Staying at one of our Manchester hotels to catch a big match? Take time out from the beautiful game to explore some of the exceptional culture while you’re here. Because, while Manchester may be well-known for its famous football clubs, it’s in a league of its own when it comes to art. The city’s galleries rank among the finest in the UK, and one of the best places to kick-off your day of culture is at the Grade I-listed Manchester Art Gallery.
Designed by Charles Barry (the architect behind Highclere Castle, also known as Downton Abbey) this beautifully restored neo-classical building has benefitted from a £35m extension in 2002, which connects to the main building via a beautiful glass walkway and atrium. Flooded with light, this modern space allows the gallery to display contemporary artworks alongside its Victorian and pre-Raphaelite masterpieces.
Right in the middle of the city centre, Manchester Art Gallery is home to 25,000 artefacts by some of the world’s leading artists, with collections spanning six centuries. Besides the art, there’s also a hands-on space for families, a great gift shop and an innovative cafe.
Free to enter, there are three floors and 21 rooms full of art and design to explore. You could easily spend a good few hours here, wandering the traditional rooms and light-filled modern extension, before heading for a coffee. And, if you book into Manchester Piccadilly, the Premier Inn hotel nearest to the Manchester Art Gallery you won’t have to rush off after your visit, leaving you with plenty of time to catch some of the other attractions this buzzing city is famous for.
Manchester Art Gallery is a popular place, attracting over half a million visitors each year. If you’re going to be one of them, expect to find permanent collections of 19th century British art, thought-provoking temporary exhibitions and an ever-changing programme of arty events and activities.
Manchester Art Gallery is most famous for its permanent collections of 19th century British paintings. There’s a fascinating display of the works of LS Lowry and his teacher Adolphe Valette, a collection of Pre-Raphaelite works and displays of decorative arts, from ancient civilizations to today’s designers. If fine art isn’t your thing, you’ll also find beautiful ceramics, furniture and costume, with the oldest object being an Egyptian jar from 1100 BC.
Alongside the art permanently on display, the gallery runs an ambitious programme of temporary exhibitions. Past exhibits have included large installations of living plants by South Asian artist Mehreen Murtaza, a display of four decades’ worth of the imagery used by iconic Manchester bands New Order and Joy Division, and a rare collection of watercolour and oil paintings by ‘Manchester’s Monet’, Wynford Dewhurst.
During the school holidays, you’ll find award-winning artist-led workshops that let children explore different themes and create their own artworks. They’re suitable for all ages and two artists will be on hand to help - one with an early years specialism and one who develops activities for older children. Past activities have seen kids making glow-in-the-dark artworks. Drop-in sessions generally run from 1pm to 3pm.
Guided tours take place every day from Thursday to Sunday. Starting at 2pm and lasting around an hour, they really help you get the most out of the gallery. Join volunteer guides and learn more about the building and its history, then find out about some of the art on display. Every guide designs their own tour, so each tour is slightly different - and some are available in British Sign Language for the hard of hearing.
If it’s a sunny day, make sure you soak up some rays in the gallery’s garden. It was created in 2015 when Manchester Art Gallery hosted the Lost Gardens of Manchester exhibition. But it proved so popular that the gallery decided to keep it as a year-round urban garden.
Manchester Art Gallery is actually three buildings (two designed by Charles Barry in the 1830s and one modern atrium) all connected by gorgeous glass walkways. The 2002 refurb brought the gallery right up-to-date, so expect clean, modern facilities with great access.
You’ll find the gallery on Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL and the phone number is 0161 235 8888. The gallery is open Monday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, including bank holiday Mondays, with late night opening on Thursday until 9pm. It’s free to get in. There are no cloakroom or lockers available so don’t bring anything that you mind having to carry with you.
The main information desk has leaflets and floor plans - it’s in the central atrium. There’s also a permanent floor plan in the entrance hall that’ll help you find your way around. The gift shop and cafe are on the the ground floor while on the first floor you’ll find the main galleries and the Clore family art space. Finally, on the top floor there are two further galleries along with the gallery of design.
Head to the information desk and pick up an explorer tool belt, designed to help kids connect with the gallery’s artworks. Then make your way to the Clore Art Studio, an interactive family space developed by artists, and open every day. As well as plenty of chances to create their own art, kids can make dens using blocks, play games or see themselves projected on the gallery wall.
The gallery is committed to making art accessible to all. There are tours held in sign language, creative workshops for autistic children and monthly sessions exploring art for partially sighted visitors. Wheelchairs can be borrowed from the entrance hall and the building is fully accessible. There are accessible toilets on the ground and first floors, and lifts to all floors.
For art of the contemporary kind (as well as international cinema and thought-provoking plays) head to Manchester’s HOME gallery. Catch an exhibition of weird and wonderful art, or just grab a cocktail from one of the best cafe bars in the city.
Or take a break from culture for a spot of shopping at the Arndale Centre. This huge indoor mall is a great place to escape the rain, and has the world’s largest Next store, a huge Topshop and a great food court.
There’s nothing like browsing an art gallery to really work up an appetite. But will you eat at the venue, or head into the bright lights of the city centre?
With a menu recently redeveloped by former Fat Duck chef Mary-Ellen McTague, The Gallery Cafe is a more upmarket affair then you might have been expecting. Instead of cellophane wrapped sarnies, there are Mary’s signature Breville toasties, two and three course menus and delicious hot dishes and salads. There’s also an innovative pay-as-you-feel children’s menu made in partnership with the Real Junk Food Project - a not-for-profit group that serve only food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Food is locally sourced with meat cured on-site and vegetables grown in the gallery’s own kitchen garden.
I Am Pho is one of the top rated restaurants in Manchester is also one of the cheapest - and it’s just a stone’s throw from the Art Gallery. Don’t be put off by the canteen-style tables because this is the most authentic Vietnamese food you’ll get outside of Hanoi. Fresh, hearty bowls of pho to which you add tempting extras like beef or tofu, spicy salads and even Vietnamese baguettes stuffed full of pork, salad and coriander. Portions so big you may need a doggy bag. It’s always busy, but service is quick and efficient.
Unsurprisingly, Viennese coffee is the order of the day at Vienna Coffee House. This cute independent city centre favourite. If you’ve never tried one, expect strong black coffee served with lashings of whipped cream and chocolate on top! Totally delicious, but if it all sounds a little too calorific, rest assured that you can get your normal latte, along with a selection of delicate cakes and pastries. Fancy something savoury? Try the Mosley Panini filled with a tempting mix of chicken, chorizo, mature cheddar, cherry tomatoes and apricots.
Right in the middle of town, getting to the Manchester Art Gallery is a breeze. But will you go by car, train or tram?
Follow the signs to the city centre then head to either the Chepstow Street, Faulkner Street or Sackville Street NCP car parks - all are just a five-minute walk away.
If you’re taking the bus into the city centre, you can hop off at either Piccadilly Gardens (a 10-minute walk) or Princess Street (just a four-minute walk away).
Nearest rail links are Piccadilly, Oxford or Victoria. Take the Metrolink from here, going in the Altrincham or Eccles direction, and get off at Market Street or St Peter’s Square.
Take a Metrolink tram to either St Peter’s Square or Market Street on the Altrincham and Eccles lines. Both are within an easy walking distance of the gallery.
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