Free Things to do in the North West of England

As with most 'free' things, there are bits and pieces that you have to pay for, but these are all days out that you can experience without actually HAVING to spend any money!


It's All Under One Roof

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on October 29, 2009

The Trafford Centre is a huge shopping complex just outside Manchester with every shop and eatery you can imagine, with a 16 screen cinema and games arcade and bowling alley thrown into the mix.

*Directions*

By car:
Straight off the M60 at either junction 9 or 10. Coming from Lancashire, we usually come off at junction 9, but sometimes when it's super busy, the overhead signs on the motorway direct you to come off at junction 10 to ease traffic. You can actually see it from the motorway, so you don't need the million-and-one directional signs once you get off the motorway, although they are there anyway! There are 1000's of parking spaces across a number of carparks all on the Trafford Centre complex. Parking is free.

By bus:
There is a bus station actually on the complex, connecting the Trafford Centre to Manchester city centre frequently (at least every 15 minutes).

By Train:
After getting a train to Piccadilly, you need to get a tram to Stretford, where you can get a shuttle bus directly to the Trafford Centre. I don't know how much this is though, sorry.

*Layout*

The Trafford Centre is a sort of v-shaped building, with two long halls running off the centre, which is called the Orient. The Orient is where all the food halls and restaurants are and the shops are on two levels, with ornate staircases every couple of hundred feet and lift access at either end. Many of the shops span the two floors, so there are plenty of staircases and escalators within the shops to get you from one floor to the other.

There are information booths throughout the centre, where you can get advice on shops and services or just pick up a leaflet with a map on. There are directional signs all over pointing you to different parts of the centre and to the main shops.

*Shops*

Obviously the thing you are coming for is the shops and believe me, you won't be dissappointed. With over 230 shops, you'll get bored of shopping before you run out of places to look! The shops aren't laid out in any particular order or in sections, so if you want something specific, you're best bet is to pick up a map from one of the information stands.

At the Trafford Centre you will find everything you need from big department stores (John Lewis, Debenhams and Selfridges) to individual boutiques (including Calvin Klein, Vivienne Westwood and Armani) and from sportstores (JD Sports, Adidas and Puma) to high street stores (Burton, Topshop and Evans). Honestly they have everything!

My favourite is Selfridges, which is a luxury store selling everything from designer clothes to technology and they have a fantastic foodhall, which has all kinds of weird and wonderful things.

*Food*

After all that shopping, you'll need a nice sit down, perhaps with something to eat. Yet again, the Trafford Centre provides, with every kind of eating establishment imaginable. There is a huge food hall, with plenty of seating, designed to look like a cruise ship - complete with a ceiling painted like the sky that even has stars in the evening! Round the outside of this are all the fast food shops - including the big names (McDonalds, KFC etc) and some lesser known ones offering food from around the world, as well as British classics such as fish and chips and jacket potatoes.

There is also a good selection of dine in restaurants with Pizza Hut, Potters (offering traditional English fayre), Exchange Bar and Grill (American Diner), Nandos (chicken) and Las Iguanas (Mexican). There is also a mini china-town and a selection of indian restaurants.

If you are looking for a cheaper option (like most of us are these days) there are also plenty of places, both indoors and out, to eat your own food if you want to bring a packed lunch. Or there's plenty of places throughout the centre to get snacks like popcorn, cookies and ice creams.

*Entertainment*

Like I said there is a 16-screen cinema showing all the latest releases, matinees and the odd old-classic, as well as foreign language movies and Bollywood hits.

There is also a games arcade that is designed to look like an Aztec World. This area also includes an 18-lane ten pin bowling alley as well as dodgems and several pool tables.

There is also a laser quest next to the cinema, which caters particularly well for parties.

*Extras*

I don't have children myself, but I believe there is a creche and play centre suitable for all children. There is also a stand where you can get 'fun buggies' which are like little cars that you can push your children round in and it keeps them more entertained whilst you concentrate on shopping!

Like I said before, there is plenty of free parking and as you approach the Trafford Centre the signs directing you to the various carparks also tell you how many available spaces there are in each one.

