Tom Otley takes in the excellent exhibitions and historic corners of the northern powerhouse.
1 - The Printworks
Start in the heart of the city at the Printworks, a reminder of Manchester’s central position in industry and cutting-edge media. As the name suggests, the building was originally a newspaper printworks dating back to 1873, where the Evening Chronicle and Daily Mirror were produced. Closed in 1985, it was redeveloped as an entertainment complex in 2000 and has more than 20 restaurants and bars. If it’s raining, it’s a good place to get your bearings and plan your visit.
2 - Exchange Square
The 1996 IRA bomb attack caused widespread damage to the city centre and spurred redevelopment, including Exchange Square, now the heart of the city’s shopping district where stores include Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. Walk the route of the water feature running in a crescent shape through the square – this is the route of a ditch running into the nearby River Irwell around which Manchester was originally built. The 17th-century Old Wellington Inn and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar were moved to their current positions during redevelopment. Behind them is Manchester’s lovely cathedral, worth a visit for the interiors – free tours take place between 10.30am and 3.30pm Monday to Saturday.
3 - Northern Quarter
Pass through Piccadilly Gardens to reach the Northern Quarter, bounded by Victoria, Great Ancoats Street and the High Street. Here you’ll find a more personable side of Manchester – great pubs, record shops (yes, vinyl), vintage clothes stores, galleries and street art. The architecture is firmly red-brick industrial northern, and all the better for it. Some 18 artists and designers have studios in the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, housed in the old Fish Market on Oak Street, built in 1873.
4 - John Rylands Library
The wealth created by the city’s working class eventually found its way back to them via the civic buildings erected for their benefit. A short walk along Deansgate will bring you to the John Rylands Library, a welcome retreat from the busy shopping streets.
Rylands was one of the city’s first multimillionaires. When he died, his wife, Enriqueta, used £500,000 of his fortune to create the library. Designed by Basil Champneys, this astonishing neo-Gothic building opened on January 1, 1900 and became part of the University of Manchester in 1972, holding its special collections. Exhibitions change regularly, housed amid the stunning architecture fashioned from pink and grey Cumbrian sandstone, Polish oak, white moulded plasterwork and art nouveau bronze. The library’s centrepiece, the Historic Reading Room, is presided over by marble statues of John and Enriqueta, and was built nine metres above street level to minimise disturbance from the horse-drawn traffic on the cobblestones below. It is still effective today. Open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun-Mon 12pm-5pm.
5 - Manchester Museum
Take a short bus ride or a 20-minute walk to reach your last two stops. Halfway down Oxford Road is the Manchester Museum, which has an extensive set of permanent exhibitions of everything from stuffed animals to Egyptian mummies. As of last month, the entire top floor of the historic Grade II-listed building has become the Study, with the historic space opened up and original features restored. A place for visitors to conduct research, it features bespoke furniture by Ben Kelly Design (BKD) and state-of-the-art equipment, such as a video microscope capable of sharing still images direct to Twitter.
6 - The Whitworth Art Gallery
A little further along Oxford Road, the Whitworth was founded in 1889 in memory of industrialist Sir Joseph Whitworth. Originally known as the Whitworth Institute and Park, it was for “people of all social classes”, and set in a park that would counteract the malaise of inner city life. Supported by 60 eminent Mancunians, including C P Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian), its holdings include a world textile collection, as well as British watercolours and drawings.
Several extensions have been made, including a £15 million one last year that doubled its size, with steel and glass wings extending into the park, and a new art garden and orchard.
Until April 23, the“Marcantonio Raimondi and Raphael” exhibition showcases the pioneers of European printmaking.