If you’re planning a weekend away or if you’re local and looking for new places to visit in Manchester, this might be handy for you. After years of research (aka: eating and drinking too much), I’ve put together a bit of a city guide featuring all my local haunts that I regularly tell my friends to go to. It seemed daft to have so many travel posts about more far-flung destinations and absolutely nothing about Manchester, the city I know best. So here it is.
I’ve worked in Manchester for almost 10 years and I lived in the city centre for a good portion of that time. A few years ago, I moved out further into Cheshire but I still spend a lot of time in ‘town’. I’ve directed so many friends and colleagues to my favourite places when they’ve visited Manchester for a city break that I think I’d make a pretty decent tour guide by now. Well, as long as you don’t want to see anything football-related while you’re here… Anyway, I thought I’d put together this post featuring all my favourite Manchester things to do, see and eat, places to visit, shops to go to, day trips to do and hotels in Manchester, so that my blog followers can also have a read through what I like doing here.
Disclaimer: Hotels.com gifted me some spending money for a day out in Manchester (so that I could eat my way around while taking some new photos to illustrate this post!). However, all views and recommendations are of course my own and have been gathered over many years of living, working and spending time in the city.
Things to do and places to visit in Manchester
For me, Manchester is about wandering around, taking in the architecture, doing a bit of shopping and spotting the city’s famous symbol, the Manchester worker bee, on everything.
But there are plenty of unique places to visit around the city centre that you should have a nosey at.
Things to do: arts and culture
Discover more about Britain’s history of democracy at the People’s History Museum (free entry). This is my absolute favourite thing in Manchester: it’s a million times better than it sounds. If you like equality, social justice and women’s suffrage, you’re going to be in your element. Also, the gift shop is next level.
You should see at least one in Manchester’s impressive collection of libraries. Try The John Rylands Library (my personal favourite for its proper Hogwarts vibes), Manchester Central Library, or Chetham’s Library (see Marx’s actual desk!). All have free entry.
Manchester Cathedral (free entry) is also worth a visit to see its impressive gothic interior and sometimes a special exhibition on. It’s been restored and re-built over the years, but some bits date back to the 14th century.
Between the Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery (both free entry), you can pass an arty morning easily. There’s currently a brilliant Nordic/Scandinavian design exhibition on at the latter, which I absolutely loved given my unhealthy obsession with all things Danish.
More things to do: arts and culture
I’m not a theatre lover at all, but the Royal Exchange (free entry) is my exception. It’s one of my favourite buildings in the whole city – and I used to work in an office above it! – so I really recommend seeing what’s on there. Even if you don’t want to go and see anything, it’s worth a look round because the interiors are stunning.
If it’s a rainy day and you want to settle in somewhere for the evening, HOME is great for going to see indie films. They show things like the Louis Theroux film (yes please) and a 75-minute documentary of Sigur Rós music played over crackling video footage of Icelandic scenery and roads (oh). Even I struggled to get through the latter and I am normally up for highly pretentious nonsense. Highly recommended! They used to be The Cornerhouse on Oxford Road too, which is where me and Chris had our first proper date many years ago so it’s always somewhere I’ve loved.
Finally, make sure you don’t miss Victoria Baths, a Grade II listed Victorian bath house. It’s been beautifully restored and now hosts vintage fairs, art exhibitions and cinema/music festivals inside the actual former swimming pools. You can do tours (check here; £7) from April to October every Wednesday at 2pm. I can’t swim and memories of being forced into swimming pools in primary school still haunt me, so I was all prepared to hate it (even though there’s not a drop of water in sight now!) but actually it’s one of the real ‘wow’ places in town.
Manchester places to visit: depending on when you’re visiting…
The massive Manchester International Festival happens every two years in the city centre. It’s an arts festival, featuring literature, visual arts, music and all sorts. It’s usually on in July and is spread around loads of venues so if you’re planning a summer visit to the city, it’s a good one to work around.
Manchester obviously has a massive music scene and there’s always something on. My personal recommendation would be to visit when Sounds from the Other City is on (usually early to mid May), which is just next door in the city of Salford (hence ‘other city’). It’s a sort of spread-out festival based around different venues – warehouses, galleries and bars – with the central hub being the brilliant Islington Mill.
