This post is about the Imperial War Museum North and other activities you can do at MediaCityUK in Salford.
Did you know that the Imperial War Museum (IWM) operates five different sites in the UK? There’s:
- IWM London
- IWM Duxford
- Churchill War Rooms (London)
- HMS Belfast (docked near Tower Bridge, London)
- IWM North (Salford)
This blog post looks at the Imperial War Museum North in Salford, Greater Manchester. Each IWM seeks to explore how people’s lives are affected by war. Where possible, each IWM will display some exhibits related to the local region – that’s in addition to taking the expected broader perspective on each conflict.
With its iconic architecture, the Imperial War Museum North is hard to miss. Perched on the waterfront at Salford Quays, visitors are welcomed every day to see the exhibits for free.
Opening times: 10am – 5pm everyday
Entrance fee: FREE
Salford’s Ordsall Hall isn’t the only museum in the city insisting on pre-booking in Summer 2020. Since reopening – following the easing of some COVID-19 restrictions – all guests to the IWM must book ahead for a specific entry time. Pre-booking allows the museum to restrict visitor numbers. At time of writing, all guests must wear masks and must adhere to social distancing. For extra safety, there are also hand gel stations at the different entrance and exit points.
The Exhibits + Accessibility
There are so many exhibits to take in, more than 2,000 objects, according to the Imperial War Museum North’s website. I entered the building via the car park entrance. To get to the exhibit hall, I was immediately faced with a flight of stairs and I actually couldn’t find the lift. I later discovered that there definitely is a lift upstairs. It just wasn’t well sign-posted for people who drove to the museum and parked round the back. Not a big deal. But, for those with mobility issues, or parents with young children, be prepared to ask staff for directions.
Exhibits ranged from large items you could reach out and touch (if it weren’t against the rules, that is), to items in glass cases, to interactive games where you had something to figure out. Here are just a selection of items that I found particularly interesting:
I had been expecting an audio guide of some sort. Perhaps an app to download and use with my smartphone, like at the Mauritshuis in The Netherlands. But, for the most part visitors may wander from space to space viewing objects and reading text descriptions on nearby plaques. This was old school. Yet the simplicity was very welcome given the subject matter. It also meant that once the Big Picture Show started it had a bigger impact.
Big Picture Shows
This was one of my favourite parts of my IWM experience. Whilst wandering through the main exhibition space, video was suddenly projected on walls all around me. Different walls had different visuals. The audio began to play and English subtitles appeared. Veterans sharing their experiences. This 360-degree cinematic experience was really immersive. Visitors began sitting at strategically-placed benches along the base of walls. I’m not quite sure how long it lasted. 10 minutes? Longer? But, it really brought to life the human element of what we had been learning at the museum. I’ve included a clip above. Although, I’m not sure it quite does the experience justice, given its 360-degree nature. Different Big Picture Shows play at set times throughout the day.
Getting to the Imperial War Museum
The easiest way to get to the Imperial War Museum is probably to drive. There’s a car park right at the back of the Museum. You have to pay to use it, and it closes in the early evening – 7pm at time of writing – but, it’s the easiest way to access the site. There’s another (multistory) car park near Costa Coffee. But, that’s a longer walk, of up to 10 minutes.
The IWM is well-served by Metrolink. The newest tram line through Trafford Park is now open, so the closest tram stop is now ‘Imperial War Museum’ (zone 2). You can also take a tram to MediaCityUK (also zone 2) and then walk for a few minutes across the footbridge.
There are lots of buses that serve the area too, like the 250 + 291 from Manchester city centre. Or, the 50 from East Didsbury. Just visit Transport for Greater Manchester to get up-to-date travel times.
Other Things To Do At MediaCityUK
On the other side of the water, you’ll find the wide flat expanse of the piazza. It’s perfect to walk round, or for taking kids out to cycle on their bikes. Happily, the piazza also hosts regular events, activities and exhibits. I have included photos below showing some of the things I’ve noticed on the piazza over time.
TV shows like Judge John Dredd (the British equivalent of Judge Judy) films in the Dock 10 studios on the piazza. And, outside of virus lockdowns, members of the public can apply for free tickets to see BBC programmes being recorded. The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra also rehearse in Dock 10 too. There are often cheap tickets and/or free tickets to hear them play.
Walking around the piazza, you’ll notice that there are three BBC buildings and you can book a tour of some of the most interesting spaces on the BBC Studio Tours site. Please note, BBC MediaCityUK tours have been suspended for the rest of 2020. Once things are back up and running, be on the lookout for special pop-up events taking place in BBC buildings – like this impromptu Orchestra performance in Bridge House reception.
Have a hot drink at one of several coffee shops in MediaCityUK, like Grindsmith or Costa.
If you fancy a late lunch, there are many restaurants around MediaCityUK. Prezzo for some pasta, for example. The Dockyard does a great dirty burger for a pub. And, then there are days when only a hearty Asian bowl will do.
If you prefer a plant-based meal, you might consider vegan eatery, Vertigo.
Vertigo only opened this location in summer 2020. So, the fridges were a little barer than expected. But, the menu on the wall boasted tasty sounding things like: Jackfruit and blackbean chilli; and chia pudding.
Head away from the piazza, toward the Lowry Theatre, and you’ll find some more food options, like spicy chicken at Nandos, or a roast at Harvester, which is inside the Quays.
Wash it all down with a fancy smoking cocktail at The Alchemist.
The Imperial War Museum North is a really interesting and emotionally rewarding day out. You can visit to see the permanent collections for free. Or, you can book a paid activity featured on the museum’s What’s On page. Whilst there are some activities for children – and I certainly did see some kids there – I think you’ll get much more from this if you are an adult. Or, at least around 12 years+. I don’t think you necessarily need to be a strong English-speaker to enjoy the artefacts. But, you will get magnitudes more out of your visit if you read English fluently. This is not a museum that caters to other languages – at least, not that I saw during my time there.
You can comfortably see most of the displayed objects in two hours. The only downside I noticed was in terms of the museum’s layout. I’ve already mentioned how difficult it was to find the lift. I got turned around a couple of times trying to find the next exhibit area – one I hadn’t already seen. That’s something I think could be easily solved with better signposting.
There is so much to do in the wider MediaCityUK area – beyond visiting the IWM. So, you can comfortably spend an entire day there. Whilst the piazza is best enjoyed in dry weather, if it rains, you can take in a show at the Lowry Theatre. Or, go shopping at The Quays mall. I used to joke that the Quays (previously named The Lowry Outlet) was where retail shops went to die. So, don’t expect too much in terms of shop choice. But, there is a good Vue cinema there, a newsagents with a post office inside for sending mail, and a pretty decent food court.
It’s also worth coming down to MediaCityUK to walk around the piazza and see what pop-up events, concerts, markets and gourmet food trucks are there on any given week. And, given the presence of the media-focused schools and University of Salford campus there, MediaCityUK is also an attractive place for prospective students who don’t want to travel into the busy centre of Manchester each day.