Geek Weekend: Manchester
Welcome to the fifth instalment of the Geek Weekend at Pocket-lint. Every 2 weeks we'll be bringing you a guide to a UK location designed specially for the discerning geek traveller and today is the turn of the great city that is Manchester. So, if you're in need of a stop over just west of the Pennines or fancy resting your feet after crossing the Cheshire Plain, then this is the page to bookmark.
Follow the river Medloc until it meets the waters of the Irwell and you'll find yourself in the cultural metropolitan hotspot of the North West they call Manchester. The city and its 2 million-odd regional residents are on a strategic sandstone bluff where a fort was founded by the Romans back in AD 79.
Possibly named after the river goddess of the Medloc or possibly a woman's breast, the city has gone on to great things over the last 2000 years with a boom in the textile trade and the industrial revolution providing a foundation of success out of which has sprung a superb music scene, respected home of the arts and two rather special football clubs. The question for us though, is what is there for the geek tourist to enjoy?
Places to Stay
Made from a converted textile mill and located in the heart of Manchester's Gay Village lies one of the plushest boutique hotels around that also happens to be rather geek friendly. Velvet, as the name suggests, is heavy on the luxurious furnishings and decor with each of the 19 rooms featuring a bespoke style and all of them with epic beds at their core.
Rates start at £99 per night, including breakfast, and free in-room Wi-Fi, a flatscreen TV, DVD player, DVD library, iPod dock, tea and coffee machines and fluffy slippers are all thrown in as well. If you can afford it, the split level Penthouse Suite packed with a 42-inch Bravia and mini-system is well worth the treat, but all the rooms are good. Just make sure you get the person on the phone to describe them to you on booking for your idea of perfection.
Favourite throughout our Geek Weekend guides have been the superb City Inn hotels dotted about the UK. The good news is that Manchester does indeed have one of its own to boast located smack bang in the centre of town, a medium sized stone's throw from Manchester Piccadilly Station.
Every room has an iMac, free Wi-Fi and a full Sky subscription, so you'll have no need to worry about filling up your SD cards, checking your e-mails, Skype chats to the folks back home or just kicking back to some quality TV. A City Double or Twin room will cost in the region of £100/night.
Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)
Housed in the former Liverpool Road railway station, Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry has an excellent collection of steam locomotives, industrial machinery, aircraft and, best of all, space vehicles for the geek to gawp upon. It focuses largely on technological developments affecting Manchester, so there's a good deal of textile contraptions and sanitation systems but there are also some experimental computer exhibits to enjoy, galleries on telephony and telecommunication and a hall exploring the genius of invention that was Leonardo Da Vinci.
The pick of the crop has to be the Air and Space hall though. The museum is open every day and costs nothing to get into the permanent exhibits. The shop is well worth popping into while you're there as well. Don't miss the steam train ride either.
Location: 53.476944, -2.255556
Museum of Transport
Don't expect Manchester's Museum of Transport to have quite the same grandeur as the ones of Glasgow or London. Located 2 miles north of the city centre, this one is more of a specialist aimed at the heart of bus geeks everywhere. Funnily enough, it's set in an old bus station and features the UK's largest collection of buses and trams dating back to 1900.
Of the 100 owned by the museum, only 70 or so are on display at any one time owing to the small size of the space, but the vehicles are bolstered by exhibitions of old timetables, maps, books and posters. If you keep your eyes open, you might even spot the uniforms and equipment used to film the Knight Bus in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Location: 53.5029, -2.2332
Manchester Airport Concorde Tours
Concorde might not be flying any more but that doesn't mean that you've missed your chance to step inside the legendary super-sonic passenger aircraft. Manchester Airport's Aviation Viewing Park still houses one and offers the unique experience of 40-minute guided tours for £13 where you get to take in cockpit, sit in the famous leather seats and even get a certificate to prove it. Real enthusiasts might want to opt for the £21 in-depth, small group, 1.5 hour tour instead with extended time on board. If you really want to go to town, there are also some VIP champagne specials.
Legoland Discovery Centre, Manchester
Don't expect this place to be on the same level as Legoland in Windsor, but once you've got that picture out of your head, you'll find a place for young children to enjoy. There's a guided tour of the factory where you can watch the Lego bricks being made, a 4D cinema, tips on how to build good Lego structures from a master craftsmen, a miniland made entirely of Lego, a race track to test your creations and a Duplo area for the tinies as well as a shop, of course, where you can part with even more money. It's open 7 days a week but you might want to book ahead if you're planning a visit in school holidays. Entry starts at £7.
Cornerhouse is Manchester's centre for the cinema and contemporary visual arts featuring three floors of galleries, three cinemas, a cafe, a bookshop and every one of them is well worth a visit for all film geeks out there. Monday and Tuesday evenings are a good time to head down to watch a flick as you can pick up your ticket, a pizza and a beer/glass of wine for just £12. Keep your eyes peeled on the ever-hanging events pages and there's even some workshops on filmmaking you can get involved in as well.