There's always some celebrity or another signing a book or opening a store at the centre, so it's quite good for celeb-spotting. If you want to know who's there when, you can have a look at the website - www.traffordcentre.co.uk - where there's a diary of events. In fact the website is good if there's anything you want to know at all - it has a shop directory as well as menus for all the restaurants.

*Opening times*

Shops-

Monday - Friday 10am-10pm
Saturday 10am-8pm
Sunday 12noon-6pm (some stores open at 11am)

The Orient & The Great Hall Restaurants-

Monday - Thursday 10am-Midnight
Friday 10am-Midnight at least
Saturday 9am-Midnight at least
Sunday 11am-Midnight

ODEON Cinema-

Monday - Thursday 9.40am-1am
Friday 9.40am-3am
Saturday 9.40am-3am
Sunday 9.40am-1am

*My Opinion*

The Trafford Centre is perfect for a good shopping trip with your friends or a day out with the family as there really is something for everyone. The only thing to bear in mind is that it is really popular so it gets really busy!

Anyway, I think I've covered everything - but definitely go and see it for yourself and if you need any more information the website is well worth a visit!
Trafford Centre
Barton Dock Road
Manchester, England, M17 8AA
+44 (161) 749 1717

A Step Back in Time!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on December 5, 2009

When people from outside of the UK picture England, it is often a traditional and quaint image that they see: cobbled streets lined with higgledy-piggledy stone buildings; communities built around the local shop or church; and children playing with a ball in the streets. Those of us who live here know that this is, for the most part, not even close to the truth. It is in Haworth though. Haworth is like the land that time forgot and it has maintained much of its traditional charm to make it one of Yorkshire’s favourite tourist attractions.

Located in the Worth Valley, Haworth isn’t much more than a street, but it is a street that is bursting with character and it is the heart of Bronte Country, a place where the literary sisters called home. As a result, much of the focus in Haworth is on the Brontes – everywhere you look you’ll find museums and bookstores devoted to them. The Bronte Parsonage offers a very comprehensive look at the lives of the Bronte sisters, although at £8 per person entry, I would think you would need a prior interest in the subject to get your money’s worth.

If you like shopping, especially for little bits and pieces you can’t get elsewhere, then Haworth is the place for you. Along the main street you’ll find plenty of shops that you won’t find anywhere else, selling all manner of things from souvenirs to local cheese. One of the most popular shops on the street is the Apothecary at the top where, on entry, you’ll be whisked back to a bygone era. The shop sells mainly hand-made soaps in a mind boggling variety of shapes and sizes, some of which you wouldn’t be sure whether to eat or put on display!

One of my favourite shops in Haworth is the Yorkshire Relics shop, which sells all manner of collectables. They have an extensive collection of records, books and toys that, no matter how old you are, will have you dreaming of your youth and proclaiming that ‘they just don’t do it as well as they used to’! It’s my sister-in-laws 40th birthday next month and we managed to get the Jackie Annual for the month she was born here for a very reasonable price.

To break up the shopping, there are plenty of places to eat from cafes to restaurants, from bakeries to chip shops. Anything you can imagine is available in Haworth and, most importantly, it is all freshly and locally made.

Aside from the main street there are plenty of other things to see. I’ve already mentioned the Bronte Museum. Just at the bottom of the main street is the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, which offers connection to many other places, but also offers you a chance to see many traditional locomotives. There is a viewing platform around the station that allows you to see into the shed where the trains are kept and maintained.

Haworth is very proud of its charm and character, and does it’s very best to attract tourists from all over the world and to give them a taste of olde worlde England. Nowhere is this more evident than the number of annual events that take place here. To start, there is 40s weekend and 60s weekend. Both of these are very popular and involve street parties, traditional fancy dress and general fun and frolics. There are events to mark all the major holidays – Easter, Halloween, etc, but the crowning glory is no doubt the Christmas festivities. There are six weekends’ worth of events in all including Christmas markets, torchlight parades and visits from Santa. It makes it a great time to visit, take part in the festivities and do some Christmas shopping.

One thing I will warn you about before I finish is the car parking in Howarth. Just as you enter the village, there is a car park run by a company called Car Stoppers. It is located at the top of the main street, opposite Edinburgh Woollen Mill. The company has a terrible track record of clamping for trivial matters (displaying her ticket upside down was what Betty Boothroyd got clamped for!) and for excessive fines. A quick search on Google will show you how notorious the car park is, to the point that they’ve actually marketed it somehow. There are plenty of other places to park – we usually park next to the parsonage on the council-run car park – so don’t fall into the trap and avoid this place.

