myself a pair of Star Wars key rings. Stuff of mine. Afflecks is the perfect place to spend a rainy and entertaining English afternoon.
3. Etihad Stadium
In a city where football is almost a religion, I was lucky enough to enjoy a tour of the bowels of Etihad Stadium, home to one of the most important clubs in the world: Manchester City.
It was exciting to see the changing rooms where Pep Guardiola manages a squad full of world-class stars. A modern stadium in which nothing is missing and where the footballing fervor of the city is felt. One of the best things to do in Manchester, whether you like football or not.
If you want to deepen your knowledge about the world of football, don’t miss the National Football Museum.
4. Urban murals
After having made complete urban art tours in cities such as Glasgow, Antwerp, Ghent or Valencia, I followed the trail of murals that decorate some of the most central old buildings in Manchester. On this occasion, I didn’t have the time to follow the itinerary marked by some of the fantastic applications or websites dedicated to mapping city murals, so I discovered them guiding me by instinct. And it didn’t work badly for me, because I was able to enjoy more than a dozen authentic works of art on the facades of shops, residential buildings or restaurants.
The contrast of the red brick with the explosion of colors left by the artists’ spray is something that captures the attention of almost all the pedestrians who are not looking at the ground, immersed in their routine. To me, who walked savoring a magnificent late summer sun, this art captivated me irremediably.
This is certainly one of the best things to do in Manchester if you like alternative art.
5. Manchester Art Gallery
Another type of art is the one you will find in the Manchester Art Gallery. Located in the center of the city, this art gallery is an oasis of tranquility in the daily turmoil typical of a city populated by millions of inhabitants.
Here you will find nearly 13,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and many other forms of art, in addition to many other works of high quality craftsmanship and design. In the meantime, it is worth highlighting some works prior to the time of the great Raphael and a close look at the work of LS Lowry and his teacher, the great Adolphe Valette.
One of the best places to see in Manchester for art lovers.
6. Royal Exchange Theatre
The interior of the Royal Exchange Theatre building left me speechless. With high ceilings, the main courtyard had no other function, formerly, than that of place of commercial exchanges. It was transformed into a theatre in 1973, but would suffer enormous damage in the IRA attack in Manchester in 1996. After this, it underwent a profound remodeling to turn it into the impressive cultural space that it is today.
As they were rehearsing a play, I could not access the inside of the theatre, which has a curious, perfectly circular floor plan. Operators, locker room people and others associated with the work ran up and down, at a frenetic pace that contrasted with the tranquility of the cozy cafeterias in the courtyard.
Above, near the ceiling, hung an old tablet showing the supply and demand of the securities that were marketed in the nineteenth century. One of the best places to see in Manchester, whether you agree to see a work or just want to enjoy the building.
7. Manchester Downtown
Manchester’s city centre deserves to be travelled quietly and at your own pace. In a first rainy and gray afternoon raid, I could barely enjoy it, but the thing changed the next day, when I could walk, in short sleeves and under a radiant sun, without feeling the need to hasten my steps.
The Town Hall, Albert and Ann squares, the exotic Chinatown, the Corn Exchange, the cathedral, shopping streets, mysterious little alleys… And all this, always surrounded by charismatic and historic red brick buildings. They are the blood of Manchester, a city with something for every traveller and worth staying in for a few days.