15 Best Things to Do in Salford (Greater Manchester, England)

Across the River Irwell from Manchester, the City of Salford has its own tale to tell.

After being granted a charter in 1230, Salford had a thriving economy, and was more successful than its famous neighbour.

During the textile boom in the 18th and 19th centuries Salford became a key inland port on the Manchester Ship Canal, and this was the Salford depicted in the paintings of L.S. Lowry (1887-1976), who studied in the city.

But as Salford Docks went into decline following containerisation the city’s fortunes suffered.

Deprivation remains a problem, but in the last 30 years the port, now known as Salford Quays, has become a futuristic urban environment.

This has brought major cultural venues like the Lowry and Imperial War Museum North, as well as MediaCityUK where a great deal of the BBC is now based.

1. Ordsall Hall

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Ordsall Hall

Seconds on foot from the futuristic architecture of Salford Quays is a splendid Tudor mansion, home to the Radclyffe family for 300 years.

The surviving parts of Ordsall Hall are built on two ranges around a courtyard knot garden, the south dating to the 15th century, and the west range completed in 1639. These both incorporate older elements dating back 750 years.

The showstopper at Ordsall Hall is the magnificent Great Hall, where you can look up and admire the cruck roof and intricate studwork and inspect the Tudor rose motifs carved into the 16th-century table.

From there a staircase leads up to the 14th-century Star Chamber, boasting the Radclyffe Bed, bought by John Raclyffe and Lady Ann Asshawe in 1572. There’s much more to see at Ordsall Hall, like the 17th-century kitchen, the 16th-century Frederic Shields Gallery and the 14th-century Great Chamber.

2. Salford Quays

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Salford Quays

One of the UK’s first and largest regeneration projects has been unfolding at the former site of the Manchester Docks since the late-1980s.

These docks were opened by Queen Victoria in 1894 and constituted Britain’s third busiest port at their peak, before going into decline after the advent of container shipping.

Plans to redevelop the docks into a business, cultural and residential district began in the early 80s, and the docks were soon rebranded as Salford Quays.

Early on the parallel basins were connected by little canals to create a network of waterways.

This new quarter was starting to take shape by the late-80s, with the completion of the low-rise residential buildings.

This was later joined by more eye-catching high-rise developments like Imperial Point and City Lofts, while Salford Quays was hooked up to the Manchester Metrolink tram network in 1999.

3. MediaCityUK

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One of the projects that has rendered Salford Quays unrecognisable in the space of a generation is MediaCityUK, a 200-acre mixed used development intended for media companies and faculties for the University of Salford.

Its first phase was completed in the early 2010s, giving birth to an exciting 21st-century cityscape.

The main tenant here is the BBC, who have moved a lot of their operations from London to Salford Quays as part of a decentralisation scheme.

Another big broadcaster, ITV, has also moved ITV Granada and the northern branch of ITV studios.

As a visitor you can come to gaze in awe at the architecture, grab a bite to eat and wander through the gardens and plazas.

The BBC puts on a 90-minute guided tour, showing you around studios where flagship shows like Match of the Day and Mastermind are recorded.

Across the Manchester Ship Canal ITV has also opened its sets for the long-running Soap Opera, Coronation Street.

4. The Lowry

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The Lowry

At the core of the plans to regenerate Salford Quays was an Arts Centre, which was the first major project to be completed and opened next to the Manchester Ship Canal in 2000. Designed by Michael Wilford and with hints of Salford Quays’ industrial past, the Lowry is named for the Stretford-born painter L. S. Lowry who had an eye for industrial landscapes and was educated at Salford Technical College (Now the University of Salford). The complex incorporated lots of gallery space, displaying Lowry’s works from a collection of more than 400 works, along with ever-changing short-term contemporary art exhibitions.

There are three theatres at the Lowry, seating 1,730 (Lyric), 440 (Quays) and 150 (Studio), and these have something going on every day of the week, be it plays, musicals, dance, live music by major artists, sketch and stand-up comedy, or talks by philosophers, cultural personalities and politicians.

