Showcasing five centuries of British history, Manchester is a giant industrial, architectural, artistic and cultural theme park. Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and custodian of many British customs and traditions, Manchester is home to dozens of museums, galleries, exhibits and landmarks. “After several days of touring and viewing, one’s head quite begins to swim,” reports holiday-maker Diane Hutchins, slightly overwhelmed. Hutchins’ sage advice: “When your brain hits ‘history overload,’ explore Manchester’s off-beat attractions. The city is full of unexpected delights.”
A Manchester Mash-Up
Assembled from visitors’ travel-site expressions of surprise and delight, this list highlights a few of Manchester’s unconventional attractions:
• The Peak District National Park
Often described as Manchester’s “back yard,” The Peak District National Park is “a back yard with steep hills, dark caves, shady valleys, great houses and stone villages.” Experienced urban explorers recommend getting to the park by train. Hutchins agrees, noting, “It’s just a pleasant half hour’s trip.”
Located just off Liverpool Road, today’s Castlefield once was a Roman fort and settlement called Mamucium. Originally built from turf and timber, the oldest foundations date back to 79 AD. Archeologists and anthropologists carefully have reconstructed the fort’s defensive outer-works and gardens, and they have lavished painstaking attention on accurate reconstructions of the North Gate and the civilian settlement outside the fort.
• China Town
Now the second largest Chinese community in Britain and the third largest in Europe, Manchester’s China town began just after World War II with just a couple of restaurants and markets. Commerce thrives along Nicholas and Faulkner Streets where visitors find medicine shops, acupuncturists and purveyors of all things distinctively and authentically Asian. One well-informed virtual tourist accurately explains China Town’s “highlight is the huge imperial arch which was erected in 1987 as a symbol to the prosperity of the Chinese community. It includes symbols of luck and success, for example dragons and phoenixes. It was a gift to Manchester by the Chinese people.”
• Canal Street
Gay activists seem untroubled by tourist guides’ frequent references to this “campy” section of Manchester as “Gay Village” as if it were the equivalent of fantasyland in this massive multi-cultural theme park. The village runs along historic Rochdale canal, once the center of Manchester’s thriving cotton trade. Visionary architects and entrepreneurs have renovated the area’s historic buildings, transforming them into artists’ and designers’ lofts, restaurants, shops and night clubs. Always exciting, Canal Street especially rocks at night.
• Granada Studios
See the Granada Studios while you can, because this storied site will close in 2013. Hutchins stresses, “One cannot just pop in to the studios on a whim; you must book in advance to secure tickets for a filming.” Jeremy Kyle,, and “Celebrities under Pressure” film there, and visitors agree, “It's not just interesting to see a show being put together; it's a really good laugh too! The staff are incredibly friendly and professional, never losing patience when a bunch of screaming girls getting all crazy for Vernon. Staffers keep the audience entertained during all the boring sound and lighting checks, and they all just seem to love their jobs.”
Sooner or later, you’ve gotta shop.
Fashionistas and shopaholics agree Trafford Centre is “shopping heaven,” and they very strongly recommend you dedicate lots of time for exploring this uber-mall’s prize collection of upscale shops. All of Britain’s leading designers are represented in this exceptionally shopper-friendly two-story fashion extravaganza. One satisfied shopper described Trafford Centre as “one of Great Britain’s premier shopping destinations,” emphasizing it has every imaginable specialty shop including a tasteful “adult” boutique.
Joy Marks is a freelance writer living in London. She writes for www.manchesterhotels.org, and loves to recommend the site for finding the best hotels in Manchester.