I would recommend a visit to Haworth to anyone – whatever your interests; you will doubtless find something of interest here.

Not Just For Avid Footballers!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on November 28, 2009

I have that kind of lethargy that you get when you've lived in the same area for a long period of time - 'there's nothing to do', 'I've seen it all' and 'it's all rubbish'. So, it's always a nice surprise when I stumble across something new - especially when that new thing is absolutely FREE to enjoy! This is what happened when I discovered the National Football Museum, located at Preston North End's Deepdale Stadium, in Preston.

So, what is it?

Well, as the name suggests, it is a football museum which contains a collection of all things football, from its invention, right up to the present day.

It's the jewel of the football memorabilia world's crown - described as the 'proud custodian of the official FIFA collection' - and this is shown nowhere better than its heavyweight hierarchy, which has Sir Bobby Charlton as the president and Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Tom Finney and Sir Trevor Brooking as vice-presidents.

How does it work?

Well, appropriately enough, the museum is split into two halves! The first half gives a history of the game through a series of displays. This area is all about the statistics that have shaped the game and you will find lists of the leagues through the years, notable events in the footballing world and various souvenirs, including the original FA Cup.

The second half is a much more interactive area and includes all kinds of games and activities that will delight young and old alike. There is a also a section about the museums hosts - Preston North End - and there is a chance to have a look at the stadium from the viewing platform.

Is it any good?

The answer to this question is undoubtedly a yes! Although I do follow my local team (the - ahem - mighty Blackburn Rovers!), I am not the biggest fan of football, but I don't think you need to be to enjoy this museum - as strange as that sounds.

In the first half, the die-hard fans will no doubt enjoy proving their worth by knowing the main facts already, but the exhibits are presented in a way that doesn't alienate the non-football fans. The information is presented in a time-line and is accompanied by key social events to bring the facts to life. You'll be able to compare what was happening in the football world, during events in time - the wars, changing political leaders and the Spice Girls' first Number One!

The exhibits cover the origins of the sport, women's football, advertising in the game, working conditions and, of course, football superstars.

There are some fun exhibits, too, that will appeal to everyone. My favourites were the Spitting Image dummies of Gazza and Gary Linekar.

Another good thing about the 'First Half' is that children will be kept entertained with the various different ways of presenting the exhibits - there are visual displays as well as little pods that you stand in and an audio presentation can be heard. There are also activities that include dressing up in older kits and so on.

The second half, however is the real draw I would imagine as it is completely interactive and there are some great things to do.

There are a couple of table football tables, but this is table football with a difference - there are massive TV screens behind the tables and your games are recorded and then played back on them!

There's also a great little exhibit that we loved - Gary Linekar's commentary box. You basically go into a recording booth and commentate on a game of football; it's then played back with your picture on the screen. It's great fun for budding football journalists everywhere.

You can also have a look at the comprehensive rule book which is available to look at on a big screen with lots of pointers and descriptions to help digest the information.

So would I recommend it?

Of course I would! it really is great fun. The initial exhibit is well presented and very engaging. The interactive area will provide hours of entertainment for young and old alike.

Even if you don't like football, I guarantee you will still find something here that captures your imagination or that interests you and the kids (even the very big ones!) will love it! Best of all though - it won't cost you a thing to find out how good it is!

Other Information

There is free parking available outside the museum.

It's open 10am until 5pm on Tuesdays to Saturdays and from 11am until 5pm on Sundays. It closes just before kick-off on match days - although you won't be able to park anywhere near the museum on those days. It's closed on Mondays (except for Bank Holidays).

There is a coffee shop and gift shop that sells every kind of football souvenir you can imagine!

Its fully accessible to wheelchair users.

They welcome big parties and school groups.
National Football Museum
Urbis Building, Cathedral Gardens, Todd Street
Manchester, M4 3BG
0161 605 8200

A Surprisingly Interesting Museum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dkm1981 on October 29, 2009

I'm always looking for quirky things to do on my days off, because I'm not one of these people who can just sit around and do nothing. Much of my research starts on t'internet, as we say Up North, and the other day I stumbled across the website for the Bolton Museum, Aquarium and Art Gallery (http://www.boltonmuseums.org.uk). Bolton isn't far from were I live so when I noticed that it's free to enter, we decided to pay a visit and I'm pleased to say that I'm glad I did.

