Great Things to do in Manchester, England

Manchester, England is not as touristy as London. But it is a vibrant city with an important history on the world’s stage. Manchester was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, and where inadvertently the ideas behind Marxism were subsequently born. Being a fantastic sports city, with world class museums and many delicious restaurants, there are many great things to do in Manchester!

Manchester City Hall, Great Things to Do in Manchester

Great Football Tradition and History 

If you’re even a casual fan like me, the National Football Museum is a great place to spend a couple hours learning about the history of the game not just in England, but globally. In addition to Manchester United, Manchester is also home to another successful football club, Manchester City. They’ve had recent success in English Premier League and play in modern Etihad Stadium. Manchester United’s home stadium, Old Trafford, dates back to 1910 and is a storied venue to catch a match.

While we did not plan ahead to watch either team play while in Manchester, I previously attended a Fulham match in London several years ago. I had a fantastic time in a much smaller, but equally historic sports venue.

National Football Museum, Great Things to Do in Manchester

Museum of Science and Industry 

The Museum of Science and Industry is not just one of the most interesting things to do in Manchester, but arguably in all of England. This museum houses wonderful antique manufacturing equipment, steam trains, airplanes and an underground exhibit of what Manchester was like hundreds of years ago, to name just a few things. You could spend an entire day in this massive museum complex and not see everything. 

Much of the world as we know it took shape during the industrial revolution that began around 1760, and originated in the factories of blue collar Manchester. This transitional period saw a shift from hands-on manufacturing to machine production. As a result, great wealth came to Manchester but many of the workers saw very little financial gain for their hard labor. Joseph Engels was a factory manager in Manchester who provided data and financial support to Karl Marx while he wrote the Communist Manifesto that inspired Vladimir Lenin to topple the Russian Tsar.

If it weren’t for Engels, we there probably never would have been a Marx, and perhaps no Lenin, as we know them in the history books. Maybe the Bolsheviks never would have toppled the Russia Tzar that saw modern communism take hold of Russia for 70 years, creating the subsequent ‘Cold War’. How different would the world be had Engels not supported Marx from Manchester?

MOSI, Great Things to Do in Manchester

People’s History Museum 

The People’s History Museum is a testament to labour gains and social equality achieved over the last two hundred years in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In 1800’s Britain, if you didn’t own land, you didn’t have a vote for parliament members. The tide began shifting with a series of hard-fought reforms that continue to this day.

Women earned the right to vote after World War I and the NHS (National Health Service) making health care a fundamental human right for all people in the United Kingdom was established in 1948. This might sound a bit boring to some, but it’s actually a very colorful and interactive museum. It’s a place where you can play dress up and even touch many of the artifacts on display.

Peoples History Museum, Great Things to Do in Manchester

Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum is a fantastic chronicle of 20th and 21st century wars. Being more recent, we learn more about World War II in school and popular culture, but 2014 marks the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War I. This was an equally devastating war where modern weaponry was just taking hold. The war wasn’t about taking cities or countries, but for years thousands of men died to literally progress only miles. It was horrific evenly matched trench warfare and it’s important we don’t forget this war either.

There’s currently a special exhibition taking place called Contemporary Art and War. I was shocked to see a painting of former Prime Minister Tony Blair taking a selfie of himself in front of a mushroom cloud, with a big smile on his face (it’s also currently on the front page of their website!). If there’s a major American museum with a similar portrait of George W. Bush hanging on its walls please let us know!

Imperial War Museum, great things to do in Manchester

Manchester Museum

Manchester Museum is the natural history museum on the grounds of Manchester University. It’s home to a full-size T-Rex fossil. Pretty much enough said as far as great things to do in Manchester. It’s also home to a wealth of other great fossils, many of which are now extinct animals. The museum even houses a small rainforest. The lovely campus of Manchester University, which houses cutting edge research, is also a great place to stroll around.

Curry Mile 

Curry Mile is the nickname of a short section of Wilmslow Road, in the Rusholme area of south Manchester, near Manchester University. The area is named for the dense concentration of South Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants and take away shops, numbered at around 70 establishments packed close together.

