Brimming with history, packed with culture, and a shopaholic's paradise, a trip to Manchester offers plenty to keep you entertained...
Manchester is synonymous in many people's minds with entertainment and the city has given us arguably the world's best-known football team, as well as some great bands. Oasis, New Order, The Smiths, Buzzcocks and Joy Division all hail from Manchester. In the 1980s, the 'Madchester' scene saw the rise of The Inspiral Carpets, The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, who all gravitated around the famous Haçienda nightclub. The city also hosts the world-renowned Hallé Orchestra. It is the home of Granada TV and the long-running soap opera Coronation Street. The BBC has recently relocated to Salford Quays too, which has further increased the concentration of creative talent in the city.
The MEN Arena in Manchester has hosted some of the world's greatest music acts, as well as comedy and sports. Lady Gaga has performed there twice and it has also seen performances from Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Janet Jackson and Westlife. In general, nightlife is centred in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, which has some great clubs. Don't forget to also visit Chinatown, which has some excellent Chinese restaurants.
One of the city's most famous icons is Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. You can tour the ground and see behind the scenes, which is a great day out for football fans. Rivals Manchester City play at the Etihad stadium, which hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2002. The building of this stadium and expansion of facilities in Salford is typical of the rejuvenation the city has enjoyed in recent years.
Manchester's history is chequered, with the Industrial Revolution imposing dreadful hardship and working conditions on workers, who toiled beneath the smoking chimneys that Lowry painted so well. But perhaps it is the same workers' grit that has kept this city vibrant and spirited. It could have disappeared into an industrial wasteland, but it didn't. It survived and thrived and has risen magnificently to the challenges of the modern age. You can find out about the history of the city by visiting the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry and the People's History Museum. The Salford Museum and Art Gallery has a reconstructed Victorian street to amuse children.
Art galleries are also a feature of the city. The Whitworth Gallery houses a large collection of watercolours and textiles. The stunning Lowry Centre provides state-of-the-art gallery space on Salford Quays for the city's collection of Lowry paintings. It also houses two theatres. The Cube Gallery is focussed on modern urban design and architecture. Don't forget to check out what's on at the legendary Cornerhouse for film and cultural activities. It has outgrown its space and is due for a move, but it's always packed, which is testament to the quality of its offerings. Whatever your artistic tastes, you will probably find them catered for somewhere in the city.
One survivor from the industrial age in Manchester is the Manchester Ship Canal, which linked Liverpool and Manchester, enabling manufactured goods to be shipped out and raw materials to be shipped in much more quickly. You can take cruises down the canal today to Liverpool. The old Manchester Town Hall still stands in Albert Square. It was built in the Gothic-revival style and is considered to be one of the most noteworthy Victorian buildings in the country. Architecture enthusiasts should also visit Manchester Cathedral on Victoria Street.
Other places to visit in Manchester include Market Street, the pedestrianised heart of the shopping area and Canal Street, which is the home of the gay community. The largest shopping mall is The Trafford Centre. Look out for the stunning Beetham Tower, which dominates the skyline. If you fancy an up-market night out you can take a ride up the tower to Cloud 23, a bar which offers stunning views of the city from the 23rd floor. It's currently Manchester's tallest building and England's tallest residential tower. Other city attractions include the Big Wheel in Exchange Square. A much-loved icon, the wheel will be returning when the 2012 Olympic Games are over, but whether it will be to the same location is yet to be decided.
If Manchester is your base it's easy to get out of town, with easy access to Leeds, the Lake District, the Peak District, North Wales and the seaside resort of Blackpool. Manchester really is the gateway to the North. Manchester flights are extremely competitively priced, so you can easily have an inexpensive weekend break.