The Bolton Museum is in the town centre on Le Mans Crescent (behind the town hall) and is conveniently located next to a multi-story car park and just opposite the bus station. The museum and aquarium are in the same building as the library, with the museum being above the library and the aquarium being below, in the basement. There is a lift to all floors, so all parts of the building are easily accessible by wheelchair users.

The museum itself is split into three separate sections which span out from the central gift shop. The gift shop is small and has the usual museum paraphernalia (fridge magnets, postcards, pencils and the like) as well as a selection of souvenirs matching the various temporary exhibits on display.

The first room you go in, if you work your way round in a logical order, is split level. The first level is a history of Bolton and the surrounding area, focussing mainly on Bolton's industrial past. There are a variety of displays showing what life was like for the local people in times gone by. Of particular interest were the original fire engine (a cart pulled by a horse and made out of wood of all things!) and the collection of pieces of meteorite that have been found in the area. The displays are all very well labelled and clear. I thought it was particularly nice that they had lots of input from the people who'd actually used the items on display.

This floor also features a temporary exhibition of the history of sport in the area entitled 'Sports and Games in Worktown'. This is an interesting exhibition full of emotive pictures and videos that show what the area was like in the 1930s. Wandering round it really did make me fill like I'd stepped back in time.

Upstairs on the second level, the displays are all about the natural world, featuring displays of stuffed animals, clothing and tools used in the various areas of the world. The star of the show is a life-size elephant head replica hanging from the ceiling, accompanied by an interesting little display about how they got it into the museum (not as easy as you'd think considering the size of it!). There is also a little section that was helped designed by local school children, that shows the effects that pollution has on the environment.

The next room as you leave the gift shop again (they really want you to visit the gift shop!) contains a temporary exhibition about the FA Cup (borrowed from the National Football Museum in Preston). If you're planning on visiting this exhibit (and you should) go before the end of May, when it leaves for pastures new. Again, this room is very well laid out and the displays are clear and concise and not too overpowering. There is information about the history of everything about the FA Cup, from its humble beginnings to the glorious competition that it now is. There is an interactive bit that will keep children entertained. In the centre of the room there is a table full of 'mystery items' all of which are explained in the surrounding displays. As 'big kids' we had great fun working out what the items represented from the clues given! Also in this room, there is a small section about Bolton Wanderers, which includes turnstiles and seats taken from the old stadium, as well as a scale model of the ground itself.

The final room on your tour around the gift shop, is currently devoted to a collection entitled 'Egyptomania' which, you guessed it, is about Egypt. Specifically the influence of Egyptian Art and Culture on other civilisations. It's a nice little exhibition that includes some great examples of Egyptian art and culture, the centre-piece of which is the four mummified bodies in the centre of the room. Interestingly, one of the bodies in the sarcophagus wasn't buried at the same time as the tomb it was in! There are also sections of various temples which give a great insight into the culture. As someone who has been to Cairo and Luxor and many of the famous wonders there, I was still impressed by the display here.

Finally, you head downstairs to the aquarium, although expect to be under-awed by the display! The aquarium consists of about 20 tanks, the first ten of which contain the kind of fish you expect to see in a fish shop. The second set of tanks are slightly more impressive, with huge piranhas and a giant eel type creature. I had a fun time engaging in a face-off with one of the piranhas that, I swear, was giving me dirty looks, but it got bored before I did - aha victory!!

Overall I would say that the museum is definitely worth a visit, not least because it's free, but more importantly, because it has a great display of exhibits. Granted, there is nothing there that is going to blow you away, but everything is really well displayed and it's a great place to wander round leisurely.

Children will enjoy it as there are various interactive areas for them to explore - probably the most fun one being in the permanent room, where there is a selection of old toys for them to play with. The museum is obviously designed with children in mind, as they will no doubt enjoy the huge elephant and the working engines in the industrial section as well as the more gory mummies in the Egypt section.

