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Manchester, England, UK has a rich history that really is not examined enough. I had the pleasure of going there for 4 days a year ago, pre-COVID-19, and enjoyed the heck out of it. I went with friends because they were Manchester United fans and wanted to attend a game. I have an interest in sports but European Football was complicated for me to understand. Nevertheless, visiting Manchester was one of the best experiences that I had during my brief tour of England and it is definitely a place to return to if you have ever been. It's role in English history and modern culture is important and often looked over outside of the UK. “The City of the North” as it proclaims itself will get an in-depth look today and we will show why, what, and where to go in Manchester to make your experience whether it is an official move or a weekend getaway. Enjoy!
A little Manchester History for you.
First of all, England’s most populated area is London, Manchester falls just behind it with roughly 8 million less people that live in its city limits. It is known for its culture, architecture, scientific and engineering outputs amongst other things. Modern Manchester is a far cry from the city that populated Manchester in the 1st century AD. Manchester has been around since the Roman Conquest of England and was a the site of a fortress where the Romans defended themselves against the Brigantes, a Celtic Tribe that simply wanted the Romans to disappear from their lands. During the Middle Ages, Manchester was very different than it was previously. No longer the site of a Roman fort the city soon became a place of commerce and became popular due to it market places. It was popular during Henry VIII’s lifetime as a place with a large Anglican population due to Henry VIII’s decree as the ruler of the Church of England. Post middle-ages the machine age and mechanical ages became the new norm. This started as early as the English Civil War (1642-1651). A major export from Manchester that people may be familiar with is Cotton. Prior to becoming a cash crop in the United States, Manchester was the place where “Cotton is King.” That was what the English were known for in their conquering of other societies during the colonial period. They brought many other products from around the world and made them essential resources to support their economy.
The Manchester that we know today started in the mid-1860s with the English Industrial Revolution. Again, still making textiles they improved with the creation of machines and mechanical tools tripling and in some cases quadrupling production. During the Victorian Era, the city was referred to in publications as “Warehouse City.” To this day in former English colonies linens are referred to as “Manchester” because of the textile business there. Along with this, Manchester was a hub for engineering and due to lack of work in London and elsewhere they began to move to Manchester to find work. Furthermore, with the rise of Marxism throughout Europe, Manchester became an immediate hub for the new found ideology. Due to being a working class making up a majority of the city’s population, a socialist idea was not such a bad decision.
Post-19th century and into the 20th Century, Manchester was impacted by two World Wars, a potential revolution against Ireland and the rise of one of the greatest dynasties in sports. During World War I, Manchester lost more boys and men than anywhere in the country, even London due to combat. Manchester also nearly went bankrupt as a result because its ports where not exporting as much or have enough employees. Furthermore, in World War II, Manchester experienced a massive bombing campaign inflicted by the Germans. It is estimated that over 37,000 bombs hit Manchester alone. Following the war, Manchester slowly climbed back and has remained as the second largest exporting city in the UK since. Manchester was the site of recent terrorist attacks within the last 20 years but these have paled in comparison to the other major European attacks in London and Paris. Manchester has also since the 1970s competed with the city of Birmingham for the title of #2 city in the UK despite the fact that Manchester is clearly the choice. Which bring us to where Manchester is now and that is what we are lucky to see today.
For first time visitors…who like to party
For anyone that is a lover of rich, authentic, and genuine history, Manchester is the place for them. It has a mixture of ancient, middle ages, and modern history to coincide with its elaborate landscapes. For the drinker in the family, There are at least 3 bars that I would recommend to anyone with this enjoyment added to their travel. The first “pub” would be No.1 Canal Street. Along with a strong variety of alcoholic beverages the food there is spectacular whether you are watching a football match or just out for a night on town with the gang. Not to mention its name derives from the street it is on which makes it very New Orleans to anyone who has ever traveled there. #2 on the list for me The Jane Eyre Neighborhood Bar. It does have a larger cocktail and wine menu that most pubs you’ll find in the UK but it definitely is worth a visit. If you are looking for a quieter pub experience this place has more of a restaurant feel which some bar visitors prefer. The last place on the list is most synonymous with something that has nothing to do with Manchester at all. The Peaky Blinders pub, known for the show which takes place in Birmingham is an experience for anyone who loves the show. Tommy Shelby and his gang’s portraits line the walls and the pub acts like a period piece with live brass bands and a party deck for those who enjoy having a great time out. I cannot speak for the food at this location unfortunately as when I attended I did not eat there but needless to say I did not go for the food after al. Aside from these pubs, Manchester, like any English city is filled with hundreds of them. Check them out on TripAdvisor or just walk around Manchester and I promise you will find something to remember.
