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Tour 3 by Mark Johnson

Highlights of Manchester

There’s a lot in Manchester! I have lived here for over 20 years, although I am not a local. I appreciate its compactness (in comparison to sprawling London!), the friendliness of its people, the richness of its intellectual and industrial history and the diversity of its cultural life. It possesses a youthful vibrancy which uniquely offsets it dull grittiness. An influx of 85,000 students spread across its four Universities does much to contribute to this.

Here’s where I take people when they haven’t been here before:

  1. The John Rylands Library, Deansgate

    This is an extraordinary neo-gothic building housing a remarkable collections of manuscripts, including an early fragment from St John’s Gospel. The building alone is worth the visit, and the reading room is one of the most beautiful secrets of the city. Free entry.

  2. Cheethams Library

    Whilst on the subject of libraries, a visit to Cheetham’s library is also recommended. A medieval library in the heart of Manchester is hardly expected, and this one is important because it is where Engels spent much of his time in the City, sometimes sometimes meeting his friend Marx. They really felt the revolution would kick-off here! Free entry – but ask at the porter’s lodge.

  3. The Royal Exchange Theatre

    A testament to more recent creativity in the city, this building in the central shopping district used to be the ‘corn exchange’ which lay at the heart of Manchester’s cotton industry. Abandoned in the 1970s, it was decided to turn the space into a unique theatre-in-the-round in a kind of space-age ‘pod’. The theatre company of the Royal Exchange ranks as one of the leading companies in the country.

  4. Castlefield

    The Castlefield district provides a breathtaking glimpse of Victorian engineering, with its giant Viaducts weaving their way over the Bridgewater canal, the world’s first industrial canal. Now there are plenty of places to eat and drink, and the canal walks provide a very different view of the city.

  5. The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

    Next to the canal is the building complex of MOSI which includes the world’s first passenger railway station building for the Liverpool to Manchester railway. The museum is very large. There are frequent talks and demonstrations of the machinery (the Power Hall is thrilling – great for cyberneticians with some remarkable governing mechanisms on display!) Free entry.

  6. Manchester Museum, Oxford Road

    This is Manchester University’s museum, which includes extensive anthropological collections, Egyptian collections, natural history and a vivarium. Free entry.

  7. Whitworth Gallery, Oxford Road

    This is my favourite gallery in Manchester. Also belonging to Manchester University, it contains a remarkable collection of watercolours, textiles and wallpaper. Don’t be fooled by the Victorian cladding of the building. The inside is a Scandinavian-styled open space with lots of wood and clean lines. Currently undergoing expansion and so not quite as much on display as usual, it always manages to surprise the visitor. Free entry.

  8. Manchester Art Gallery

    Perhaps more “standard fare” for a city gallery: famous for pre-Raphaelite art. Personally I prefer Liverpool’s Walker Gallery – but don’t let me put you off – it’s free.

  9. Imperial War Museum North, Salford Quays

    The Imperial War Museum North is in a remarkable building designed by Daniel Lieberskind representing a ‘fractured globe’ situated on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal. It has some fascinating objects, and although the museum is not large, it has a powerful trick up its sleeve. Every half-hour, the exhibition space is blacked-out and a giant audio-visual presentation is given on different themes, projecting images on the asymmetric walls of the building. The immersive effect is unforgettable and slightly disturbing. To get there, take a tram to ‘Media City’. Free entry.

  10. The People’s History Museum

    To me, this is what Manchester is all about. The socialist movement began here. The Labour party has its roots here. The battle for equal rights for women came from here. Industrial revolution went hand-in-hand with social revolution. Free entry.

Cheap Eats in Manchester

  1. Katsouris Deli, Deansgate
    Ridiculously cheap and fantastic quality deli serving Mediterranean platters, and an excellent carvery. Gets very busy.
  2. Nexus Art Café, 2 Dale Street
    Another hidden gem. A very hidden entrance down some stairs. But fantastically funky atmosphere, and very good value.
  3. The Cornerhouse, Oxford Road
    The Cornerhouse is a favourite haunt. It is an art cinema and art gallery which also serves excellent food. There’s always something interesting on – and very convenient for trains from Bolton – just get off at Oxford Road station, and the Cornerhouse is… er… on the corner!
  4. Rusholme, Oxford Road/Wilmslow Road
    Rusholme is a district south of the city, just past the University. It is known as the “Curry Mile” for reasons which are obvious. This part of the city has been my home for a long time. My favourite restaurants include Mughli (Indian) and Beirut (Lebanese).