Sights With Bite: Alternative City Tours
Manchester is a city that gives up its secrets to those who try that little bit harder. The wide selection of city tours range from map tours (see the Modernist Metro tour below), and underground expeditions of the city’s hidden-away spots, to tours of famous places featured on The Smiths’ record sleeves and in the songs of Morrissey (look out for the MozBus Smiths Tour on the first Saturday of the month.
A simple walking tour with a Blue or Green Badge guide is a good place to start. Manchester’s got some of the best of these highly qualified guides in the country - and award-winner Jonathan Schofield is a good example. Listen out for his booming voice as you stroll through town and tune in to discover all sorts of corners and cornices that you’d never have noticed if you were just strolling around on your own. You could also give your guide a run for their money by asking if the Midland Hotel really was going to be Hitler’s HQ after the invasion of Britain by the Germans during WWII - or if 22,000 people lie buried under the green oasis of St John’s Gardens.
For tours with a more political twist, local historian and trustee of the Working Class Movement Library, Michael Herbert explores Manchester’s radical history with guided walks covering topics like the Irish in Manchester, radical women, black history and Marx and Engels in Manchester.
Unusual places, meanwhile, are the forte of Manchester architecture blogger and location scout Hayley Flynn, aka Skyliner. Jazzing up the formula in her own inimitable style, Flynn does “field trips” instead of tours - a kind of longer form, funner take on the traditional walking tour. She’s the kind of person who goes the extra mile too - chatting, researching and learning as much as possible about everything she covers on her blog. So her tours are a real treat. A recent outing explored the city centre’s mostly unknown Godlee Observatory, home of Manchester Astronomical Society and situated high in a Victorian corner of the University of Manchester’s Sackville Street building. It sold out really quickly so keep an eye on her blog for up-to-date listings and info about how to book.
Manchester Modernist Society enjoy the future-facing architecture of 1900s that litters Manchester. To help visitors enjoy it too, they’ve created a free map of sites of interests which you can pick up at places like Fig and Sparrow Café on Oldham Street, or the Manchester Visitor Information Centre in Piccadilly Gardens. Inspired by architects like Le Corbusier, fans of the concrete look will find plenty of gems around Manchester including the towering CIS building, and Anthony Holloway’s sculptural sound wall.
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Ruth has been writing about Manchester's cultural scene for the last 10 years, specialising in off-the-beaten track destinations and hidden gems. She's the editor of Manchester's award-winning what's on guide.