What is Manchester, and how big is it?

You might think measuring the size and population of a city is easy, but Manchester shows us that this is far from true.


Ed Howe | May 26th, 2020


What is the population of Manchester, and how does it compare to other UK and European cities? This should be a question with an easy answer: statistical bodies like the ONS have been measuring the size of the UK's towns and cities for centuries, while councils, mayors and public authorities surely count on this kind of information to carry out their daily endavours.


The first step is to define what 'Manchester' is. To many people, this refers to the city centre - where the majority of the city's shops, bars, restaurants, workplaces; attractions such as museums and art galleries and public buildings are located. But this area is really quite small, covering about 4.3 sq.km. (1.6 sq. miles), and until quite recently not many people lived here at all. Nowadays, just over 50,000 people live here - meaning this definition of Manchester would make it a smaller city than Corby, Barrow-in-Furness and Tamworth, which doesn't sound right.

There are many different ways to define Manchester

Also, when talking about 'Manchester' city centre, do we include the parts of the city centre that are actually located in Salford? Such as the area around the Lowry hotel, Chapel Street and Blackfriars. You can walk into these areas so seamlessly that most people probably wouldn't realise they'd entered a different city. Some die-hard Salfordians might say that Salford and Manchester are separate cities, but surely someone living in Greengate, Salford - within view of Manchester Cathedral and a 5 minute walk from Deansgate, can lay as much claim to being in Manchester as someone who lives in Wythenshawe, which is technically classed as Manchester, but getting to Deansgate or the cathedral from here could take the best part of an hour.

Greengate Square, Salford. But that's Manchester Cathedral in the background. Can anybody seriously say these are separate cities?

In the UK, possibly the most common way to define a city is by local authority boundaries. These are the geographical extent to which our councils are responsible for, and Manchester City Council govern over a 115.6 sq.km. (44.6 sq. miles) slither of urbanity which stretches from Heaton Park in the north to the airport in the south - and out to Gorton in the east. This area had a population of nearly 553,000 people in 2019, which sounds a lot more like the sort of number you'd expect for a major UK city. In the raging debate for the title of Britain's unofficial 'Second City', supporters of Birmingham like to claim that Birmingham has a population nearly double that of Manchester's - referring to the city's local authority population of 1.14 million people. However, what some don't realise is that this definition of a city also makes B