Manchester is best known for its industrial past and lively nightlife, but Anne Reed discovers the city's cultural side, from art and museums to stunning architecture and high-end shopping 1. Urbis To get acquainted with Manchester's past, present and future all in one go, start at Urbis. This modern museum in Cathedral Gardens (next to Victoria Station) explores urban culture and the cities of today and tomorrow. A glass lift takes you up to the fourth floor, where multimedia exhibits introduce you to the neighbourhoods, people and quirks of Manchester. The third floor is dedicated to urban issues of cities everywhere and has interesting exhibits about violence, homelessness, architecture and graffiti. The museum is free except for the special exhibitions. Open 10am-6pm (Sun-Wed) 10am-8pm (Thurs-Sat), urbis.org.uk, tel +44 (0)161 605 8200. 2. Manchester Cathedral Switch gears entirely and take a five-minute walk to Manchester Cathedral in Cathedral Yard. Built in the Perpendicular Gothic style - which is unique to England - it is said to have the largest nave, at almost 35m wide, of any cathedral in the UK. The intricately carved wood ceiling is impressive, and the playful misericords carvings are famous for their unusually irreverent depictions (the monkey holding a flask). Climb to the top of the bell tower before you leave for a bird's-eye view of the city, but be prepared for a narrow squeeze up a winding staircase; it's not meant for the claustrophobic. Open 8am-7pm (Mon-Fri), 8am-5pm (Sat) and 8.30am-7.30pm (Sun). Admission is free. Tel +44(0)161 835 4030, manchestercathedral.org. 3. The Millennium Quarter The MQ is the rejuvenated shopping centre that sprang from the ruins caused by the 1996 IRA bomb, which destroyed much of Manchester's city centre retail district. The Arndale Centre, a huge indoor shopping centre, is the backbone of this retail hub with hundreds of shops and speciality stores. When you leave, be sure to exit via the futuristic new sky bridge connecting the Arndale to the largest Marks & Spencer in the world. If you like higher-end options, check out the Triangle across the street and the plethora of fashion boutiques of Exchange Square, all located a stone's throw away on Corporation Street. 4. Castlefield When you tire of the shopping mêlée, walk two blocks west to Deansgate station, where you can hop on the free green line city bus for a quiet retreat to the canal junction of Castlefield, designated Britain's first urban heritage park. Here you'll find a scattering of waterside pubs and café to grab a quick bite, and most offer outdoor seating. Take note of the railway station above as it is the world's oldest surviving station on the first inter-city railway, dating back to 1830. After lunch, soak up some of the area's history as you stroll through the green grounds of the ancient Roman fort - abandoned around 410 AD - from where Castlefield derived its name (originally Castle-in-the-field). 5. The Lowry You'll want to see The Lowry if for no other reason than its impressive architecture. Pick up the Metrolink at G-Mex station (an adult return fare costs £1.90) and continue heading out of the city to Salford Quays, where you will be faced with The Lowry's striking construction of metal and glass. Built for the new millennium, this contemporary structure houses a large theatre, several art galleries, a handful of restaurants and bars and a gift shop. Don't miss the free gallery on the top floor, which is home to the largest collection of paintings by famous local painter LS Lowry, along with black and white photographs of the man himself. Linger over a drink in the Lyric Circle Bar, which offers great views of the plaza below in a chic, colourful setting. Open 10am-8pm (Mon-Sat), 10am-6pm (Sun), tel +44 (0)870 787 5788, thelowry.com. 6. Imperial War Museum north If time allows, head across the canal via the dramatic Lowry footbridge to the Imperial War Museum North, another beacon of modern architecture. Opened in 2002, this building, designed by Daniel Libeskind, is meant to represent the three parts of the globe shattered by war. Displays feature iconic war objects including an AV-8A carrier plane capable of landing on a roof and hovering at any height, a timeline of conflict in the 20th and 21st centuries and an epic Imax-style film that no visitor should miss. Admission is free. Open 10am-6pm daily, iwm.org.uk, tel +44(0)161 836 4000. See visitmanchester.com for more details.