While not on the typical tourist radar, Manchester 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 communism were subsequently spawned. These days Manchester is most famous for having the world’s 2nd most valuable sports franchise, Manchester United, estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth more than $3 billion US dollars (nearly a billion dollars more than the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys!). Being a fantastic sports city, with world class museums and tons of great restaurants, there’s lots of great things to do in Manchester!
1) Football Galore – 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. And in addition to Manchester United, Manchester is also home to another successful football club, Manchester City, who this year is topping the ladder of the English Premier League and plays in the 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 and it was a fantastic time in a much smaller, but equally historic sports venue.
2) 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, air planes 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?
3) People’s History Museum – This 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 colourful and interactive museum. It’s a place where you can play dress up and even touch many of the artefacts on display.
4) 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- this 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 a 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!
5) Manchester Museum – This natural history museum on the grounds of Manchester University is 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, and even houses its own mini rainforest. The lovely campus of Manchester University, which houses cutting edge research, is also a great place to have a stroll.
6) 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’s lots of tasty options in this area, we ate at Mughli which has a classy modern interior. The curry and tandoori were extremely flavourful. We regrettably didn’t make it back the the Curry Mile for a kebab, but fortunately Manchester is dotted with some great fast food kebab shops all over town, where we enjoyed several good ones.
These are far from the only reasons to visit Manchester. We spent 6 days here for a work trip and the longer we spent here the more we discovered. We regrettably didn’t make it to the apparently 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 once you’re there. 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 go back one day!
Every museum we’ve listed here offers free admission, and generally asks for an optional donation of between ₤2- ₤3 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, it’s all a great deal!