Half-term activities: Imperial War Museum North

Last week we visited the the Imperial War Museum North – a great, free activity for the family. I’d been meaning to go for a while. I wasn’t sure what was on offer for my girls (who are aged 4 and 2) but they weren’t disappointed and want to go back soon.

The IWM North tells the story of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War. It’s one of 5 branches – the others being the IWM London, IWM Duxford, the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast. It’s quite an iconic building on the Salford Quays with the design based on the concept of a world shattered by conflict – a fragmented globe reassembled in 3 interlocking shards.
Imperial War Museum North
As it was our first visit, a lovely lady called Lorna showed us around and described the key elements to see. As we entered one of the exhibition rooms (huge!) my 4 year old astonished me by being completely taken by a sculpture called The Crusader by Gerry Judah (pictured above- looks like a big white cross but is a very clever sculpture of conflict with broken up satellites and all sorts). Honestly, she kept wanting to come back to it – she was even, completely unprompted, lying on the floor to get a better look like a seasoned art critic!

Adjacent to this is a 1969 Harrier. Again they both loved staring at this and were so excited. I guess they just loved having lots of new things to look at and ask about, alongside lots of space to run around in. They’re too young to understand much about conflict, but my 4 year old in particular was asking a lot of questions about “people in old times” and what things were for. Plus as Lorna explained, it’s a social history museum with lots to absorb and experience.

Which brings me on neatly to the dressing up, which was in a huge exhibition area dedicated to the WW1 centenary. There were old girls’ school uniforms (which my eldest is pictured wearing), munitions worker uniforms and many others. They were both mesmerised by these (even though they were miles too big!).

Other exhibits they enjoyed: a huge military tank, various clothing from “people in old times” and a piece of the World Trade Centre from 9/11 – the ‘9/11 Steel’ (I told them it was a piece of burned metal from a building that fell down, to general curiosity…they don’t need to know about that just yet…) and JRR Tolkien’s First World War revolver.

The museum has a clever ‘Big Picture Show’ video projection technique whereby every hour they project videos on different issues into the walls, which kind of immerses you in the subject. To 4 and 2 year olds, this is the stuff of pure wonderment.
We visited the cafe for lunch which price wise is what you’d expect (fiver for a children’s lunch box) and had the most amazing views over the quays.

We also took a trip up to the Air Shard viewing platform. Now, I’m not the best with heights but appear to have two youngsters who are. So, with legs shaking, up we went, 100 feet in the air and looking down through a mesh gangway to an anti aircraft searchlight pointing up at us from below. Again, quite incredible views over the Quays, Media City UK and Manchester.

We’ll definitely go back. I don’t know why we don’t go more often, especially as it’s free. It’s also worth mentioning that there are many half-term children’s activities on that week including storytelling and craft activities so get yourselves down there!

This review forms part of the Millennium Hotels Guide to Manchester. Be sure to take a look for some tips on where to go with the family. All opinions expressed are my own.


Working Mum of two, living in Didsbury, Manchester, in a house which breeds washing, mushed up raisins and various toys in the brightest primary colours. Oh, and the odd empty wine glass.

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