Manchester Historic Architecture Walk (Self Guided), Manchester

Manchester’s architectural scene is rich in style variety. Throughout centuries, the city has evolved in phases, each of which left its own peculiar imprint. There are medieval red-brick buildings in Manchester coexisting with concrete and glass structures from the modern era. Take our tour to explore the city's unique architecture.
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Manchester Historic Architecture Walk Map

Guide Name: Manchester Historic Architecture Walk
Guide Location: England » Manchester (See other walking tours in Manchester)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: alexander
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Manchester Opera House
  • Sunlight House
  • Statue of Prince Albert
  • The Hidden Gem
  • House of Fraser Manchester
  • Barton Arcade
  • Hanging Bridge
  • Manchester Cathedral
  • Manchester Castle
Manchester Opera House

1) Manchester Opera House (must see)

The Manchester Opera House is found on Quay Street in Manchester city centre, close to grand civic buildings like the Magistrates’ Court and Manchester Town Hall. The building was opened in 1912 and currently hosts musicals, touring theatre productions and ballet recitals. Despite its name, it does not host operatic performances – the main venue for opera in Greater Manchester is The Lowry, in nearby Salford. Nevertheless, Manchester Opera House has gained a reputation as one of the city’s many great concert halls. Together with its sister theatre, the Palace Theatre to the south on Oxford Street, it forms the backbone of Manchester’s theatrical traditions.

The Opera House hosted the European premiere of West Side Story in 1958, and has contributed to the city’s reputation for hosting theatrical firsts. The 1.920 capacity theatre hosted the world premiere of Ghost – The Musical in 2011, and also debuted a musical tribute to a group of local legends – the Take That musical, Never Forget. The Opera House, with its imposing neo classical pillared frontage, is a large, sprawling venue with seven bars surrounding the auditorium itself. The theatre also hosts an annual Christmas pantomime which draws in festive theatre goers from around the North West region.
Sunlight House

2) Sunlight House

Sunlight House stands on Quay Street, which runs from Manchester city centre to the banks of the River Irwell, which divides Manchester from Salford to the west. The building is Grade II listed, and is one of the city’s finest and best preserved examples of art deco architecture. Sunlight House was built in 1932 and named after its creator, Joseph Sunlight. Sunlight was an Anglo-Russian architect who moved to Manchester as an apprentice, and who is responsible for the design and construction of hundreds of buildings within the city, including several terraced streets in the suburb of Prestwich, and the South Manchester Synagogue.

Sunlight House was the architect’s flagship project. Built in 1932 and modeled on New York’s Empire State Building, it was intended to become Manchester’s tallest building. However, plans to increase the building’s height of forty stories were ultimately turned down. Sunlight House is now a private office building, having been extensively reinforced after water damage within the Portland stone exterior caused bolts and girders supporting the building to rust. Now fully restored, the building boasts a health club in its basement that retains the original underground swimming pool installed by Joseph Sunlight when the building was completed.
Statue of Prince Albert

3) Statue of Prince Albert

The memorial to Prince Albert is the largest and most distinctive of the many statues and monuments that stand in Manchester's Albert Square. A green square of open space facing Manchester Town Hall, the public gardens hold statues of locally and nationally significant figures, and a fountain built to celebrate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband was a popular member of the royal family, held in particularly high regard for his anti-slavery campaigning. The Queen famously mourned the death of her husband until her death some forty years later, in 1901. The surrounding square, amongst countless other places and buildings in the UK, also bears his name.

The statue depicts the former Prince Consort in military regalia, designed by Matthew Noble, and was erected in 1867. Victoria herself approved the statue of her late husband, Prince Albert, who died of typhoid fever at just 42 years of age.. The statue is surrounded by an unusual, ornate stone archway, known as a ciborium. The surround was conceived by architect Thomas Worthington, possibly inspired by the similarly ornate Walter Scott monument in Edinburgh. The carved figures on the arch represent the four arts, the four continents of the world, the four agricultural seasons and the four sciences – mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and mechanics.
The Hidden Gem

4) The Hidden Gem

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church can be found on Mulberry Street, a quiet cul-de-sac between Deansgate and Albert Square, in the middle of Manchester’s city centre. The church has earned the more familiar local nickname of The Hidden Gem. As you approach and enter the building, the reasons for the name become apparent. Fashioned from unremarkable Victorian red brick and wedged into a typical Mancunian terrace, the church could easily be mistaken for a Victorian factory or mission building. Once through the elaborate entrance door that punctuates the uniform frontage of the building, you are greeted by the exceptional interior of the church.