So, if you have a couple of hours to spare, head to the Bolton Museum and Aquarium - you're bound to learn something, it won't cost you anything and you'll have lots of fun in the process!

Bolton Civic Museum
Le Mans Cresc
Bolton, Lancashire, England

A Thought Provoking Afternoon

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on October 29, 2009

Introduction

I remember going to the Imperial War Museum in London when I was a child and having a great time, so when I discovered there was one here in the North, I decided to pay a visit.

The Imperial War Museum North is housed in an obscure, but interesting, looking building and is basically made up of two floors:

The ground floor is the entrance and includes the gift shop, a dining room (where you can eat your packed lunch, if you've brought one), a cloak room, learning studio and the elevator to the Air Shard (which is a 29 metre high viewing platform, from which you can see most of Manchester).

The second floor is where the exhibition rooms are. There are two; the Main Exhibition Space which contains the permanent display of war artefacts and the Special Exhibitions gallery which contains the temporary exhibitions. When I visited the temporary exhibition was a display of female war artists' work, which was well worth the visit alone.

The Main Exhibition Space is also where they present the award-winning Big Picture Show, which is a 360 degree audio-visual experience showing different aspects of the war in approximately 15 minute shows, every hour.

My Opinion

The museum is fantastic, in my opinion. It's really well laid out and easy to work your way around. There is an even balance of visual, emotional and informative display items that makes it suitable for the whole family.

The Museum is presented in a big open space, that is easy to wander round in a logical order, following the timeline that runs around the edge of the room covering 1914 to the present day in digestible periods - World War I, The inter-war period, World War II, After the war until 1990 and 1990 to the present day. This is particularly good because you generally think of the World Wars when you consider wars in general, but it gives a interesting and thought-provoking look at the wars of this generation, which are often over-looked (by me anyway).

There are some great 'large objects' which break up the educational bits nicely. The most impressive is the Harrier Jump-jet hanging in the entrance. Also on display are a Trabant estate car and a T34 Russian tank. You obviously can't climb on the objects, but you can get a good look at the insides of them and there are descriptions of them and quotes from people who've used them.

There are also a number of small rooms (called Silos) which each display a different aspect of war, such as Women and War (which has souvenirs that notable women from each war have collected) and Experience of War (which is laid out like a living room and contains games, newspapers and foods from the various wars).

The museum is very child-friendly, with plenty of opportunities for children to learn whilst having fun at the action stations. These include learning how to crack codes and dressing up in camouflage. Whilst we were there, there were many children wandering round with smiles on their faces as they explored the various exhibits and enjoyed the object handling sessions hosted by the museum staff.

By far and away the best bit of the museum though was the Big Picture display. Every hour, the main room goes dark and images and sounds of the war are displayed on the walls, giving you a very real experience of the war through the eyes of the people who experienced it first-hand. The presentation we watched was 'Children and War', which gave the accounts of children from all the countries that have been involved in wars throughout the last century. It was a very moving account and I found it very interesting to see how war affects the people involved.

Overall, I would definitely say that the museum is worth a visit and a donation. It is suitable for people of all ages and gives a thought-provoking and moving account of events that are happening around the world even now.

Other information

The museum is located on the riverside at The Quays in Salford and is easily accessible by road, car and train.

The museum itself is free to enter, although you do have to visit the entry desk to 'check in' where a member of staff politely enquires whether you'd 'like to help the museum to expand and improve by making a valuable donation of £3.95' (for which price you get an all-singing, all-dancing guide book!). We gave the guide book a miss, saying that we'd make our own donation. There are plenty of donation boxes around the museum and, to be honest, you don't need a guide book, as the museum is quite small and the exhibits well-labelled.

There is a great gift shop where you can buy from an extensive range of war literature, museum souvenirs and war-inspired items such as ration cook-books and foods.

The museum is open seven days a week from 10am until 6pm (March to September) and 10am until 5pm (November to February). Last admission is 30 minutes prior to closing.

Whilst it probably only takes a couple of hours to explore the museum, it's easy to make it part of a day out, as there is an outlet mall, theatre and plenty of restaurants close by, as well as Old Trafford (if you're that way inclined, which I'm definitely not!).
Imperial War Museum North
Salford Quays
Manchester, England, M17 1TZ
0161 836 4000

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