Manchester is without doubt the foremost city in the north of England. It has seen a number of developments in the last couple of decades that is making it more and more of a rival to London and I think the time has come for it to challenge the capital. Find out below why I think Manchester is better than London.
London as the capital is more likely to attract terrorist attacks, having suffered several in the last decade while Manchester’s last attack was the massive IRA bomb in 1996 that led to the regeneration of Arndale Shopping Centre.
Manchester, being far more compact, is easier to get around and takes less time. No need to worry whether your Tube ticket will cover this attraction on the edge of Zone 3, or that you need to cross London from East to North and need to purchase a Zone 1 Tube ticket just to cross the center.
Smaller and more compact doesn’t mean there’s less to do though as you’ll find out in the rest of this article.
Manchester has an extensive tram network, known as the Metrolink. Sure, London has it too in Croydon, but it seems to be a permanent trial there that doesn’t see much development. The Metrolink in Manchester covers the whole city centre as well as reaching out into the suburbs to serve more and more people.
It’s actually better to compare Manchester’s trams with London’s underground trains as both are meant to serve the city centre while Croydon’s trams serve… just Croydon.
At least on the tram, you won’t spend several minutes of your journey just trying to go deep underground to reach your platform and then swelter in the heat once crammed into the carriage.
With no deep underground Tube networks, no Big Ben for tourists to gawk at and simply with fewer tourists, Manchester is a far less crowded place than London. It’s easier to walk down the street and get somewhere. Just try crossing Oxford Street in London against the flow of pedestrian traffic. No tube station closed due to overcrowding. No massive traffic jam where it’s faster to walk than drive.
Things to do
Manchester has surprisingly many things to keep the visitor busy for such a small city. From its fair share of restaurants (the Curry Mile to challenge London’s Brick Lane and the biggest Chinatown outside London) to nightlife and music, without forgetting the shops (Trafford Centre), museums (football museum anyone) and activities (snow slope, go karting, indoor skydiving), there’ll be something for everyone. See the Great Travels Blog for more things to do in Manchester.
Lots of bands and singers hail from Manchester. Among the most famous are the Gallagher brothers from Oasis but there are also The Stone Roses, Morrissey and Ian Brown. Hacienda in the 90s was Manchester’s answer to the Ministry of Sound in to London.
Manchester may be up north, but it’s still pretty well situated – next to Liverpool, not far from Leeds, south of the Lake district and just on the outskirts of the Peak district.
If you still miss London, you can still get there in 2 hours and 15 minutes thanks to the Virgin train.
If you count Stansted and Luton as London airports, then we may as well count Liverpool airport, Leeds Bradford and Doncaster airports all as Manchester airports, basically any airport up north! There’s of course Manchester airport itself, the biggest international airport in the UK after Heathrow and Gatwick. This means you’ll have a nice choice of destinations when choosing to go on holidays abroad.
This may well be a travel blog but I cannot talk about the difference between London and Manchester without mentioning how much cheaper property prices are here up north. This is good value for money since you’re still living in a large city that has everything you need – I’m referring to Manchester of course!
London hosted the Olympic Games in 2012. Manchester hosted the Commonwealth Games 10 years earlier. Along with this event came a host of sporting facilities that are still very much in use today, unlike the Stratford area in East London already falling into disrepair. So the National Squash Centre, the National Cycling Centre, the National BMX Arena and a very large stadium are all grouped under Sportcity. If that that’s not enough, on the other side of town in Trafford you will find Manchester United FC and Old Trafford Cricket Ground.
One way to determine if a city is on the up is to look at the number of construction projects going on. Manchester is a beehive. From the renovation of Central Library in 2010 to new tram tracks being laid now, construction projects before, during and after have never stopped. Buildings have literally been demolished to make way for new ones. There are new projects in the pipeline as well as old ones that came to fruition (Arndale, Spinningfields). Manchester can stand up proudly to London in that respect.
The Gay Village
I’ve compared the Manchester Commonweath Games to the London Olympics, the Hacienda to Ministry of Sound, the Curry Mile to Brick Lane, the Tube to Metrolink, construction projects, airports and even bomb attacks but one thing that London doesn’t have is the Gay Village: a collection of pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants.
The Gay Village doesn’t come as a surprise if one knew how appallingly Alan Turing, one of the UK’s most brilliant minds, was treated (castrated to be more specific) after being convicted of homosexuality in Manchester and died (or killed himself) there.
On a brighter note, Manchester has a rich history that influenced the whole world and would make even London green with envy. Karl Marx may be buried in Highgate cemetery but it was in Manchester that Engels first went and worked for some years.
It was Manchester that gave birth to the Industrial Revolution, where Lord Rutherford split the atom and the suffrage movement started. It was while working at the Victoria University of Manchester that Ernest Rutherford carried out his famous gold foil experiment and then bombarded a Nitrogen atom to split it into Oxygen. Turing made outstanding contributions to science and mathematics while working at the same university.
The Women’s Social and Political Union, the driving force behind the suffrage movement, was founded in the Pankhurst’s home in Manchester. I mentioned the band Oasis already.
This is where it starts going downhill. Manchester hardly any of the markets that you will find in London. Where is the equivalent of Petticoat Lane clothes’ market, Greenwich’s antique’s market, Columbia Road’s flower market, Covent Garden’s specialty soaps market or Portobello Road market as featured in the movie Notting Hill in 1999? Sadly, Manchester has nothing to boast about in this respect and is all the poorer for it. Imagine how many visitors and how much money it could attract if it had any genuinely appealing markets?
The only market it does boast about is the once a year Christmas market that has been running for about ten years now. The first year was exciting, the second year allowed those who missed it a second chance but after that it became a routine affair and then simply something to avoid. It has lost its shine a long time ago. It seems Manchester and the council doesn’t have anything better to offer and are stuck playing this broken record. That’s one market we’d rather give to London.
Homelessness and drugs
On a darker note, it should be the responsibility of a travel blog to describe truthfully a location and not gloss over the more unappealing side to paint an unbalanced picture. In this spirit, I need to mention the homelessness that has surged over the last couple of years in Manchester city center.
Whether related or not, drugs have become far more widespread, in particular a new synthetic one called Spice, to the extent that drug dealers are operating in bright daylight. The police and the Council are nowhere to be seen of course and this is really hurting the city. What dark days are yet to come?
To finish on a brighter note, Manchester has even received the seal of approval from the BBC, after the broadcaster opened offices in Salford, of all areas, a few years ago.
Is Manchester really better than London? It is for you to judge…