Being an honorary northerner thanks to my London roots and northern wife, I made the decision to live in the North West and raise our children in Greater Manchester.
This means that I’ve experienced everything Manchester has as a tourist with no bias towards the city powering the Northern Powerhouse movement.
Having two daughters, Dorothy at 1 1/2 and Bethany 14 with a vintage loving wife and myself that loves adventure and culture Manchester has been at the heart of most of our activities and things we do.
So if you’re new to Manchester of looking to find out somewhere new here’s a brief guide of things to do in Manchester:
Manchester has some exceptional museums and as it was the heart of industry and transport back in the days there’s lots to do and see. Reliving the past is easy with places to not be missed including Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). MOSI offers a technology rich experience for all ages to educate for the future but also to relive the past. With science exhibitions, interactive workshops and other learning opportunities, this should definitely be on the agenda for science lovers. But while you’re there, MOSI is the location for the oldest surviving passenger railway station from the Manchester to Liverpool line that started the transport revolution. There’s history everywhere so make sure you have enough time and don’t forget to cross the road to see the planes too.
Unfortunately I haven’t had chance to visit yet, People’s History Museum has been recommended as a must visit for anyone looking to brush up on the historical side of Manchester and Britain. You’ll experience and learn about the changes that were brought in over the past 200 years through the development of democracy. With galleries and exhibitions, there’s something for everyone of all ages.
The Lowry at Salford Quays plays home to amazing theatre productions for all ages and gallery exhibitions revealing some of the most thought provoking works throughout Manchester. With shows like Jungle Book, War Horse but also Room on the Broom, there will be a show for all children to enjoy and adults too. Experience the Lowry Outlet across the walkway or the bright and bustling Media City across the water.
Maybe not one for everyone but don’t forget, Manchester is the home of Coronation Street with the Granada Studios site being around the corner from MOSI and Salford Quays. With tours of the cobbles available, lovers of the Street may want to book tickets in advance and enjoy a pint in the Rovers Return.
A recent trip to Ordsall Hall, a 750 year old stately home in Salford, was ideal for the whole family. With a WW1 allotment garden for the kids to get their hands dirty, dress up in the main house and productions happening all the time in the vast grounds. This really is a gem and a great find for a morning/afternoon of historical learning.
Parks to Play in
Heaton Park just outside of Prestwich is not just a 600 acre playground to burn off some excess energy after all the ice cream but a chance to experience a number of activities for all of the family. From boating on the lake, golfing or foot golf, a few lengths on the bowling green or the possibility of a clear night under the observatory. This is one not to be missed and I’d check the events happening before you go to make sure you don’t miss anything.
At nearly double the size of Heaton, Tatton Park on the borders of Manchester and Cheshire, also boasts a medieval Old Hall in it’s armoury of things to do. Holding on average 100 events per year, you may stumble across a play or a festival as well as experiencing the farm and day to day activities. With award winning gardens to enjoy you’ll also need to keep you eyes peeled for the Deer that roam the 1000 acres in full. Just whatever you do, check the weather first.
Afflecks Palace is hidden away in the Northern Quarter offering an indoor market with lots of smaller independents. It’s not big enough to lose your children and if like us and have an indie loving teenager, there’s plenty of opportunities to treat them to something new.
If you’re from Manchester you’ll have been to the Trafford Centre and probably complained about the traffic, but if you’re not, well you’re in for a treat. Not only does it hold shops ranging from Hollister, Ted Baker and Primark but there’s also loads to do with the family of all ages. Situated in Barton Square sits a beautiful Carousel spinning children of all ages with is conveniently placed in front of Sea Life Centre and Lego Discovery. Trafford Centre has a huge range of places to eat so all tastes are catered for and if you’re feeling adventurous try the mini-golf of one of the huge cinema screens.
Fun for the Family
Not only does it have the Lowry and is far enough out the centre to be quieter for the family, Salford Quays holds an array of opportunities to spend a full day. Enjoying views over the quays, you’ll have a range of restaurants plus the chance to do water sports from the Helly Hanson Watersports Centre. Shopping, Galleries, Theatres, Food and Watersports. A great hub for lots to do.
