This is a quick guide for people visiting me (Mark Kambites) at the University of Manchester, synthesised from various emails I have sent to past visitors and designed to save me repeating myself to future ones. It is not designed to be useful to anyone else, but if it is, so much the better! Square brackets contain translations for Americans; please let me know if I have missed any, or if you find any errors, broken links, etc.
I am not attempting to keep up with changes (e.g. establishments closing and changes to transport routes) during the COVID-19 pandemic. I will do a thorough update when things calm down, until which time all information should be treated with extra scepticism.
Getting to Manchester
The University is quite close to Manchester Piccadilly railway station, which has direct connections to most UK places you can think of and many you can't. Manchester Oxford Road station is even more convenient for the University, but has trains to fewer places. Train information and tickets are available from sites such as the Trainline. The UK train ticketing system is very complicated and it can be hard to know if you have found the cheapest fare; when searching for prices bear in mind that a return [round trip] may be cheaper than a single [one way], or two singles may be cheaper than a return! Travelling before 9:30am often pushes the price up. Be aware that automated ticket gates may eat your train ticket when leaving your destination station; if you need to keep the ticket (e.g. for an expenses claim) you can ask the officer staffing the gates to let you through instead of using the machine.
If flying, the best bet is usually to arrive at Manchester Airport, which has scheduled flights across Europe and to major hubs worldwide. From there you can either take a taxi direct to the University, or follow signs to the train station and take a train to Piccadilly (about every 15 minutes during the day and takes 15-20 minutes). Other options are Liverpool Airport and Birmingham Airport, which have direct trains or buses to Manchester. Rail or bus connections from other UK airports (including London Heathrow) are possible but time-consuming, and often more expensive than a connecting flight. From continental Europe it is possible to use the Eurostar (channel tunnel train); you have to change stations in London but it is only a short walk or tube [subway] ride, and you can buy a through ticket from major European cities to Manchester. You can also consider the overnight North Sea ferries from Rotterdam and Zeebrugge to Hull; there are regular direct trains from Hull to Manchester. The faster and cheaper ferries across the English Channel (e.g. Calais-Dover) are not so useful, as it is a complicated journey from the south coast to Manchester.
Driving in central Manchester is best avoided, due to congested roads, expensive parking and comprehensive public transport. If you really want to, you can park in the (expensive) aquatics centre car park, which is next door to the Alan Turing Building, but better is to park at a railway or tram station in the suburbs and use the tram or train. If you want to drive from the continent, the North Sea ferries (see above) carry cars and Hull is a relatively short drive from Manchester. Again, channel crossings are shorter and cheaper but it is a long drive from the south coast to Manchester.
AccommodationManchester has many hotels, but rooms can be in short supply during major events (sports fixtures, concerts, graduation ceremonies) so it is advisable to book well in advance. The Hyatt Regency Manchester is on campus and excellent quality, but generally quite expensive even at the university discount rate. A slightly more affordable option, situated between the university, city centre and railway stations, is the Ibis Hotel Princess Street. The Travelodge Upper Brook Street is also handy for the university but further from the city centre and stations: prices vary a lot but can sometimes be very cheap if booked well in advance. If you are on a really tight budget there is a youth hostel about a mile from the University.
Your trip is likely to revolve around Piccadilly railway station, the Ibis Hotel or Travelodge, and the School of Mathematics. To get between them you can walk, take a taxi, or use a bus.
Bus. On weekdays only the 147 Oxford Road Link bus runs from Piccadilly station via Charles Street (past the Ibis Hotel) and then down Oxford Road through the middle of the University (but note that it no longer goes to the Travelodge Upper Brook Street). It runs every ten minutes during the day (roughly from 5:30am to 8pm), and tickets are available on the bus. The stop at Piccadilly is signposted through the Fairfield Street exit; once you get outside it is about 100m off to the left and on the other side of the road. For the School of Mathematics, get off just after you see the Royal Northern College of Music on your right, continue a little further down Oxford Road on foot, turn left down the walkway just before University Place (the giant tin can) and then the Alan Turing Building is ahead of you on the other side of the square. For the Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Suites get off the bus in the same place, but then walk back up Oxford Road; at the traffic lights cross Oxford Road and turn left onto Booth Street West, and the hotel is a little way along on the left hand side. For the Travelodge, stay on the bus a bit longer and get off after the big church with the octogonal tower; then walk a little further down Oxford Road, turn left onto Grafton Street and then right onto Upper Brook Street. Unfortunately on Saturdays and Sundays there is no direct bus service from Piccadilly to the campus.
