Although now best known for its football team, Manchester was once one of England's greatest Victorian cities and the birthplace of both rail travel and Rolls Royce cars. It is situated on the east bank of the Irwell River in the northwest of the country, and is the centre of a huge metropolitan area which now encompasses the surrounding towns of Bury, Bolton, Wigan, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, and Oldham. Liverpool is just 30 miles (48km) down river.
The area long had a reputation as a drab, industrialised sprawl, but Manchester has succeeded in reinventing itself, becoming a vibrant metropolis with a nightlife second only to London. The city boasts more than 50 free museums and galleries, a world-class sports centre, and plenty of parks, gardens, and other attractions.
The city's architecture is largely a reminder of its central role in the cotton trade, and many of the original warehouses can still be seen, although modern-day Manchester is now very different from its heyday as an industrial hub.
When the city centre was badly damaged in an IRA bombing in 1996, much of the central area was beautifully renovated. Now renamed the Millennium Quarter, it is a marvellous contrast of splendid Victorian architecture and towering glass edifices, including the eye-catching Urbis exhibition centre.
Manchester is home to two of the United Kingdom's largest universities: the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University. The Royal Northern College of Music is located here as well, bringing the total to more than 86,000 students living in the city. This large student population ensures that there is always a buzz of activity and a party atmosphere in Manchester.