Looking to start planning your next adventure? We have a new reason for you to travel to Manchester in February. 

As a city that "does things differently", it is no surprise that the Manchester Museum is blazing the trail by opening pioneering new cultural galleries following a major renovation project.

Known to be one of the world's most diverse cities ⁠— and one of Lonely Planet’s top destinations to visit in 2023 ⁠— Manchester has a long history of migration from parts of Europe and the rest of the world. These arrivals have transformed the city, imbuing it with a rich multicultural landscape. To reflect this, Manchester Museum is reopening on February 18 after a £15 million physical and curatorial transformation, demonstrating a deep connection with the cultures that make up much of the Mancunian population.

The new entrance of the Manchester Museum, a historic Victorian-style building.
The new entrance of the renovated museum © Manchester Museum

Manchester Museum is one of the largest University museums in the UK and the world's first Carbon Literate Museum. It is also free to the public.

Opened in 1890, the museum holds a vast collection of more than 4.5 million objects from across the globe, from human cultures to natural sciences, Egyptian mummified remains and the renowned vivarium of endangered species. With a global discussion happening around artifacts and their return to their countries of origin, Manchester Museum is aiming to address this complex history with a commitment to building better understanding between cultures. For the museum, inclusive perspectives are the basis for developing the new exhibitions and collections. The new entrance will welcome visitors into five newly curated spaces filled with never-before-displayed collections, where exchange about the British Empire, Victorian viewpoints and modern relationships can occur.

An exhibition case shows animal skeletons in a darkened museum.
A member of museum staff views animal skeletons on display in Manchester Museum ahead of its reopening after a long refurbishment © OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

The trail-blazing approach to the new cultural galleries means an open conversation about the heritage and lived experience of the cultures on display — something previously overlooked in traditional museum experiences. You can expect to immerse yourself in the emotions of South Asian diaspora communities in the South Asian Gallery, explore the modern relations between the UK and China in the Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery as well as meet with the city's favorite dinosaur skeleton, Stan, the tyrannosaurus rex, in the Dinosaur Gallery, where you are encouraged to think like a paleontologist. There's also the groundbreaking Belonging Gallery, where, through an Indigenous perspective, we learn about the climate migrants during the last Ice Age and the poignant story surrounding a Syrian refugee's life jacket.

A woman works to install a South Asian exhibit in a museum.
An installation in the South Asian gallery © Manchester Museum

Deciding to throw away the traditional approach to curation, Manchester Museum has brought in a group of roughly 30 leaders, artists, historians, musicians and more from Manchester's South Asian community to help build the narrative around the artifacts — through the experience of generations of real people — for the new South Asia Gallery, in partnership with the British Museum. The stories explore the relationship between Britain and South Asia and the legacy of the Empire, including a special exhibit of a WWI uniform and a community-decorated rickshaw from Bangladesh.

The new Manchester Museum is a recommended place to start when visiting the city. With the new cultural galleries, you can get a sense of Manchester from the stories and items that are now shared in a whole new way.

4 days to learn in Manchester

Where to eat and drink in Manchester

There is plenty to choose from for a taste of Manchester's international food scene, from high-end Asian delicacies, Polish fusions, Kosher bites and the traditional joy of Manchester's "Curry Mile”, where you will find a delicious array of South Asian cuisine. Delhi Sweet Centre is the home of pure indulgence with the sweet sticky Jalebi and crisp, savory samosas. Mughli Charcoal Pit is the place for biryani or a comforting bowl of lentil dal. For the sweet-toothed, there's the opulent Al Qaza for desserts, milkshakes and mocktails in the heady scent of shisha. 

For a more relaxed daytime nibble, head to the other side of town to enjoy some vegetarian and vegan kosher-style menu at the Manchester Jewish Museum Cafe. Worth the journey for a window seat and plate of cholent with challah bread. 

Revolutionizing the idea of Polish cuisine, but maintaining the comforting pierogies, is Platzki, with its regularly changing seasonal menu and homely venue. For fine Vietnamese dining and cocktails, Namii, for its pan-Asian dishes and sake-drenched cocktails. 

Drink the world at The Spärrows continental and Spätzle (egg pasta) restaurant with a drinks menu spanning Germany to Tokyo with the added joy of Poland's prized Kavka vodka. 

Where to stay in Manchester

Choose to stay nearby to make the most of the free entry to Manchester Museum by staying local at The Hyatt Regency Manchester, a modern and fresh hotel located just around the corner from the museum.

A display of street art in Manchester shows a woman looking to the sky.
Stay in the hip Northern Quarter © Christina Nwabugo/Lonely Planet

For affordable luxury in the heart of the city, with on-your-doorstep access to ramen bars, speakeasies and the trendiest part of Manchester, the Northern Quarter, consider a stay in Cow Hollow, a converted textile mill.

For a bit of luxury with the amenities of home, splash out on the Japandi Boutique Apartments with crisp white bedding and furniture softened by the warm-washed walls and beech wood decor. 

This article was first published January 2023 and updated January 2023

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