Taxi. Taxi drivers may not have heard of the Alan Turing Building, in which case ask for the aquatics centre car park. Bear in mind that there are two Crowne Plaza Hotels, two Ibis Hotels and numerous Travelodges in Manchester, so make sure you name the street as well as the hotel! See below for safety tips regarding taxis.
Walking Piccadilly to the Alan Turing Building (20 mins). Leave the station by the Fairfield Street exit (down the escalators or lift [elevator] from the main concourse) which brings you out at a big road junction [intersection]. Cross both main roads, and go along a smaller road (Granby Row) to the left of the Bull's Head pub. Keep straight on, as the road becomes a pedestrian walk and then a road again, and at the phoneboxes turn left onto Sackville Street. Go under the railway bridge and continue until the road begins to bend right; follow the left-hand pavement [sidewalk] which becomes a footpath and goes through an underpass. Afterwards, keep left under the motorway [freeway] flyover (avoiding a deeper underpass ahead) before bearing right (avoiding yet another underpass to the left). After very carefully crossing the motorway sliproad [freeway ramp], you find yourself on Brook Street. Walk down this (away from the flyover) crossing several side-roads and passing car showrooms and a converted church, until you reach a disused car showroom on the left. Cross (now Upper) Brook Street at the pedestrian crossing and the Alan Turing Building is directly in front of you.
Walking Piccadilly to the Ibis Hotel (10 mins). Proceed as above until you turn left onto Sackville Street, but just after the railway bridge turn right into Charles Street (opposite more phoneboxes). The hotel is on the left, just before Princess Street.
Walking Ibis Hotel to the Alan Turing Building (10 mins). Go left out of the main door onto Charles Street and immediately left onto Princess Street. Princess Street becomes Brook Street, which at the big motorway junction [freeway intersection] becomes Upper Brook Street, so your aim is to go straight on. The pavement [sidewalk] will attempt to thwart you by following strange machinations to get you under the motorway [freeway], but once you manage it, carry on down Upper Brook Street past the junctions [intersections] with Grosvenor Street and Booth Street East. The Alan Turing Building is on the right, immediately after the aquatics centre car park [parking lot].
Walking Piccadilly to the Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Suites (20 mins). Proceed as if walking to the Alan Turing Building until you reach the intersection of Brook Street with Booth Street East, by the converted church. Cross both roads and turn right along Booth Street East, cross the next main road (Oxford Road) and continue on what is now Booth Street West. The hotel is on the left hand side.
Walking Piccadilly to the Travelodge Upper Brook Street (30 mins). Proceed as if walking to the Alan Turing Building, but continue past the disused car dealer dealer (without crossing the road) for another 10 minutes, avoiding the left-fork onto Plymouth Grove. The Travelodge is on the left.
EatingThere is a small cafe on the ground floor of the Alan Turing Building, which does a limited selection of soup and sandwiches; the Greenhouse Cafe, just outside on the square, is a handy vegetarian option, while the main University cafeteria is in University Place (the tin can) on the other side of the square; all three tend to be closed in the evenings and vacations.
Oxford Road (especially just to the north of campus) has a good range of affordable student-orientated pubs, cafes and takeaways. There is a small row of more upmarket restaurants and coffee shops fronting onto University Green (between buildings 29 and 36 on the campus map). A wider range of restaurants can be found further north towards the city centre (around the Palace Theatre and in China Town), while a mile to the south, Oxford Road becomes the Curry Mile of Rusholme. If staying in the Ibis, the Indian restaurant East Z East is worth a try; it is actually in the basement of the hotel, but the entrance is around the corner on Princess Street. Probably my absolute favourite central Manchester eatery is Bundobust, which does very reasonably-priced vegetarian Indian street food and craft beer just the other side of Piccadilly Station.
