Manchester has achieved global fame as the birthplace of the industrial revolution. Its heritage is still richly steeped in this tradition, and it has remained one of the largest and most populous cities in England.
The 21st-century city is an exciting mixture of old and new. Its tradition as a historic center of the arts, science and of popular culture such as music and football blend seamlessly with its influx of modern businesses – eclectic bars, restaurants, hotels, galleries and more.
Travel even to the far-flung corners of rural Africa and the mention of England to local children will be greeted with eager replies of Manchester United, one of the city’s two enormously successful world-class football (soccer) clubs. There are plenty of things to do for cultural connoisseurs and party animals alike. Here are 15 of the best to do during your stay.
1. Hop on Hop off Bus Tour
Consider starting your exploration of the city with a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. The whole journey lasts 90 minutes, but you can get off at any stop to explore and then rejoin when the next bus rolls around.
Sightseeing Manchester offers a 12 stop tour from £12 per person. This stops at; Manchester Town Hall, National Football Museum, Manchester Cathedral, Salford Cathedral, The Quays, Manchester United Football Ground, The Imperial War Museum, The Museum of Science & Industry, The Bridgewater Hall. Many other attractions are within walking distance of these stops.
2. The Music Scene
Ever heard of Oasis? What about The Stone Roses, or The Smiths? All of these world-class bands and many more have their roots in this vibrant city. Try catching something great at O2 Apollo Manchester.
For a more independent angle, catch the big band of the future at one of the city’s independent music venues, always a favorite amongst locals. Try YES, The Soup Kitchen, or maybe catch some jazz at Matt and Phred’s. If you’re into your clubbing and love baseline music, the warehouse project is a Mecca for ravers.
3. Trafford Center
If Shopping is your thing, the enormous Intu Trafford center has all the big names and a few that may surprise you. Add to that an expansive range of eateries, the Odeon IMAX cinema, Sealife center, Laser Quest, Namco funscape, and the place starts to feel endless.
Perfect for a rainy day or for something to satisfy the adults and tire out the kids, it’s the best large shopping center in the north.
4. Play Factore
Right around the corner from the Trafford Centre is another great one for the kids – but this time adults can join in! Play Factore boasts a huge range of activities that allow the parents to accompany their little ones during the fun.
Try the largest indoor play-frame in the UK and the largest indoor slide. Intergalactic laser tag, indoor go-karting, a huge toddler play area and more are on offer.
5. Eat-in Ancoats
The city is quite literally full of amazing places to eat, from independent hipster cafes to some of the swankiest restaurants in the country. Possibly the best place to go for an evening meal is Ancoats, once a disused textile production zone slowly declining into ill-fame, now a place that rivals the Northern Quarter as Manchester’s favorite cultural zone.
Eat at Mana, the city’s first Michelin starred restaurant. Sample food from little Italy at Sugo pasta kitchen or Rudy’s Neapolitan pizza. Erst gives a flavor from the ancient past in a cozy modern setting. There are also plenty of bars to hit up after you’ve had your fill – try The Jane Eyre for cocktails or the restored Victorian pub The Edinburgh Castle for a more traditional pint.
6. Explore Manchester’s Football Scene
In many ways, football (soccer to Americans) is what the city is most famous for – both to the locals and people half the world away. Learn why this sport is so beloved in the country and browse through precious artifacts from the sport’s history at the National Football Museum.
Once you’ve got your knowledge up to scratch, consider a tour around a stadium. Pick your side carefully, there is a fierce rivalry between the two teams. Both Manchester United’s Old Trafford and Manchester City’s Etihad stadium offer a tour of their grounds.
7. The Lowry and Media City
Probably the best place to see theatre in the city, the enormous and architecturally stunning building is host to three theatre spaces. Take a look at the offering available, including West End musicals, live comedy, music performance and more.
If you fancy a drink afterward, look no further than the strange bronze building crouching by the water just outside the main entrance to the theatre – a Manchester branch of the enthralling Alchemist bar. Sit in elegant style and be served some of the wonders of the cocktail world – the vast menu specializes in alchemical creations that include the literally smoking Old Fashioned and a range of other theatrical drinks.
The Lowry sits on Salford Quays, as does Media city. Aside from London, the attractive city area is the film and TV epicenter of the country. Many top names such as the BBC and ITV have studios here – including the iconic British soap opera Coronation Street – the studios of which can be toured, for a price. IWM (Imperial War Museum) North is also close by.
With 15 galleries full of exhibitions, spread across 4 floors, Manchester Museum is a great day out. As well as a large collection of Natural and Human History, including a fossilized T Rex skeleton, there is a vivarium serving as the home of live reptiles and frogs. Visit the Ancient Worlds and Living Worlds galleries, and see the guest exhibitions that are always changing.
If that doesn’t satisfy your thirst, try the Science and Industry Museum, People’s history museum, as well as the already mentioned IWM North and the National Football Museum.
