Omni Traveller

Budget Backpack Travel in Europe

Manchester: The Free Spirit City in Northwest England

Manchester Royal Exchange

Manchester Royal Exchange
Photo: Duncan Hall


Of all the cities of Europe, Manchester is the most progressive, and after London the most important city in England. Socially, there is a motivational energy in Manchester that is a driving force socially and culturally. Manchester has embraced the realities of the social changes of the 21st century in an open manner. This is so for two reasons. There are five universities and five colleges in Manchester, and the resulting youthful dynamic this provides has considerable influence. Yet this influence is in complete harmony with and magnifies the long tradition of the Mancunian propensity to challenge the status quo, to be the vanguard of social change, and in being pro-active in civil liberties and civil rights. This has created a very different English city in tone, demeanor, and appearance than what Americans may expect.

 

The Rebuilding

Because of extensive bombing during World War II, there was a considerable amount of rebuilding, and with the Mancunian penchant for innovation, instead of rebuilding the old they constructed buildings of contemporary design. So the look and feel of Manchester is that of a dynamic city that is definitely quirky, but also modern and impressive.

 

Madchester

This dynamism has been a magnet for creative young artists and musicians from across Britain, and this has created a very active cultural climate in the fine arts and in the performing arts. Manchester is home of the ‘musical revolution’ that brought about the Hallé symphony orchestra and progressive music groups such as The Stone Roses, Oasis, Happy Mondays, the Inspiral Carpets, James, and hundreds more. Manchester’s music revolution was even dramatised in the 2002 film, “24 Hour Party People”, a 3½ star digital-video depicting the punk era through the late-’80s “Madchester” era. The music scene in Manchester is a source of local pride and is representative of the spirit of this great city.

Students gathered for a peaceful demonstration

Student Demonstration
Photo: BinaryApe


 

Youthful Adventures

With such a large and vibrant uni student population in Manchester, that means a lot of uni student life, and nightlife. If you want a night out on any night of the week, that’s no problem. There is always a cheap club to get in with no dress code, packed pubs with happy hours, lots of cheap food including ‘takeaway’ (takeout food), and places to meet girls, places to meet guys, places to meet girls and guys, whatever you want.

First, head on down to the section of the city called Studentville. It’s the Oxford Road area and it is packed with pubs, bars less picky about dress style, and it’s active most of the time.

The Northern Quarter is in Manchester City Centre between Shudehill and Victoria Station. This is a bohemian and offbeat alternative lifestyle area with a lot of cafés, pubs, bars, music shops, art galleries, clothes boutiques, and emporiums. In the Northern Quarter you can find all sorts of weird, delightful, and wonderful stuff. The pubs and bars mostly mostly on High Street and Oldham Street. There is also a bazaar in Affleck’s Palace, which use to be a department store. Some cafés morph into nightlife with various music venues.

The Gay Village is a unique centre for the large and flourishing gay community. The Gay Village is in the Canal Street and Chorlton Street area and includes Sackville, Whitworth, and Princess Streets. Across the canal is Sackville Gardens and Manchester College. Canal street is a pedestrian street lined with gay bars and restaurants.

Manchester Pride is a yearly ten-day LGBT event that takes place in mid-to-late August. It includes a Pride Fringe festival, film showings, a colorful parade that makes their way across the city and ending in the Gay Village, and a weekend celebration called ‘The Big Weekend’. This is a ticketed three-day program of outdoor entertainment in the Gay Village during the August bank holiday weekend. It all ends with a Candlelit Vigil in Sackville Gardens.

Manchester Day Parade

Manchester Day Parade
Photo: Man Alive

 

Free Things to Do

Here is a partial list of free things to do around Manchester.

The John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester at 150 Deansgate, south of Bridge Street, is unusual and beautiful on the inside. It is a masterwork of Victorian Gothic (or Neo-Gothic) architecture. There is a collection in the library of magnificent medieval manuscripts.

Museum of Science and Industry or MOSI, on Liverpool Road aims to make science and industry inspirational and enjoyable. Well, that depends what part of this huge museum you are in. However, there are trains you can actually ride, a Planetarium, and a 4D cinema (you do pay for a fairly old short film, about £5.50, which is generally rated as fair). The airplane display is near the end of the entire exhibit area and since the place is really big, don’t wear out too early because the planes are rather cool. Just quickly walk pass the boring story-board exhibits. Some people be delirious about this place. I don’t know why, but the planes, planetarium, and trains are def. There is a decent restaurant and coffee shop in the museum.

Heaton Park, four miles north of the city centre in Prestwich, offers huge green lawns with good views of Manchester, row boats on the lake, footpaths to walk through the woods, cycle paths as well, a beautiful and quirky 18th century mansion, Smithy Lodge, open to the public with period furniture, and a farm with farm animals and beekeeping to see.

Whitworth Art Gallery on Oxford Road next to Whitworth Park at Manchester University is especially known for their collection of British water colours and modern and historic prints. Of course there are also drawings, paintings and sculptures. There is a summer program of events to check out.

City Airport & Heliport’s Art Deco control tower is open to the public, free, and you can see the planes and helicopters landing and taking off. City Airport is on Liverpool Road in Eccles and is not to be confused with the Manchester International Airport on the other side of town.

 

Other Things to Do

Other places to visit include the Manchester Art Gallery, The Lowry, National Football Museum, Peoples History Museum, Manchester Museum, and Manchester Cathedral.

Like the rest of England, there are a list of festivals as well as local events in Manchester that occur during the warm months. These include such things as the Manchester Picnic, various displays and “thought provoking experiences” at Tatton Park, The Float-In Movie, Harry Potter Day, and Canal Festival. Check the local tourist office for details for festivals while during your visit.