Manchester is not the best place in the world for this but its worth a mention anyways. Nightlife in Manchester starts on Saturday, not Friday like typically in the United States. Saturday night is when you get all dolled up and go out. From what I understand that is a very European thing not exclusive to the UK. Like with pubs, nightlife is different for everyone. Manchester had loads of comedy clubs which is quite unusual for any first-time visitor. Again, check TripAdvisor for their locations as there are plenty of them to go around. For a dance club night out the major recommendation is 42’s. 42’s in Manchester is one of the most glorious night out experiences if Top40 or even high-adrenaline Techno is your thing. It is an experience for anyone who wants to learn about party culture in the UK, at least from the younger crowd. Aside from this a majority of the nightclubs in Manchester, at least the more popular ones are often cater more to a live music listener. Manchester is home to many underground rock and alternative groups in the UK’s history such as the Smiths and Oasis. These bands set the stage and put Manchester on the map for music and still Manchester is a very popular destination for its live performance night life crowds. One Eight Six for instance, is a great place for a live performance as often the venue does not stick to the alternative scene but transforms into a cocktail bar setting and often host jazz bands and so forth presenting a more easy listening feel. Along with this the Belle Vue Rock & Roll Club is always a great show for anyone that enjoys a profound mix of music in their lives. They have been known to bring Elvis impersonators and even rock cover bands to their venue but just know one thing before you enter; its rock and roll all the time, so expect to stay on your feet.
For the first timers…. who like to site see
Site-seeing is why I ventured to Manchester for several days and Manchester has plenty of that to offer. As I mentioned earlier Manchester has since revived itself post World War II and that is clearly visible in its efforts to revamp its most prized possession; the Manchester Cathedral. The Manchester Cathedral remains one of the city’s oldest and most prized possessions. It was begun in 1421 and not completed until 1882. It served as a pinnacle to the Anglican Church during its construction but by the time it was finished England was very different. It possesses a very Catholic appearance with its gothic architecture and serves as a marker and reminder of the damage of World War II as the Cathedral was heavily damaged during the bombing campaigns. Its inside is reminiscent of something like a Westminster Abbey look-a-like contest, only in some ways prettier. During the day time, it is one of the few churches, that I have seen, that actually stand out impressively without any need for additional light. Not to mention, its exquisite stained-glass windows show the history of Manchester even well before the Cathedral was built. It is located in the city Centre and is one of the more impressive objects to look at.
If you are more of historical lover, like I; you may find a certain beauty elsewhere in Manchester. For instance, being the home of the English Industrial Revolution, many of the buildings and mills have since been converted into apartments for the growing population but some still have that grim factory look on the outside. One of which is Lancaster House. It served as a packing mill in the early 20th century. What makes the building impressive is it's architectural structure which is more Baroque than modern. Manchester has since named it a Grade II building meaning it is to be preserved for all of time. Around it are statues and monuments dedicated to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and even US President Abraham Lincoln. Memorials are a big thing in Manchester as you could probably tell. Alan Turning has a memorial here for his time as a Mathematics teacher at the University of Manchester. Piccadilly Gardens is home to various statues and monuments as well as a glorious fountain in its center. Along with Piccadilly Gardens, the nature lovers would enjoy that Manchester has six local nature reserves which allow to interact with species that are sometimes not found in Southern England.
In addition to Landmarks, Manchester has loads and loads of museums for the interested parties. If European Football is your first love then you should travel to the National Football Museum which is worth a trip for anyone that loves the two standing Premier League teams that are located in Manchester. If you enjoy art and painting there is the Manchester art Gallery and the Whitworth Art Gallery each with spectacular pieces which come strictly from the UK. They also include sculptures in addition to oil paintings. For the scientist in the group there is the Museum of Science and Industry which holds true to what it discusses, it is also very child friendly if you have a little one tagging along in the group. Lastly, the People’s History Museum takes the visitor back into the history of Manchester stronger than even I could if I wrote an entire book about it. It covers Manchester from early settlers all the way to the modern Manchester that we see before us.
For first timers…who want a cultural experience
So Manchester is full of culture, but not the same type of culture that you’d get in a London or Glasgow. Manchester is unique in its own way. Its tourism derives from the fact that it has always been a blue collar city and that anyone that desires to call themselves from Manchester not be a white collar employee. Blue collar workers have flooded Manchester for years and with that comes some little tidbits of culture that any outsider might mistake. So with that being said, Manchester is not the traditional English place that we all think we know across the pond. They are unique in their own way.
It all starts with their musical culture. Music and Manchester go together like white on rice. You cannot have one without the other at all. Now that being said the music that came out of Manchester was not anything Big Band or brass instruments so forget that notion. Manchester was the European home of the grunge period and remains the home to some of England’s most popular bands. We mentioned Oasis and the Smiths earlier but Manchester is home to 1975, The Verve, New Order, and some other underground bands that you may or may not know. Manchester is great place to listen to live music just in its clubs, imagine being a world famous band, you would have loads of inspiration from their talent. Music is central to any Manchester youth because of its cultural impact of being a hard-nosed place to grow up.
