The majority of the city’s older buildings date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries with little structures remaining from before this time. Lovers of Neo-Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles will all find something to admire in Manchester. In 1996, the IRA bombing decimated the epicentre of the city, sparking an urban renewal that led to a flurry of modern buildings being erected in the area. Read on to discover our guide to the city’s finest examples of architecture.
The area now known as Exchange Square was created in the aftermath of the IRA bombing, although several of the prominent buildings in the area have existed for hundreds of years. The Old Wellington Inn and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar date back to the 17th Century when the area was named The Shambles and the pubs were surrounded by other medieval buildings. Most of this area was destroyed during World War Two, although the two iconic pubs survived and were relocated in 1996 to make way for the new development.
Another building that has stood the test of time is the Corn Exchange, which was first built on this site in 1837 and replaced by the current building sixty years later. During the last Century, the building was used by food wholesalers and later as an indoor market before it was damaged in the bombing. It was later transformed into an upmarket shopping centre named The Triangle, but has recently been refurbished as a popular food hall containing a variety of the city centre’s best restaurants.
Behind the Corn Exchange sits Manchester’s Cathedral, which has undergone extensive refurbishment over the years. Although the structure has been deemed a Cathedral since 1847, its history can be traced all the way back to the 7th century. Open to the public, classical concerts and indie gigs are frequently held inside, or visitors can choose to explore on quieter days to admire the subtle design features.
Another striking building on the square is the glass structure previously known as Urbis that now houses the National Football Museum. Part of the new development of the area, the sight of this modern structure beside some of the city’s oldest buildings is the perfect example of how old meets new all across the city.
Sinclair’s Oyster Bar, 2 Cathedral Approach, Manchester
St Peter’s Square
The area around St Peter’s Square is home to several of the city’s grandest buildings. The main feature in the area is the Town Hall, a grand Neo-Gothic structure that dates back to 1877. A Grade I listed building, lovers of architecture from this period will no doubt delight in admiring its ornate spires, tiled interiors and iconic clock tower. If you have the chance, take the time to explore the building in detail, paying particular interest to the murals on the walls and the Manchester bee tiles on the floor.
Right beside the Town Hall lies Manchester’s Central Library, which recently reopened following a £50 million refurbishment programme. The dramatic circular design of the building was reputably based on the Pantheon, resulting in one of the most iconic structures in the city centre. The library first opened its doors in 1934, and its recent renovations have opened up more areas to the public that were previously kept behind closed doors. The reading rooms, grand staircase and huge entrance hall are the most impressive internal features.
Just a short walk away from the square, you’ll discover one of the city’s most beloved traditional pubs which should be a key stopping point on any architectural tour if only to admire its impressive tiled façade. The Peveril of the Peak is the only detached pub in the city centre and remains defiantly open despite several development plans to remove it in the past. Outside, you can admire the beautiful tiles but it’s worth stepping inside for a pint to pay attention to the original features including wooden seating, stained glass and etched mirrors.
The perfect place for a pre-concert tipple, the Pev is conveniently located right beside one of Manchester’s most dramatic modern structures, the Bridgewater Hall. This striking building was opened in 1996, featuring an unusual concrete design that actually allows the building to hover above the ground, connected to the floor by 300 huge springs that remove external vibrations to provide the perfect acoustics inside.
The Peveril of the Peak, 127 Great Bridgewater St, Manchester
The area around one of the city centre’s busiest roads plays hosts to a handful of its most interesting buildings. The most iconic structure in this area has to be John Ryland’s library, a memorial conceived as a tribute to the late John Ryland by his wife and designed by Basil Champneys. The building is still in use as part of the University of Manchester Library, but can be visited by those who simply want to admire the architecture. Another excellent example of a Neo-Gothic structure in the city centre, the opulent interiors are easy to get lost in while admiring the exquisite detailing.
Directly beside the library you will find the new development named Spinningfields, home to Manchester’s most exclusive restaurants and designer shops. While there isn’t much to spark the interest of architecture lovers here, the stark glass pyramid entrance to subterranean restaurant, Australasia does make for a good photo opportunity.
Finally, just around the corner from Deansgate, time your visit to coincide with a concert at The Albert Hall. The most impressive live music venue in the city is housed within a Grade II listed Wesleyan chapel that was originally built in and had previously been hidden to the public for over 40 years. The chapel has been restored to reveal a stunning music hall that is one of the most atmospheric venues in the entire country, presenting gigs and club nights below a series of beautiful stained glass windows and an impressive gigantic organ. Be wary, the building is rumoured to be haunted and has even appeared on an episode of Most Haunted.