When planning a fun city break, a trip to the library may not exactly top your sightseeing list. But, if you’re coming to Manchester, the John Rylands Library may just make you change your mind.
Nestled on bustling Deansgate, this Manchester University building is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world - and has a history as romantic as its fairytale interior. The Grade-I listed beauty was commissioned in 1890 by Enriqueta Rylands, in memory of her beloved husband John - a philanthropist and entrepreneur who was also Manchester’s first multi-millionaire.
And what a labour of love it is. Looking very much like a little medieval church from the outside, step inside to the Historic Reading Room and you’ll feel like you’ve walked onto the set of a Harry Potter film set - think dizzyingly high vaulted ceilings, charming secret staircases and light pouring through the stained glass windows.
But while visitors flock here just to admire the neo-Gothic interior, don’t miss the fabulous collection of artefacts, from manuscripts and maps to works of art. Spanning 5,000 years, the library specialises in the history of Christianity. One of its most famous pieces is the St John Fragment, a tiny scrap of papyrus from the Gospel of John, regarded as the oldest piece of New Testament writing ever discovered.
Why not turn your library trip into a whole literary weekend, by booking into a Manchester hotel near the John Rylands Library? The Premier Inn Manchester City Centre (Arena/Printworks) hotel is just an eight-minute walk away, and it’s also near to Chetham’s, the oldest public library in the English-speaking world. And when you’ve finished your tour of Manchester’s bookish haunts, rest assured our comfy beds are ready and waiting when it’s time to curl up with your own bedtime story.
With a collection as impressive as the building itself, there’s so much here you shouldn’t miss - from the first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses to a paper copy of the Gutenberg Bible.
The Historic Reading Room
If you’ve only time for a quick visit, the Historic Reading Room is the place to head. Looking very much like the interior of a church, it has gorgeous. chapel-like alcoves designed for private study. Watch the light pouring through the beautiful stained glass windows or use the handy mirrors so you can see the intricate detail on the ceiling without straining your neck.
The Library hosts regular exhibitions designed to showcase some of the unique artefacts in the John Rylands collection. Recent events have included the exhibition Reformation, which used examples of revolutionary writing to tell the fascinating story of Martin Luther, Henry VIII and William Tyndale - and how the written word changed the course of English history.
The John Rylands Gallery
This is the place to come to explore some of the rarest and most precious objects in the library’s collection in more detail. Its star attraction, the fragment of the Gospel of St John from the earliest surviving copy of the New Testament, is on permanent display here, but you may also get to see medieval manuscripts or a 1476 Caxton edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
The library hosts regular events, family activities and library tours. One of the most popular are the ‘Thursday lates’, when the library remains open until 7pm to allow people to explore the building after hours - and see it in a whole new light. If you’re here in the school holidays there are always free events laid on for the children - from mystical trails to magical story time.
Don’t leave the John Rylands Library without spending a penny. Proud owner of the last Victorian toilets in Manchester, the ladies even has a ‘bustle space’ for extravagant dresses.
A £17m refurbishment in 2003 brought facilities here bang up to date. Now there’s a beautiful glass entrance wing which cleverly integrates with the rest of the building and includes a shop, café and toilets - all designed to make your visit even more pleasant.
You’ll find the John Rylands Library at 150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH. It’s open seven days a week - Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10am to 5pm, and Sundays and Mondays from 12pm to 5pm. Last entry is at 4.45pm each day. It’s free to get in, but donations are always welcome.
Free tours take place every Wednesday and Friday at 3pm and they’re a great way to learn about the building. Just turn up, there’s no need to book. Or you may be lucky enough to catch a special Explorer Tour, which shows you where those quirky secret staircases lead to. Booking required.
You won’t mind exiting through the gift shop at the John Rylands Library. Full of quirky books, postcards and gifts, you’ll find it inside the modern entrance wing. Many items are inspired by current exhibitions - where else can you find Henry VIII stuffed toys and Anne Boleyn jewellery?
The modern extension is fully accessible, with level access, lifts throughout and power-assisted doors. There’s a disabled toilet in the basement. Inside the Historic Reading Room light levels are kept low to preserve some of the fragile objects in the Library’s collection.
With a great location in the city centre, there’s plenty to do within easy reach of the John Rylands Library.
Manchester Town Hall is a neo-Gothic masterpiece that dominates nearby Albert Square. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, it’s worth going to take some photos of the Victorian facade, although sadly the interior is closed to the public until 2024.
Once you’ve seen the Town Hall, it’s time to let off some steam at the Vertical Chill Ice Wall. You’ll find it at the Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports store at 130 Deansgate, and the wall of real ice is a great way for climbers to find out what it would be like to climb a real snowy mountain. You have to be over 14 to climb and it costs about £50, but you get 40 minutes on the wall, with all equipment and tuition.
The library’s coffee shop, Café Rylands, is currently only open at weekends and serves a small selections of cakes and hot drinks. During the week you’re allowed to bring your own food. For something more substantial you’ll need to go further afield and there are some great options right on the doorstep of the John Rylands library.
Looking for a tried and tested old favourite? You won’t have to walk too far to find one! Your nearest options include the Spinningfields branch of popular northern chain Bagel Nash (for tasty filled bagels and pizza), the Manchester branch of Bill’s (known for its exceptional breakfasts) and Wagamama (for hearty bowls of something noodly). There’s also a Comptoir Libanais for Middle Eastern delights and a Cote Brasserie which does a great steak frites or steaming bowl of mussels.
If you fancy something a bit different, you’re also in luck. You’ll feel like you’re dining at an old-fashioned colonial hangout at the Grand Pacific in Spring Gardens - and the rose lychee martini and duck cottage pie here are as legendary as the decor. Or there’s Veeno -just off Albert Square, it wins consistently rave reviews for its tapas and delicious meat and cheese platters, all washed down with the most delicious choice of Spanish wines. Or try the ultra cosy Oast House for a UK take on fondue.
The John Rylands Library is easily accessible, whether you’re coming by bus, tram or train.
With its Deansgate location there are no car parking spaces outside the library itself, but there are several multi-stories not far away. The nearest NCP car parks are on Watson Street, New Quay Street and Blackfriars Street.
The nearest bus stops on Deansgate and John Dalton Street are served by a number of local buses, but if you’re coming from Manchester Uni the V1 and V2 leave the Students Union regularly and stop on John Dalton Street.
Get off the train and hop on a free Metroshuttle bus. The number 1 runs from Piccadilly every few minutes and drops you at nearby John Dalton Street, while the number 2 runs from Victoria every ten minutes and drops you off on Deansgate.
The nearest tram stop is St Peter's Square, which is a seven-minute walk from the Library. Get off the tram and walk on John Dalton Street until you reach Deansgate. Turn left onto Deansgate and walk for approximately 100 metres.
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