We had a few days to spare before our next house sit in Nottingham and decided on Manchester as our penultimate English destination. During the Industrial Revolution in 18th and 19th centuries, this once small medieval town would go on to grow exponentially, eventually becoming the world’s first industrialized city in large part to its booming textile industry. The city’s role as an industrial powerhouse gives Manchester a pronounced blue-collar vibe. Though widely known for this industrial past, in the past twenty years, Manchester has developed into a major hub of the creative industries in the north of England with an art scene that rivals London, and a rich history in music, science, and politics.
What really makes Manchester stand out from the crowd, however, is its sporting history. Manchester is home to no less than five teams playing in the top division of English sports with several being considered world class. The most famous of these is the most popular football (soccer) team in the world, Manchester United. Manchester United is the most successful team in England with a record 20 league titles along with many other titles both domestically and in the whole of Europe. The team plays in Old Trafford, a stadium which lies 2 miles from the city center. It is the largest club football stadium in the UK and has been United’s home ground since 1910. As a huge soccer fan, there is no way I was going to miss an opportunity to see this world-famous stadium.
On the other side of town is the home arena of the city’s other less successful football club, Manchester City. Though not as prodigious, Manchester City, are doing their best to rectify the situation, having won 3 titles in the past 7 years, which includes this year. The fans of Manchester City do find pride in the fact that City’s home ground, the Etihad Stadium, is located within the city of Manchester compared to Old Trafford which sits just outside it, and also because they claim to have a more local fan base. The stadium itself has received many accolades from different architectural associations for its unique structural design.
If sports are not your thing, Manchester is also home to many world-class museums, including the northern branch of the Imperial War Museum. The beautiful building that houses the Imperial War Museum is just a few minutes walk from Manchester United’s stadium. The museum focuses largely on the people involved in the conflicts from WWI to the present day rather than presenting a chronological examination of these confrontations. I found this museum to be just as informative and interesting as the one in London with the different angle keeping you from getting too much of the same information. There is also an extremely informative exhibition on the Syrian Civil War of which I knew next to nothing about before going. I would gladly recommend visiting this edition of the Imperial War Museum, just as I would recommend the museum’s counterpart in London.
The National Football Museum, as you would expect, displays important collections of football memorabilia. For many, this would not be very exciting, but those who know me will know that it was definitely one of the top things to see on my list. Besides plenty of family-friendly activities, there are a number of historically unique items on display at the museum. These artifacts include the first ever rulebook from 1863, both balls used in the first world cup, and quite importantly to English fans, the ball from the 1966 World Cup final, the only one ever won by England. What I was most interested in, however, was that the museum is home to the largest private collection of Tottenham Hotspur memorabilia in the world. The museum is largely designed for the younger generation with its interactive exhibits, but there is plenty enough to see for adult fans of the game too. The museum, like the Imperial War Museum, is free so if you are interested in the beautiful game at all then it is definitely worth visiting this relatively small museum.
We spent an afternoon during our short stint in the city to take a quick look at some of the sights in Manchester that appealed to us, starting with the Manchester Town Hall and moving our way north, finishing at the Manchester Cathedral. What we did not know, however, was that the cathedral is in the middle of renovations that meant visiting the building was next to worthless. The town hall, on the other hand, is not, and is probably the most impressive architectural feature in the city. It was built in 1877 during the Industrial Revolution as a symbol of the city’s newfound wealth and power. The neo-Gothic building is so enormous that to get the best view of it you have to view it from outside of the square in which it sits.
Making our way north, we stopped at two separate libraries, both of which are renowned for their beauty. The first library we stopped at was John Ryland’s Library which was given to the people of Manchester by John Ryland’s widow, Enriqueta, who at the time was the world’s richest widow. Enriqueta spared no expense in building and decorating the library. The beautiful sandstone walls make walking through the library’s corridors make you feel like you are walking through Hogwarts. The best architectural feature, however, is without a doubt the Historic Reading Room. The reading room’s vaulted ceilings are more than 40 feet tall with small reading rooms cut into the walls which contain gorgeous antique books and manuscripts. Among the library’s rare collection is a piece of the New Testament thought to be the oldest fragment of the New Testament in existence. Walking the building is a magical experience and the quick stop was well worth it, especially as it was also free!
Our last stop for the day was Chetham’s Library which is such a hidden gem in Manchester that a large portion of the residents in Manchester don’t even know it exists. The 15th-century library is one of Manchester’s oldest buildings and the world’s oldest public English language library, with the library’s original collection of books still chained to the shelves. The library was famously visited by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who were two of the founding fathers of Communism while in the process of writing “The Condition of the Working Classes in England.” Chetham’s Library, like John Ryland’s Library, has its own Hogwarts vibe, its shelves looking nearly identical to Duke Humfrey’s Library in Oxford where the restricted library scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed.
We did not spend much time in Manchester so we didn’t get to experience the city as well as we would have liked. One thing that was hindered by our short stint in the city was the opportunity to experience is what I like to call Brewery Row, a street with the highest concentration of breweries I have ever seen. Missing the opportunity to try a bunch of new beers is something I’m definitely sad I didn’t get to experience. Overall though, there is clearly a lot of good things going on in this ever-changing city that does make it a worthwhile stop on a trip to England, especially if you are an English Football fan. If wanting to visit northern England for more than a few days, combining Manchester with a trip to the nearby city of Liverpool would be a really good way to do so.
- There is a very useful free bus that takes you around Manchester’s city center. This, combined with the number of free museums in the city make Manchester an affordable place for a day out.
- Manchester is world-renowned for its Christmas market which causes the city to transform around the holidays and should not be missed.
- Chetham’s Library is not the easiest place to find. The library is located within Chetham’s School of Music which is only accessible through a badly marked turnstile. Go to the guard station next to the entrance and ask for access to the library and the guard will happily let you in and point you in the right direction.