The Imperial War Museum North has the kind of name that makes you think that perhaps it won’t be all rainbows and unicorns inside. But despite its intimidating moniker and Daniel Libeskind’s imposing architectural creation, Manchester’s Imperial War Museum North makes one of the world’s most frightening topics surprisingly accessible (and not just because it’s free and open every day).
Ultimately, the striking exterior of the building lured me in. That’s the back of the building pictured above, with the front pictured left. The front looks like a battleship, and it actually feels like a battleship right when you enter. Funny enough, the special exhibition when I was there was Stories of War at Sea, and told all about life on warships and submarines. Also, the gift shop is full of adorable stuffed rats, which I guess must be an unofficial ship mascot.
Once you go upstairs to the main exhibition area, the ship feeling is gone. It’s a spacious, innovative design that’s divided into six themed “silos” that look at a different aspect of wars from the 20th and 21st centuries. Several times a day, the museum shows a few different 360-degree movies in the central area of the exhibition space — the walls become the screens (pictured right). I saw a 15-minute film called Children and War that brought tears to my eyes.
The Imperial War Museum is made up of five branches, and the Imperial War Museum North is the newest, having opened 2002. In addition to the Manchester location, there’s IWM London, IWM Duxford, HMS Belfast and the Churchill War Rooms, which my husband and I enjoyed immensely during our last trip to London. In fact, my husband’s first complaint was that IWM North didn’t have enough on Churchill for him. When I explained that the different museums have different strengths, he relented. The Imperial War Museum North focuses on how war has affected the lives of British and Commonwealth citizens since 1914.
On a lighter note, I went to the Imperial War Museum North right after I visited The Lowry, an art and entertainment complex that’s also housed in an intriguing modern structure. It’s easy to visit both museums on the same day, as they’re both located on the Salford Quays, just across the footbridge from one another, as you can see below.
Comped But Never Compromised: I visited Manchester as a guest of CreativeTourist.com, a consortium of Manchester museums and galleries, but I am free to write whatever I want.