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Salford Museum & Art Gallery

Surrounded by the University of Salford, this sizeable museum is on the south side of Peel Park, mapping the history of Salford and with a large inventory of Victorian art.

The museum dates to 1850, and would be worth a visit just to appreciate its Italianate Renaissance-style galleries.

These have been arranged to reflect the layout of a Victorian museum, with paintings, decorative art and sculpture all competing for your attention in the same space.

There’s an important collection of Pilkington’s Ceramics, on show in the North Gallery.

In the early 20th century this firm was a world-leading producer of high-quality decorative tiles and art pottery.

Also essential is Lark Hill Place, a recreated street harking back to Victorian Salford, while the LifeTimes Gallery delves into 200 years of social history in the city.

For youngsters there’s an Explorer Trail with fun quizzes and drawing activities.

6. IWM North

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IWM North

Opposite the Lowry on the south side of the Manchester Ship Canal in Trafford Park is one of five branches for the Imperial War Museum, opened in 2002. This remarkable building, with three interlocking metallic shards (invoking air, earth and water), was designed by Daniel Libeskind and intended to induce a feeling of disorientation apt for war.

The entrance is in the 55-metre-high “air shard”, while the permanent exhibition is on the first floor in the “earth shard”. In this capacious hall there are some heavy-duty artefacts like a Soviet T-34 tank, the 13-pounder field gun that fired the British Army’s first shot in WWI, wreckage from the World Trade Center and a Harrier jet from the United States Marine Corps.

Every hour there are digital projections onto the gallery’s walls dealing with different aspects of modern warfare.

7. Salford Lads’ Club

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Salford Lads’ Club

Before he founded the Scout Movement, Robert Baden-Powell set up the Salford Lads’ Club in Ordsall in 1903. The idea behind clubs like these was to keep young boys in deprived areas out of trouble, and channel their energy into constructive pursuits and sport.

The list of former members here is illustrious and includes the actor Albert Finney, the Busby Babe Eddie Colman and guitarist Graham Nash of the Hollies and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

If you’re a fan of The Smiths, you’ll know the building from the Stephen Wright’s photo of the band inside the sleeve of the Queen is Dead.

Morrissey and fans with identical glasses and quiffs ride around the building and local streets on bicycles in the video for “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before”. Salford Lads’ Club is still open, now offering all sorts of activities for young people of both sexes.

8. Manchester United

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Manchester United

Arguably the most famous football club in the world is based by the Bridgewater Canal on the south side of Salford Quays.

Manchester United have played their home games at Old Trafford since 1910, and the stadium, designed by Archibald Leitch, has been reworked and expanded many times over the last century.

Most recently 8,000 seats were added in 2006, bringing the total capacity to 74,994. For fans of the Red Devils, watching the three-time European Cup winners in the flesh, in the stadium graced by Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson’s indomitable teams, may be a lifetime ambition.

If you visit on a non-matchday you can immerse yourself in the storied history of Manchester United and the “Theatre of Dreams” on a tour, going behind the scenes to visit the dressing room, tunnel, VIP room and press room.

In the museum you can have your picture taken with 1999’s unprecedented treble (Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League trophies).

9. Old Trafford Cricket Ground

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Old Trafford Cricket Ground

The name “Old Trafford” is also associated with First-Class and international cricket.

Minutes south of the football stadium, the 19,000-capacity Old Trafford Cricket Ground has been the home of Lancashire County Cricket Club for more than 150 years and always hosts international test matches, one-day internationals and T20 fixtures.

If you’re unfamiliar with cricket and want a digestible introduction, come for a one-day match or T20 game, as these involve faster scoring and have to be resolved in a matter of hours rather than days.

Old Trafford is one of the grounds for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup (one-day), kicking off with a huge clash between India and Pakistan.

As well as international bouts there are county fixtures all summer long, as Lancashire compete in Division Two of the County Championship, so there will always be something worth checking out.

10. Chapel Street

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Chapel Street

This main artery has been around for as long as Salford has existed, and today sums up the city perfectly with its modern constructions jostling for space beside historic monuments.

In 1806 Chapel Street was the first street in the world to be illuminated by gaslights.

