Love your city breaks to be both entertaining and inspiring in equal measure? A trip to Manchester will be just the ticket - the city has more culture than a four-hour long arthouse film! In fact, with so many top-name galleries and museums crammed into its centre, you could find yourself spoilt for choice when it comes to interesting places to visit, and all within walking distance of one of our Manchester hotels.
But one cultural hotspot that should be top of your list is the fabulous Manchester Museum. From archaeology and earth sciences to dinosaurs and mummies, there’s something here to enthrall the whole family, no matter how diverse your interests. Dating back to 1821, the museum began as three insect cabinets, owned by Manchester cotton magnate, John Leigh Phillips. After his death, the cabinets were bought by the city’s Natural History Society who expanded the collection, and then opened the museum itself - a Grade II-listed Victorian beauty designed by Alfred Waterhouse. Where once there were just four 'keepers' at the museum, these days it’s looked after by 70 professionals, including some world-class scholars - in fact the museum is known for its cutting-edge research in the natural sciences and humanities
Free to enter, the museum now has six million fascinating artefacts in its collection here, meaning it would take at least a day to see it all. But there’s no need to rush your visit when you book into the Premier Inn near the Manchester Museum. Our Manchester Piccadilly hotel has comfy beds and lovely rooms that are ready and waiting to turn your big day of culture into a real work of art.
With so many fascinating collections crammed into one seriously gorgeous building, it’s hard to know where to head first. No wonder the museum attracts around 430,000 visitors each year! So what’s not to be missed?
There’s plenty on display here permanently to keep you entertained. Dinosaur fans should head to the Fossils Gallery. Stan the giant T-Rex is the star of the show here, but we challenge you not to be enthralled by the fossilized impression of raindrops that fell about 200 million years ago. The meteorite display includes pieces from Mars and the Moon which you can actually touch. And of course, there’s the inevitable room full of stuffed animals, including a rare tigon - a cross between a tiger and a lion. But it’s not all about taxidermy - there are cute live frogs, snakes and lizards in the Vivarium.
To really get the the most out of your visit, head to the reception desk on the ground floor at 2pm every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This is the start of the free guided tour of the museum, that will tell you all about the building’s history, and give you a close-up look at some of the best artefacts on display. It’s suitable for all ages, and there’s no need to book. You can also do Vivarium tours every Thursday at 12pm. Unfortunately, while this is free, it’s for adults only and tours do not run in school holidays. Booking is essential, and to reserve your space you can call the museum on 0161 275 2648.
The museum is completely family friendly, with lots to do for little ones, particularly in the school holidays and on Saturdays when many events are laid on just for them. Past activities on the museum’s Big Saturday calendar have included tours, storytelling, performances and films. Even during the week the museum is a paradise for children - there’s an object handling table that’s open every day between 11am and 3pm where they’re able to touch 200 million year old fossils and objects from ancient cultures. For the really little ones, there’s a Nature Discovery gallery on the first floor which is just for under 5s.
Temporary exhibitions and events
There’s always something going on at Manchester Museum, and it’s usually free! There are book signings and author talks, lunchtime talks by museum staff that tell the story behind some of the more unusual items on display and the chance for adults to get creative with weekly craft groups. In addition, there are some amazing temporary exhibitions. The famous Lindow Man (an Iron Age body preserved in a peat bog) was on display here in 2008, while an exhibition of animal mummies from Ancient Egypt proved incredibly popular in 2015. The innovative display included a trail where you could even smell what the mummies were like when unwrapped.
There’s nothing worse than walking round all bundled up in heavy coats when you get inside a museum. Luckily there are family lockers available here - just come early as they’re really popular.
Although the museum looks distinctly Victorian from the outside, head inside and you’ll find contemporary spaces and state-of-the-art facilities, thanks to a Heritage-Lottery-funded refurbishment.
The museum’s address is University Of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL and the phone number is 0161 275 2648. Free to enter, it’s open from 10am to 5pm everyday, including Bank Holidays. It’s closed between 24 and 26 December, and 1 January.
Need to buy a present for a hard-to-shop-for friend? You may well find something here! The museum shop is full of unique gifts, from rocks, minerals and fossils to an eclectic mix of giftware based on natural and world history collections. There’s also a wide range of ethically sourced toys.
The museum is fully accessible, with new and improved facilities. Visitors with disabilities can park outside the main entrance then, once inside, you’ll find accessible toilets, ramps and lifts and wheelchairs for hire. In addition, the museum lays on special events, like autism-friendly early opening times.
As the museum’s in the middle of Manchester University’s Oxford Road campus, many of the institutions other main cultural highlights are within easy reach.
Take the John Rylands Library, for example. Great for a wander round, you’ll find it’s full of instagrammable moments because this magical place looks straight out of a film set! The neo-Gothic building is a rabbit warren of dusty books, secret staircases and high vaulted ceilings, and also contains a fragment of the earliest copy of the New Testament.
Also on campus is the Whitworth art gallery, home to some of the UK's finest collections of art and design. You’ll love its wide, spacious galleries, but children will be thoroughly entertained by the magical arty hampers - little chests filled with colourful craft supplies.
If you’re saving your pennies you can always bring your own packed lunch and eat it at one of the museum’s indoor picnic tables. But if you haven’t brought sarnies, there are still options for refuelling.
The Cafe at the Museum
The ground floor cafe is run by the people behind the award-winning, Northern Quarter favourite, Teacup Kitchen. Known for their quirky home-baked cakes and fantastic breakfasts, they’ve transformed the museum’s cafe into a warm and welcoming space that’s perfect for families. Stop for a coffee and indulge in healthy snacks like protein bombs, or grab some comfort food for lunch - there’s everything from stews, burgers and fish fingers to tasty chilli and nachos.
From Carluccio’s to Subway, there are plenty of chain options within easy reach of the museum. But if you prefer your cafes to be a little more quirky and independent, Chez is a great option. Consistently winning rave reviews, there are filling full English breakfasts (or French toast and granola if you fancied something smaller) and lovely falafel hot boxes and Ploughman’s boards for lunch. Spacious, light and trendy on the inside, everything here is organic and all locally sourced. Vegans and vegetarians are well-catered for too, with smoothies made from almond milk and vegan butter on offer.
If all that culture has left you with a serious appetite, why not head to the Dog Bowl? With massive American-style brunches, indulgent burgers piled high with toppings and tasty hot dogs on offer, you won’t leave hungry! Plus, all the food comes with a big side order of fun because Dog Bowl is also a retro-style bowling alley! With a children’s menu offering smaller portions of the full-sized meals, kids are particularly welcome. In fact, children even get to bowl for free on Mondays (when they eat in the venue). For the adults, there are great value cocktails, and on Fizz Fridays Prosecco is just £3 a glass.
The museum is easily reached by public transport, or you could just walk from the city centre in about 20 minutes. Don’t fancy the walk? Here are all your options.
Pop M15 6PB into your sat nav. It’ll take you to Booth Street West car park, the nearest to the museum. Costing around £3 for three hours, it’s open every day until midnight.
A number of buses stop near to the museum. You could hop on either the 15, 41, 42, 43, 140, 143 or the 147 service and get off at Oxford Road.
You’ll find the nearest train station on Oxford Road. From here, it’ll take you about five minutes on the bus, or you could walk it in about 10 minutes.
The nearest tram stop to the Manchester Museum is at St Peter’s Square. From here, it’s another 10 minutes on the bus or 20 minutes on foot.
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