11 Unique Things to do in Manchester

by Paul Stafford  |  Published October 28, 2016

Constantly evolving, Manchester has found resourceful ways to reinvent itself time and again. From the first Roman settlement, to the Industrial Revolution, to the present day cultural hub of northern England that it has now become, this city is so much fun to explore.

Salford Quays lit up at night (Photo: Aero Pixels via Flickr)

Salford Quays lit up at night (Photo: Aero Pixels via Flickr)

Rather than be ground down by the rapidly changing needs of a post-war society, or browbeaten by the emergence of cheaper foreign competition for heavy industry, Manchester keeps coming back stronger than before. The 2002 Commonwealth Games showcased a rejuvenated city that was both vibrant and friendly. Modern and historic buildings coexist, showcasing two very different eras of prosperity.

With a city as unique and progressive as Manchester it is no surprise there are many experiences that cannot be replicated anywhere else. History, culture and sport can be accessed in a way that s uniquely Mancunian. Here are eleven of the most unique things to do in Manchester.

1. Islington Mill

What to do with all the useless old mills left over from the industrial era? With a little unconventional intuition, you get Islington Mill. The space has been transformed into a multi-functional venue that plays host to live music, art exhibitions, creative workshops and even a bed & breakfast steeped in rustic charm. The mill also has a number of creative residents who often double up the space as their studio. The best thing about Islington Mill however is the ethos of experimentation and flexibility, meaning that it is likely to continue evolving as an interactive space.

Islington Mill has plenty of cool space (Photo: Islington Mill)

Islington Mill has plenty of cool space (Photo: Islington Mill)

2. Manchester Museum

There are very few museums that combine archaeology, anthropology, history and natural history all under one roof. Manchester Museum is a jewel in the crown of Manchester University; a place where dinosaur fossils and Egyptian Mummies can be seen within minutes of one another; or where a preserved bog body can be seen in one room, while close by some 950,000 specimens of plants are stored. What’s more, entry is free.

F.C. United's Ground - just like the old style grounds used to be (Photo: Mick Dean via F.C. United)

F.C. United’s Ground – just like the old style grounds used to be (Photo: Mick Dean via F.C. United)

3. FC United

You may have heard of Manchester City. You may have heard of Manchester United. Well recently a third Manchester team has been grabbing major headline space. Founded in 2005 by a band of Man U. fans disgruntled by the takeover of their team by an America billionaire, FC United of Manchester have quickly risen through the lower non-league divisions. Tickets are good value and it’s a great way to support a unique team that was created as a protest to the big money that is ruining the game for many fans.

4. Chetham’s Library

Quirky and venerable, Chetham’s Library was founded in 1653. While there may be older libraries out there, this is the oldest remaining public library in the English speaking world, providing knowledge to the public then as it continues to do now. Chetham’s is home to a highly regarded collection of historic printed books (60000 books published before 1851), including the intriguing ‘Tractatus de Nigromancia’, which is essentially a necromancer’s handbook. Visitation times are restricted and it is best to contact the library in advance of a visit. A poet’s corner, talks and even weddings also take place at the library.

Practically everything can be classed as an antique at Chetham's (Photo: Chetham's Library)

Practically everything can be classed as an antique at Chetham’s (Photo: Chetham’s Library)

5. Afflecks Palace

Probably the world’s most authentic marketplace, Afflecks Palace rambles through a fantastic old building that seems to never end. Afflecks is the kind of place that was hipster before anybody knew what that was. And when they did, Afflecks had long since moved on. The eclectic range of shops within offer everything you never thought of including collectibles, retro clothing, a lot of alternative fashion in all its manifestations, vegan soap and Cyberdog, whose leader is Chi-Chi the Chihuahua. Don’t ask, just see for yourself!

The main building of Afflecks Palace (Photo: Afflecks Palace)

The main building of Afflecks Palace (Photo: Afflecks Palace)

6. Find All the Vinyl You Ever Wanted

Remember when listening to music was like a warm hug and not a sterile string of ones and zeroes? Well Manchester still does vinyl like it was 1968. Naturally there are a couple of vinyl shops in Afflecks Palace, but the best two are Vinyl Exchange in Manchester city centre and King Bee Records in Chorlton. King Bee is especially well known for specializing in rare records including 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, Northern Soul and more. Vinyl Exchange better covers the house, trance and techno scenes so beloved by DJs. Both places have been operating since the 1980s and are enjoying a resurgence of sorts in the popularity of the medium.

7. Bridgewater Canal

One of the most important early constructions that paved the way for Manchester’s preeminence in the industrial revolution, Bridgewater Canal connected the city to commissioner Francis Egerton’s coal mines. Today the canal weaves out from the city centre towards Salford and Worsley. The pleasant route passes remnants of some of the most significant remaining industrial-era infrastructure. Today many of the barges are homes for people who live on the water, but barges can also be hired from a number of companies.

8. The Curry Mile

Yes, this one does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. For roughly a mile along Wilmslow Road the entire cuisine of the Indian subcontinent and much of the Middle East is represented at the 100 or so restaurants. Or at least the British take on those cuisines. Pakistani restaurants are the dominant force, but for a change Afghani, Lebanese and Iraqi are worth a try. Some of the best reviewed include Shere Khan, Mugli and Lal Qila. The area can get particularly busy during term time as Manchester University has a campus nearby.

The curry mile at night (Photo insert_user_name via Flickr)

The curry mile at night (Photo: insert_user_name via Flickr)

9. Walk Through a Sewer

Manchester’s Museum of Science & Industry is more than just a day out; it’s an appraisal of the industrial revolution in conjunction with the region of Greater Manchester. Impressive displays of old cars and huge locomotives are the main draws, but delving into a prototypical Mancunian Victorian-era sewer will leave you with knowledge you never expected you would learn in this lifetime. Luckily there’s a sense of sterility down there. The museum also has many interactive displays and small performances during the day.

10. Salford Quays

A triumph of rejuvenation, this formerly run-down post-industrial landscape of Salford Quays is now one of the most popular parts of the city with visitors .  Along the waterfront the magnificent Imperial War Museum offers a chilling depiction of the contradiction of both the creative and destructive qualities of war. Get a glimpse of the industrial cityscape of a former Manchester of LS Lowry’s art at The Lowry museum. Within walking distance are Old Trafford and the Emirates Cricket Ground for football and cricket fans respectively.

11. Greater Manchester Police Museum

Open once a week on a Tuesday and free of charge, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) gives a rare insight into policing during the Victorian era as well as the evolution of policing over time to tackle with new threats and forms of crime. There is also an old magistrate’s courtroom and some interesting photo archives that depict the different underworlds of years gone by.

Interior of the Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives. (Photo: Corporate Communications, Greater Manchester Police)

Interior of the Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives. (Photo: Corporate Communications, Greater Manchester Police)