We have been to Manchester quite a few times now, it is a beautiful city, full of modern new ideas as well as a plethora of old impressive buildings. Aside from this, we find ourselves in Manchester a lot as it is useful as a gateway to the UK rail network. Destinations from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Hull, London, Bournemouth etc are all available. We often leave from here on our travels, as you will see as we get through more posts in the future. As Salford is directly across the river from Manchester we also often find ourselves exploring the two cities together. This post covers our various days out to the two cities, starting with Manchester…
Status: City of Manchester District, Greater Manchester (Historically Lancashire), City, England
Date: Various, First 24/08/2012
Travel: Metrolink (Piccadilly, Piccadilly Gardens, Market Street etc), Northern Rail (Southport – Manchester Victoria), Northern Rail/Cross Country/Virgin Trains (Manchester Piccadilly – Stoke/Sheffield/Stockport/Huddersfield etc)
Eating & Sleeping: Greggs, Cafe Nero
Attractions: Manchester Central Library, Museum and Art Gallery, Town Hall, Beetham (Hilton) Tower, Manchester Ship Canal, Museum of Science and Industry, Piccadilly Gardens, Urbis, Manchester Cathedral, Albert Square, Albert Monument, War Memorial, Granada Studios, Manchester Central, Deansgate Roman Fort etc
The best place to start our Manchester Adventure is here, where the 280 foot Clock Tower of the very impressive Town Hall rises above the trees around Albert Square, which is the area directly in front of it. This beautiful building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse (1830 – 1905, British Architect who also designed the Natural History Museum in London) and construction started in 1868, taking 9 years. The new building replaced the original Town Hall constructed in the 1820’s on King Street, which had become too small for the growing city.
The building opened in 1877 and we have actually been inside as it was open during the market, and the interior decoration is absolutely amazing, from the busts of influential figures such as John Dalton (1766 – 1844, Chemist and Physicist) to the intricate spiral staircases.
The most impressive photograph of the Town Hall I have of it comes from our visit to the Manchester Christmas Market 2013, and you can see the giant Santa sat above the entrance. Albert Square was full of stalls selling various things, and this area linked to other sections of the markets that run around the city.
Albert Square itself is based around the Albert Memorial, shown above. The Albert in question is Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1819 – 1861, consort to Queen Victoria). The square itself was created as a fitting location for the monument between 1863 and 1867, and this then became the perfect place for the Town Hall. In the centre of the memorial stands a statue of Albert, constructed out of marble. There are a number of Albert Memorials around the UK, from the Albert Memorial Clock in Belfast, to the Memorial in Kensington Gardens, London that is similar to the Manchester one.
Just behind the Town Hall is one of the most notable Manchester buildings, the circular Central Library, which has a ring of columns around the top, above which is a mighty dome. It is very similar in appearance to the Pantheon in Rome, even though it is a relatively new building. It was built between 1930 and 1934 to a design by Emanuel Vincent Harris (1876 – 1971, English Architect). In front of the building is St Peter’s Square which contains the Manchester Cenotaph, made out of Portland Stone in 1924 as a memorial to World War I.
Moving on from here, you will find the very centre of Manchester, around Piccadilly Gardens, the Arndale Shopping Centre and Piccadilly Station. Let’s start with Piccadilly Gardens, a popular public square where a lot of the Trams on the Metrolink Network meet up.
Originally this whole area was the site of Manchester Royal Infirmary (from 1755) and Manchester Royal Lunatic Asylum (from 1763). By 1914 both of these buildings had been demolished after the Aslyum moved to Cheadle, and the Infirmary to Oxford Road. Instead of building any new buildings here, the City Council decided to create a large open space instead, so the gardens were laid out. A regeneration of the area lead to a number of new features being added in 2002, including One Piccadilly Gardens (a modern office block out of shot) and the new water feature at it’s centre. At the back of the picture, before the taller buildings is the concrete pavilion added by Tadao Ando (Born 1941, Japanese Architect), which houses different shops and cafes.
Behind the pavilion is the tram line, stopping at Piccadilly Gardens Metrolink Stop which opened in 1992. Most of the lines in the city converge here, and both of the main train stations in the city are only around 10 minutes walk from here, being Manchester Victoria and Manchester Piccadilly. There are also a number of statues around the gardens, including Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley (1817 – 1876). You will also find a Gold Post Box, celebrating the Gold Medal Win by the Team GB and Paralympics GB Cycling teams at the London 2012 Olympics, with a second one in Albert Square.
Just off from the gardens is the Arndale Shopping Centre, which opened in 1975. It is one of the largest shopping centres in the UK, and is the main shopping destination in Manchester. In 1996 however, tragedy struck when a bomb planted by the IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army) exploded and damaged beyond repair a large number of buildings in the area and badly damaged the front of the Arndale, necessitating a rebuild. It was the largest bomb to go off in Peacetime Britain, and affected a third of the retail space in the city centre, but thankfully there were no fatalities amazingly. The whole area has since been rebuilt and it has actually helped to update Manchester and it is now considered a major contender to be Britain’s second city, edging past Birmingham in public opinion and economically. The Arndale was repaired and today houses many major shop chains. You can see on the picture the new modern areas of the city, with one of the main entrances into the shopping centre on the right.
