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Manchester... Yay or Nay?

We're flying in to Manchester for a week long tour of Northern Wales. But since this is my first time to the UK i thought it would be fun to explore Manchester for two days before we head to Wales... but a friend said that Manchester isn't great... nothing to really offer and doesn't represent the "real" England.

I don't really know what i'm expecting or hoping for from my two day England experience... which I know is a problem... but maybe fish and chips in a pub and thatched roof cottages in the countryside... definitely hoping for more a little bit more than a "meh" experience.

Is there someplace thats close-ish (will be using public transportation) that will be a "better representation" of England for our two days there?

Am I asking too much... probably... but I'm asking nonetheless....

ps. Don't want to mess with London... will save that for another time when we can really explore London.

Any help is appreciated!

Posted by
3111 posts

Would Liverpool interest you? I haven't checked specifically, but I think there's easy public transportation between Manchester and Liverpool. I'd probably do that rather than rent a car because driving in and out of Liverpool is not the easiest, in my (admittedly limited) experience. There's all the wonderful Beatles stuff, really more than a day's worth, but workable as a day trip. If you're not a big Beatles fan, Liverpool has not one but TWO cathedrals, several good museums, Mersey Tunnel Tours and more.

If you're going to rent a car for your Wales tour, a car would be useful to visit Lancaster and the coastal back roads to the west of town. I can recommend the Mill at Conder Green for lunch or dinner. It's a converted mill right on the canal, near the sea.

The Manchester [and greater North] Travel Guide at this site may give you some more ideas.

Posted by
108 posts

Consider Liverpool. Especially if you are a Beatles fan. There are lots of good museums and other good things to see in Liverpool. Once a very Blah city is now very different. Worth a little research and consideration imo.
Also as far as fish and chips go, a pub is not the place to have them. Find a local and ask where their best local chippy is. It will likely be take out but it will be better than anything you will get in a pub. It might be down a side street in a residential area, but trust me on this. I spent the first 20 years of my life in England, born and raised. Fish and chips will be one of the first things I'll be looking for when we visit in August. There;'s good and there's bad. If you get bad you'll wonder what all the fuss was all about. If you get good, you will always remember them. Good luck and enjoy your trip.

Posted by
14163 posts

While I have been to Manchester numerous times, and there are things to see, for what you want I'd suggest Chester. It's on your way to Wales. Wonderful historic city.

Save the fish & chips for Wales. You're closer to the sea. And not in a pub. Find a good chippy. If your travels take you to Caernarfon I can recommend Ainsworth's Fish & Chips. (Takeaway only.)

From Manchester airport, take the train to Manchester Piccadilly where you will change to a train to Chester. Ninety minutes from Manchester to Chester.

Posted by
2314 posts

On the current schedules, Transport for Wales have direct trains from Manchester Airport to Chester departing hourly at x25 mins past the hour. These take around 1 hour 25 minutes to get from the airport to Chester. Several routes are available using other companies but all require at least 1 change. If returning to Manchester Airport from Chester a few days later, a £30.80 off peak return seems to offer the most flexibility and would be cheaper than buying one way tickets.

If staying in Chester, you could take a short trip by train to see Liverpool.

Posted by
6113 posts

Manchester is “real” England. It isn’t touristy or twee and the buildings are mostly Victorian and newer, not medieval thatches. I much prefer it to Liverpool. It has some great museums and galleries including The Lowry, the People’s History Museum, the Science and Industry Museum, the Imperial War Museum North, the National Football Museum, The Whitworth Gallery and near the airport is one of the National Trust’s most interesting properties in the country IMO, Quarry Bank - a living history mill. It has a great food scene and the countryside is 20 minutes by train if you want something rural.

Chester has older buildings and is far more touristy.

I would pick Manchester.

Posted by
332 posts

What exactly is the “real England”? Do you really mean “fake but let’s pretend” England?

Manchester, the birthplace with Birmingham of the Industrial Revolution made modern England. It’s much more real than a Cotswold cottage, second-home, owned by banker from Chiswick.

Posted by
332 posts

….and don’t eat fish and chips in a pub especially not one with thatch. They don’t have the equipment or the skills or the footfall to justify acquiring them. You get fish and chips from a chippy. And they are not an English food but bought to London from Eastern Europe by people fleeing oppression. But they are still very “real” British.

