Have you ever visited The Quays? Mark and I recently visited for a short break, and managed to cram lots of different experiences during a rare child-free weekend.
The Quays is located on Greater Manchester’s waterfront, just 15 minutes by tram from the city centre. It squeezes a surprising number of attractions into a square mile, including shopping, dining, theatre, art, sport, history, hotels and world-class architecture.
With so much to see and do in such a small area, it’s a great option for a family day out or weekend break. Here’s what we got up to.
The Quays at night
Because we visited in winter, we got plenty of time to enjoy the amazing light displays that bring The Quays to life at night.
Walking over the bridge hand in hand with the green glow softly enveloping us was really quite magical.
Our home for the night, Hotel Football aims to capture the essence of – you guessed it – football in everything it does.
Situated next to Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United Football Club, and owned by Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, it’s perfectly located for exploring the Quays and free parking is also available just a few yards from the hotel.
The rooms are really spacious, with a king size bed, lovely bathroom, smart TV with full sports package, and complimentary wi-fi.
The hotel offers relaxed, fun dining at Cafe Football, with a dedicated kids menu as well as a sweet shop and ice cream parlour. There are also five event and outlet bars, all serving the usual drinks range plus specially brewed Cafe Football beer. You can even hire the rooftop football pitch for a private party.
Making our way down to the centre of the Quays, we found this amazing outdoor digital light installation: Lightwaves.
There were three major installations around the Quays, all designed to be interactive. This huge 3D maze kept us busy for a while – the more we ran between the pillars, the more the lights responded. Great fun.
The Quays are simply beautiful at night. I’ve never seen anywhere quite like it.
The Sound of Music at the Lowry
The Lowry is another iconic building at The Quays, designed to reflect the surrounding landscape and waterways and full of metallic and glass surfaces.
We were there to see a new production of the classic musical The Sound of Music – and it was a complete joy to watch.
The well-known story of the singing family who escape to freedom from the Third Reich was lavishly staged, and coincided with the 50th anniversary of the film.
The production starred BBC1’s The Voice 2015 star Lucy O’Burne as Maria Von Trapp, and Coronation Street actor Gray O’Brien as Captain Von Trapp. The sets were stunning and the acting was excellent, but it was the unbelievably, adorably talented children that really stole the show for us.
Galleries at the Lowry
The next morning, we made our way back to The Lowry to take a stroll around the galleries.
LS Lowry – The Art & The Artist is a permanent display of the largest public collection of paintings and drawings by LS Lowry in the world. It’s a fascinating collection which really brings home the diversity of Lowry’s work, with over 400 works of art, plus an archive of photographs, press cuttings and exhibition catalogues.
In contrast to the nostalgia of the Lowry collection, the Right Here, Right Now installation felt almost disorientating in its modernity.
This temporary exhibition explored digital technologies and how they affect our lives, covering issues such as surveillance, artificial intelligence and online privacy. Lots of the installations were quite bizarrely interactive, like this one where the plant was watered when you texted it.
Others used data from your phone to create visual displays or music, or let you charge your phone only if you allowed it to copy and display your photos in return.
The whole installation was really though-provoking, and cleverly prompted us to question just how readily we make personal information available without considering the full implications.
Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum is an iconic feature in the Greater Manchester skyline, clad in aluminium, with sweeping curves.
The designer, Daniel Libeskind, apparently wanted the building to symbolise the effects of war, and created the concept of a shattered globe which has been put back together, but is no longer the same.
Once you’re inside, things start to feel decidedly unsettling. The AirShard entrance features a concrete tower that looks as if it’s leaning, but it’s actually straight, and you have to follow a path that turns back on itself.
The curves which make up the building’s outline continue inside, with strangely angled walls that dictate how you move around. The main exhibition space has no natural light, no right angles, a sloping floor and fluctuating temperatures. Liebskind’s aim was to convey the unsettling nature of war to visitors, and he has definitely succeeded.
We visited the Blitzed Britz exhibition, which saw the museum team up with Horrible Histories to bring the Blitz to life for younger visitors.
It was an interactive exhibition for families, featuring personal stories, objects, artwork, photographs, film clips and sound recordings from the Imperial War Museum’s national collections.
Kids can stumble through a blackout, defuse a bomb against the clock, identify wartime smells, check out wartime uniforms and race a carrier pigeon to deliver a message. It’s brilliantly hands-on, and the combination of activities, objects and stories really brings the conflict to life.
With so much to think about, Mark and I took ourselves up to the spacious cafe to sip tea and collect our thoughts.
Stopping at the gift shop on the way out, we picked up some books and toys for the kids. A simple way to start further conversations at home about the challenges and horrors of war.
And then, all too soon, we were heading home.
We had a wonderful, eye-opening weekend in The Quays and will certainly be visiting again soon. Will you?
We visited The Quays and its attractions as guests of The Quays. Un-watermarked images are © IWM or © Lowry.