A good place to understand the background of Manchester's social structure is at the People's History Museum. This exhibition records the lives and protests of England's working class over the past two centuries. Exhibits cover themes such as the Peterloo Massacre (in 1819 eleven demonstrators were killed by the local militia), the sufragette movement, the rise of trade unions and working class pastimes, with a strong emphasis on football.
The small Perpendicular Cathedral, the third church on this site since its foundation in the 9th century. A fragment of stone by the choir and a 14th century arch by the tower are all that remain of the earlier structures. The famed widest nave in England (114ft) is a result of wealthy families adding side chapels to the 15th century church. These chapels were later opened out to make space for the city's growing population of worshippers.
The cathedral's choristers are trained in the nearby 15th century Chetham Library & School of Music, the city's oldest complete structure. The beautiful oak-panelled library can be visited. It contains a reading room with windowed alcove where, it’s claimed that Marx and Engels used to study in the mid-19th century.
The area around the cathedral is being refashioned as the city's Millennium Quarter, with the six-storey Urbis at its core. It's fitting that the world's first industrial city, which is busy redefining itself as a city of the future, should host this hi-tech museum devoted to cities and the way humans react to them. The building is a bold, frosted-glass triangle that contains four themed exhibits: Arrive, Change, Order and Explore.
South of St Peter's Square, Lower Mosley Street runs past the G-Mex Centre, now an exhibition and events centre but in use as a train station until 1969. On the other side of G-Mex rises the Bridgewater Hall, at the junction of Bridgewater Street. One of Britain's finest purpose-built concert halls – venue for concerts by the Hallé Orchestra – this is balanced on shock-absorbing springs to guarantee clarity of sound.
The recently refurbished Manchester Art Gallery is the city's most important gallery. Located north of St. Peter's Square, it’s original section houses the country's finest publidc collection of pre-Raphaelite art. The more contemporary section is devoted to British art of the 20th century, with paintings by Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon.
Around the corner from the gallery is Britain's largest Chinatown and to the southeast towards Rochdale Canal is Manchester's thriving Gay Village. Here (particularly along Canal Street) canalside cafés, clubs, bars and businesses have turned a formerly abandoned warehouse district into something with the verve of San Francisco.
The Manchester Museum is another "must-see" attraction. A city institution for over 100 years, the Manchester Museum is an intriguing mix of natural history and social sciences. The galleries are devoted to everything from Archaeology to Zoology. At the centre of the Egyptology world since the 1890s, the museum has done pioneering work on mummy dissection and captivating displays enlarge upon the burial practices and techniques that their work has revealed. Rocks, minerals, fossils and natural history also get their own exhibition space, while the top-floor Science for Life section concentrates on the human body and biomedical research.
Another half-mile away is the city's modern art collection, housed in the redbrick Whitworth Gallery. The pre-1880 historic collection incorporates a strong assembly of watercolours by Turner, Constable, Cox and Blake. The modern collection concentrates on post-1880 British staples, with Moore, Frink and Hepworth setting off contributions from lesser-known artists. With Manchester's cotton connections it is perhaps not surprising that the gallery also displays the country's widest range of textiles outside London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
Walk two hundred yards south of the Whitworth Gallery and you'll catch the pungent spicy smell of Rusholme's Wilmslow Road, a "golden mile" of curry houses, sari shops and Asian grocers. In Platt Fields Park, at the south end of the curry mile, the Gallery of Costume fills Georgian Platt Hall. Its collection spans fashion through the ages, giving particular emphasis to Manchester's former role as a textile centre, its large Asian population and the clothes of the working class.
Fifteen minutes' walk southwest of St Peter's Square lies Castlefield Urban Heritage Park. The Roman fort that gave birth to Manchester was built in Castlefield in AD 79 (the reconstructed north gate and the foundations of a few houses can be seen on Liverpool Road). Later, it became a hub for industrial development, whose legacy is an incredible landscape of viaducts, rusting cast-iron bridges and massive warehouses. In the 1980s derelict Castlefield was redeveloped into an "Urban Heritage Park", featuring a cobbled canalside, outdoor events arena and attractive café-bars.
The nearby Museum of Science and Industry - Manchester's largest museum - tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the world's first industrial city. Collections of steam engines, locomotives, factory machinery from the mills and recent interactive refurbishments will keep you intrigued for hours. Highlights include a working replica of Robert Stephenson's Planet, built in1830. The locomotive drops passengers a quarter-mile away at the world's oldest passenger railway station. A reconstructed Victorian sewer below the station illustrates the problems of sanitation in the 1870s, when poor areas were still using street-end standpipes.
Southwest of the centre, trams run out to Salford Quays where the renovated docks and quays now maintain two high-profile visitor attractions, The Lowry arts centre and the Imperial War Museum North. No soccer fan will want to miss the tour of nearby Old Trafford, home of Manchester United (arguably the most famous team in the world). Tours of Old Trafford and its museum are available though be sure to book in advance. Harder still is locating a ticket to a game, even for a pre-season friendly.
Lovers of star-gazing should not miss the Godlee Observatory. Built in 1902, this fully functioning observatory boasts an original Grubb telescope (even the rope and wheels that move the telescope are original). If the weather allows you can glimpse the heavens and also enjoy fabulous views of Manchester from the Observatory's balcony.
Manchester is second only to London as a shopper's paradise. Most designer shops can be found in the West End. For standard fare, all your regular 'high street' names can be found at the northern end of Deansgate. In the up-and-coming alternative Northern Quarter (traditionally Manchester's garment district), you'll find new design outlets, music stores, and funky bars and cafés. The excellent Manchester Craft and Design Centre is a great place to pick up ceramics, fabrics, earthenware, jewellery and decorative art.