Posted by
332 posts

To the many glories of Manchester/Salford add the new RHS Garden at Bridgewater.

Posted by
4155 posts

I am originally from Manchester and I know that people are being very unfair about Manchester here. My home village (then in Cheshire, now in Greater Manchester) is 30 minutes from the centre of Manchester, but the close area has so much to give you.

Life is not all about pretty Chocolate box images.

The City has a proud Industrial past, and is a vibrant city in the present.

Apart from the many attractions in Manchester itself there are the glories of Derbyshire right on the doorstep, East Lancashire (the county is not all seaside resorts), even parts of the Yorkshire Dales are within easy reach- less than an hour from central Manchester gets you the most wonderful countryside

The friend of the OP is way off in their opinions, or at least I think so.

Posted by
5109 posts

I understand what you mean by "real" England, you're looking for the quintessential, chocolate box ideal of rural England but you won't find that in Manchester. Manchester is a bustling, northern, industrial city with some great places and some bad places and you won't find much in the way of thatched cottages likewise Liverpool. Both cities offer a lot in terms of understanding England's industrial heritage and will provide you with a bigger picture of what makes England. For small, picturesque villages you may want to look at the Peak District area.

Posted by
1598 posts

Ignore your friend - they are showing their ignorance. Manchester is very much 'real' England (and probably much more so than the chocolate box thatched cottages your friend may be thinking of). It is a large bustling city with some very good museums and with the brash confidence developed by the Industrial Revolution which transformed England and the world.

Posted by
7209 posts

Manchester NAY
Liverpol, we visited there on a cruise and most of the tours were
Beatles oriented, we skipped and did a great tour of N. Wales

Posted by
705 posts

I’d think about what you enjoy. Manchester is a big city, it’s not all pretty but there are some interesting things to see. It’s definitely the ‘real England’ as much as anywhere else but it’s a different view of England to a pretty town like Chester. Personally, I’d rather have 2 days in Chester than Manchester in your position.

Posted by
182 posts

Shocked by someone saying Manchester is not the real England. It's actually a place I'd like to visit but when one of my favorite bands is playing there. So many great bands came out of that area. Like The Smiths, New Order etc. How someone can say that is beyond me.

Posted by
228 posts

"Shocked by someone saying Manchester is not the real England. It's actually a place I'd like to visit but when one of my favorite bands is playing there. So many great bands came out of that area. Like The Smiths, New Order etc. How someone can say that is beyond me."


The Hollies, Mock Turtles, Barclay James Harvest, The Bee Gees, John Cooper Clarke, Stone Roses, Oasis, The Fall, The Verve and the Buzzcocks to name a few, musically far far more diverse than Liverpool.

Posted by
3498 posts

Truthfully, I might choose to explore Manchester for two days. Chester is cute and I loved it, but you will get similar on your tour. For a different, yet interesting view, see Manchester. I made a quick 2 night stop there primarily to see the John Rylands Library - absolutely gorgeous. I also had time for the People’s Museum and a couple of good dinners. There are a couple of free busses that leave from Piccadilly train station for some of the major sights. And it was an easy train ride to there from the airport.

It’s not a bucolic village, which is also real England, but it IS also real England with plenty to hold your interest with historical sites for that short amount of time. But definitely not the thatched roof visual……

Posted by
4068 posts

Unfortunately, I Had to forgo my trip to the UK in 2020 for obvious reasons and hoping to do it this coming Autumn . We were going to start with Liverpool and Manchester . There were things to do and see in both cities that were appealing . Reading this thread caught my interest , so for anyone here who is so inclined , this film set in Manchester in the 1880's has long been a favorite for me . " Hobson's Choice " ( 1953 ) with Charles Laughton , Brenda De Banzie and John Mills . and directed by David Lean is pure joy . I hope some of you will watch it -

Posted by
1598 posts

Hobson's Choice is great fun and one of my favourite films too.

Posted by
4155 posts

@steven Thank you for that. A movie I've long been aware of, but never seen, until now.
An unexpected turn for this thread to have taken!

