After Lina and I returned to Hotel Gotham for our afternoon tea, we took a stroll around the neighborhood to work off all the scones and clotted cream we’d just consumed. Much of this UK city bears the resemblance of a former industrial town, sure, but still other parts have a certain Victorian charm to them. And the art in Manchester would turn out to be the most surprising part of our visit there.
Exploring Manchester’s Albert Square
Not 10 minutes from the hotel, Albert Square is Manchester’s epicenter. Its Victorian Gothic buildings make it the perfect meeting place as it’s impossible not to find, but also the perfect jumping off point for exploring.
Laid out in the mid-19th century, the square is home to the Town Hall, the Abbey National building, and several other prominent buildings, memorials and statues.
Paying a visit to the Central Library in Manchester
It’s also just down the way from the Central Library, so we took a peek inside at the advice of some locals. While it’s not as impressive as John Rylands, it’s still worth a walk-through (and it’s free to visit, too).
Taking a music tour of Manchester
After our self-guided architecture walk around midtown and Manchester’s center, I deposited Lina at the hotel while I set out on a tour of another kind. Craig Gill, a founding member and former drummer of Inspiral Carpets, was picking me up to lead me through the city’s musical landscape.
Craig, owner of Manchester Music Tours, leads several group outings by bus each week, but also will put together customized itineraries for individuals based on their interests. As a former musician who has lived in Manchester much of his life, it seems he knows—or at least brushed elbows with—every fellow crooner and band member who hailed from the area like Noel Gallagher, Tony Wilson, Johnny Marr and Shaun Ryder. Oasis plays a big part in his tours, as do Morrissey/The Smiths, for whom he also has a dedicated tour every week. As someone who hails from Music City, it was interesting to see the behind-the-scenes of another town for which music plays such a huge part.
Admittedly, I’m not a huge music history aficionado—I’m sure you figured as much given my unabashed love for Taylor Swift—however for someone that knows their stuff, particularly from the 1980s to the present, this is a must-do. And for those like me who simply want to see new neighborhoods of Manchester you might not find on your own, it’s still a great way to spend an afternoon.
Dining at the Marble Arch
After my tour, I bid Lina farewell for the evening as I met up with a journalist from Bath and a couple of the gentlemen in tourism for dinner. They took us to Marble Arch, a place I would have never found on my own but one that had a very distinct British vibe to it.
While I could have easily eaten curry for every meal—when in Manchester, right?—I also didn’t want to miss out on the best of English pubs either.
A new obsession of mine is beer—bourbon was so 2013—and I was more than happy to eat at an establishment that brews its own brand. The only problem was deciding between the ginger, the chocolate stout and the earl grey IPA. The easy solution? I sampled a pint of them all.
Visiting the Whitworth Art Gallery
The next morning, I hopped a cab to the university area to meet up with Lina once more. It turns out that Manchester’s artsy side doesn’t end with the murals and indie shops of the Northern Quarter, nor does the Hotel Gotham have a moratorium on all things whimsical.
Not to mention, it’s free to visit, as so many attractions in Manchester and Liverpool are. So if, like me, you’re one who likes to breeze through museums, you can do just that and not feel too guilty because you just dropped $30 on admission.
However, the very best part of the art gallery wasn’t visible from the front of the museum; rather, it was the garden tucked away behind the gallery.
Movable art, you guys! So many pieces to explore, and while Lina and I didn’t really know the function for each one, we tried our hardest to figure it out.
And you know me: I couldn’t see a piece of art that’s just beckoning for play without climbing all over it. I may be 32 years young, but I’ll be clowning around until I’m 92, that you can be assured.
Then I discovered the life-size hampster wheel, which providing a solid hour of entertainment—I could have spent days trying to crack the code.
It also helped me to stick my handstand for the first time after a year of practicing and failing time and time again. What I’m saying is, I think SVV should build one in our backyard for my own yoga advancement, don’t you?
Indeed, the art in Manchester held a lot of surprises around every corner; the Whitworth Gallery was just one of its many gems. I’ll confess that I reached a point a few years ago where travel writing was feeling a bit stale, a bit too repetitive, too much monotony, but unexpected assignments like this one—and discovering new-to-me cities with so much to offer—have renewed my love for the craft once more.
Looking for more travel tips for England? Start here:
- Albert Dock in Liverpool: The Story of a Waterfront Renaissance
- Food, Spirits & Sculptures: The Many Faces of Art in Liverpool
- It Turns Out Hogwarts Does Exist — at John Rylands Library
- Up in the Clouds: The View from Manchester’s Sky Bar
- Welcome to Gotham, the Sexiest Hotel in England
- Art & Design in the Vibrant Northern Quarter of Manchester