At the heart of this large conurbation in northwest England is a city adored for its industrial innovation, culture and cool.
Stay in Manchester for the live music, restaurants and museum and then visit the towns and cities that sprang up overnight in the 1700s.
The canals that once transported coal, cotton and textiles are now restful destinations for a waterside stroll or barge trip, and you’ll never have to look hard for imposing old mills, warehouses or wharfs, many of which are protected by law.
Go east and you come to the moorland of the South Pennines and the Peak District, while south of Manchester are cute villages where high-earning professionals return in the evenings and on weekends.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Greater Manchester:
1. City of Manchester
As cosmopolitan as they come, Manchester is second only to London for culture.
For dining you could come to Chinatown of the Curry Mile, and if you’d like some edification there’s the world-class Museum of Science and Industry, as a nod to the city’s industrial legacy, and the very large Manchester Art Gallery.
The city is a pilgrimage site for lovers of English popular culture, seduced by stories about Factory Records , the Hacienda and the “Madchester” scene.
And if you want to see who else is coming through there’s a plethora of small live music venues, enough to win Manchester the title of best live music city in Britain in 2016.
Seven miles southeast of central Manchester, Stockport is a town that grew around its cotton mills and the trades that spun off that industry in the 1700s.
Hat-making was the biggest of these, and the Hat Works will take you back to the 1800s when Stockport was producing six million units a year.
The Plaza in Stockport bucks the decline of Britain’s art deco cinemas with a gorgeous variety hall and cinema from 1932, with stylish tea rooms to boot.
See also the Stockport Viaduct, created to carry the West Coast Main Line Railway across the Mersey River valley.
More than 150 years after it was completed Britain’s largest brick structure still has the power to amaze.
If you happen to know anything about cricket, Old Trafford, where Lancashire and England play, is the site of the Ball of the Century; Shane Warne’s legendary leg-break that bowled out Mike Gatting in 1993. That may sound like nonsense to you, but you must have heard of Manchester United, who play their home matches next-door at their 75,635-capacity stadium.
Come look around the stands and trophy room of one of England’s biggest sides.
Trafford Park is a former waterfront industrial estate (the first in the world) comprising the Manchester Ship canal and a large system of quays.
The container ships are a thing of the past, to be replaced by attractions like the sleek Imperial War Museum North, which puts an emphasis on the Second World War.
This town, directly west of central Manchester has been the scene of massive regeneration in the last couple of decades.
Nowhere more so than Salford Quays, across the water from Trafford Park.
This is now the home of the futuristic Lowry cultural centre, and several departments of the BBC at MediaCityUK, which moved here in 2011. For a dose of local history see Ordsall Hall, a regal Tudor mansion with elements as old as the 1400s, and a newly-refurbished local history museum owned by Salford.
And to illustrate how quickly you can go from an urban landscape to idyllic countryside, come for walk in the village of Worsley, where the sight of the corbelled Worsley Packet House facing the Bridgewater Canal is unforgettably pretty.
Textiles had been a cottage industry in Bolton from medieval times, after Flemish tapestry-weavers brought their knowhow in the 1300s.
But in the 18th century it became big business thanks to inventions by men like Samuel Crompton and Richard Arkwright, who worked in and around Bolton at this time.
So, industrial heritage is an ingredient in Bolton’s charm, and though the cotton-spinning days are a distant memory several Victorian factories remain and have been turned into attractions like the excellent Bolton Steam Museum.
You don’t need to look hard for traces of Bolton’s pre-Industrial heritage, at the gothic Grade I-listed Smithills Hall, one of the oldest manors in the region, constructed in the 1300s and 1400s.
Also pop in for a pint at Ye Olde Man & Scythe, one of Britain’s ten oldest pubs.
The Victorian town hall in Rochdale in no ordinary municipal building; it’s a dignified gothic revival edifice, with Grade-I listing and is held as one of England’s most prized town halls.
You won’t regret dropping in for a tour to see the stained glass windows, gardens and Great Hall with its organ.
There’s a decent cafe inside too, while the town hall hosts events like Rochdale’s beer and gin festivals.
The wooded countryside is criss-crossed by picturesque vestiges of local industry; you can cycle on the 19th-century Healey Dell Viaduct, which once carried trains, or amble by the Rochdale Canal, where old barges still chug past and anglers settle by the towpath in good weather.
It’s not often that you can find a thriving local food market in England, but the one in Bury is fantastic, open Monday to Saturday and employing as many as 2,000 traders working 400 stalls.
Bury is also touted as the “home of black pudding”, which has been part of the local diet for centuries.