Moving onto Piccadilly Main Line Station, you will pass a variety of old Victorian buildings with a beautiful façade, as well as a lot of newer developments with new sky scrapers and office blocks and some charming squares.
Manchester Piccadilly is the largest train station in the city, and the North West of England. It is also one of the oldest stations in the area, opening in 1842 as Store Street station. It was renamed Manchester London Road in 1847, and again in 1960 to the current branding. Local services to all parts of the North from Preston, Southport, Chester and Leeds all call here, as well as the main line Virgin Trains Services to London, Arriva Trains to Wales and First Transpennine Express (which has it’s hub here) trains to Blackpool, Yorkshire, Glasgow and Edinburgh via Preston and Carlisle. With a total of 14 platforms the main part of the building is amazing to look at, and a small shopping area has been joined onto the front of the building, making it one of the most modern stations in the UK. It is also the fourth busiest station in the UK outside London, after Birmingham New Street, Glasgow Central and Leeds. Metrolink has two platforms underneath the main station, allowing you to walk directly from the tram into the station.
Moving back past Piccadilly Gardens and the Arndale, is the area around Manchester Victoria Station, containing Urbis, Manchester Cathedral and the river separating Manchester from Salford.
Urbis is a fantastic new building that opened in 2002, and is very distinctive with its very triangular appearance, and the small spike on the top. It was designed by Ian Simpson (Born 1987, English Architect) and originally opened as an exhibition centre called “Museum of the City”. This area of the city is known as Millennium Quarter and a redevelopment in 2002 allowed Urbis to be built. Urbis was reasonably popular but after a re-branding in 2004, removing the title “Museum of the City” and calling it an exhibition centre all about Manchester, visitor numbers increased radically. Further triumph came in 2010 when the National Football Museum, previously located at Deepdale Stadium in Preston, was moved into Urbis. Obviously Football is a major attraction, especially in a Manchester which is the home of two very successful teams, Manchester United and Manchester City. Again visitor numbers soared, and its future appears to be secure. It is free to visit so its certainly worth a look round.
Behind Urbis, below the succession of skyscrapers, is the beautiful stone front of Manchester Victoria Station, which serves mainly local trains on the Northern Rail Network. Major redevelopment is being carried out around the other side of the building to modernise it, however the main building has been well preserved. We have passed through this station a few times, and there are regular trains all over the area. Victoria opened in 1844, and was owned by the Manchester & Leeds Railway (M&LR) and it replaced Manchester Oldham Road station, which opened in 1839 and closed the year Victoria opened. It has now been demolished, and a Royal Mail depot stands on the site. Other companies soon ran trains in and out of the station, including the Liverpool & Manchester Railway from May 1844.
In 1884 a new station, called Manchester Exchange Station, was opened by the London & North Western Railway, and one platform linked the two stations from 1929. This platform was the longest passenger platform in the whole of Europe, at 669 metres long, or 2,195 feet. Exchange closed in 1969 and all traffic was rerouted through Victoria.
If you come across the square towards the camera, Manchester Cathedral will come into view. The Cathedral is a beautiful old stone building, originally built in 1421, and different parts of it were then added all the way up to the 18th century, including the tower in the 14th. It is thought to have the widest nave of any Cathedral in England, and the stonework was replaced in the late 18oo’s due to its decaying condition. In 1847, the Manchester Diocese was created so it became the new Cathedral. It was severely damaged by a German bomb during World War II however since then it has been restored to it’s former glory.
It is open to the public for free and so we couldn’t exist going for a look inside, where it was very peaceful and the detail is fantastic. It has a lovely stone feel inside, with columns lining the aisles.
The next area of Manchester to explore is called Deansgate, and covers the Mamucian Roman Fort, Beetham Tower, Museum of Science and Industry and an insight into Manchester Canal Network.
I always found this setting a little strange, an old Roman Fort in the middle of Manchester that we didn’t even know was there until we happened upon it by chance the other month on the way to the Museum of Science and Industry. The Fort, which was called Mamucium (where the name Manchester came from) was founded around AD 79, and was a guard post on the main road running from Chester to York. It was still being used by the 3rd century but by the 18th it had been a ruin for centuries.
The main gatehouse (in shot) is actually a reconstruction however just across the road are genuine remains from when the city began to expand during the industrial revolution, levelling the fort. A tram stop nearby (Deansgate-Castlefield) allows easy access to both the Fort and the Museum.
