Figures from Visit Britain, the country's tourism agency, suggest the UK gets a �706 million ($1.1 billion) boost from "football" tourism each year. Around 900,000 overseas football supporters watch a live match during their travels in Blighty.

And while London - and Wembley Stadium - are traditionally seen as the game's historic heart, Manchester is the country's current footballing powerhouse; home to both Manchester United, one of the world's best-supported clubs, and Manchester City, the reigning English Premier League champions, bankrolled by oil-rich Arab Sheikh Mansour.

The National Football Museum moved to Manchester last year and set over four storeys of the Urbis, a ski slope-shaped tower in the city centre's revamped Millennium Quarter, it's a testament to the world game's impact on the planet. There's everything from cabinets of vintage leather footballs, jerseys and matchday programs to modern interactive exhibits, including sections where you can commentate on your favourite football clips, test your ball skills and reactions, and take penalties.

If you're not big on soccer, fear not, the Millennium Quarter has heaps of other attractions - some of Manchester's best shops, for instance: Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and the Arndale Centre, which is crammed with big-name chains like Next, TopShop and Hollister.

This area was reconstructed following an IRA bomb in 1996 - an incident that caused more than 200 injuries and £1billion damage - but it's not all shiny glass and chrome.

Facing the Arndale, in a building erected in 1873, the Printworks - an ex-newspaper printing office - has a cluster of bars, clubs and restaurants, plus an Odeon cinema. Also from the late Victorian era, the grand old Corn Exchange contains a smart selection of designer fashion stores, and edges Shambles Square, a picturesque spot featuring the Old Wellington Inn and Sinclair's Oyster Bar.

This timber-framed, Tudor-style duo now back on to Manchester's Gothic cathedral, which has an interior laced with intricate wood carvings and medieval furnishings, and neighbours the prestigious Chetham's Library and School of Music. Wonderfully atmospheric, it's thought to be the oldest public library in the world and has dark wooden shelves packed with thousands of ancient books, including Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, and politics and economic tomes that inspired the theories of Marx and Engels.

In nearby Castlefield, an urban heritage park has a smattering of Roman ruins and the excellent, family-friendly Museum of Science and Industry. Spread across two huge Victorian warehouses and the world's oldest passenger railway terminal (steam trains went from here to the port of Liverpool in 1830), the museum traces Manchester's industrial boom, with exhibits including vintage locomotives, steam-powered mill wheels and colourful textile displays. It also reveals Manchester's more recent engineering, scientific and technological achievements. The city's leading university has produced 25 Nobel prize winners, mostly science graduates.

Castlefield is connected to a canal network that helped transport goods through Manchester - and beyond - in bygone days. After falling into disuse, these waterways have been restored and are now lined by apartments, bars and eateries. On a sunny day - they do happen in Manchester, honestly - it's a delight to stroll by the canals.

The Northern Quarter has dozens of weather-beaten brick mills housing a blend of alternative clothes stores, trendy bars, gastro joints, down-to- earth pubs, record shops and live music venues. In and around the busy Deansgate throughfare, you can admire the grandiose buildings in the 19th century during Manchester's heyday when the city was the world's leading textile producer and was dubbed Linenopolis. A neo-Gothic sandstone affair, the John Rylands Library was commissioned by Enriqueta Rylands, the wife of the philanthropic textile manufacturer, who was said to be Manchester's first multi-millionaire.

Other spectacular Victorian sights include the enormous town hall, on St Peter's Square, and the Royal Exchange, once a meeting point for textile traders from Manchester and its surrounding cotton towns and villages.

My appreciation of Manchester is heightened by joining a heritage walking tour run by Jonathan Schofield, who's also the editor-in-chief of Manchester Confidential, an online magazine showcasing the city's diverse attractions. After delving into the Manchester Art Gallery, which was partly crafted by Charles Barry (the man behind the Houses of Parliament design in London), we duck into Sam's Chop House, a pub-restaurant serving classic British cuisine.

We also peruse the former Midland Bank building, which houses a branch of Jamie Oliver's Italian eateries. For a private function, you can hire out the old basement vault.

While Central Manchester has plenty to keep you occupied, be sure to visit the Quays, a revitalised waterfront zone in Salford, Manchester's neighbouring city.

The Quays once thronged with vessels navigating the Manchester Ship Canal - a spectacular feat of engineering that opened in 1894 and linked Manchester, and the Irwell River, with Liverpool, the Irish Sea and and the Atlantic Ocean.

As well as glitzy new BBC studios, the Quays also boasts the dazzling Imperial War Museum North (designed in futuristic style by ace architect Daniel Libeskind).

Manchester United fans will particularly enjoy a trip to the Quays as, just across the water, you can admire the mighty hulk of Old Trafford, the hallowed home of the Red Devils.

  • fact file *

·Manchester has plenty of four and five-star hotels. The Lowry, on the Salford side of the Irwell, diagonally across from the People's History Museum has rooms from around £149 ($231);

·One-bedroom serviced apartments with Stay Manchester, a five-minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly train station, are available from £70, a two-bedroom apartment, sleeping up to six people, from £90;

·For more information on Manchester, see and; if you're planning to visit other parts of the UK, see

·For a run-down of Jonathan Schofield's informative walking tours see

Steve McKenna was a guest of Marketing Manchester.

The West Australian

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