As well as Manchester’s music scene, the city is known for its wonderful LGBT+ friendliness and huge gay scene. If you’re planning a trip to Manchester in August, you’ll probably find it a challenge to book a hotel or table in a restaurant… that’s not because of Manchester’s summery weather (deffo not) but because of Pride. The city is transformed for 10 days, ending with the Big Weekend on the Bank Holiday. It’s a brilliant atmosphere, open to everyone and has arts/literature stuff going on as well as the actual music festival.
I should probably also mention Manchester’s pretty impressive Victorian-era Town Hall as a time-specific thing. This is always here no matter when you’re visiting… but you can’t currently go in it. If you’re reading this in 2024, then go on in and have a look round. If it’s not quite 2024 yet, then I’m afraid it’s still closed for refurbishment so you’ll just have to look at the outside of it.
Things to do: areas to mooch round on a nice day
In the sunshine, I’d recommend having a walk round Castlefield. You’ll find the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and LOADS of canals. While you’re there, call in to see the latest exhibition at the small but perfectly formed Castlefield Gallery. There’s a pub called The Wharf that’s not bad for a drink at the end of your explorations.
Manchester’s Gay Village is another brilliant area to explore. Head to Canal Street for a selection of bars to sit outside at along the canal. You can also do the LGBT Heritage Trail, a guided walk through Manchester’s LGBT+ history.
Another really nice area to wander around (and eat and drink too) is the ‘new’ trendy bit in Ancoats. It’s full of restored mills, red-brick buildings and an open tree-lined square. This makes for a very Scandinavian feel to it. One of my favourite streets to walk down in that area is George Leigh Street, which has beautiful traditional Mancunian terraced houses.
Shopping (and the Northern Quarter)
If you’re after some shopping, wander over to the Northern Quarter. Manchester’s centre has decent shops if you want the usual high street or high end stuff. But let’s be honest – you can get that anywhere. If you’re in Manchester for a weekend away from home, don’t go to shops you can get in any city. Go and find something unique. The Northern Quarter is the
hipster alternative part of town, full of quirky independents that you can’t get anywhere else.
If you’re after vintage clothing, Oldham Street is a good place to start. It’s home to Retro Rehab, which sells very affordable vintage dresses/clothing/accessories. This is probably my favourite clothing shop and the only one I always leave with something. The most famous shopping place in the NQ though has got to be Afflecks (formerly known as Afflecks Palace), a multi-storey haven of eclectic fashions and things you didn’t know you needed. It has a few really good spots for clothes and accessories. Also try COW Vintage, Oxfam Originals and Pop Boutique (the latter also has an outlet in Afflecks).
If you’re up for carrying a plant home on the train to wherever you’ve travelled to Manchester from, I really recommend a trip to the lovely independent Northern Flower.
Further into the NQ, you can get some real treats in the Manchester Craft & Design Centre, which has lots of designers’ and artists’ studios inside selling handmade beautiful bits and bobs. Another good one for beautiful gifts is the relatively new Form Lifestyle Store. It’s small but absolutely gorgeous inside, with a spiral staircase and plants galore. If you’re a stationery fiend like me, Fred Aldous is amazing (read: mildly dangerous). Another iconic shop is Oklahoma, which sells very eclectic homewares.
While you’re spending far too much money, look out for the brilliant street art around the Northern Quarter. You can also do a specialised walking tour to see it all.
Some of the best places to eat in Manchester
I eat out in Manchester city centre a LOT. Some may say too much, but let’s not listen to them. Manchester has such a good eating-out scene and although it doesn’t have a Michelin star restaurant (yet), some of the best food I’ve ever eaten has been around town – and given how most of my travels involve loads of eating, including in Japan, that’s quite high praise.
These are my most trusted favourite places to eat out in the city, aka the ones responsible for when my jeans mysteriously shrink in the wash. Repeatedly.
Restaurants/pubs/evening meal type places
- Evelyn’s Cafe Bar – I go here every few of weeks, to the point it’s becoming embarrassing. I LOVE it. They do brilliant veggie/vegan options, brunch, lunch, tea and cocktails. I’m putting them in the restaurant category as I normally go after work, but they’re great for any daytime food too. The selling point is the frankly outstanding family of houseplants that adorns all the walls.
- Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza – The best pizza. It’s in the aforementioned Ancoats area.
