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Best Things To Do in Manchester

AOL PICK from our Editors

A Manchester vacation is what you make of it. One of the top Manchester attractions is soccer (it’s football up here, remember) and aficionados will, of course, want to head to Old Trafford, while those who want to explore Manchester’s museums won’t be disappointed by the stunning Imperial War Museum North, the interactive displays at the Museum of Science and Industry and the dedicated Hat Works Museum. If you’re into art, works by some of northern England’s great artists, among others, can be found at the Manchester Art Gallery. Edgier fringe artwork is often on show at the Cornerhouse, The Lowry and even the Imperial War Museum North. History buffs could do worse than check out the stunning Chetham’s Library and the Greater Manchester Police Museum. There’s also a whole host of parks and outdoor spaces, but you should bring an umbrella in case of rain.

Cornerhouse

Neighborhood: City Centre

Another top Manchester thing do to, especially on rainy days, is visit the Cornerhouse: a three-story independent arts centre showcasing the best in northern (and global) expression. With the support of British arts patrons Danny Boyle, Damien Hirst and Helen Mirren, the Cornerhouse screens world cinema, it hosts discussions exploring topics such as the link between Manchester and the Maghreb, and showcases Manchester’s finest fringe art. There’s also a brilliant bookstore, a couple of cafes and a bar with beer on tap and more interesting, imported drinks to boot.

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Chetham’s Library and School of Music

Neighborhood: City Centre

If you’re into Gothic architecture, have ever read anything by Karl Marx or simply want to see one of the most impressive ancient libraries in the world, Chetham’s is a must. First constructed as a clergy residence in the 1400s, it was here that Marx and Friedrich Engels would discuss communism 400 years later. Today, the vaulted ceilings and tall bookshelves remain intact; you can wander around by yourself Monday through Friday, but you’ll have to be buzzed in by a security guard or a librarian—the gates are often locked.

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Chetham’s Library and School of Music  

Manchester Art Gallery

Neighborhood: City Centre

Housed in a listed 1926 building, Manchester’s most famous gallery is adorned with work by European greats such as Degas, Renoir and J.M.W. Turner. The biggest drawcard, however, is the focus on artists’ interpretations of Manchester through the ages, including those of Cezanne, Valette and the Mancunian impressionist painter Wynford Dewhurst. During school holidays there are a whole host of fun exhibitions for kids to get stuck into. The gallery is open between 10AM and 5PM but is closed on Mondays. Entry is free.

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Hat Works Museum

Neighborhood: Stockport

If you haven’t had your fill of playing dress-up at the Greater Manchester Police Museum, Hat Works in Stockport (10 km from Manchester) is a must. This museum bills itself as “the UK’s only museum dedicated to the hatting industry, hats and headwear.” Exhibitions, talks, displays and the museum’s guides will walk you through every type of British headpiece, from the pink feather fascinator to the beaver top and duchess hat. There’s also an Internet café, shop and family fun area.

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Imperial War Museum North

Neighborhood: Salford Quays

Just down the road from Old Trafford is the Imperial War Museum North, which is one of the top things to do in Manchester if only to take in the interesting architecture alone. Inside, you’ll find exhibitions on everything from photojournalism in conflict zones to camouflage uniforms, the life of spies, Battle of Britain, historical war fiction, World War II exhibits and ex-Iraqi army tanks. There’s a gallery showing images of war on the big screen, as well as art created during conflict. Admission is free and the museum is open every day from 10AM.

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Imperial War Museum North  

Old Trafford

Neighborhood: Salford Quays

Britain’s largest club ground is also its most famous, dubbed the “Theatre of Dreams” by Sir Bobby Charlton. You can tour Old Trafford with a regular guide (GBP13), or you can book yourself a spot on the legends tour (from GBP100), led by greats such as Norman Whiteside and Alex Stepney. Both tours end with you emerging from the tunnel, via the dressing room, onto the pitch, to football chants, cheers and….OK then, silence. But you can imagine it, believe us. There’s also an adjacent museum included in the entry fee. Check Man United’s schedule before turning up; the centre is closed, of course, on match days.

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Old Trafford  

The Lowry

Neighborhood: Salford Quays

The Lowry looks like a triangular creation from outer space, a shimmering collection of metal that reflects the light that bounces off the canal. It was constructed with National Lottery funding in 1997 and named for the Northern painter LS Lowry. Inside, there’s a nice selection of his work, which includes powerful sketches of industrial Britain, as well as further art exhibitions, performances, film screenings, bars, restaurants, cafés and shops. No wonder The Lowry welcomes more than a million visitors a year through its doors.

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Greater Manchester Police Museum

Neighborhood: Northern Quarter

One of the best Manchester attractions may not be one of the most obvious. A visit to a police station might not mean much to you until you realize this old museum is perfect for playing a grown-up game of cops and robbers. There’s a huge collection of truncheons, handcuffs, uniforms, old police cars and other miscellanea, and you can walk in and out of the dusty cells, trying out the wooden beds and even the locks. There’s also a room full of old police archives for those who suspect their ancestors may have been up to no good in Manchester of old. Admission is free, but the museum is only open on Tuesdays (10:30AM to 3:30PM).

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Fletcher Moss Park & Botanical Gardens

Neighborhood: East Didsbury, South of City Centre

A far cry from the horrors of war is Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens, a 21-acre site in Didsbury with lush plant life and a fair amount of wildlife, too. There’s a fragrant heather garden, a romantic nature trail, tennis courts and an olde English teahouse that is perfect to shelter in during the somewhat inevitable rain showers. It’s open from 8AM until sunset for picnicking, frolics and getting back to nature. Jump on the No. 42 or 42A bus from the city centre. It’s one of the best Manchester things to do if you want to take in some of the beauty of the locale.

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Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester

Neighborhood: Castlefield

Did you know that the world’s first water-powered cotton spinning machine was produced by a barber? Or that Manchester University professor Ernest Rutherford became the first person to split the atom in 1917? The Museum of Science & Industry will walk you through Manchester’s gritty history, including a crawl through a typical Victorian sewer (watch out for the rats), a steam train ride, Shackleton jets and exhibitions exploring the industrial revolution. Most of the exhibitions are free, but some of the more obscure galleries charge a small fee.

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