With its marble altar, Victorian era carvings and life size statues of several saintly figures, the Hidden Gem is one of Manchester's most remarkable religious buildings. The church is Manchester’s oldest surviving Catholic place of worship. Consecrated in 1794, the church has been restored multiple times, most notably in 1833 when the church roof collapsed shortly after a church service. The church is still active and holds mass each weekday at 12.30pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays at midday. St. Mary’s is a welcoming city centre church that allows access for worship and prayer from 10am until 4pm each weekday.
House of Fraser Manchester

5) House of Fraser Manchester

A symbol of the commercial growth in the city in the early 20th century, Kendals plays as big a part in Manchester’s history as more renowned local buildings. A large, well preserved art deco department store, Kendals opened to the public in 1939. It is still one of the city’s largest department stores, although it lost its original name in 2005. House of Fraser, a popular UK chain of department stores, have owned the store since the 1970s. The current building was designed by John Beaumont, although the company has had a presence on Deansgate since 1832.

House of Fraser Manchester, as the store is now known, has led a colourful existence. Located on Deansgate, a major shopping street running from the north to the south of the city, the chain began life as Watts department store, before being taken over by three employees, and becoming Kendal, Milne and Faulkner. The store was taken over by Harrods in 1919, but reverted to its old name a few years later after disapproval from local shoppers. A pillar of Mancunian life, the show has been name checked in two of the most famous TV shows set in the city – long running soap Coronation Street, and retro police drama Ashes to Ashes.
Barton Arcade

6) Barton Arcade

Barton Arcade is a winding covered arcade that runs from Deansgate to St. Ann’s Square in the heart of Manchester’s fashionable shopping district. It makes a worthwhile diversion to any walking tour of the city centre’s best architectural sights. Hidden from view by a façade in front of its main entrance, the arcade offers customers a remarkable view as they enter the arcade from Deansgate. Built in the Victorian era, the arcade curves in a U-shape, with arcing balustrades on the upper floors giving the arcade an unusual, almost otherworldly feel. The roof of the arcade is an ornate multi domed construction, composed of glass and wrought iron.

Barton Arcade is one of Northern England’s most elaborate and well preserved examples of the Victorian passion for arcades. The concept of these covered shopping streets, often winding and topped with ornate glass roofs, was imported from continental cities in the Victorian era. Barton Arcade was constructed in 1871, and extensively restored in the 1980s. It currently houses a number of offices on the upper floors, and boutique clothes stores, bars and restaurants in the ground floor retail units. Famous designers Ed Hardy and Jeffrey West both have outlets in the arcade. The arcade does close to pedestrians outside of retail hours – it’s open from 9am until 5.30pm Monday to Saturday, and 10am to 4.30pm on Sunday.
Hanging Bridge

7) Hanging Bridge

Manchester’s Hanging Bridge is one of the city’s oldest surviving structures. The first known reference to the bridge is in a manuscript dating back to 1343. This bridge was replaced a century later by the present structure, which can still be seen today. The bridge gained its name from its location over the Hanging Ditch, a trench which linked the Rivers Irk & Irwell, close to where Manchester Castle once stood, in the northern quarter of the city centre. Historians have speculated that material from the castle may have been used in the construction of the bridge. The River Dene is believed to have passed along the trench. This mystical river, now disappeared, lends its name to Deansgate, one of Manchester’s most popular streets.

