3 Top Alternative Walking Tours in Manchester
The problem with many a City Break is that they often don’t feel like a break, and in fact have you longing for a period of restoration after they’re done. This is because navigating your way around a new City, with no indication of where you are going is quite obviously a tiring and often fruitless affair. Getting lost and frustrated is the last thing one would want in a Concrete Jungle, and pounding the streets for hours in search of your destination only to give in and order an expensive taxi is sadly, too common a story. Sure, one can take the ‘flaneur’ approach, deriving from the French term used in the 19th Century to describe someone who takes in his or her urban surroundings in a leisurely and observant stroll. Yet, sadly, cities are far removed from 19th Century Paris. Rather than taking in the historic arches and urban arcades, one can be easily inundated with disorientating directions and disillusioning advertising. Truly, one of the better ways to take in a City on foot is through a walking tour. This method ensures efficiency in your mobility and makes sure that your energy is expended when learning more about the City your in, rather than during tiresome navigation.
In this article, I will be discussion 3 of the more unusual walking tours to take when you find yourself in Manchester. These tours are a great way to learn more about the City in an entertaining manner. One needn’t be a tourist however; even Mancunian locals would benefit, as the tours I am mentioning are less conventional, and perhaps pertain to a side of the City you would alternatively not come across.
Hell is a City: The Horrors of Victorian Manchester
I appreciate that given the first entry’s name, I am perhaps tasking myself with a hard sell. ‘Hell is a City’ is a title that would attract the Horror aficionado and quite possibly, little else. Yet the title is symbolic and Hellish in name only. Rest assured, the tour won’t be guiding you towards a Satanic Black Mass, although I’m sure there’s a satnav for that. Rather, the tour chronicles Manchester’s fascinating Victorian History. The reality is that living standards in the Victorian period was extremely polarized, a fact that sadly has resonances today. It is therefore highly poignant to be taken on a tour that discusses the ‘living hell’ that many had to face during the 19th Century, and the tour focuses on the best and worst aspects of being a Mancunian at the time. The tour demonstrates the poor living conditions and the resulting affect they had on the health of many of Manchester’s citizens when taking you through places such as the location of the ‘old slums’, situated by Oxford Road Station.
By the same token, Hell is a City demonstrates some of the greatest moments of Victorian ingenuity and brings you to some of the most awe-inspiring buildings in the City. Breath-taking and numinous are examples of the Victorian Gothic Revival Architecture in Manchester’s Town Hall, Free Trade Hall and in the John Rylands Library. However, rather than uncover the full list of sights you will encounter, I will leave the talented and humorous tour guides to do so. I will attest however, that the ‘Hell is a City’ is thought provoking and inspiring and a timeless way of absorbing the layers of history ever-present in Manchester. At only £6, there really is no reason to miss the opportunity.
Manchester Treasure Hunt: Engage, and Laugh with Self-Made Adventure
The next entry on my list doesn’t introduce you to unconventional sights per se, yet the way it does so is gloriously fun and unique. I recommend the ‘Manchester Treasure Hunt’ for families, particularly with energetic children whom you’d like to get out to the City for more controlled urban activities. The Treasure Hunt is also a great option for friends looking for a fun day out, or even School Trips and the dreaded ‘Team Building Activities’ amongst colleagues. Similarly, I envision the Hunt to be ideal for students whom are unfamiliar with the City. What makes Manchester Treasure Hunt Unique is the fact that rather than being guided along in an urban promenade, you are given autonomy in your adventure. This is because the ‘treasure’ in question is the City itself. Upon beginning your tour, your group is given a list of clues that pertain to nearby landmarks and once solves will take you through a list of key destinations including The Peoples History Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, Castlefield Visitor Centre, The Town Hall, St. Anne’s Church and Urbis. The benefit is that because you aren’t directed along in a typical tour format, your group can take as much time as it needs to enjoy the sites you cross. The Manchester Treasure Hunt is unrivalled in its flexibility and interactivity and cleverly allows you to have an entertaining group session with a less rigid format.
The tour lasts two hours and is perhaps best finished with a trip to a bar or restaurant to replenish all those burnt calories (‘thingstodo’ has a list of great local options here). Each group is given a ‘team pack’ at £99, becoming cheaper for each additional party. Manchester Treasure Hunt is indeed one of the more fun tours to be had, and in my opinion works great with the size of the City. If in London, I imagine the inner City itself to be too large for fun-sized orienteering. The Manchester Treasure Hunt however, is compact enough to be engaging, rather than exhausting and with the right company, signifies one of the most memorable and amusing ways to accustom yourself to the city.
‘Coronation Street the Tour’ Takes the Crown
The final entry on my list is noticeable because it’s iconic in being Mancunian yet does not actually exist in Manchester. However, it doesn’t exist elsewhere in all fairness. No, the final entry on my list is not a tour of an alternative dimension, dislocated from our very reality, but it comes close. The final entry on my list is a tour of the set of Coronation Street at it’s new home in ‘Media City’. The tour is only open until the end of 2015 however, so I implore you to get down on to the hallowed cobbles as soon as possible. It is fair to describe this tour as Mancunian; really Coronation Street has become a cultural phenomenon, standing the test of time with a legacy of 50 years and millions of viewers that ever champions the working people of the area. Although ‘Weatherfield’ may not actually exist, it is undoubtedly a timeless homage that has succeeded in capturing the heart and essence of its imagined locals.
An independent company, which is aptly named ‘Coronation Street The Tour’, arranges the event and guides will punctuate your trip along the sets with fascinating facts, anecdotes and secrets regarding the show. The tour doesn’t merely introduce you to the current set but fosters for the nostalgia and allows you to reminisce with footage of memorable scenes and props, including ‘Deidre’s Glasses’ and ‘Roy’s Train Set’.
The tour begins with a stop in the Green Room, which was the lounging area for the cast before taking you along the corridors of dressing rooms and onto the Street and set areas themselves. Needless to say, this allows you to come face to face with some of the show’s most signature sets and buildings from the Rover’s, the Duckworth’s and many more. Photography is encouraged and visitors are given as much time as they need to do so before having the opportunity to purchase a keepsake from the charming little gift shop. Tickets are available on ‘Ticketmaster’ and are priced from £15-£17.
Manchester is a fun, diverse City and a walking tour is a great platform to get to know it. Granted, merely walking and observing may not be enough to maintain the cultural hunger of a city-goer, but it gives one an entertaining and interesting grounding to explore the City further. I recommend a walking tour as a handy thing to do before exploring some of the other hidden gems featured on this website.