Manchester Culture Vultures

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Culture Vultures

Our guide to Manchesters top cultural destinations

John Rylands Historic Library

In dramatic contrast to the huge NatWest building on Deansgate, the John Rylands Library is Victorian Gothic Manchester in the present day. Opened on 1 January 1900, it was one of the first buildings in Manchester to have electric lighting, and its Collections offer not only a documentation of Manchester's past, but they also serve as a testament to the important role that self-education and the pursuit of knowledge have played in Manchester's progression through to modernity.

The library has been re-opened in recent years as a historic centre, with some of the most fascinating exhibitions of historic literature around.  There are static centrepieces such as the so-called St John's Fragment, believed to be one of the oldest (if not the oldest) documents of the New Testament, and a range of original works from Elizabeth Gaskell, Manchester's adopted Victorian novelist and social commentator.

The John Rylands Library is an edifice to knowledge with its roots firmly in Manchester's rich history, and its riches perpetually on show to the public. For more information on what's happening at John Rylands Library, take a look at their website.

The Manchester Museum

Ensconced in Manchester University's Neo-Gothic heart, the Manchester Museum's incredible static and changing exhibitions attract thousands of visitors every year, and its natural, archaeological and historic collections are nothing short of world-class.

The Museum has its roots in the buzzing scientific climate of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries, and many of the collections of Egyptian and Mediterranean archaeological findings were supplied by contemporaneous supporters of the Manchester Society of Natural History.

On any given day, there are some 4.25 million species and artefacts to see at the museum, 600,000 of which can be found in the Zoological Collection, with specimens from all aspects of the natural world (not to mention 'Stan', the museum's Tyrannosaurus rex!). The ancient world is brought to life from the Paleolithic to the seventeenth-century AD with the museum's 80,000-strong static collection of archaeological findings.

Manchester Art Gallery

Continuing the theme of free-to-view marvels of Manchester, the Manchester Art Gallery houses Manchester's civic art collection, comprising work from the various European schools of painting (highlights include the vast painting The Chariot Race by Alexander von Wagner, and Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Modigliani). The gallery's Manchester Room is dedicated to exhibiting the art history of Manchester, with work from painters such as Valette (under whom L.S. Lowry studied) and the Mancunian-born Impressionist painter Wynford Dewhurst.

The gallery's Tradition and Experiment exhibition explores the way in which modern artists explored and challenged traditional conceptions of art in new and interesting ways. There is also an exhaustive Gallery of Craft and Design, showcasing over 1,300 cultural artefacts from antiquity right up to design classics of the modern age.

To take in the entire array of what the Manchester Art Gallery has to offer and for opening hours and directions.


Presiding over Manchester's Oxford Road is Cornerhouse, a true bastion of cinema, photography, and multimedia art events. Cornerhouse is great for so many things, it might help to break them down one by one.

For true cinophiles, Cornerhouse's monthly offering is miles ahead of the major multiplexes of the city centre. A constant flux of the best contemporary cinema from around the world can be had any week of the year, with film festivals such as Viva! proving a great success. Classics, cult films and little-known masterpieces are regularly screened, often selling out quickly, so check their online listings regularly.

Upstairs, Cornerhouse's art gallery has on offer as diverse a selection of exhibitions as are likely to be found in any cultural capital, hosting work from both Manchester artists and those the world over. The gallery's current Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition is in its 60th year, and still finding the freshest and most promising fledgling artists and their work.

Cornerhouse's bar and restaurant just happens to be one of the most cosmopolitan spots in the city. Its great choice of continental beers and wines, fine dining, and vibrant, cool atmosphere go all combine to make this the perfect place for a pre-movie drink, or a whole night's soaking up the city, which feels as if it's right on top of you from the wrap-around floor-to ceiling windows of the upper level. Also, Cornerhouse's bookshop stocks a wide range of architecture, photography, art/design, and literary magazines. And just when you thought there couldn't be any more incentives to take a slice of this cultural hub, it's less than a hundred yards from Manchester Oxford Road station approach; literally the second building you'll see.

Manchester Cathedral

Manchester Cathedral, or The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George in Manchester, is a Medieval church built in the eighth-century which has survived both the Manchester Blitz and the 1996 IRA bombing. It and its surrounding buildings such as Chetham's Hospital School of Music are some of the oldest buildings in Manchester, the Chetham Library said to be the oldest public library in Europe. It is an area of Manchester whose heritage is literally stunning, and to this day serves as a centre for many of the spiritual community of Manchester. For those just visiting, it is a captivating place to walk at early evening, and the grounds around the cathedral give an idea as to the significance of the church in Manchester through the ages. The ancient architecture of the cathedral is simply incredible, despite a history of modifications and refurbishments which have given the exterior of the church a deceptively modern appearance. Its West Door and window and the ornate carving of the entrance to the Lady Chapel are staggering examples of the Gothic period. The wooden carvings of its collection of miserichords (hinged seat-like panels) are considered some of the finest examples of such ornament in Europe.

For more information on Manchester Cathedral, go to the Manchester Cathedral website.

Imperial War Museum North

The multi-award winning Imperial War Museum North at The Quays, Manchester is a great free day out for all ages. Designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind to represent a globe shattered by conflict, it reveals how war and conflict have shaped people's lives from 1900 to now.

Discover the powerful stories of men, women and children who have experienced conflict through powerful exhibitions, interactive displays, the Big Picture (a 360 degree light and sound show), tours, object handling sessions, and family activities all available daily. 
Learn how to start tracing your family history and delve further into the Museum's collections at Your History. 

Visit the cafe, shop and viewing platform (the highest in the area) offering spectacular views over The Quays and Manchester.

Winner: Large Visitor Attraction, Manchester and North West Tourism Awards 2009
One of the top 10 Buildings of the last century, 2008 Rough Guide to England. For more information visit: Imperial War Museum North

Victoria Baths

The Grade II listed Victoria Baths, also known as 'Manchester's Water Palace', is one of Britain's best-loved restoration projects.

Closed in 1993 after decades of public use and left to fend for itself, the distinctive brick building quickly fell into disrepair. The Victoria Baths Trust took over maintenance in 2001, and the long, painstaking process of restoring the Baths to their former glory began…

Efforts to get the building back up and running were given a boost when Victoria Baths was voted the winner of the BBC's 2002 'Restoration' series. Today, the restoration work continue, and the public are now able to access the building again as it plays host to concerts, tea dances, vintage markets and even weddings!

There are public open days and guided tours during the warmer months. For more information visit: Victoria Baths website

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