Location: 53.474306, -2.241111
Short for the Manchester Digital Laboratory, MadLab is an excellent community space for geeks, artists, designers, illustrators, hackers, tinkerers, innovators and idle dreamers. Most nights of the week, you'll find one group or other meeting up; from sci-fi writers and graphic novel enthusiasts to extreme programmers, for a good, old fashioned GeekUp. Keep your eye on the calendar and you'll probably find most of the groups friendly enough for a drop in or you can mail ahead if you'd rather not come unannounced.
IMAX @ The Printworks
The Printworks is central Manchester's home of main stream chain restaurants and bars but it also houses a 19-screen cinema, one of which is an IMAX and, therefore, the best place to catch 3D films in town. Check that something worthwhile is on first, otherwise your better bet would be Cornerhouse or even Fab Cafe.
Alan Turing statue
One of the finest POI's of our entire Geek Weekend series has to be this memorial statue to the great Alan Turing. It's situated near Canal street with the Gay Village to one side of the tech god and the University to the other. In his hand, Turing holds an apple representing both forbidden love and powerful knowledge as well as being the vehicle for the cyanide which he chose to end his life. There's an excellent Bertrand Russell quote in a plaque at his feet, which we won't spoil by telling you, and the bench itself reads "Alan Mathison Turing 1912-1954 - IEKYF RQMSI ADXUO KVKZC GUBJ" - an Enigma code for "Founder of Computer Science".
Location: 53.476722, -2.236028
We're not quite sure when Forbidden Planet took over the sci-fi/geek/pop culture curio world of the UK but it seems it has. Amusing gifty tat on the top floor, hardcore comic books in the basement.
If you'd rather support the local community, then Travelling Man is a better option in the comic book world. As much as anything else, it's a gem of a specialist for graphic novels.
It seems every big city has one of these and Manchester is no exception. In fact it has two Apple Stores, but rather than head out to the Trafford Centre, the city version is probably where you want to be.
Home of the AV tech bargain, Richer Sounds is always worth a drop in if you're passing. Each store has a bunch of different knock down specials they've once stacked high and are looking to sell cheap. So, duck your head round the door, ask what's on offer and don't forget to mention that it's your first ever visit to Richer Sounds. You'll see why.
Bang & Olufsen
They might not be so keen to give you a demo at the Bang & Olufsen shop, but you will be allowed to touch these works of audio art. Just treat it like a gallery of masterpieces you'll never afford and you'll have a much better time.
Location: 53.477933,-2.258677 or 53.477933,-2.258677
Heralded as one of the best computer shops in town is Micro Direct which is bustling enough with customers and sales staff for you to wander about unnoticed dribbling over the latest graphics cards. They'll let you buy stuff if you ask nicely too.
Smaller, just down the road, just as good and infinitely friendly is PC Casualty. As the name suggests, they'll help out with repairs but, if you're after some buying advice, the assistants are excellent whether you know what you're talking about or you're a total novice.
Eating & Drinking
Those who say Fab Cafe has lost its way are probably just a little bored of going to the same place for the last 10 years. The sci-fi themed bar is decked out with Dr Who, Star Trek and all combined with classic Indie disco. If you get bored of the clientèle, you can always zone out on the B-movie screened on the walls.
Founded by the original people behind Fab, TV21 is a retro TV and film themed bar in the Northern Quarter of town. Its walls and shelves are covered in all sorts of memorabilia, there's Indiana Jones themed pinball machines, Captain Scarlett figurines, aliens and a large space ship in the corner. You get the picture. A bit like having some drinks in Forbidden Planet. There's a downstairs club/bar as well as the space upstairs and you can expect both to be populated with the late 20-something crowd.
The Lass has less of the kitsch of the other two but what it does have is oodles of genuine Manchester style - that and some free old school arcade machines to play on which is how we can justifiably shoe horn it into the Geek Weekend. Great selection of real ales, good for football, but best of all for an old fashioned, honest night out.
Manchester United Chants and Songs (59p) & City Chants (59p) - iPhone
It might be worth knowing that the songs being sung behind you by groups of people on the streets are in fact football chants rather than threats to your life. At the same time, it's probably worth being able to work out what part of Manchester you're in before you start singing the praises of Wayne Rooney. These apps will work quite nicely as mini song sheets as well.
Wayne Rooney Wallpapers (Free) - Android
Show off at your peril.
The true geekiest sights and sounds are often the hardest to find and there's no way in a place like Manchester that we can explore every nook and cranny. So, whether you're a local or someone back from a visit, do let us know your tips and ideas in the comments of how to get techie in town.
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