Every September in Ramsbottom there’s a quirky little pudding throwing contest in which black pudding (a Lancashire delicacy) is thrown to dislodge Yorkshire puddings, recalling the War of the Roses in the 15th century.
Another nice surprise is the Met, a performing arts centre in a neoclassical hall, with film screenings, bands and stand-up comedy.
One of the most iconic examples of English industrial heritage is the Wigan Pier, on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
On these wharfs coal and cotton would be loaded onto barges and transported to the docks at Liverpool.
It’s an atmospheric location, with a cobblestone towpath and a couple of brick industrial buildings.
The Trencherfield Mill is now an apartment complex, but still contains a colossal functioning steam engine from 1907. You can come and have a look on Sundays.
The Wigan Pier was immortalised by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, and the author did his research at the Wigan Library, now the Museum of Wigan Life.
You could say that Oldham was the ultimate Industrial Revolution success story; there wasn’t much here before the 1700s because the soils wouldn’t sustain crops, but in a matter of decades at the turn of the 19th century Oldham became one of the world leaders in textiles, with mills that operated 24 hours a day.
If you’d like to know more the Saddleworth Museum is in a former textile mill dating to 1862 and has a bit of everything, from historic power looms to the parlour of a wealthy local family in Victorian times.
The old mill is on the Huddersfield Canal, which courses through the scenic Penine landscapes east of Oldham.
Towards the eastern border of the county, the countryside begins to undulate as you head into the moorland of the South Pennines.
The village of Greenfield is a handy gateway to these powerful landscapes at the entrance to the Peak District National Park.
There’s a couple of excursions you could plan from here: Just uphill from the village is the Dovestone Reservoir, the banks of which have wooded green slopes as a backdrop and welcome joggers and dog-walkers.
If you’d like to work up an appetite then above Greenfield is the 370-metre Pots and Pans hill, at the crest of which is a Grade II-listed memorial for the Great War.
Another location that didn’t have much going for it until the explosion of industrial activity in the 18th century.
And then in no time at all the skyline became a forest of chimney stacks for weaving and spinning mills, and Ashton-under-Lyne was joined up to the region’s sophisticated canal and rail infrastructure.
The Portland Basin Museum is in the restored Victorian Ashton Canal Warehouse.
The museum gives you a sense of what life was like in Ashton when the industry was in full flight, recreating a 1920s street and inviting you to experience life in one of the local coal mines.
The pretty village of Marple is in an idyllic corner of the county, just a few miles from Derbyshire.
The landscape is hilly moors and forested valleys where you’ll come to exciting pieces of industrial infrastructure.
The Peak Forest Canal is now used by holidaymakers on barges and is cherished for the old lock flight, made up of 16 locks on a slope, and the Marple Aqueduct, where the canal traverses the River Goyt.
Being a leafy, upmarket sort of place, there are three local golf clubs, as well as the Roman Lakes, a natural leisure park for angling, bike-riding and easy rambles.
A rather upmarket town for professionals commuting to Manchester, Altrincham has no fewer than ten conservation areas.
One of these is the Old Market Place, where there’s a sequence of beautiful wattle and daub buildings, while the town stocks and whipping post at the Buttermarket have been restored (don’t worry, they’re no longer in use!). For a stately afternoon, Dunham Massey Hall is a Georgian estate from 1730 in marvellous grounds.
The gardens have 700 plant species, and there’s a 300-acre deer park that was a hunting ground in medieval times.
Tatton Hall is another National Trust property, with fabulous Italian gardens and a farm where little ones can meet pigs, cows and sheep.
In the far west of Greater Manchester, and formerly part of Lancashire, Leigh has many of the telltale signs of a cotton-weaving industrial town.
Around the centre is a tight rectangular grid system of Victorian and Edwardian workers’ cottages with evocative names like Silk Street, Union Street and Gas Street.
The Bridgewater Canal also passes through Leigh to the south and on the banks are imposing red brick cotton mills built in the 1800s.
These are all listed buildings so can’t be demolished.
A pleasant residential kind of place, Sale has been a commuter town ever since the railways arrived in the mid-19th century.
But if you have time to spare you could come for a pub lunch or a wander.
One thing to investigate is Walkden Gardens, which is roughly where Sale’s original medieval manor used to be.
Sale Old Hall was demolished in the 1920s, but among the lawns, flowerbeds and archways draped with wisteria is the 400-year-old dovecote that used to be part of the manor.
Also perfect strolling territory is the Bridgewater Canal, which will lead you south to Altrincham or up to Stretford a couple of miles north.