The Portico Library

Creative Tourist
The Portico Library, Manchester
Creative Tourist

With its discreet side entrance, tucked away down Mosely Street, leading onto an initially unpromising set of winding stairs, the well-hidden Portico Library is one of Manchester city centre’s finest gems.

It first opened in 1806 as a members library and newsroom – a place where gentlemen (and women, after the 1870 Married Women’s Property Act, and including the industrial novelist, Elizabeth Gaskell) could gather to digest the shipped-in news from London. Over two centuries later, it is one of Manchester’s longest running organisations and oldest buildings still fulfilling its original function. A lot has changed in that time, however.

Whilst still retaining much of its original character, any hint of musty Victorianism has been thoroughly dispelled. Today, the Library is a cultural hub, with a busy year-round line-up of free exhibitions, performances, public readings, events, talks, workshops and activities – very much open to all. Its programming centres around learning, creativity and diversity; spotlighting artists, writers and researchers from all areas of society and engaging with a wide range of subjects.

The Portico was aspirational, to say the least, founded during Manchester’s emergence as ‘the first modern city’. The Greek Revival building was designed by the celebrated architect Thomas Harrison, and the huge Ionic columns that flank its original entrance were more than a passing nod to the intellectual achievements of ancient Greece. Its collection of around 25,000 books on Voyages and Travels, History, Biography, Polite literature (including some impolite literature, too) reflect the mindset of the Georgian and Victorian members who set it up – people like John Dalton (who pioneered atomic theory), Mark Roget (of Thesaurus fame) and the opium eater and essayist, Thomas de Quincey.

It is also important to acknowledge, however, that the Library was built with wealth derived from the Industrial Revolution, British empire-building, and colonial expansion. As well as representing the cultural advancements and scientific innovations of the day, its collection also points to the exclusions, inequities and injustices of the time. This uncomfortable past is frequently acknowledged in The Portico’s public programming, which seeks to explore and confront the city’s complex histories and its place within them.

This is a perfect place to while away an afternoon, exploring what’s on, taking in the beautiful Regency-period architecture, learning about the building’s history, and enjoying a spot of tea and cake in the great domed gallery.

57 Mosley StreetManchesterM2 3HY View map
Telephone: 0161 236 6785 Visit Now


Access is by staircase only

Commercial and Hire Services

Available for hire

Services and Facilities

membership, library, gallery, annual literary prize, regular events, lunchtime cafe

Opening Hours

  • Monday9:30am - 4:30pm
  • Tuesday9:30am - 5:30pm
  • Wednesday9:30am - 5:30pm
  • Thursday9:30am - 5:30pm
  • Friday9:30am - 4:30pm
  • Saturday11:00am - 3:00pm

Always double check opening hours with the venue before making a special visit.

What's on near The Portico Library

Manchester Art Gallery Tours

Get to know Manchester Art Gallery with a passionate volunteer guide, hear their stories and thoughts about the art in an art gallery tour.

free entry
Comedy Balloon

Every Wednesday at Ape & Apple, Manchester’s official underground comedy club, Comedy Balloon’s friendly and warm comedy night takes place.

free entry

Where to go near The Portico Library

moose coffee manchester creative tourist
Café or Coffee Shop
Moose Coffee Manchester

Moose Coffee celebrates ‘the best meal of the day’ (brunch) in American style, with stack pancakes, potato hash, Huevos Rancheros and eggs any way. There’s always a queue.

Six By Nico
Six By Nico Manchester

Six By Nico is the brainchild of renowned Scottish-Italian chef Nico Simeone. This Manchester arm of his acclaimed restaurant offers a completely new six course menu every six weeks.


Home-X is the online spin-off of renowned Scottish-Italian chef Nico Simeone’s Six By Nico restaurant. This is geared around kit meals to cook at home.

Pho Manchester

Pho does a fine line in pho, the noodle soup that’s a staple of Vietnamese street cuisine.

Siam Smiles

Now based at the Great Northern, Siam Smiles is a food stop that’s hot on everyone’s lips.

Manchester Art Gallery Cafe

Summery bakes, seasonal salads and fresh light meals at Manchester Art Gallery’s in-house café, courtesy of highly-regarded Head Chef Matthew Taylor.

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Hunan Restaurant

Hunan, a Chinese restaurant in Manchester’s Chinatown, may be a bit off the beaten track – but it’s all the better for that.

Salut Wines
Bar or Pub
Salut Wines

Salut wines pride themselves in offering “wider horizons beyond the safe choices.” With 42 wines by the glass and a regularly changing selection of bottles in their Enomatic wine preservation machines (or  “wine jukebox,” as they’re colloquially known), this is one of be best bars in Manchester for exploring new vintages.

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