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John Rylands Library
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The 10 best attractions in Manchester

Need some sightseeing inspiration? Get to know this marvellous city with our guide to the best attractions in Manchester

By Huw Oliver
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This city may be most famous for its music, or perhaps its football teams, but Manchester has much more to offer than just storied gig venues and outsize sports stadiums. From highbrow galleries to marvellous museums, lush libraries to gaudy retail meccas, there’s a ton of brilliant things to do here. You could spend a full day inside Victoria Baths, an Edwardian swimming pool and Turkish baths complex that’s pretty much calm incarnated. And another one entirely at the John Rylands Library, which is so grand you’ll likely mistake it for a church. Not even to mention the recently revamped Gay Village, a thronging nightlife destination at the heart of the city’s LGBTQ+ scene. Read on to discover more bucket-list attractions in Manchester you totally shouldn’t miss.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Manchester

Best Manchester attractions

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Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Whitworth Art Gallery

Art Galleries

With great sensitivity to history, nature and the surroundings, this new version of the Whitworth leaps way beyond its former position as a minor partner to the Manchester Art Gallery. Following a major refurbishment, walls are replaced with floor-to-ceiling windows, while the café now seemingly levitates among the trees. It all helps to frame the artwork, varied and inclusive as it is.

HOME
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. HOME

Art Film and video

One of the newer venues in town brings the arts home to the city centre like no other, merging two former cultural institutions, Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre Company, under one multi-million-pound roof. Here you’ll find two theatres, five cinemas, a large and flexible gallery space, plus plenty of places to eat, drink, shop and hang out. 

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Manchester Art Gallery
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3. Manchester Art Gallery

Art Galleries

Slap bang in the middle of the city sits on oasis of calm in the grand shape of Manchester’s main art gallery. And what a place this is. Nearly 13,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and other artworks, plus a similar number in the craft and design collection, all make for one genuinely world-class art outing.

The Quays, Manchester

4. The Quays

There are many reasons why The Quays should be at the top of your must-see list. This striking waterfront destination has grown out of the once-derelict docklands of the Salford and Trafford Quays area, transformed from desolate wasteland into a place where some of the country’s most iconic buildings (both The Lowry and Imperial War Museum North are RIBA award-winners) stand with their neighbours to provide a place where culture, sport, shopping and a lot more come together.

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5. Tatton Park

Attractions Historic buildings and sites

The current Tatton Park mansion is built on the site of a much earlier house, but still dates back to 1716. Its neo-classical architecture and elevated position make for a thoroughly grand sight, even amid the thousand acres of garden and landscaped parkland. Inside, the house is as immaculate as it is on the outside, with its rich furnishings and incredible collection of books, furniture and artworks.

6. Ordsall Hall

Attractions Historic buildings and sites

Salford is a city full of surprises, and among the most striking is the magnificent Ordsall Hall, a Grade I-listed Tudor manor house right in the middle of a housing estate. The hall dates back to 1177 – so you can see why this lovingly restored building earned its listed status. The garden grounds are wonderful for a family picnic or short stroll, and reflect the variety of eras through which the building has survived.

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Victoria Baths
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7. Victoria Baths

Attractions Historic buildings and sites

Thank goodness for the Friends of Victoria Baths. Built in 1906 and housing a stunning Turkish bath suite as well as the main pool, this was once considered ‘the most splendid municipal bathing institution in the country’, but fell into dereliction when, in 1993, Manchester Council could no longer afford to keep it open. The tireless work of the Friends meant that the baths won the public vote for funds through the TV show ‘Restoration’ in 2003.

Gay Village, Manchester

8. The Gay Village

Thanks to the efforts of the Village Business Association and increasing concerns about the continued need for LGBTQ+ resources, the Village is thriving. By day, the Gay Village is the best place in the city to relax and, by night, it’s just a lot of fun. Of course, this area hosts many big-name events throughout the year – Pride, Sparkle, the Great British Bear Bash, to name but a few – so it’s great to see this current shift in emphasis rejuvenating the Gay Village once again.

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9. intu Trafford Centre

Shopping Arcades

A shopping and entertainment mecca to some, a gaudy retail fairground to others – however you look at it there’s no denying the intu Trafford Centre is a monumental success. The architectural offspring of the Taj Mahal, Ancient Rome and Blackpool (think the north of England meets Vegas and you’re not far off), the intu Trafford Centre’s impressive collection of shops, themed bars and restaurants makes the place an enormous attraction.

John Rylands Library
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. John Rylands Library

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations

In times of woe and in need of spiritual guidance, you could well find yourself wandering into the John Rylands Library mistaking it for a church, such is the late Victorian neo­-Gothic splendour of this magnificent building. Head inside and you’ll find something that could truly enrich the soul – about 200,000 books.

Looking for something amazing to eat?

The 24 best restaurants in Manchester

Restaurants

The Manchester food scene is flourishing: trailblazing indie restaurants have opened across the city, under-the-radar local favourites have been celebrated by national restaurant critics and world-famous chefs are setting up flashy new ventures.

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