Still on route to the Museum of Science and Industry after finding the Fort, we came across part of Manchester Canal Network, at a basin where one section of the Bridgewater Canal terminates (Runcorn to Manchester via Leigh) and there were a number of canal boats here. This area of the city really shows how much the Victorians influenced the city, and indeed Manchester expanded rapidly during this period and became the world’s first industrialised city. The canals allowed goods to be brought in and out of the city, helping it prosper.
Another major canal in the area is the Manchester Ship Canal that runs through Salford Quays, between Manchester and Salford, becoming the River Irwell in the North, and River Mersey in the South. When it opened in 1894 it was the worlds longest river navigation canal and turned Manchester into a thriving port.
It was not far from here to the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) which is a collection of old warehouses showcasing unique collections from the above Aviation Hall, to Textiles, Manchester’s Impressive Sewer Network, Railway Stock and Electricity Generation from Water, Steam and Gas.
Find out more by looking at Gemma’s dedicated post about the Museum, here.
Not far away from here, rising high above the city, is the Beetham Tower, inside which is the Hilton Hotel. It is a landmark of Manchester and the tallest building in the city, which can be seen from miles around. You can also see it closely from Mamucium, so seeing the old and new contrasting so well fascinates me.
The Beetham tower is a recent addition, constructed in 2006 to a height of 168 metres, making it the current 9th tallest building in the UK, and the 2nd outside London itself, as well as the tallest residential building in the UK. Part way up the building it widens so there is an overhang down to the street below. This floor has a bar on it and glass floor panels to make it even more interesting. The architect was also again Ian Simpson, who has an apartment on the top floor. The Hilton occupies floors 1 to 22, and the Cloud Bar is on 23. Floors 25 and above are then apartments. It is one of my favourite buildings in the North, and the stand out feature in the Manchester Skyline.
Directly outside the Beetham Tower is the Deansgate-Castlefield stop, where I took the above photograph. Metrolink is a light rail (tram) network opened in 1992, that runs around the county of Greater Manchester, connecting the outlying towns and suburbs into Manchester city centre. Trams from places such as Rochdale, Oldham, Bury, Salford, Eccles, Ashton-under-Lyme, East Didsbury, Altrincham and the new MediaCityUK installation on Salford Quays all converge in around Piccadilly gardens.
The service runs every few minutes and is a great commodity, with frequent stops in Manchester city centre, around the town hall, Piccadilly gardens, Piccadilly Station, Deansgate, the Central Library and further out towards Manchester Victoria station. The newer trams are of the yellow design pictured above, and there are still some older grey trams running around on the network. The network itself is being upgraded and will eventually reach the Trafford Centre (Major out of town shopping centre) and Manchester Airport. New stations now take trams to Old Trafford (Home of Manchester United) and into Rochdale Town Centre, as until recently they only ran to Rochdale Railway Station.
One other local landmark is visible from Deansgate-Castlefield, looking past the Beetham Tower. Manchester Central was once the main railway station in the city, opening in 1880. Trains from London St Pancras had their terminus here (now trains from London Euston terminate at Piccadilly) inside a 64 metre arched roof which was the second largest roof in the UK. It closed to passengers in 1969, and was left abandoned, however in 1982 it was renovated and re-opened as the G-MEX Centre, and for the next few years it was the cities main music concent venue until the Manchester Arena near Manchester Victoria. Since then the building has become a conference venue, and also hosts exhibitions and again concerts although it is now the second largest concert venue in the city after the Arena.
It isn’t much to look like from the outside, but its fantastic to see that this amazing building wasn’t just destroyed after the end of its operational life, but saved and reused for new and exciting events.
Directly behind Central (the entrance is on the far side) is the Midland Hotel, which is genuinely my favourite building in England. Opened in 1903 it was the perfect place for travellers to stop as it was opposite the Central station. It looks like a mansion from the outside, and takes up the entire block, and we go past it on the tram every time we pass through Manchester and I can’t help but gaze at it in awe. It contains 312 en-suite rooms, 14 suites, and once had a theatre that can seat 1000. This “Twentieth century palace” as it has been described, was designed by Charles Trubshaw and took 5 years to build. It was alleged during World War II that Adolf Hitler had a keen interest in the building and spared this area of the city which is also close to the Central Library and Town Hall, from bombing to save the hotel, but whether this is true or not is open to speculation.
Manchester has a lot of Motorway connections, with the M60 doing a full loop as a ring road around the city and off shoots of this include the M61 (Towards Bolton and Preston), the M62 (For Liverpool, M6 to Scotland and Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford and Hull) as well as other smaller motorways to local destinations. By rail there are regular trains to London, Yorkshire, Liverpool as well as up to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Manchester Piccadilly is one of largest stations in the country and also one of the busiest.
Manchester is a fantastic place to visit, and is one of the most important UK cities behind only Birmingham and London itself. There is so much to explore and what I have talked about in this post is only part of a much larger metropolis which extends out into the neighbouring city of Salford, as well as the various towns that make up Greater Manchester from Wigan to Rochdale. Manchester is a very popular tourist destination, so if you need a great northern holiday destination, you know where to come…