We have been visiting Manchester, England on an annual basis since before we were married since it is my husband’s hometown, and where much of his family still resides. Manchester is a few hours from London, in the northern bit of the country.You might remember the song from the legendary film “Hair” about Manchester. The character, Claude, is from “dirty, mucky, polluted Flushing” (Flushing is in Queens, in case you don’t know) but wishes he was from Manchester, England and sings:
Oh Manchester England, England…Across the Atlantic Sea.
I love the town. Two hundred years ago, Manchester was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. In recent years, the city has been renovated and is experiencing a renaissance of its own. It has a varied cultural scene – with many theaters, galleries, nightclubs and sporting events. It’s the home of Morrissey and other fantastic bands that I grew up with in the 1980’s, as well as the Gallagher brothers from Oasis. It’s also the home of Boddington Ale.
Speaking of beer, before we had kids, we used to frequent the city’s pubs, Indian restaurants, the football stadium and art museums. Now that our kids are aged 5 and 7, the tides have turned and it’s become necessary to explore what the town has to offer children. And there’s a lot. Here is a list of our top ten child-friendly activities to date:
One of the best things about England is that nearly all of its museums are free. We recently discovered the newly renovated Imperial War Museum North located in the Quays, which is free every day. 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. It sounds like a heavy experience, but it’s one that children of ages will enjoy. If your kids want to learn about grenades, mortars, tanks, guns, war planes, they’ll whiz through the compelling exhibitions. The museum features three galleries with a 360 degree light and sound show that takes place every hour, on the hour. The show is broadcast all over the museum and is quite powerful. It’s a complete sensory experience that was able to hold our children’s attention for a good length of time. There’s also a Viewing Platform which we walked several hundred steps to get to tremendous views of Manchester and it’s a great photo opportunity. This was definitely a favorite stop on our recent tour of Manchester.
The Wheel of Manchester:
This is Manchester’s version of the London Eye. It’s a 60m ride in the sky that offers views of the city. It last 13 minutes and costs £6.5 per adult and £4.5 per child. As always, you should book your tickets online before you go here . My kids have been on this multiple times. We always love nipping into the center of town when we can for a bit of shopping and lunch, and a ride on the Wheel.
My husband is a huge fan of the football team, Manchester United, and I have been to a few matches in my time. He loves taking the kids to see their football club, Old Trafford, when we venture to that side of town. It has been the team’s home since 1910, with the exception of WWII when the stadium was bombed. The stadium holds 76,962 spectators and is quite a spectacle with statues and posters of the players around the grounds. There is a museum and tours, which you can book here. My kids love the shop, so does my husband, where you can buy football memorabilia galore. They have everything containing the Manchester United logo, and we’ve bought posters, shirts, jackets, balls and more. There’s also a life-sized poster of the current team you can have your photo taken in front of, which my kids love. The truth is that my husband may love this place more than my children, but it still makes my list.
Abbotsfield Park is a recreation ground the size of a couple of football pitches with a small children’s play area. The difference is that it has a wonderful Thomas the Train ride that you can ride around the park for 20 pence a ride. My kids could ride it around and around and around all day if we let them. There’s a lovely garden shop on the premises and a café. We started bringing them here when they were toddlers and they still love it.
My in-laws happen to live down the street from this indoor playground that we have frequented many times. The cost is about £5 per 90 minute session and my kids love the slides, ball pits and climbing areas. The food and drink is pretty good and they have very nice kid’s meals. Our kids request a visit every time we are in Manchester and as it’s usually raining, we nearly always acquiesce.
Pubs with indoor play spaces:
I really wish we had these in the U.S. You can go for a full pub meal, and while you’re eating and drinking, your kids can play safely in the soft-play area for about £2 an hour. They have these pubs in Disley, Knutsford, Rochdale, Sale, Cheadle Hume, Denton, Wigan and more. You can get the whole list here.
St. Anne’s Seaside Resort:
St. Anne’s-on-the-Sea is a traditional Victorian Edwardian seaside resort about an hour outside Manchester with a sandy beach, donkeys, a small pier, ice cream stalls and small rides and a game area for children. There are quaint tea shops and a lovely boardwalk. It’s great for all ages, as we’ve often gone with my in-laws on a day-trip. You can have lunch or high tea in one of the restaurants lining the boardwalk in the small town first and then head either head to the beach or to the beachside fun.
Located across the street from Old Trafford, Manchester’s Chill Factore brings the Alpine ski village experience to the city. Kids can go down the slope on tubes or play with snow. Families can ski, go tubing or sledding for £12 each or £18 for two people, or take a ski or snowboard lesson for £30. For a town that doesn’t get as much as snow as we do here in New York, and seeing that kids can use the facilitiy all year, this is a pretty cool place. When you see if off the highway, you feel tempted to go see what it’s all about.
Every kids loves legos, of all ages. My kids flip for legos. That’s why the recent addition of Legoland Discovery Center to Manchester is so exciting for us. It provides opportunities for kids to construct Lego buildings and vehicles, ride on laser chariots, visit Lego Mini-land and experience the amazing 4D Lego cinema. Cost is £10 per child.
This is another free activity in town. The Lowry is a cultural center on the city’s waterfront with big staircases, sloping floors and glass walls for the kids to explore. It’s a fantastic building that offers theater, dance and art programming. The kids can join a Family Tour on the last Sunday of every month or engage in an art project for £3.75. They have three theaters with shows for children, including puppet shows, as well as weekend art and drama workshops and special holiday workshops.
I am sure that the list will grow by leaps and bounds on our upcoming annual visits. We still have much to see and do in this thriving city.