- Shoryu Ramen or alternatively Cocktail Beer Ramen + Bun – Ramen is my go-to meal. Either of these are a safe bet.
- The Allotment Vegan Restaurant – My favourite Stockport restaurant recently(ish) moved to Manchester and I’ve actually not yet been to its new gaff. But I’m told that standards are still as exquisite as ever. They do vegan tasting menus that will change your life. Michelin-quality but without the stupid price tag (an unreal 10-course tasting menu is only £65pp). I’m going for my very belated birthday meal soon so will report back…
- Try Thai – The best Thai, located in Chinatown. If you want actual Chinese in Chinatown, I’d pick Little Yang Sing.
- El Gato Negro – Top-notch tapas. A good one for eating with a group of friends.
- The Marble Arch – A cosy, down-to-earth pub. It does Sunday roast and other traditional pub grub to an excellent standard.
- Almost Famous NQ – The place for *extra* burgers. You know the drill. They sometimes involve Monster Munch. This is the original (and IMO, best) in this little chain.
- Rozafa – For brilliant Greek food, including a veggie banquet.
Cafés/food halls/lunch spots
- Sugar Junction – The best afternoon tea, cake and lunch options. I’ve been going here for years (in fact, I added them to TripAdvisor and wrote their first review and now they are HUGE on there #justsayin). One to take your mum to if you’re having a day out.
- Bundobust – For vegan Indian streetfood. Do not be alarmed by its weird location and hidden entrance.
- Pot Kettle Black – For a brew and brownies in beautiful surroundings.
- This & That Café – A hidden away Indian eatery, very popular with those who have discovered it.
- Richmond Tea Rooms – Famous for its afternoon tea in quirky decor, but I actually really recommend its lunch options (excellent veggie choices). It’s located in Manchester’s brilliant Gay Village, so it’s very handy for going for a drink after.
- Katsouris Deli – Always busy here, a safe bet for lunch too.
- Pollen Bakery – This used to be within nibbling distance of my office which was an actual danger. They’re now in Ancoats, which means I actually have to make an effort to go and get one of their incredible cruffins (croissant-muffin… yes, it’s as good as it sounds).
- The Arndale Food Market – Okay, this is in Manchester’s generic shopping centre – probably not the kind of place you’d expect to get any food other than chain eateries. But actually the market part of the Arndale Centre is surprisingly good. There are plenty of independent stalls serving all kinds of affordable grub.
- The Deaf Institute – For the best vegan burgers and vegan fish and chips.
- Mackie Mayor – Manchester’s version of Liverpool’s Baltic Market. It’s a converted Grade II listed building that’s now a large, two-storey space for food and drink stalls.
Some of the best bars/places to drink in Manchester
This could be a whole post in itself, but here are some of my favourite places for a drink in the city centre. You will note a running theme of craft hoppy beer. I rarely ever go out for cocktails/wine in town these days, so would feel a fraud recommending anywhere for those. Instead, I’m focusing on craft beer with a few traditional pubs thrown in too.
These are my top picks for a drink or three…
Craft beer breweries and bars
I’m regularly hunting for the sourest of all sour beers in Manchester’s many craft beer haunts…
- Cloudwater Brew Company‘s Unit 9. If you only go for one drink, make it here. You can also do a brilliant brewery tour, which we did for Chris’s birthday a few years back. Cloudwater has won countless awards for its craft beer, including being named the second best in the world at the RateBeer Awards. As well the beer being amazing, the artwork on their cans is always beautiful. Their distinctive logo features a cloud with waves under it – cloud, water – of course. I am mildly obsessed with Cloudwater and quite glad that their taproom now involves a short walk from my office as it used to be much closer and that was dangerous…
- Track Brewing Company‘s Taproom – this is a fairly new one to me and I’ve only been three times (it did only open recently though…) but I’m already becoming a regular as it’s so good.
- Seven Brothers Brewery‘s BeerHouse – The best place for a drink if you’re in Ancoats.
- The Pilcrow – I find people tend to not know about this one, maybe because it’s in an unusual location. We always go before any gigs at the Manchester Arena because it’s dead handy.
- Bundobust – I’ve already mentioned this in the food bit too, but it has some excellent local beers and it’s fine just to have a drink without food.