Moving from Preston the National Football Museum is now located conveniently by Manchester Victoria station offering a great insight into the great game of years gone by. There’s interactive exhibitions as well as the opportunities to test out your skills in a number of the simulators. I took our two girls and we all had a great time even though they aren’t the biggest football fans.
Places to Eat
My hidden gem favourite here is the Food Market at the Arndale Shopping Centre. Having worked in Manchester for a number of years, Panchos Burritos gave my colleagues and I plenty of afternoon food comas from their amazing range of Mexican delicacies. In the Arndale you literally will find artisan stalls from every cuisine so no one in your party will go hungry.
Every Thursday and Friday (Not sure about weekends) there is a Food Market in the middle of Piccadilly Gardens. With a smaller choice of stalls than Arndale, you’ll find amazing choices such as the Jerk Chicken lady and the Yorkshire Pudding Burrito guy. Definitely head that way and worse case, head to Morrisons there as they have a full salad making counter like you’ve never seen before.
For older children getting ready for a film or younger ones ready to eat, The Print Works deserves a special mention. It’s generally for adults in the evenings however with amazing food choices and a very busy cinema you’ll want to visit again and again. With the likes of Wagamama, Frankie and Bennies and Hard Rock Cafe all under one roof, the food choices are completely up to you.
Next to Old Trafford and situated in the stunning Hotel Football is Cafe Football. You guessed it, it’s a Football themed cafe/restaurant that’s owned by former Man Utd players Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Phillip Neville and Gary Neville. The food is really amazing with some incredible choices for the children too. No longer just nuggets and chips but well craft meals of their own. There’s even an ice cream hut to finish off the food. A great choice and if you ask nicely, they may take you to the rooftop football pitch.
We found this hidden gem down one of the backstreets of the North Quarter. Home Sweet Home offers up the best comfort food out there. Again amazing choice for the little ones and their cakes and milkshakes are to die for. We regularly visit just to get a milkshake for the drive back home. Highly recommend the 5 dollar shake or if you’re really adventurous go for the cake shake! Great vegan choices here and if you phone up, you’ll have the chance to experience an amazing Afternoon Tea too.
A visit to central Manchester wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Chinatown. As you can imagine lots of back street Chinese restaurants including one situated in a supermarket. But not be scared by the lack of marketing, you’ll get some of the best authentic Chinese food in the North West here. Siam Smiles in the name of the supermarket cafe but make sure you have your walking boots on a find your own favourite.
My personal favourite and one which I love taking my girls, Almost Famous. There’s two, one in the Northern Quarter that has lots of stairs (Prams left at the bottom) and one in the Great Northern just off of Deansgate that easily accessible. The Northern Quarter restaurant was the original and I’d recommend that as it really sums up the best that Northern Quarter has to offer. This is more for the grown ups in the group as there’s no dedicated children’s menu but we come here all of the time and have a great experience. Burgers and Dogs are huge, so for my toddler she helped share mine and my teenager ended up leaving some. Result for me as I got more. Meat lovers make sure this is one your go to list at least once.
Not to be Missed
As mentioned a few times, Manchester’s Northern Quarter built as part of the regeneration in the 1990s is really the home of Manchester’s bohemian and alternative residents. Huge graffiti murals, amazing shops and a small community with a real vibe, NQ is a must visit. It’s great to step away from the main hustle and bustle and into a more relaxed part of the City. Mums and Dads can experience the many bars and restaurants and the children will love looking at the alternative window displays and experience different types of people, shops and culture from the high street norm. More for the older children but all can experience and love. Check ours Rosylea for an amazing Afternoon Tea.
Situated in a Grade 2 listed building, Manchester’s Opera House plays home to many ballets, performances and pantomimes throughout the year offering amazing choices whatever the age. From a toddler inspired ballet to thought provoking dramas and theatre productions. It’s a theatre that’ll take you back in time and my favourite place to watch a show. Make sure you stay seated at half time for ice creams and if you need them, there’s binoculars in the seat. We saw Gangsta Granny here with Dorothy at 1 1/2 at the time, she loved it and we’ll definitely be back.
I hope that gave you an insight into Manchester and some of the hidden gems as well as the obvious must see places. I’ve really only scratched the surface with these as Manchester really stretches out far and wide. From small villages with amazing tea rooms to town with the best soft plays in the North West. Enjoy Manchester and explore, it’s the best way to have the best time.