The Hanging Ditch and its namesake bridge may have existed since Roman occupation of the city, when it was known as Mamucium. This is believed to be the origin of the term Mancunian, which is often applied to the city and its residents. The bridge fell out of use in the medieval era before being excavated in the Victorian era. A double arched bridge constructed from sandstone, the bridge has been preserved as a museum piece, and can be seen within the Visitor Centre at Manchester Cathedral, close to where the Hanging Bridge was first constructed.
Manchester Cathedral

8) Manchester Cathedral (must see)

Manchester Cathedral has undergone extensive restoration works, both in the Victorian era and in recent years, following damage from the 1996 IRA bombing of the city centre. The cathedral has existed in some form on the site since medieval times, and holds artifacts that date back to Manchester’s existence as a Saxon settlement. The main body of this gothic cathedral was originally constructed in the late 15th century, overseen by church warden James Stanley. The cathedral is Grade I listed and is the seat of the Bishop of Manchester. In accordance with British tradition, the presence of a cathedral is the reason that Manchester has been awarded city status.

The cathedral welcomes visitors to attend their services or to view the building’s interior. Admission to the cathedral is free, although donations are welcome. The cathedral is mostly wheelchair accessible, however parts of the Regiment Chapel and Quire are only accessible on foot. The cathedral runs a range of special events, and can be booked for weddings and other special events.
Manchester Castle

9) Manchester Castle

Manchester Castle once stood on a spot just north of Manchester Cathedral, adjacent to the River Irwell. The castle no longer stands, having been replaced in the medieval era by Chetham’s School of Music, which remains in this spot. This medieval building may carry original features of the former castle, and is available to hire as a venue for weddings and conferences. Manchester Castle has been referenced in manuscripts dating from 1184, and was described as a fairly unremarkable fortified timber manor house. Three rings of ditches have been found close to the site, suggesting a network of moats may have once surrounded the castle.

The site of Manchester Castle gives an indication of the reason for Manchester’s enduring success as a settlement, from Roman times to the present day. Military historians have identified the local geography, where several rivers cross paths at the feet of the Pennine hills, as one of the strongest areas of land in England to defend. This may well be the reason for the castle’s location, at the confluence of two rivers next to the medieval township of Manchester. England’s largest city, London, possesses similar geography, which made the site easy to defend from invasion in the medieval era.

Walking Tours in Manchester, England

Create Your Own Walk in Manchester

Create Your Own Walk in Manchester

Creating your own self-guided walk in Manchester is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Cultural Tour of Manchester

Cultural Tour of Manchester

Manchester has played an important role in the cultural development of mankind, as many prominent individuals have been born or worked here. A walk through Manchester may have you discover some interesting facts that you perhaps not yet know. Follow this charted path for a cultural tour of Manchester.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Oxford Road Tour

Oxford Road Tour

One of the main avenues of Manchester is Oxford Road. Locals and tourists find the area equally attractive as it features some of the city's main attractions like the Manchester Museum, the Contact Theater, the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Dancehouse. When in Manchester, take your time to check out these places.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 Km or 1.4 Miles
Manchester Introduction Walk

Manchester Introduction Walk

Manchester is the seventh most populated city in England, with 460,000 people registered for 2008. It is an important cultural, industrial and historic center. Centuries back, the city had one of the biggest textile productions in the world.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Manchester Modern Architecture Walk

Manchester Modern Architecture Walk

If you walk the streets of Manchester, you will notice many different buildings featuring a variety of architectural styles. To some, the city may appear dominated by old architecture, however, there are some buildings that are quite modern. If you are willing to discover the modern side of Manchester, take this tour.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Manchester Museums Walking Tour

Manchester Museums Walking Tour

Filled with history and important in many domains including industry, economy and culture, Manchester is the city of heritage that is an attraction itself. If you’re interested in learning interesting facts about the city, take our tour and have your questions answered.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Manchester Places of Worship Tour

Manchester Places of Worship Tour

Manchester has many places of worship that serve different religions. Baptists, Roman catholics or other congregations have found their place in the city. Check out the listed religious sites of Manchester to appreciate their beauty and exercise your freedom of conscience.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

Top 10 Cafes and Sweet Shops in Manchester

Top 10 Cafes and Sweet Shops in Manchester

Heading up Oldham Street from Picadilly Gardens you arrive at The Northern Quarter; the ‘cool’ part of Manchester, think Brooklyn, Shoreditch, Le Marais; trendy young things with fancy haircuts frequent the coffee houses, boutique and vintage shops during the day and the bars once night-time...