- Piccadilly Tap – Everyone’s favourite post-office pre-train-home haunt. I am in here far too much! It’s always got a good selection of local beers on and is the only good place to have a drink right by the station.
- Port Street Beer House – It can often get dead busy in here, but it’s one of the best places for a drink if you can get a table.
More traditional pubs
I’m not a massive fan of beer that isn’t sour/hoppy/crafty, but I couldn’t miss out some ‘proper’ pubs in Manchester. These few serve traditional cask ale (although the Marble brewery does a bit of a mixture).
- The Marble Arch – I’ve already mentioned this cosy, down-to-earth pub in the food section, but it’s well worth popping in just for a drink of their excellent beer. It’s my favourite pub in the city and absolutely lovely inside.
- The Castle Hotel – This one’s a proper city centre old pub with a good atmosphere.
- Peveril of the Peak – An iconic green tiled Manchester pub.
Getting to and around Manchester
Getting to Manchester is easy. For visitors from abroad, there’s a major international airport with a connecting train into the city centre. For UK visitors, there are two big train stations, Piccadilly and Victoria, which connect Manchester with plenty of other towns and cities across the country.
Once you’re here, you can make use of the Metrolink tram network for longer journeys, but mostly the centre is walkable. I only use the tram if I’m being incredibly lazy or am laden with shopping (the latter is quite frequent TBH). You can walk from one end of the city to the other in about 30 minutes without breaking into a trot. There’s also a free bus service operating every 10 minutes.
Where to stay in Manchester
While I live close enough to get home easily so don’t need to stay over, I’ve stayed in a few city centre hotels over the years.
I’d recommend as my top pick the German chain Motel One (about £80 per night) which has a hotel by the Royal Exchange theatre. This couldn’t be more convenient and is a decent price. Manchester is weirdly expensive for hotels compared with a lot of other northern cities. Another affordable chain hotel is the Ibis Styles (about £70 per night and Manchester’s one is themed around rain, naturally).
If you want to splash out, there’s the beautiful King Street Townhouse (about £225 per night) for amazing views and a highly ‘extra’ infinity pool. Or try the Great John Street Hotel (about £150 per night) near Spinningfields, which is not quite as harsh on the bank balance but still good for a special occasion.
Day trips and days out around Manchester
Manchester is really well connected by public transport and that’s one of the reasons I ended up moving there. You can get to a decent amount of places <1 hour from the city centre, but I don’t want this post to become a million pages long so I’m just going to list a few of my absolute faves below.
Other cities/towns nearby
- Manchester’s sister city of Stockport is well worth a visit to go to the market, Foodie Friday or some of the many vintage shops. I have a full post on things to do in Stockport so won’t bang on about it too much here – go and read that.
- Half an hour away is Hebden Bridge, a really lovely market town with lots going on.
- Further afield, if you’re visiting from abroad and want to do a big day trip out, I’d recommend my hometown of Liverpool (blog post coming soon) or the lovely Tudor town of Shrewsbury. Two totally different places but equally good!
- Manchester is not far from loads of lovely places in Cheshire, including regular trains to Chester. There are plenty of pretty towns you can get to like Tarporley, Nantwich and Knutsford.
- Another town nearby that I love going to is Macclesfield, which hosts its famous Treacle Market on the last Sunday of every month.
- My top pick for a day out would probably be Altrincham. There’s an amazing award-winning market that should not be missed. I seem to constantly bang on about markets in this post, soz, I’m in my 30s and it’s very apparent. There is other stuff in Altrincham too, and it’s just a nice town for a day out mooching round the shops and eating.
- The trendy suburbs of Chorlton and Didsbury are also worth going to – mainly for eating and drinking.
Countryside, National Trusts and beaches
- It’s easy to get into Derbyshire. You can get the train to lovely Buxton, or Edale if you want to go walking. But my #1 choice would be Bakewell, which is so pretty but unfortunately best done by car.
- My personal favourite day trip is Formby beach, which involves getting the train to Freshfield and also squirrels. Blog post on that coming soon…
- There are a few excellent National Trust places within reach of the city: Styal Mill, Dunham Massey (loads of deer!) and Tatton Park. Have a look at the NT website for more info.
- The gorgeous Lake District is doable for a longer jaunt (probably more than a day TBH or you’ll be dead rushed). You can get the train to Windermere and base yourself there.
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