11 Can't-Miss Points of Interest in Manchester

The striking Deansgate skyline in Manchester gleaming at night
The striking Deansgate skyline in Manchester gleaming at night | © Mark Waugh / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Simon Bland
5 August 2020

Manchester’s reputation as a nightlife spot is known worldwide, but it’s also a place that’s packed with cultural points of interest, from the Victoria Baths in Chorlton, to the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Macclesfield. If you’re planning a trip to Manchester, here are 11 local attractions that should be on your list.

Explore history and nature at Manchester Museum

Museum
Map View
The skeleton of an Egyptian mummy on display at the Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester in the UK. Image shot 10/2011. Exact date unknown.
© Martin Beddall / Alamy Stock Photo
Sitting between the city’s two universities on Oxford Road is Manchester Museum which houses ancient Egyptian relics, obscurities from long-forgotten cultures and over one million preserved animals. Head up to the second floor to see their living vivarium, home to a number of rare reptiles and amphibians, including the vibrant (and critically endangered) lemur leaf frog.

Say hello to Friedrich Engels's Statue

Historical Landmark
Map View

Social revolutionary Friedrich Engels was responsible for co-authoring the Communist Manifesto with German philosopher Karl Marx, part of which was penned in Manchester. Engels lived in the city on and off for almost 30 years and this Soviet-era statue erected in his honour was relocated from Ukraine and brought to the UK by Turner Prize nominated artist Phil Collins in 2017.

Hunt for street art in The Northern Quarter

Architectural Landmark
Map View
While street art specifics aren’t listed on maps due to their ever-changing nature, the Northern Quarter is teeming with colourful and controversial graffiti that attracts keen-eyed Instagrammers week in, week out. Looking to go on your own urban art tour? Culture Trip recommends starting in Stevenson Square and wandering down Spear Street. It may look like a scruffy city-centre alley, but its red-brick walls are plastered with work from the city’s finest street artists.

Expand your mind at Jodrell Bank

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Jodrell Bank radio telescopes at Goostrey.
© John Davidson Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

Over in Macclesfield you’ll find the Jodrell Bank Observatory, which houses The Lovell Telescope, a local landmark that’s known worldwide for its contributions to astrology. This educational venue plays host to the forward-thinking Bluedot music and technology festival each July but you can visit its Discovery Centre daily from 10am to 5pm where you will find a cafe, interactive activities and a space exhibition teaching kids about the wonders of the universe.

Gaze in awe at the John Rylands Library

Building, Library
Map View
Don’t be fooled by its city-centre placement. The John Rylands Library in Deansgate looks like something ripped straight from Harry Potter, with its neogothic architecture, private work spaces and ornate reading room. In fact, this impressive central hall is worth the visit alone, draped in natural light pouring in through its high, glass windows. Looking for some respite from the bustle of the city? You’ll find it here.

Attend an event at Victoria Baths

Building
Map View
Chorlton’s Victoria Baths opened in 1906 as a space for swimming and leisure. Since then, this historic Grade II listed building has been through a number of restorations but has retained the period features that make it so unique. Wander through its narrow, tiled hallways and you’ll spot mosaic floors and colourful stained-glass windows overhead. While its two Victorian swimming pools (complete with authentic, wooden changing booths) are rarely filled, you’ll instead find them playing host to a variety of events, art takeovers and immersive film screenings.

Step back in time at Castlefield's Roman fort

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Castlefield's Roman Fort, Manchester
© coward_lion / Alamy Stock Photo

These days, Castlefield is a thriving hub of bars, modern office blocks and cool restaurants, but thousands of years ago it was home to a fully functional Roman fort. Mamucium – as it was called – lay undisturbed until the city’s industrial boom in the late 18th century and today you’ll find its surviving remnants carefully preserved in the centre of town. Completely free to explore, you can see what’s left of the fort wall alongside its gatehouse and ancillary buildings amid Castlefield Urban Heritage Park.

Travel back in time at Chetham’s Library

Building, Library, School
Map View
There’s nothing quite like Chetham’s Library. Founded in 1653, it’s the UK’s oldest free public reference library and an ancient relic amid a modern city. If John Rylands was like something from Harry Potter, this place is torn from the pages of Game of Thrones, with its dark and imposing walls lined with centuries-old books and imposing reading rooms complete with rich wooden panels and delicately engraved furniture – including the writing desk of Friedrich Engels. Library tours are available and are highly recommended.

See a local icon at the Emmeline Pankhurst statue

Historical Landmark
Map View

This bronze statue of Manchester-born suffragette and women’s rights activist Emmeline Pankhurst is a relatively new addition to the city’s cultural sightseeing scene. Officially unveiled in 2018 in St Peter’s Square, it’s one of just two statues celebrating influential women in Manchester (the other is Queen Victoria in Piccadilly Gardens) and was selected by the voting public. Stood atop of a stool and addressing the crowd, Pankhurst is depicted doing what she did best – rallying crowds and making her voice heard.

Visit the historic Manchester Free Trade Hall

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Now the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel, Manchester, once the Manchester Free Trade Hall
© Scott Hortop Travel / Alamy Stock Photo

Another of the city’s Grade II listed buildings, Manchester Free Trade Hall has a story that’s truly iconic. Built around 1853, it survived the Manchester Blitz to become one of the city’s leading music venues. It’s the spot where Bob Dylan was infamously labelled ‘Judas’ in 1966 by a punter who was particularly miffed at the musician’s decision to ditch folk in favour of electric rock. These days, it’s a swanky Radisson Hotel but the opportunity to drop by for a quick photo is not to be missed.

See The Secret Oasis Bridge in Ancoats

Park
Map View
Manchester is a city that has spawned musicians who have conquered the world, from Joy Division to The Stone Roses. It’s also a place that likes to celebrate its famous offspring. If you head to the Cotton Field Wharf Marina in the up-and-coming Ancoats neighbourhood, you’ll see a secret quote recognising Manchester’s most famous siblings Noel and Liam Gallagher. Look for the reflection of the New Islington Bridge and you’ll see the phrase ‘Cast No Shadow’ – the eponymous track from the band’s 1995 album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory reflected in the water.
These recommendations were updated on August 5, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.