9. Hipster Coffee
As in many of the world’s most stylish cities, the artisanal coffee scene in Manchester has seen a meteoric rise in recent years. No longer content with the samey coffee chains that still flood the city center, people have started gravitating to independently owned cafes and coffee shops that serve up exquisite brews using unique methods, in a far more stylized and unique setting.
For some of the best coffee in the city, with a focus on local produce (and Manchester does indeed have its own coffee roasters) try the Fig and Sparrow. Or, named after the iconic northern idiom is Pot Kettle Black in Deansgate. Try Barbeque, owned by local roaster Passion Fruit, or Ancoats Coffee Co, its beans are roasted just across the street.
10. John Rylands Library
John Rylands was one of the cities most successful industrialists, at the time of his death he had a value of £2.75 million – a lot of money now, a whole lot more in 1888. The building was commissioned in his memory 2 years later by his mourning wife, Enriqueta Rylands.
The library is an absolute masterpiece of stunning Gothic architecture – it is a powerful experience just walking around inside its lofty halls. It also contains a unique and precious collection of texts – the oldest known fragment of the New Testament – the St John Fragment, is to be found here, including medieval illuminated manuscripts and hundreds-of-years old editions of Chaucer.
11. Galleries and Art Scene
For a start, try the Manchester Art Gallery. A blend of new and old architecture, the huge Victorian building has recently been dressed up with a £35 million makeover. Housing international art of the highest significance, the Pre-Raphaelite collection is one of the very best parts. You could spend hours in this massive gallery.
The Whitworth has also had a refurbishment relatively recently, now it’s large exhibition spaces extend into the adjoining Whitworth park, the building also now has twice the interior space. Considered by many to be the coolest district in the city, the Northern Quarter is home to a large range of vibrant street art and houses some of the best privately-owned art venues around.
12. Lake District Tour
Although not in the city proper, this tour is completed in a day and is a great way for those with limited time to inject some nature into their stay. Once you tire of the charming city streets, consider visiting England’s largest National Park – and arguably its most beautiful – The Lake District.
The Mountain Goat tour company offers excursions that pack loads into the day. Cruise on England’s largest lake, Windermere. Visit the famous author Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm. See the serene medieval village of Hawkshead. Best of all, soak up the incredible natural beauty of the place – especially at Tarn Hows, one of the most photographed and scenic spots in the country. Be back at your accommodation the same day.
13. Spend a Night of Class in Spinningfields
The wealthiest area of the city offers a slightly different vibe to the more indie, gritty authenticity that characterizes large swathes of Manchester. Head to Spinningfields if you’re feeling especially fancy and grab your cocktails from the classiest joints in the whole city. Try The Ivy – it’s three stories are unmissable, the iconic exterior totally draped in plants. Across those floors are a variety of offerings – very classy restaurants and a charming roof terrace serving up an eclectic range of cocktails up at the top.
The Alchemist has a venue here, much larger than its one by The Lowry, or you might prefer the bustling Oast house. My personal favorite, and probably the classiest you can find in this wonderful city, is the aptly named 20 stories. The highest bar (and restaurant) in Manchester, you will be greeted with the best views in the city while you sip your exquisitely crafted drinks. Walking around Spinningfields yourself, you’ll find plenty of equally luxurious, stylish and enjoyable ways to start your night out.
14. Speakeasy Tour Northern Quarter
Perhaps you’ve had your fill of high-end establishments, and fancy something a bit edgier, a little more risqué. The thriving speakeasy scene in the Northern Quarter should satisfy you. While in reality, all these bars are perfectly legal and safe, they give a refreshing flavor to the evening and offer some excellent drinks, in awesome environments – imitating how a night out might have been in America during the 1920’s prohibition.
Try the hidden first-floor room of the popular bar Cane & Grain and be transported to another time. The Wash House is hidden behind the facade of a laundrette, similarly, Dusk Til Pawn looks like, you guessed it, a Pawnshop from the outside. There are far more hidden and stylized bars than these tucked in and around the Northern Quarter – see how many you can find.
15. Seasonal Offerings
Depending on what time of year you find yourself in Manchester, there are tonnes of great events and festivals on offer. The traditional German Christmas markets are a great example – possibly the best in the country. Centered in lovely Albert Square, the wooden stalls usually continue well beyond this main area, and have tonnes of crafts and incredible food and drink on offer.
Manchester seriously loves its festivals. For music try the massive Park Life, featuring a star-studded line up every year. The Pride festival is one of the best around, celebrating the country’s vibrant LGBTQ+ scene. There are festivals for flowers, the great craft beer scene in the city, for food, science and much, much more.
Manchester International Festival is a massive undertaking with a huge range of cultural offerings. The bicentennial celebration is next occurring in 2021 and is sure to contain some big names and incredible performances.