Portico library and gallery, manchester - © portico library/marketing manchester
Tucked unobtrusively away at the side of the Bank pub, and accessed via a buzzer system, the Portico recently celebrated 200 cerebral years of book lending (but you have to be a member to borrow from the collection) and arts events. Its tightly packed library, with creaking floorboards, leather-backed chairs and archaic section headings ('polite literature' is one), takes you right back to 19th-century Manchester - it remains a peaceful haven amid the bustle of town.
A changing series of art exhibitions take place beneath a gorgeous Georgian glass dome ceiling, and literary events are held throughout the year. Note that steep entrance steps prevent full wheelchair access.