Greater Manchester is a metropolitan county and urban region in North West England. It was created in 1974 from the city and associated towns that had formerly been in Lancashire, plus a few lying south of the River Mersey that had been in Cheshire. The whole area was based upon the textile industry, which collapsed in the 20th century. Manchester city has been the most successful at re-inventing itself, and is now a lively modern destination. The other towns all have things to see and do.
Cities and towns
- 1 The city of Manchester is at the heart of it. Its many attractions include two top-rank football teams, the John Rylands Library, the National People's History Museum, the National Football Museum, the National Museum of Science and Industry, the Central Reference Library and the Trafford Centre.
- 2 Salford is a city in its own right, separated from Manchester by a loop of the River Irwell. The two cities together were a major seaport in the 20th century but then the docks fell derelict. They were revived into The Quays, spanning the two, with The Lowry, Imperial War Museum North, Media City, and other attractions.
- The M60 orbits this inner conurbation. Beyond it, clockwise from the south in what was Cheshire:
- 3 Stockport, unlike its cotton-spinning neighbours, processed silk especially for fine hats. Sights in town include the hat factory, the extensive underground air-raid shelters, a town hall with a massive Wurlitzer, and Bramhall Hall; Lyme Park is just south.
- 4 Marple is a village nearby.
- 5 Altrincham has Dunham Massey Hall, with Tatton Park to its south.
- 6 Sale is a nearby suburb with accommodation and eating places, handy for Old Trafford.
- North of the Mersey and formerly in Lancashire is most of the metropolitan area:
- 7 Wigan is something of an outlier, less associated with the big city. You come here for the cultural history rather than the sights: Wigan Pier, rugby league, the pie-eating championships where no-one can get close to the 2007 record set by a small yappy dog, the abode of Wallace & Gromit, and one of the final acts of the English Civil War.
- 8 Bolton has bold Victorian architecture, with the grand town hall, and Prestolee canal aqueduct. Hall i' th' Wood is a 16th century mansion that was the birthplace of the "Spinning Mule".
- 9 Bury has a museum and the world black pudding hurling championships. In the valleys leading into the Pennines is the pleasant old mill village of Ramsbottom.
- 10 Rochdale has a fine town hall, and a museum at the birthplace of the Coop movement. Up the valley is the town's best attempt at an Alpine spa resort, popular and even scandalous in Victorian times - it's just the feeder pond for the canal.
- 11 Oldham has a museum, but its most attractive areas are the Pennine valleys, with a canal climbing up through locks to disappear into a mile-long tunnel.
- 12 Tameside is the borough east of central, with Ashton-under-Lyne its main town.
Most people staying in Greater Manchester will be based in the city itself so much of the information needed for Greater Manchester can be found under Manchester or links to other towns or districts in the conurbation.
1 Manchester Airport (MAN IATA) serves the entire northwest of England. It has excellent flight connections with price competition between carriers. It has its own railway and bus station, and onward transport usually means taking the train into Manchester Piccadilly then changing. (There are no trains 01:00-04:00, but the bus runs 24 hours.) An hourly direct train continues beyond Piccadilly to Salford and Bolton, heading for Preston and Blackpool. There are also direct buses from the airport to Ashton-under-Lyne, Stockport and Altrincham. The airport is on the city tram network but this is much slower and not much cheaper than the train.
Fast trains from London Euston and the Midlands run to Manchester Piccadilly. Many of them also stop at Stockport: change there for the train to Altrincham, heading for Chester.
Trains from across the north of England plus Edinburgh and Glasgow run via Piccadilly to the airport. Slow, elderly trains from across the north lumber towards Manchester Victoria, and several of these also stop at Wigan, Rochdale, Bolton or Salford.
The area is ringed by M60 - Britain's only orbital motorway, as London's M25 is interrupted by the Dartford Tunnel. A leash of other motorways fan out towards all parts of the country, notably M6 from the Midlands and south towards Scotland, M62 between Yorkshire and Liverpool, and M56 for Cheshire and North Wales.
Long-distance coaches run from London Victoria to Manchester airport and city centre, and some also reach Oldham and Rochdale.
By tram: Metrolink trams run through central Manchester via St Peters Square, Deansgate / Castlefield and Cornbrook. The lines then fan out:
- - light blue and orange lines west to Salford Quays, Media City and Eccles; and east to Piccadilly, Etihad Stadium and Ashton-under-Lyne.
- - green and purple lines west to Old Trafford, Stretford and Altrincham; eastbound the purple line ends at Piccadilly while the green line goes west to Victoria, Bury, Oldham and Rochdale.
- - yellow line starts at Piccadilly and joins green line at Victoria then to Bury, Oldham and Rochdale.
- - red line (opened in March 2020) west to Imperial War Museum and Trafford Centre.
- - dark blue line south to Wythenshawe and the airport; and east to Victoria.
- - pink and lilac lines west to East Didsbury; and east to Victoria, Oldham and Rochdale.
Trams normally run every 5-10 min or so between 05:30 and 00:30. Services in spring 2020 are curtailed because coronavirus has led to a big drop in passenger numbers. The green, orange and lilac lines are suspended: other lines serve all these stops. Trams run a Sunday-level service every 15-20 min, but are likely to be cut back further.