With that being said, the more literary groups may find this appealing. Manchester has played a role in some notable novels as well. For instance, the later adapted into a film A Clockwork Orange (1962) was written and takes place in Manchester. Although writer Anthony Burgess being a Manchester born Englishman felt that the city would be an appropriate destination for the dystopian novel. Along with this Manchester has played a role in Charles Dickens novel as well, Hard Times (1854) was written to show the difficulty of the city in the English Industrial Revolution. Dickens lived there briefly which is the context of the novel. Most famously, the novel Jane Eyre takes place in Manchester. Although not directly mentioned during the novel many clues provided by Charlotte Bronte allude to the story occurring in Manchester. Many social critiques have been written about Manchester including by known sociologist Fredrich Engels who wrote The Conditions of the Working Class (1844) while living there in 1844. In fact, Manchester was where The Communist Manifesto (1848) began to be constructed which is another potential reason for Manchester being a large socialist populated area during the period.
In terms of media Manchester is home to The Guardian newspaper which was founded under the original title The Manchester Guardian in 1821. Since then, various UK newspapers have moved their offices there at one point or another. Although mainly to get away from being compared to London many residents instead read the Manchester Evening News instead. For television broadcasts ITV and BBC both have studios in Manchester where they often broadcast football news or even Christmas special shows. Manchester is also known for having some of the best radio stations in the UK. BBC Radio Manchester is a pretty popular station amongst its residents along with 96.2 The Revolution and Capital Manchester. These culture categories especially in media apply more so for someone who has just moved to Manchester and not someone going for a couple of days.
If you enjoy sports, Manchester is a good city for one sport and one sport only; Football. Manchester is home to both Manchester United who plays at Old Trafford and Manchester City who plays at Etihad Stadium. The two are rivals and play each other in the Premier League in the Manchester Derby which can be one of the most exciting rivalries in European Football. Having attended a Manchester United game at Old Trafford it is a unique experience for anyone who is a United Fan or not. City have long been the team that United has destroyed in the past and United is considered one of the greatest teams in Europe due to their success under Manager Alex Ferguson. Each team controls a side of the city and are known for hooliganism when they play each other which can be a turn off for a fan but this does not happen often anymore.
Some things you should know about Manchester before visiting
So England has one of the historically worst climates ever. No, it is not the heat that bothers its residents but instead the amount of rain that seems to plague the United Kingdom. If you go in the summer the temperature often averages to 68 which is great for anyone that comes from a hot climate. However, in turn the city has a large amount of rain, for example New Orleans averages 114 days a year with rain. Manchester averages 142 days a year with rain. In a year there are 8,760 hours but in Manchester over 2,000 of them are spent without sunlight, which can seem like a pain. Expect to wear a jacket and a coat when you go, you’ll need one.
Manchester is one of the more diverse cities in the world. You will quite possibly meet people from Jamaica, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Nigeria, Poland, China, and many other countries. If you are looking for a diverse group outside of London, then you’ve found it. Manchester is large enough to where you will more than likely not meet someone from the UK originally at all. Expect to be culturally shocked just by how many people you could potentially meet.
Accents are something very crucial to those of you who speak English. Manchester has a very thick accent and that can be quite disturbing to someone who does not live in the UK. They are not the worst to understand in the UK but their accent is strong enough to be considered otherwise. Be mindful that they are not Scottish or Irish, they just have a different accent than most of the UK that we as Americans may recognize.
Go, Please Just Go
Well, there you have it. Manchester has been summed up in just over 3,000 words. We have gone through sites, culture, history and other aspects which you may want to consider before traveling but for someone who has been their and looking to return, hopefully you have learned something new from this and I look forward to potentially seeing you here possibly as I am planning on moving there in 2021, post-COVID-19. If you have any questions, consult my biggest source of information which I used in my decision to go. TripAdvisor can provide many details from people who have visited different places around the world and for an avid traveler is it a free guide to look at. So please use this but also use TripAdvisor because they can provide you with much more detail than I can.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 12, 2020:
Thanks for showing us why you wish to move to Manchester. It was interesting to learn about it. Good luck with your planned move after the pandemic.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 12, 2020:
I used to live in Britain but never visited Manchester. Now that I've read your article, I wish I had seen the city. Thank you for sharing so much information about it.
Ellis Distefano (author) on September 11, 2020:
Thank you I really appreciate your commentary.
Liz Westwood from UK on September 11, 2020:
Lovely article. I was born in Manchester and grew up nearby. I revisited a few years ago when our daughter was at the university. We enjoyed a tour of Old Trafford.