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Manchester, England

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Did You Know … ?

  • The first programmable computer was built at Manchester University (1948).
  • Charles Rolls and Henry Royce created Rolls-Royce Ltd. over lunch at Manchester’s Midland Hotel (1904).
  • Manchester University’s Ernest Rutherford was first to split the atom (1917).
  • In the early 1920s, the Manchester Exchange controlled almost half the world’s cotton production.
  • Manchester is home to Britain’s first canal, its first modern factory and the world’s first passenger railway station.

The second city

Manchester is often called England’s second city after London, but this is not based on population or popularity with tourists.

The city, in northwest England, is counted as important for other reasons. One is history, specifically Manchester’s pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution and what that meant for the entire country’s development. In current terms, admirers also rate Manchester next after the unbeatable London based on the things that make it “cool” — meaning its music, the arts scene, even its successes in the soccer stadium.

Finally, it’s fascinating to see a place reinvent itself, and Manchester has worked diligently — with new architecture and redevelopment of older areas — at erasing the notion it is merely a grimy industrial city. This is not to say hard evidence of an industrial past has been erased; some parts of the city remain rather grimy and unattractive.

Manchester in the 18th and 19th centuries blossomed as the commercial center for the Lancashire cotton industry. That success brought cotton mills, huge warehouses, a canal system and intercity rail services — and the money to build some of the finest Victorian buildings in England. Nowadays, visitors tour some of those buildings, and the canals offer pleasure boating and provide the backdrop for eateries and recreational trails.

Industrialization’s darker consequence was creation of a poor underclass. The poverty of Manchester’s factory workers influenced Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Visitors can see the desk where the pair worked together in Manchester’s Chetham’s Library In 1845. A generation later, dissatisfied workers founded the Trades Union Congress in Manchester (1868).

Manchester is a city of inventors, too. Most notably, a Manchester University scientist was the first to split the atom; three decades later, the first programmable computer was built on the same campus.

Several museums recapture the history. The highly regarded Museum of Science and Industry — which includes the world’s first passenger railway station (1830) — is a smart starting point. But for immersion in contemporary Manchester, a good starting point is the Quays, for a walk in the regenerated docks and a visit to the striking Lowry arts center there.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Cycle through the city, using the canals to determine your route.
  • Cruise the Manchester Ship Canal to Liverpool’s Pier Head. Or, explore the canal system in the city on a narrowboat trip from the Portland Basin Museum.
  • Attend a soccer game and cheer the local Manchester United team. Enhance this experience by visiting the Manchester United Museum and taking a tour of the stadium.
  • Make the Industrial Revolution your sightseeing theme in and around Manchester. You may include the Anderton Boat Lift (Northwich), Bolton Museum, Honister Slate Mine (Keswick), Museum of Science and Industry, the People’s History Museum, Salford Museum and/or the Quarry Bank Mill (Styal Village) on your itinerary.
  • Devote a night out to the trendy clubs in Deansgate Locks.
  • The 268-mile Pennine Way National Trail passes near Manchester. Walk some part of it.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Have a pint at one of the city’s many traditional pubs.
  • Head to the Northern Quarter, the city’s bohemian neighborhood, for an eclectic set of choices for day- or nighttime diversions.
  • Visit the ultra modern Lowry arts center and the equally striking Imperial War Museum North, both at The Quays, a revitalized former dock area.
  • Go rowing, or take to the cycling paths, in Heaton Park.
  • Take kayaking lessons at the Salford Watersports Centre.
  • Walk through the reconstructed Stockport Air Raid Shelters for an indication of what life was like in Britain during World War II.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Carry a camera and capture the best of the city’s great collection of Victorian buildings.
  • Join the guided First Industrial City walking tour.
  • At the Gallery of Costume, view the extensive collections of clothing worn in Britain from the 17th century to the present. Of additional interest, the collections are housed in Platt Hall, an 18th century textile merchant’s house.
  • Attend a production at the Royal Exchange Theatre.
  • Take a tour of the city’s large and impressive 19th century gothic town hall. Also, get a look at the much older Chetham’s Library; it is Britain’s oldest surviving public library (1653), but the building dates from 1421.
  • Shop at Barton Square, a Victorian iron-and-glass shopping arcade.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit Manchester at