Posted by
1316 posts

My suggestion is to spend an hour or so on YouTube and get an idea of what it’s like.

Here’s one of many

Visit Manchester

You can do the same for Liverpool or Chester.

I quite like Manchester but I am a big city person and I’d pick a week in a big city over a week in Wales any time.

Posted by
713 posts

I'm pleased to see all the love here for Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham. I've long wanted to see the old industrial heart of England, and as discussed on the "Birmingham" topic, will stay in Brum for a few days on my trip in May. I chose that city because my late aunt by marriage came from there (she was a WWII war bride). There are some family links to explore, and I just want to see her home town, however much it's changed in the decades since she left. I'm still a little torn because I chose to pass up a stay in Liverpool in favor of Brum.

I'm not throwing shade at the chocolate-box, thatched cottage English villages and lovely Cotswolds landscapes, but "real" England includes so much more.

Posted by
124 posts

Beyond UK, industrial heritage is widely celebrated...

Industrial heritage sites are have innovative new uses. Look at the zip wire experience. Tate Modern is also housed in a power plant.

There are many facets of a nation, unless you believe that the 'real Bavaria' can be found in the Disney castle xP

Posted by
580 posts

To add a more independent voice Lonely Planet has Manchester as the only city in the UK on it’s list of 30 places to see in 2023 -
Frankly it’s not especially pretty but it has a wealth of things to see and a real buzz about it at the moment driven by a huge influx of young people from across the world looking for a smaller, cheaper and more humane version of London. Right now I’d put it ahead of London like Lonely Planet does.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you SO much for all of your help! Im not familiar enough with this travel forum to know how to respond to each comment.

We decided to do a day and half in Manchester and a day in Chester.

Thank you for all your kind replies and help... much appreciated!

Posted by
483 posts

Not familiar with Manchester, but if you're of a generation where phony Beatlemania had bitten the dust, maybe Manchester has some sights for you... Like the Salford Lads Club, featured on the inner sleeve of The Smith's "The Queen is Dead," with a room dedicated to The Smiths. And the Epping Walk Bridge, of note if you love Joy Division. Sifters Record Shop is where the Gallagher brothers (Oasis) used to buy their records, mentioned in "Shakermaker."

Sadly, many of the icons of Manchester's music history have been demolished, though you might be able to book a stay at the Lesser Free Trade Hall which is now a hotel, but was the site of the 1976 Sex Pistols gig that changed music forever, which only 40 people attended, but maybe 400 claim to have been there.

There's a tour company, founded by the drummer of the Inspiral Carpets, there that does themed music bus tours and walks about Manchester dedicated to the Smiths, the Stone Roses, Joy Division, Oasis, and a more general Manchester music tour.

Also, lot of places seen in Peaky Blinders and other shows.

Maybe not the greatest sightseeing town, but probably has things to do if you're into certain things (like not Harry Potter, the Beatles or royalty in general).

Posted by
14163 posts

I've spent quite a bit of time in Manchester.

There are three public buses that are free and go near many of the popular sites around the center city.

They can get crowded as some groups use them as a free way to see the city.

The regular buses take contactless payments so no need to buy individual tickets. You do have to let the bus drivers know where you are going so they know how much to charge. You buy tickets for the trams on the platforms and they also take contactless.

Posted by
483 posts

@Phred: James's "Wah Wah" was the soundtrack of my third year of college. Stateside, I dunno that we knew about Madchester as a movement, but watching "24 Hour Party People" helped bring the entire 80's Manchester music scene together, and helped me get that there was this unifying thread between the Happy Mondays, James, the Stone Roses, New Order, and a bunch of bands I'd never heard of but wound up loving as an actual adult. While The Clash sang about Phony Beatlemania in reference to a hackneyed musical, for a good number of folks my age, it's taken a much broader meaning. I don't hate the Beatles by any stretch (seen Ringo live, probably don't have Macca money), but there's a much, much, much, much larger set of British music that played to key moments in my upbringing, that doesn't give the Fab Four the outsized importance that they apparently have for folks who lived through Beatlemania.

A few playlists for folks unsure:
A not remotely comprehensive playlist of music from Manchester, from the late 70s on:
"Manchester kids have the best record collections" - Tony Wilson, head of Factory Records.