There are many tasty options along the Curry Mile. We enjoyed dinner at Mughli, which has a classy modern interior. The curry and tandoori bursted with flavor. We regrettably didn’t make it back the Curry Mile for a kebab. But fortunately, Manchester is dotted with some great fast food kebab shops all over town. So we enjoyed several good ones elsewhere.

Where to Stay in Manchester?

We stayed at Roomzzz Manchester City, which is a comfortable and stylish apartment-hotel in the center of Manchester. The building was previously a Victorian cotton warehouse, and has many original features. Air-conditioned apartments feature kitchens, luxury beds and a stylish bathroom with a rain shower and White Company toiletries. The living area has a flat-screen TV, comfortable seating and a work desk.

We stayed at Roomzzz Manchester City for five nights while Bell was working on research at the University of Manchester and highly recommend it. It is perfect for a comfortable extended work trip or city getaway.

Day Trips from Manchester

There are many great day trips visitors can take from Manchester. Nearby Liverpool is the music capital of the United Kingdom, renown for being the birthplace of the Beatles. Chester, England is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with the largest percentage of buildings adhering to the “golden ratio.” Wales is also close to Manchester, and you can explore charming villages by rental car or catching a train, with frequent service.

More on Manchester

These are far from the only reasons to visit Manchester. We spent 6 days here for a work trip and the longer we stayed the more we discovered. We regrettably didn’t make it to the impressive Manchester Art Gallery, or the Museum of Transport, among other places we wanted to visit. But that’s a testament to how much there is to do in Manchester.

We also enjoyed many delicious meals and some tasty British ales in some fun and quintessentially British pubs and great restaurants. It was indeed a wonderful time and we’d love to return!

Every museum we have listed here offers free admission. They generally suggest an optional donation of around  ₤6 to help keep the museums and exhibitions free for future generations. One exception is the museum of transport which charges a ₤4 admission. In short, Manchester’s museums are a great deal!

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  • Alex&Bell

    Alex and Bell originally met while solo traveling after finishing university in 2002, in Brugge, Belgium. Alex grew up in the USA and Bell hails from Australia. During our nearly 20 year marriage we've lived around the world, including spending six years living in the Netherlands and Ireland. We have traveled to nearly 70 countries and enjoy giving readers authentic and quality travel tips. Alex is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner, who also freelances for other outlets. Bell is an award winning PhD scientist who currently works for a non-profit lung cancer advocacy research organization called Lungevity. Happy travels and if you have any questions leave a comment or drop an email!

4 thoughts on “Great Things to do in Manchester, England

  1. Oh yes, the Curry mile! I didn’t know that’s what the area was called (thanks for educating me!) but now I’m sure I’ve been there! I had the hottest dish ever ever everrrr in a restaurant over there. The menu showed 5 peppers next to description of a dish and I thought: hey, I like spicy food, let’s try it. Well, maybe I like spicy food….for my people’s standards, haha. It was good!

    1. Thanks for commenting! And wow, 5 peppers, you went bold! Yeah we like spicy too but 5 peppers on a South Asian menu is a level of spicy that not so many can tolerate. This type of spicy is probably akin to the American hot sauces that have the skeletons on them- with names like “fiery inferno death sauce.” Amazingly those sauces can be found in American chains like Tijuana Flats and Firehouse Subs (amazed there haven’t been law suits). We find 2 peppers are typically plenty spicy enough for us…Really glad you enjoyed the Curry Mile nonetheless, it’s a fun area! 🙂

  2. I’m always happy to find a bit of love for the city I call home! Glad you’ve featured the People’s History Museum, MOSI and the Imperial War Museum North – three favourites of mine. Brilliant places. And curry mile? Well, I used to live round there – I’ve enjoyed my fair share of its culinary delights!

    1. Thanks for commenting Holiday Addict! Particularly MOSI and the People’s History Museum are two of our all time favorite museums in any city we’ve visited. We’re often not the museum types if we have to pay for admission (unless it’s something very special). So it’s great in Manchester that these world class museums are accessible to people who otherwise might not be able to afford to swing in, or who typically have other priorities when they travel- like strolling around town, and enjoying foreign food and drinks like we do. Cheers!

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