Freshers Guide

September 16, 2009 10:55 am
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Freshers Guide

Thornley Groves Estate Agents have let over 300 apartments in Manchester City Centre over the last 10 weeks, many to students who are new to the city, so we’ve tracked down the following article written by a student for students –  Lisa Monshausen, German exchange student in Manchester.

The City

Many people would imagine Manchester to be a mere industrial city. But this image has long been outdated. Often described as “capital of the North” or “second city of the UK”, Manchester is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city offering a range of multicultural attractions. With a population of about half a million inhabitants, Manchester is one of the biggest cities within the UK.

The development of the city dates back to the Romans, who set up a fort called “Mamucium” (possibly meaning “breast-like hill town”) in the 70s AD. A reconstruction of this fort can still be seen in the area of Castlefield. The city then became well-known at the end of the 18th century, which was the vertex of its importance as an industrial metropolis. Manchester was especially known for textile manufacture and cotton spinning and therefore also acquired the nickname “Cottonopolis”. Reminders of Manchester’s industrial time can still be seen today in the network of canals and mills constructed during that time. The city’s architecture is mainly characterised by the use of red brick and by buildings dating back to the industrial period. However, the city has undergone a substantial development during the past centuries. Driven by the IRA bomb of 1996 and the staging of the Commonwealth Games in 2002, there has been a remarkable process of rebuilding especially in the city centre area.

The City Centre is diverse, but compact. Let’s take Piccadilly Gardens, a recently-renovated landscaped garden, as a starting point. If you are standing in front of the Victoria Statue and go North into Oldham Street, you will directly walk into the Northern Quarter, which is the alternative-innovative quarter in town and which has a lively and unique character. It is considered the cultural and musical heart of the city. There are lots of small shops and also the Affleck’s palace, an alternative shopping centre. Going West from Piccadilly Gardens, you will reach the main shopping area in town, Market Street. Here you can find lots of large shops and the Arndale shopping centre – Manchester is a paradise for shopaholics. Turning right at the end of Market Street takes you to Exchange Square, where you can find another shopping centre called The Triangle and the Printworks entertaining complex with many clubs. Two of the city’s oldest public houses as well as the big wheel (where – unlike in the London Eye – you will have to be lucky to see someone inside a cabin) are located nearby. The 600 year old cathedral is also just next door. Further south from here is Albert Square with the Town Hall, which like most of the public buildings in town dates from the 19th century. Not far from here, a Chinese Arch marks the start of Chinatown, where you can find a substantial number of oriental restaurants and Chinese supermarkets. The arch was a gift to the city by the people of China. Manchester is home to one of the largest Chinese communities in Europe. The area of Chinatown is always lively, but particularly vigorous during the Chinese New Year Parade, celebrated with fireworks, good food and a dancing dragon.

Oxford Road and around- the most important road in the city is Oxford Road, situated south of the city centre. Oxford Street starts at St. Peter’s Square in the City Centre. Going south it turns into Oxford Road. The University campus is allocated along this road, starting with the campus of the Metropolitan University of Manchester and ending in the University of Manchester campus. If you go further south from there, you will arrive in the Curry Mile, which belongs to the area of Rusholme. Further down the road, you will find the student area Fallowfield. If you want to relax or go jogging, there is one of Manchester’s biggest parks: Platt Fields.

Castlefield and Deansgate Locks- going west from Oxford Road, takes you to the area of Castlefield. With its railway arches, canals and locks, the area offers a more sedate atmosphere and is probably the loveliest part in town. In 2006, the Hilton or Beetham Tower, currently Manchester’s highest building, was added to the mainly industrial architecture of this area. Go to the top of it and you will have a nice view over the city. The set of the famous TV series “Coronation Street” is located in this area. Closer to town, Deansgate Locks hosts a few bars and pubs placed into a railway arch facing onto the canal.

Trafford- one of the first things that come to mind when you hear the name of the city is the football club Manchester United, which is certainly one of the most famous in the world. The stadium of Manchester United, called Old Trafford, is situated in Trafford. If you – for whatever reason – have the feeling that there are not enough shopping facilities in the city centre, you can find another huge shopping centre situated in Trafford, the Trafford Centre with its neo-classical decor.

The East of Manchester- is dedicated to sporting facilities. Sportcity, which is located two miles from the city centre, is part of the legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The City of Manchester Stadium houses the city’s other Premier League football club, Manchester City. Close by is the “B of the Bang”, a sculpture in the shape of an exploding firework. It was named after a quote saying that you should set off in a sprint not just at the bang of the pistol, but at the ‘b’ of the bang.

Salford and Salford Quays- the River Irwell divides the cities of Manchester and Salford. Be aware that they are two separate cities because there is not much that can annoy locals on both sides more than mistaking the two. The Imperial War Museum North, constructed by Daniel Libeskind, deals with the topic of war with a concentration on the Second World War. Just next to it is The Lowry, a cultural centre comprising two galleries, two theatres, restaurants and bars. It was named after the artist L.S. Lowry, who was famous for painting scenes of life in the industrial districts of Northern England during the early 20th century.

