The Urban Playground.

Creative Tourist

From a family boat party along the Ship Canal to break dance from the world’s best dancers, from tales of the high seas and an Asian elephant with a Mancunian past to poetry postcards, this is your guide to the weekend in Manchester


Our top tip for families on Saturday is a watery one: Manchester by Boat, a family boat party that connects the River Irwell with the Manchester Ship Canal (11:30am, 1.15pm & 3pm, £3pp). It begins at one of Manchester’s most iconic drinking and dining venues, The Mark Addy, and ends up at Salford Quays – all this, plus our on-board tour guide will keep kids entertained with tales of the city’s fascinating industrial past en route and snacks will be supplied by chef Robert Owen Brown. The boat drops you off close to Imperial War Museum North, just in time for the frolics of Shipshape Saturday, a day long session that includes drop-in craft workshops, performances of real-life tales of adventure on the high seas, and Animals Aboard, a puppet-and-picture session that illustrates stories of naval animal bravery (11.30am-4pm, free). You’ll also have time to try out the Museum’s interactive family show, All Aboard: Stories of War at Sea, which, if nothing else, explains the origin of common phrases such as ‘Pipe Down’ (a bit of naval lingo that many parents may be all too familiar with, until 25 April, free – scroll down for video footage). If you need refreshments, try the Museum’s restaurant (for a good kids’ selection) or hop across the Ship Canal for the eateries at the Lowry Outlet Mall, from Pizza Express to Café Rouge. Nearby is The Lowry, which, in partnership with the Eurocultured Festival, hosts Throwing Shapes, a programme of street and break dance competitions featuring some of the best dancers in Europe (1pm-7.30pm, free). Performances from local dance companies and groups, kids’ workshops and advanced masterclasses make for an energetic afternoon. Throwing Shapes coincides with Blaze, a high-energy theatrical dance performance directed by West End director Anthony Van Laast (Mamma Mia!/Sister Act) that includes 16 of the world’s top street dancers and breakers, plus sets by Es Devlin (set designer for Kanye West and the upcoming Lady Gaga tour, 2pm & 7.30pm, £12-£22). If, after all that, you’re wondering how to get back to Manchester, fret not: hop on a return boat (it’s a shorter journey back, at 12.30pm, 2.15pm and 4pm – the latter two trips include Manchester Science Festival’s famous science buskers) or just hop on a tram (via the Media City stop behind The Lowry).

If you don’t make it out to the Quays, there’s plenty else on to keep kids entertained. The recently scrubbed-up People’s History Museum is stuffed with hands-on exhibits, and although its focus is British political history, it handles its subject matter lightly. During the weekend, the Museum hosts CBBC’s Relic: Guardians of the Museum Trail, a CBBC TV series developed with the British Museum where kids race against time to uncover the secrets of different famous objects – if they overcome five challenges, your kids stand to become official Guardians of the Museum (10am-5pm, free). Over at The Manchester Museum there’s a similar amount of kid-friendly activity – our favourite is Postcards from Manchester (11am-4pm, free). Here, the acclaimed and award-winning poets Mandy Coe and John Siddique are on hand to help families write poetry postcards, capturing your impressions of the sights, sounds and smells of the city. Mandy Coe has published poetry for both adults and children and was the joint winner of the 2008 Manchester Poetry Prize. John Siddique’s collections include the children’s collection Don’t Wear it on Your Head. The Museum is always a draw for families, with good reason. Its permanent exhibits include a full-size T.Rex (rargh), more Egyptian mummies than you can shake a scarab beetle at (woo) and the skeleton of Maharajah, an Asian elephant with a Mancunian past (aw…). Workshops on Saturday tell the story of Maharajah, where children can make their own elephant hats to take home. With this much on, plus a decent café with a solid kids’ menu, it’s possible to lose a whole afternoon here. If not, then there’s a special sensory tour on offer at The Whitworth. The Urban Wandering Family Picnic enables you to taste, hear, smell, see and touch Manchester (though perhaps not the, er, grubby bits) before ending up with a picnic in the park (11am-12.30pm, free, bring your own picnic). Click here for full event listings and booking information


Start Sunday in the city with a trip to Manchester Art Gallery. Always family-friendly, its major autumn exhibition – featuring new and never-seen-before work by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – will appeal to kids and grown-ups alike, particularly the seminal artwork Pulse Room (until 30 January, free). Here, hundreds of lights pulse in time to the heartbeat of visitors (you can add your own heartbeat to the mix). Lozano-Hemmer is one of the world’s most respected electronic artists, his works combining custom-made technologies with audience interaction, meaning that his works literally see, hear and feel the actions of the people around them. Take People on People (a co-commission with the AND Festival). Here, surveillance cameras, face recognition software and 3D tracking monitor you as you move through the exhibition space. As you walk, you’ll see you own shadow and, inside it, live and recorded images of the other visitors to the show. Your own image, meanwhile, is simultaneously captured and will later find itself trapped inside someone else’s shadow. Once you’ve exhausted the supply of digital art, head to the Clore Interactive Gallery, a space just for kids that’s stuffed with interactive artworks and activities, or try the Gallery’s restaurant, whose menu features a decent children’s selection, or its café for chunky, homemade cakes. Manchester Art Gallery is right in the centre of Manchester, close to the cute boutiques of the Northern Quarter (we recommend the Craft & Design Centre for both shopping and food), as well as the mainstream shopping in and around St. Ann’s Square and the Arndale. You can stick with culture at CUBE, however, with Interact, an audio-visual installation based on videogames: here, inside various fantastical worlds, you can control characters and sounds, as well as interact with other ‘players’ (12pm-5pm, free). Close by you’ll find Cornerhouse, an arthouse cinema and arts complex that also has an excellent café-bar – good for older kids who like to hang out in cool places and people watch, and also good for slabs of cake and top notch nibbles.

Click here for full event listings and booking information, or return to the Weekender home page

Images (top to bottom): Imperial War Museum North; Blaze, courtesy The Lowry; Co-operative Shop at the People’s History Museum, copyright Headland Design; Cafe Aromat at Manchester Craft & Design Centre; Pulse Room, 2007, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, exhibited at LABoral, Gijon, Spain.

Pillock at Contact
Spotlight on

Fringe Theatre in Manchester and the North

Check out our top picks of shows previewing in the North West before heading to Edinburgh Fringe Festival later in the summer.

Take me there

Culture Guides