L. S. Lowry would often sketch Chapel Street, and if he were around today he would approve of Islington Mill, a vibrant arts community and exhibition space in a brick industrial building.

Salford City Council has plotted a Chapel Street Heritage Trail, a self-guided walk from Blackfriars Bridge to Peel Park, filling you in on this thoroughfare’s compelling history and leading you to spots like the Crescent Pub, once frequented by Engels and Marx.

In May, Sounds from the Other City is a multi-venue underground music festival taking over a host of venues on and near Chapel Street.

11. St Philip’s Church

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St Philip’s Church

Set slightly in from Chapel Street on Wilton Place, St Philip’s Church is a striking Greek Revival monument dating to 1824. The first thing you’ll see is an imposing semicircular Ionic portico crowned with a narrow bell tower.

This has fluted pilasters leading up to a clock that was built by Whitehurst and Company of Derby.

If you want to take a peek inside you can admire the galleries on three sides, typical for Georgian churches, and the delicate mid-19th-century stained glass in the east window.

The two-manual organ dates back to 1829 and was built by the Stockport-based Renn and Boston company.

12. Barton Swing Aqueduct

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Barton Swing Aqueduct

A piece of Victorian ingenuity, the Barton Swing Aqueduct carries the Bridgewater Canal over the Manchester Ship Canal.

This structure, the only swing aqueduct in the world, allows larger boats to navigate the Manchester Ship Canal, while bridging that waterway for broad-beam barges and narrowboats on the Bridgewater Canal.

Designed by the civil engineer Edward Leader Williams and manufactured by the iron founder Andrew Handyside and Company, the aqueduct opened in 1894 and is still in used regularly.

This structure is 100 metres long, and pivots on an island at the centre of the ship canal, all the while holding 800 tons of water.

The aqueduct swings roughly twice a day, or more if there’s traffic, and you can watch the spectacle unfold from a raised viewing platform at the back of Chapel Place.

13. Peel Park

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Peel Park

One of the first public parks in the country, Peel Park opened in 1846 and was named for the Bury-born Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850). In 1851 the newly laid out park was the main venue for Queen Victoria’s visit to Manchester and Salford.

Sitting beside the River Irwell, Peel Park is hemmed by the University of Salford and some of its residential buildings.

L. S. Lowry was educated here between 1915 and 1925, when it was Salford Technical College, and would often come to sketch and paint in the park.

By the 2010s the park had seen better days, but it secured £2.5m of Heritage Lottery funding in 2015 and a full regeneration was completed by 2018, earning a Green Flag.

There are formal flowerbeds, lots of mature trees and works of public as part of the larger Irwell Sculpture Trail.

Something that will greet you on your walk is an obelisk showing the high water mark (8 feet 6 inches) in the flood of 16 November 1866, when the Irwell burst its banks, killing three.

14. Salford Cathedral

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Salford Cathedral

The seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford is among the largest Catholic places of worship in the North of England.

The diocese, one of the first to be founded in England since the Reformation 300 years earlier, was set up in 1850 while the building was completed in 1848. The architect was Matthew Ellison Hadfield, who designed several Roman Catholic churches in the mid-19th century, all in the Gothic Revival style.

If you go inside this Grade II* building, take time to see the oak-panelled reredos, with gilded painted scenes from the Life of Christ, as well as the ornate Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the south transept.

There’s also plenty of original stained glass in the grand east window, as well as on the chancel aisles, portraying saints, martyrs and kings in a Romantic style.

15. Lowry Outlet

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Lowry Outlet

Behind the Arts Centre in Salford Quays is an outlet mall with savings of up to 70% at 90+ stores on two floors.

This is the only factory outlet mall in Greater Manchester, offering discounts in fashion, interior design, home appliances, sportswear, cosmetics and much more.

A few of the British household names at the Lowry Outlet are Marks & Spencer, Clarks, Clintons and The Body Shop, as well as Gap, Black and Decker, Trespass, Holland & Barrett, The Works, Claire’s and Cotton Traders.

If you get hungry there’s a 400-seat food court, home to the likes of Café Rouge, Nando’s and Subway, while you can follow up a shopping expedition with a movie at the Vue Cinema.

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