Museums and Art Galleries: There are many museums and art galleries in the city which are worth visiting. Moreover, the entrance to most of them is free.

Urbis- opened in 2002, Urbis shows exhibitions about different aspects of urban life, featuring dynamic changing exhibitions.

Museum of Science and Industry- if you want to explore Manchester’s history of being an industrial metropolis, this is the right place for you. The museum was built in the oldest train station in the world, which was shut down in 1975. Probably the most impressive part of the museum is the Power Hall with its steam engines.

Manchester Art Gallery- the museum houses a civic art collection with historic as well as modern galleries. Including 17th 18th and early 19th century art as well as the Pre-Raphaelites, Victorian and Modern art.

Whitworth Art Gallery- which is part of the University of Manchester, is home to some of the UK’s finest collections of art and design, including modern and historic fine art, prints, textiles and a rare collection of wallpapers.

Manchester Museum- part of the University of Manchester, shows an exhibition about the world of nature. Featuring mammals, birds and life animals as well as fossils and minerals.

The University

There are two universities in the city: the Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Manchester. With over 40,000 students, the latter is “Britain’s largest single-site university”. The present University of Manchester was formed in 2004 with the merging of the Victoria University of Manchester and UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology). Both the Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Manchester are grouped around Oxford Road South of the city centre. Manchester is highly populated by students with 3000 students living in the city centre

One week before courses start, the University offers an Orientation Programme for international students, providing you with information about registration process, health provision, support services, guidance on how to open a bank account and safety and security (more information on But above all, it is a good opportunity to make new friends. During this week there is also the Fresher’s Fair with stalls representing the societies and clubs available at the University. One of them is the International Society, which organises trips and a range of activities and events.

If you come to Manchester as an Erasmus student, you will only be allowed to attend Undergraduate Courses. Undergraduate Courses are divided into three levels, indicated by the first number of the course code. The last number tells you whether the course takes place in the first or second semester. (You can find a list of all courses here: If you have problems with your English, I would recommend taking part in the Tandem Learning Course Unit. You will be paired with an English native speaker, with whom you will work on special exercises.

Workload and teaching methods in the UK vary depending on the subject you study. In humanities, a course usually consists of a lecture and/or a seminar. On any course you will be expected to do some independent study. For instance, you may occasionally be asked to prepare a text for each seminar session. You will also have to give presentations and do some written work, like an essay or some group work. Officially it says that you are expected to fulfil the same assessment as English students. In fact, some teachers allow you to write another essay instead of taking the exam at the end of the year. Generally you can say that the workload is easy to deal with and leaves enough time for you to enjoy yourself!


The most common means of transportation within the city is the bus. At first, the transport system seems a bit complex as there are about ten different bus companies serving the same route. So you will have to find out which ones are the cheapest for your route. Buses are very frequent and run ’til late in the night. Oxford Road is considered to be one of the busiest bus routes in Europe. Most students buy the weekly pass, which costs about £5. There is also a free bus service called ‘Metroshuttle’, which covers the main city centre areas. The tram ‘Metrolink’ connects Manchester city centre with the suburbs and with the city of Salford.

Taxis are frequent and affordable. It is safer to flag down a black cab because it is not always safe to travel in a private one.

There are four train stations within the city, Piccadilly being the main one. If you are planning to explore the country by train, it might be useful to invest in the ‘Young Person’s Railcard’, priced at £20 for the year, gives you 30% off your tickets ( You will also get cheaper fares if you book your tickets in advance.

There is also a bus and coach station in Chorlton Street with cheap coaches going to other large cities within the UK. If you book in advance, you can for example get a bus ticket to London for only £1 (

Food and Drink

The city has a variety of restaurants ranging from traditional English to international food. The food in pubs is quite cheap, especially with offers like “two meals for one”. However, the quality of the food is not overwhelming and the choice is more or less the same everywhere. If you are into international food, you will find a whole range in Manchester. You can find lots of nice oriental restaurants in Chinatown. And one thing you definitely should not miss is having a curry on the Curry Mile, which is supposed to have the largest concentration of Indian restaurants outside the Indian subcontinent. Most of the take-aways are open ’til late at night, so you can still get a kebab when coming back from a party or pubcrawl – and help prevent your hangover.

The Old Wellington Inn- a good place to try some typical English steak pies. Dating back to the 16th century, it is the oldest pub in town. Sinclair’s Oyster Bar, which serves seafood dishes, is just situated next-door. Both pubs share a huge outside area with a view to the big wheel.

Moso Moso- Oxford Road. Serves Chinese and Thai dishes in a modern and comfortable environment.

Nando’s- the restaurant chain Nando’s originates from South Africa and specializes in chicken dishes with a Portuguese theme. Its speciality is the Peri-Peri chicken, which is marinated in Peri-Peri spice and then flame-grilled. You can decide on your own if you like your meal mild, spicy or even very spicy (which is really extremely spicy!). There are several branches, one of them being situated inside Printworks.