Vegetarian and vegan options are available virtually everywhere, but popular places specialising in vegetarian, vegan and/or wholefood are Milk & Honey and (slightly further away) the Eighth Day Cafe. Halal food is widely available (for example, from some of the takeaways and cafes on Oxford Road, just north of the university). Kosher food is unfortunately harder to find; campus outlets sometimes have a few basic things, but most of the city's kosher shops and restaurants are in the northern suburbs, and not very accessible from campus. If you want to try then walk north up Oxford Road to the tram station in St Peter's Square, catch a tram in the direction of Bury, and get off at Prestwich.
Facilities for Visitors to the School of Mathematics
My office is room 2.137, on the second [third] floor. Long-to-medium term academic visitors to the school are usually assigned an office; short term visitors can use the Brian Hartley Room (1.211). The main communal area is the Atrium Bridge on the first [second] floor; coffee and biscuits [cookies] are served every morning from about 10:30 (just help yourself) and feel free to use the kitchen (but please clean up after yourself). Next to the coffee area is a general purpose discussion area, with tables and blackboards.Most of the campus has wireless coverage (near-universal indoors, a bit patchy outdoors), which you can connect to using Eduroam credentials (ask your home university's IT people in advance if you don't know what these are). If you don't have your own laptop I can arrange an account for use on the computers in the Brian Hartley Room; this takes a few days so please let me know in advance.
You can get reference access to the main University library (number 55 on the campus map); just go to the front desk and explain that you are an academic visitor.
Manchester's reputation for crime is exaggerated but not completely unfounded, so please take care. Try to avoid wearing or carrying anything ostensibly valuable, especially if on your own. If alone at night it may be best to avoid sidestreets and to use Oxford Road (which is busier) rather than Brook Street for walking to/from the University. The districts of Hulme, Moss Side and Longsight, around the southern end of the University, may be best avoided unless you know where you're going.
There is a problem with unlicensed taxis, which are at best uninsured and at worst dangerous. If you need a taxi, either go to a big official taxi rank like the one at Piccadilly railway station, or call a number obtained from somebody you trust. If you do phone for a taxi, give your name (or any name!) on the phone and then check that the driver can repeat it back to you before getting in. There are two types of licensed taxi in the UK. Black cabs, which in Manchester usually look like the archetypal London taxi, are allowed to wait at official taxi ranks and to pick up passengers who flag them down in the street; they are quite expensive but very reliable. Minicabs are usually regular saloon [sedan] cars with a taxi sign on top; they are only allowed to pick up passengers who have prebooked by phone. Both types should have a taxi number plate on the back next to the normal registration plate, and clearly display photographic driver ID inside. If in doubt, don't get in. Uber also operates in Manchester.
As anywhere, the biggest danger is road traffic. Foreign visitors should look both ways before stepping into the road, or the first time you congratulate yourself on looking right will be on a one-way street with traffic from the left. Americans please note: turning cars do NOT routinely yield to pedestrians, so don't assume you can step out into a sideroad just because the lights for the main road are green. Also beware of trams, which operate both on the roads with cars and on otherwise pedestrianized streets; they creep up on you surprisingly quietly and don't stop as easily as cars!
For drivers, the speed limit is usually 30mph in town, 60mph in the countryside and 70mph on non-urban dual carriageways and motorways [divided highways and freeways] unless signs say otherwise. An amber [yellow] traffic light means roughly "stop if you can safely", flashing amber means "yield to crossing pedestrians", while red and amber showing together means "get ready to go"; there is no left (or right!) turn on red (unless there is a green filter arrow) and no requirement to stop for school buses (even the cute new American-style yellow ones). On highways you must not overtake [pass] on the left, and must always drive in the leftmost available lane (so that other people can overtake you on the right) unless you are overtaking or signs tell you otherwise. In central Manchester either entire streets (including Oxford Road through the university) or particular lanes are sometimes reserved for buses, taxis and bicycles; cameras issue automatic fines to other drivers using them. If hiring [renting] a car, note that manual [standard] transmission is the norm: if you need an automatic then pre-book to make sure one is available.
