The Manchester region is famous for its music scene, from which sprung forth some cool bands including Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses, Oasis, and The Smiths (Morrisey). Unfortunately it is also famous for its rain. Located in a basin between the Pennine mountains and the Irish Sea, this city gets more than its fair share of rain. In fact the city expanded massively in the 19th Century because the damp climate suited an explosion of cotton mills that made Manchester the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution. It was a hot-bed of Radical thought, and strongly supported Free Trade and other new ideas. Lincoln Square, near the Town Hall, holds a statue of Abrahram Lincoln, donated by people of the United States in recognition of the refusal of Manchester cotton workers to handle slave-grown Southern cotton during the Civil War.
The feel of Manchester is very much Victorian England - the buildings are generally Victorian gothic except for post-war redevelopment and those re-built since the IRA bomb in the mid-1990s. The city is an open and clean space and the suburbs around it affluent and mostly comfortable. The reputation Manchester has for crime and "grimness" is now becoming more and more ill-founded.
Manchester is also the setting of the UK's longest running soap opera, "Coronation Street", hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2002 and is of course home to the world famous Premiership Football teams "Manchester United" and "Manchester City." With three universities Manchester is home to one of the largest student populations in Europe. The adjective for Manchester as well the name for its people is "Mancunian". About no miles away from Manchester is the connected area of Salford: you can regard them as the same conurbation, but don't tell anyone from Salford that.
20th century post-industrial decline hurt Manchester badly. However, the 1990s saw an entrepreneurial expansion of city-centre accommodation, which coupled with the expanding gay community based around Canal Street and the constant Chinese population gave the city centre a new lease of life. It has now cemented its role as the commercial hub of the North-west of England, and plays host to thousands of people who stream into the city at the weekend for booze and partying.
The Manchester Tourist Information Centre is located at the Town Hall Extension, St. Peter's Square, Manchester, M60 2LA (phone : 0161 234 3157). There is a large stock of leaflets, most of which are free. The information center has up-to-date information on where to eat out and where to stay in Manchester.
There is an international airport in Manchester, but some cheap airlines fly to nearby Liverpool. There are direct coach links from Liverpool airport to Manchester's coach station (45 minutes), for some airlines even free. If you're flying to Manchester Airport and want to get to the city centre, there is a direct train about three times an hour, taking about 25 minutes and costing about £3. A taxi will cost you about £15 and take about 45 minutes.
By train Manchester is about 2 hours 40 hours from London. There are several train operators serving Manchester so it is worth it to look out for special offers, such as early bookings. Fares vary massively according to time of day and train operator. If you're coming from London, try Midland Mainline from Kings Cross, which often does cheap deals. The main train station, Piccadilly, is located in the centre of Manchester, connecting Manchester to other towns in the UK, including London. The other main station, Victoria is also situated in the city centre. They are linked by tram.
A coach trip from London takes about 4 hours, depending on the hour of the day. Coaches stop at Chorlton Street Bus Station, which is right in the centre of Manchester next to Chinatown and the Gay Village. Coach services are operated by National Express. The coach is the cheapest way to get to Manchester.
Once in Manchester, there is an extensive bus network and two tram lines. Taxis are considerably cheaper than in London, and you can get around the whole of the city centre (not including Salford and the Lowry Centre) by foot. As a general rule, £5-10 should get you anywhere within the city. You will find it difficult to get one after the pubs shut on Friday and Saturday nights in the City Centre, so have a back-up plan.
Chinese Arch on Faulkner Street. Manchester boasts the second-biggest Chinatown in Europe, and around the glorious arch are supermarkets, restaurants, and a visitor museum.
Manchester Museum. http://museum.man.ac.uk/ (free admission) Good collections of Egyptian mummies and some fine Victorian exhibits. These include a collection of stuffed apes in best "aggressive wild beast" poses, which can't be changed to reflect more modern sensibilities because of the historical importance of the exhibit.
Museum of Science and Industry. http://www.msim.org.uk/ (free admission) This is a great museum for those interested in our (global) industrial heritage: sited at one end of the world's first passenger railway line, the working cotton weaving machines are particularly worth experiencing. Regular demonstrations of their operation are worth catching, since it drives home just how awful conditions were.
People's History Museum. http://www.peopleshistorymuseum.org.uk (£1 admission; free on Fridays) This museum aims to document the way that the lives of ordinary people have developed since the industrial revolution. Contains sections on trade unionism, factory working conditions, and working-class leisure; also has a large collection of banners from unions and political organisations from around the UK. Well worth a visit in its own right, it also works well as a complement to the nearby Museum of Science and Industry (though the two are run separately), giving the 'view from below'.
Imperial War Museum. http://www.iwm.org.uk/north/ (free admission) The Imperial War Museum in London contains tanks, guns, 'planes and uniforms to delight all comers: this contains audio-visual displays about nothing much. However, the building is very exciting, so combine it with a trip to the Lowry for a feel of modern architecture.
Whitworth Gallery. http://www.whitworth.man.ac.uk/ (free admission) Combines more modern art than the Manchester Art Gallery with some displays of costume and textiles.
Urbis - museum of city life. http://www.urbis.org.uk (free admission, except for temporary exhibitions) This is a fairly content-free modern museum: admire the shiny glass building, and try out the cafe, but don't waste your time with the anodyne contents.
Royal Exchangehttp://www.royalexchange.co.uk/ The Royal Exchange was the commercial heart of Manchester, and at one time the largest commercial room in the world. A beautiful classical building, it fell into disuse in the 1970s, only to be rescued in the 1970s by the restoration of the building and the addition of a ultra-modern theatre in the round in the centre of the main trading hall, squatting like an alien invader. Pop in during the day for a coffee or a drink: it's in the centre of the posh shopping area. You can admire the trading board, which still shows the prices of goods in Liverpool on the last day of trading.
John Dalton Library on Deansgate http://rylibweb.man.ac.uk/spcoll/guide/ is a fantastic building. Built in the first years of the 20th century in a high neo-Gothic Victorian style, its ridiculously medieval style hides innovative technology like heating and air conditioning. Secular saints like Shakespeare stare down on readers and visitors in the beautiful main reading room.
Gay Village Based around Canal Street, this area of converted cotton warehouse flats, bars, and clubs, is host to a vibrant and exciting gay community. Some establishments welcome all orientations, some are more exclusive, but the general attitude is tolerant of all orientations, and there are some great places to eat and drink.
Merchandise from the football club Manchester United is popular with some tourists. There is a dedicated shop, which Tourist Information in the Town Hall can no doubt direct you towards.
The Arndale Centre is a large shopping center in the centre of the city, but holds few unique attractions for the visitor save spotting the real-life inhabitants shoplifting and browsing.
The Triangle is an upmarket shopping center based in the beautiful old Corn Exchange, worth a visit for the building if not the contents.
The Trafford Centre is a large shopping mall with your standard British retail outfits. If you're a tourist from a country with a similar shopping culture (for example, the USA) there is little of interest here: the strange collection of architecture in and on the mall is oddly compelling, however.