Lal Haweli- found on Wilmslow Road. One of the Indian restaurants in the Curry Mile. Don’t be put off by the guy trying to make you come in. The food is worth checking out!

Kebabish- also found on the Curry Mile. In the middle of the room is the stunning flame grill where you can watch your meal cooked.

Out on the Town

You will never be short of things to do in this city. Whether you like mainstream or prefer alternative, there is something for everybody.

Dance: many clubs organise special nights for students, like the Erasmus party at Tiger Tiger in Printworks. Another popular student-friendly club is the indie club 5th Avenue (Princess Street). More cosy and alternative is the Fab Café in Portland Street. If you are into Latino dancing, Copacabana is the place for you. It offers dance classes, and if you do not want to dance you can try some tapas or an exotic cocktail.

Bars and pubs; you can find many nice pubs to have a pint and a chat. Next to an Abdul’s takeaway and a tiny flower stall lurks Big Hands. This bar offers a great selection of national and international beers. There are a couple of chain pubs like Varsity, Paramount or The Footage offering cheap drinks and meals. Most of them offer a discount card making them even cheaper. They are also a good place to watch a football match and see the locals weeping for joy or frustration – depending on the final score. The Rampant Lion in Victoria Park seems like a gothic haunted inn with its stone lions at the entrance and it is a very cosy place to relax. Jabezz Clegg and the Rain bar are also very nice places for a chill-out. If you feel like going to a posh place, have a drink in the famous Cloud 23 – also named Sky bar. This stylish bar is located on the 23rd floor of the Hilton Tower. After having a look at the prices, you may consider just coming here to enjoy the wonderful view over the city…

Live music: Manchester has played an important role in the music scene. Bands like Oasis, The Smiths or New Order (founded out of the ashes of Joy Division) emerged in the city. During the 1980s, the Madchester scene developed around clubs like The Hacienda. The two biggest concert venues in town are the Academy and the Apollo. A nice place for gigs is the Night ‘n’ Day Café in the Northern Quarter. If you are into classical music, the Bridgewater Hall will be more interesting for you. The biggest concert venue in Manchester is the MEN arena and is well worth a visit.

Theatre and cinema: in the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester’s former cotton exchange you can enjoy performances including classic theatre and revivals, contemporary drama, and original new writing. If you like to see big-name comedians the Palace Theatre is the right place. A smaller venue is the Library Theatre in the basement of the Central Library. The Cornerhouse is a centre for cinema and the contemporary visual arts. The film programme includes independent international films, often in the original language as well as talks and discussions after the films. The two biggest cinemas are AMC and Odeon. Make sure you get the student discount by taking your student swipe card with you. For those who like their culture, the Manchester Opera House is a fantastic night out.

Day Tripper

One of the advantages of Manchester is its central location within the country, which makes it easy for you to explore the rest of the island. If you want to escape the hype of the city for a while to enjoy some calmness and to explore some beautiful landscapes, the Lake District or the Peak District can be reached by train or car in less than an hour.

Liverpool is known for its rich history in popular music – most notably the Beatles. Most of the tourist attractions are related to the Beatles and Liverpool is the holy place for Beatles fans. But Liverpool also has a reputation for visual arts. For instance, there is the Tate Gallery, which houses modern art collections. In 2008, the city was elected European Capital of Culture. Walk along the famous Albert Docks or go on a cruise on the ferry to have a good view of the skyline of the city.

Chester saw the first visit from the Romans about 2000 years ago. You can enjoy treasures from the past including the most complete city walls in Britain, a Roman Amphitheatre as well as two-storied timbered shopping arcades from 1331, called the Chester Rows. The famous Eastgate Clock is one of the most photographed in the world.

If you choose to visit York, you can walk in the footsteps of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. The medieval city centre is enclosed by walls. Visit York Minster, the biggest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe.

How to make your life easier

Shops: apart from the usual brands such as Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury or Tesco, there are some cheaper supermarkets like Asda, Lidl or Aldi. Worldwide, an Arabian supermarket situated in Wilmslow Road, sells really cheap products including a whole range of vegetables and fruits as well as spices. Supermarkets are usually open ’til 11pm during the week and till 5pm on Sundays. Some supermarkets (like Asda) are even open 24 hours, every day of the week (although they do not sell any alcohol after 12pm). There is also a market in Hulme (next to the huge 24 hour Asda) where you can find a bigger choice of meat.

Finding Student Accommodation in Manchester

Here is a very quick guide to help you find your ideal student accommodation in Manchester. First of all you should check out our student residences and our private student accommodation listings. Your next port of call should be to contact the university. If you are studying at Manchester University their student accomodation website is The Manchester Metropolitan University student accommodation webpage can be found here:

When you’re ready to come out of halls and rent a place on your own or with a friend Thornley Groves will be here to help you find your perfect pad. Search for city centre rentals here

Useful websites: – (University of Manchester) – (Manchester Metropolitan University)

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