History and Sightseeing
Manchester was the world's first major industrial city, and has arguable claims to be the birthplace of socialism, communism, free trade and globalisation, trades unionism [organized labor], the cooperative movement, passenger rail transport, nuclear physics and the computer. But it doesn't wear its history on its sleeve, and the casual visitor could be forgiven for realising none of this! The city has always looked forward, treating heritage as subservient to economics, and two centuries of non-stop redevelopment have created a rather American feel. But there are traces of the past everywhere if you look hard enough (upwards is usually a good direction!).
- Town Hall: Spectacular architectural monument to Victorian municipal self-importance. Also look out for the nearby City Library and Midland Hotel.
- The Science and Industry Museum: All kinds of fascinating stuff, and especially good for train and computer enthusiasts. Free admission.
- Statue of Alan Turing: A poignantly modest affair in the small park on the corner of Sackville Street and Whitworth Street.
- St Peter's Field: Site of the 1819 Peterloo massacre, in which a peaceful demonstration (for parliamentary reform and the abolition of import tariffs on corn [wheat]) was charged by armed troops. There is finally, after many years of campaigning, a proper memorial.
- The Lowry Galleries: Big collection of works by L.S.Lowry (painter of industrial landscapes with "matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs") and a range of other temporary exhibitions.
The city is one of the best in the world for spectator sport: Greater Manchester has top flight teams in every major sport, including football [soccer] (Manchester United, Manchester City), cricket (Lancashire), rugby league (Wigan Warriors, Salford Red Devils) and rugby union (Sale Sharks). If you prefer to play, there are world-class facilities for almost every sport, either in the University area or at SportCity.
The Peak District, immediately east of the city, has some of the country's best walking, cycling and climbing terrain and is easily accessible by train. There are numerous good walks from railway stations (circular or from one to another). For a very gentle introduction, try walking a stretch of the Peak Forest Canal towpath; it passes near stations at Romiley, Marple, Disley, New Mills Newtown, Furness Vale and Whaley Bridge, all of which have regular direct trains to Piccadilly. If feeling more energetic, take the train to Disley and follow the (signposted) Gritstone Trail as far as Lyme Park. Even in summer the weather changes rapidly and paths can be muddy, so a raincoat and sturdy footwear are prudent whatever the forecast. A map is also handy: the most useful is OS Explorer OL1. Alternatively the OS smartphone app gives you detailed topographical maps on your smartphone (with a 7-day free trial), but be sure to download the relevant area for offline use as mobile reception is not reliable in the hills. If you intend to venture off the waymarked trails then a paper map becomes essential, as do good hiking boots and possibly (in the wilder regions) a compass and the ability to use it!
A really good short day-trip is Quarry Bank Mill which combines industrial heritage with lovely gardens and walks in some beautiful surrounding countryside. To get there you can take a taxi or catch a (relatively slow and infrequent) train to the adjacent village of Styal. Alternatively, it is a beautiful 2-mile amble along the riverbank from Wilmslow, which has faster and more frequent trains. The best map for hiking in this area is OS Explorer 268, or you can use the OS app (see above). (Quarry Bank is only a very short taxi ride from the airport, so if you don't have too much luggage it is a good place kill a morning before an afternoon flight.)
Other places within easy day-trip range by train include Buxton (former spa town in the hills, pleasant in summer but cold in winter!), Chester (well-preserved historic city), York (ditto), Liverpool (big port city with musical heritage), Blackpool (lively seaside resort), Southport (seaside resort with no sea, but lots of shops!) and Llandudno (more refined seaside resort in Wales, pronounced something like "kthlan-DID-no"). The Lake District is theoretically reachable for a day, but it doesn't lend itself to hurrying through and you really need a weekend or more to do it justice. Day-trips to tourist draws further south (London, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon) are feasible in theory but tend to mean travelling on very expensive peak-time trains. With a weekend to spare to you can go almost anywhere on the British mainland, although for Cornwall or Northern Scotland you would spend most of the time travelling.