Manchester is renowned for being a creative hub in the UK, but did you know that the city is officially a UNESCO City of Literature?
The city has a vision to create an innovative, distinctive, equitable, globally connected city of reading and writing. A city where diverse voices are celebrated, creative talent and industries are nurtured and where literary activity changes lives.
The city has a longstanding relationship with the arts and has inspired some of the world’s most revolutionary writers, poets and novelists. It’s no exaggeration to say that Manchester has created a long line of literary greats whose words and stories have inspired generations. To name just a few, the Author of ‘A Little Princess’ and ‘The Secret Garden’ Frances Hodgson Burnett was raised in Manchester and Salford, and the creator of the dystopian novel ‘A Clockwork Orange’ Anthony Burgess grew up and studied in Manchester, poet Carole Anne Duffy calls Manchester home and is the creative director of the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and the infamous punk poet John Cooper Clarke grew up in Salford earning him the nickname ‘The Bard of Salford’.
The city is also home to four historic libraries, as well as public libraries and independent publishing houses, so it’s safe to say that literature is in our DNA.
Now, as Manchester prepares to enter a new chapter of creativity, with the opening of landmark arts venue Aviva Studios (home of Factory International) and state-of-the-art live entertainment venue Coop Live taking place, its literary past can once again take centre stage.
Book lovers, library dwellers, passionate poetry readers and more will love a visit to Manchester. Not only can you walk the same streets as some of your favourite writers, but you can see exactly what makes this city so inspiring.
Here are some literary activities that will help you make the most of your visit to Manchester:
Head to Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
Book lovers can explore the home of one of the greatest female novelists of all time Elizabeth Gaskell. Exploring the stunningly preserved Victorian house and garden will introduce you to the world of Elizabeth Gaskell and her family, so you can see what inspired some of her works like Mary Barton, Cranford and North and South. What's more, the house has welcomed prolific names like Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, Florence Nightingale and Charles Darwin, so you can feel even closer to your literary and historical heroes. Step back in time, browse the extensive bookshelves, see where Elizabeth penned her novels and take in the life of a true Manchester literary icon. Find out more and book tickets here.
Visit The John Rylands Research Institute and Library
In the centre of Deansgate, you’ll find a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic Architecture which provides the setting for one of Manchester’s most stunning historic libraries. For any lover of literature or history, it’s worth a visit to inspire your mind. The library houses a world-class collection of texts which includes the oldest known piece of the New Testament, the St John Fragment, magnificent illuminated medieval manuscripts and a 1476 William Caxton edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Learn more.
Grab a book and some cake at Chapter One Books
Book lovers will all agree that there’s no better accompaniment to a good book than tea and a cake. At Manchester’s Chapter One Books, you can do just that. This independent bookshop and café is a hub for book lovers across the city, it’s a place to meet friends or enjoy some time to yourself while you lose yourself in the pages of a book. Discover your next favourite author while tucking into delicious snacks, what could be better?
Browse Independent Bookshops
As a shopping hub, it’s no surprise that Greater Manchester is home to a whole host of independent bookshops all waiting for you to visit and discover a new read. From Stockport’s stunning Underbanks to the artsy streets of the Northern Quarter, Greater Manchester has some unique and charming independent bookshops that you could lose yourself in for hours. There are the iconic Paramount Books, Didsbury Village Bookshop, Chorlton Bookshop and Rare Mags in Stockport for adults to find a hidden treasure. Stockport and Bury Markets both have independent booksellers too, plus Sale’s B is for Butterfly specialises in Children’s reads. So do some research, find a local bookseller and support independent Manchester businesses, you never know what you’ll find.
Visit The Portico Library
The Portico is home of the Portico Prize for Literature, a leading literary prize that celebrates the strong regional and literary identity of the North of England, as well as The Portico Prize for Young Writers and The Portico Prize for Poetry which both aim to mirror the objectives of the Portico Prize. The Portico Library & Gallery in Manchester is a member of the Association of Independent Libraries which opened in 1806 as a library and newsroom. To this day, it remains an active centre of culture and people. John Dalton, Peter Roget, Elizabeth Gaskell, Stuart Maconie, Val McDermid and Guy Garvey are just some of the members that have graced this library. Learn more.
Visit The North West’s First Poetry Library
Manchester is a city renowned for literature and poetry, The Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Metropolitan University is the North West’s first dedicated poetry library. Hosting over 10,000 books and recordings, the collection features a range of poetry in a variety of languages spoken across Manchester and a section dedicated to children’s poems. It hosts events throughout the year but is the perfect place to sit and read some inspiring poetry. Learn more.
Step Back in Time at Chetham’s Library
Did you know that Manchester is home to the oldest public library in the English-speaking world? That’s a pretty impressive claim to fame. Chetham’s has been in continuous use as a public library for over 350 years and is full of stories both on the bookshelves and in the minds of the wonderful tour guides. For book lovers and history lovers, a visit to Chetham’s Library in the heart of Manchester’s Medieval Quarter is a must-visit. Library tours need to be booked in advance to preserve the historic building and they usually take place every weekday at 2 pm. Highlights include gated book presses with thousands of books dating from as early as the 16th century, historic furniture and paintings, the desk where Marx and Engels studied, and medieval cat flaps! Learn more.
Attend a Poetry Reading
In South Manchester, you’ll find regular meetings of Manchester Poets. Aiming to bring you a cross-section of work that reflects Manchester’s diverse poetry scene, you will find humour and performance poets alongside the more ‘serious’ writers at these readings. Readings usually take place on the third Friday of each month with doors opening at 7.30 pm and starting at 7.45 pm. Anyone is welcome to attend. We only ask for a contribution of £3 (£1 concession) in support of our guest poet. For those who hope to try their hand at writing, the group also host Poetry Workshops on the 4th Wednesday of every month from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Please bring 10 copies of the short poem or extract that you would like to have discussed. Learn more.
Attend the Manchester Literature Festival
Each year, Manchester hosts a literature festival that brings together a diverse range of voices from across the art form including poets, playwrights, children’s authors and acclaimed writers. It’s a highlight of the year for book lovers across the region and always gathers some of the biggest names in literature. This year, events will take place from Monday 9 September 2023 to Sunday 29 November 2023 and will include Mercury Prize-winning musician and poet Arlo Parks, celebrated Manchester poet Lemn Sissay, historical fiction author Kate Mosse, Zadie Smith, Richard Armitage and Linton Kwesi Johnson. These writers will be in conversation discussing new novels and what inspired them. Plus, many poets will be revealing new works written specifically for the event.
The festival presents an unrivalled chance to get up close and personal with your favourite writers, immerse yourself in Manchester’s literary scene and enjoy a dose of culture. You can view the full lineup here.
There will also be family-friendly readings and events for younger book lovers. One of the best things about the Manchester Literature Festival is that every year it hosts a unique series of events for children and families, to encourage reading in the younger generation. View the full family programme here.
To find out more about events and activities across Greater Manchester, visit our What’s On Page.
If you’re looking to spend a perfect book-lovers day in Greater Manchester, view our Manchester Literary Itinerary for more inspiration.