See TGM Metrolink website for fare deals, service updates and travel planner; you must buy your ticket before boarding.
Stockport, Bolton and Wigan are not on the tram network, use train or bus for these.
- Albert Square is a great place to view Manchester's architecture such as the Gothic Manchester Town Hall. A Christmas Market is held here from mid-November to Christmas Eve.
- Jazzy modern architecture is concentrated around The Quays, the former docklands revived with major attractions.
- Stately homes: the standout is Dunham Massey Hall near Altrincham, and Salford has Ordsall Hall, a fine Tudor mansion. Others lie just across the boundary into Cheshire, but are more easily visited from Manchester: Tatton Hall south of Altrincham, and Lyme Park south of Stockport. Manchester's industrial tycoons didn't care to live too close to the source of their wealth, and several other mansions are derelict or demolished but leaving a landscaped public park. An unusual mansion is Hall i' th' Wood in Bolton: this 16th C timber-framed building was never a single home, but divided into sub-units for artisans to live in and ply their trade. One of those was Samuel Crompton, inventor of the "Spinning Mule", which produced a much finer thread than by hand.
- Irwell Sculpture Trail is a 30 mile footpath dotted with large sculptures. It runs from The Quays via Prestwich, Radcliffe, Bury, Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall to Bacup.
- Watch football ie soccer: there's quite a choice. In Manchester itself are the two Premiership giants, Man City and Man United. Their fixtures are arranged so that whenever one is playing at home, the other is playing out of town, except for the two "derby matches" between them. Wigan Athletic play in the Championship, Rochdale and Bolton Wanderers play in League One, Salford City and Oldham Athletic play in League Two. Others play in the minor leagues beneath - some of them were well-known teams in bygone years but fell on hard times. And finally there's the sad example of Bury, who don't play at all: in 2019 they were promoted to League One but went bust and were kicked out of the league structure.
- Watch rugby: in rugby union (15-a-side) Sale Sharks play Sept-Apr in the English Premiership. In rugby league (13-a-side) both Salford Red Devils and Wigan Warriors play Feb-Aug in the Super League. The Sharks and Red Devils share a stadium off M60 west of Salford.
- Skydive and other unlikely amusements such as skiing are available within the Trafford Centre at the west edge of the city. It's all indoors, with no parachutes involved, or anxiously looking for a playing field to land on amid the crowded city rooftops.
- Walk, cycle or boat along the canals: a leash of them snake east from the Irish Sea. Wigan pier is simply a canal wharf in that town. Time was when Manchester and Salford were a major seaport 40 miles inland, served by the Manchester Ship Canal. Their docks fell derelict but have been revived into the buzzing riverside district of The Quays. The most attractive sections of canal are above Rochdale and Oldham, where they climb up into the Pennines through locks and tunnels to reach Yorkshire and eventually the Humber and North Sea. Manchester is also on the Cheshire Ring, a 97-mile circuit of lowland canals.
- Walk the Pennine Way which follows the crest of the ridge bordering Yorkshire, and there many are other walking trails around Saddleworth Moor, Wessenden Moor and Standedge. It's not the most scenic part of the Pennines, being a plateau of impervious millstone grit topped by a peat bog, without the limestone that embellishes the Peak District to the south and the Yorkshire Dales further north. But the trails are well marked, with boardwalks over the boggier sections, and the landscape is haunting and spare. The entire trail is 268 miles / 429 km from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders, and tough nuts do it in 2-3 weeks. A more leisurely approach is to take a series of there-and-back weekend strolls, joining up but in no particular order, whenever there's decent weather. OS Landranger Map 109 covers the Greater Manchester stretch and there are multiple access points.
The city centre has got the lot, with all types of cuisine and in all price brackets. The outlying towns have the usual fast-food outlets and budget restaurants - Italian is normally the best bet, but there's nothing outstanding that you'd travel to reach.
"Wine!? D'you think you're in Cheshire?" No, those days are gone, the area remains staunchly beer-drinking but nowadays it's likely to be continental or craft-brewery, and there's a good choice of everything else. The supermarket booze is as cheap as you'll find anywhere.
Manchester Arena was hit by a suicide bomb on 22 May 2017, with 23 deaths and 139 injuries. The city remains vigilant, and paradoxically the attack has made central Manchester safer, with CCTV, stewarding and policing especially around big events and in crowded public places: disorderly behaviour is now curbed more promptly. Show usual caution around late-night drunks and where you park the car. These benefits have yet to reach the rougher outlying districts, but you have no reason to go there.
- East across the Pennines into Yorkshire for the old walled city of York, the landscape of the Dales, and the rugged coast around Scarborough.
- North is Lancashire: much is industrial but there is extensive upland countryside above Clitheroe.
- Further north, Cumbria is the Lake District. It'll be raining of course.
- West is lively, rejuvenated Liverpool, the old city of Chester, then the North Wales coast towards the mountains of Snowdonia.
- South is Cheshire, with bucolic market towns such as Knutsford.
- Jump on a flight at the airport, fly several hours east to some strange country, and try to figure out why its entire male population wears Man United football shirts, which they don't in Manchester.