16 Things to do in Manchester

Manchester is considered the capital city of the north of England and attracts thousands of visitors from all over the country and outside the UK for its vibrant and fun cultural scene. 

Compared to London it’s quite small, but you won’t miss anything in terms of things to do, international cuisines to try and neighbourhoods to explore. 

16 Things to do in Manchester

With a colourful and lively Gay Village, a buzzing Northern Quarter full of coffee shops and Castlefield, a relaxed district of the city famous for its canals, you can only have a great time in the city of Manchester!

Up until moving to Manchester in 2017, I lived in a small town close to Venice in Italy. So it has been 5 years of exploring the city and getting to know its best bits.

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There’s a long list of things you can do in Manchester and not just in the city centre. Among the best things to do in Manchester, especially if it’s your first time in the city, you should visit the Science and Industry Museum and the John Ryland’s Library, stop at the art gallery and go shopping at Afflecks. 

16 Things to do in Manchester

You’ll soon realize that the best way to spot things to do is by walking around its streets. 

Whether you’re with some friends and looking for some fun activities, or a couple that wants to spend a romantic evening out, or even enjoy the crazy nightlife in Manchester, here you can find what you want. 

Is Manchester worth visiting?

Manchester is a city you should visit at least once and these are some reasons why:

  • It is a culturally vibrant city and boasts fine museums such as the Manchester Art Gallery, which has one of England’s richest art collections, and the Whitworth Gallery, the contemporary art gallery in the centre of a beautiful public park.
  • It’s still quite convenient to travel and stay in Manchester. In fact, it’s not as expensive as London, and it’s well known for its industrial architecture with a pop soul. As a result: Hotel prices are more affordable than the ones in the capital city.
  • The bohemian Northern Quarter is an iconic place that makes Manchester such a unique place. Get lost among its old Victorian and post-Victorian buildings, admire the street art, and stop by the artists’ workshops, second-hand clothing shops and independent coffee shops. Whatever your budget, you’ll certainly find a way to spend your money here.
  • Manchester is the second gay-friendly city in the UK right after London. Clubs and restaurants are located on Canal Street, where you’ll find lots of people at the bars where drinks are cheaper than in other parts of Manchester’s city centre.
  • Manchester is also well-connected by public transport from London and other cities in the north of England. You can find direct trains to and from London at any time of the day with the company Avanti West Coast and it’s only a 2 hours and 15 mins ride. Check the Northern train’s website to find out how to reach the city from other northern cities.

Best Things to do in Manchester

If you’re wondering what you should do during your stay in this city, here you can find a list of some of the best things to do in Manchester.

16 Things to do in Manchester

Northern Quarter

The Northern Quarter represents the alternative and Bohemian soul of Manchester. This is the neighbourhood where you can spot the best street art, vintage and second-hand clothing shops, independent music stores, and a great selection of clubs, and bars. Not to mention, some lovely coffee shops. 

16 Things to do in Manchester

Delimited by Piccadilly Gardens and the Ring Road, the Northern Quarter is the part of the city where the first textile factories were founded in 1783, and the main hub of industrial development. 

The neighbourhood was almost entirely destroyed during the Second World War, and only between the 80s and 90s began its regeneration, finding a new life in the music scene of that time. 

Today the Northern Quarter is dotted with small shops selling records and vinyl, art and design galleries, vintage clothing and boutiques, bars, pubs, breweries and clubs where you can hear live music. A great district to explore the best of Manchester’s vibrant nightlife.

Ancoats

Ancoats is one of the most iconic neighbourhoods of the Industrial Revolution. At the beginning of the 19th century, Ancoats was just a suburb of Manchester, and it wasn’t particularly important. It was here, however, that the first weaving mills appeared that had a big role in the city’s industrial development. 

16 Things to do in Manchester

Today Ancoats is one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods of the city, in fact, the old mills have been restructured, but still, maintain the traditional red-bricks look from the outside. 

The main square is called Cutting Room Square where you’ll find some panels illustrating the industrial past of Manchester and close by St. Peter’s Church, today a concert and event venue. 

In this part of the district, you can find many new restaurants and bars that only a few years ago didn’t exist. Walk past the Murray Mill, one of the oldest mills in Manchester and reach the Rochdale canal. Here you can find Pollen Bakery, a great place for breakfast that serves freshly baked croissants and cakes!

Artisanal coffee scene 

Manchester would not be the same without its wide range of coffee shops. Apart from the classic Costa, Caffè Nero and Starbucks, you can really find great coffee from independent roasters. 

16 Things to do in Manchester

There’s always a new selection of coffees coming from different parts of the world so if you love coffee, keep an eye out for the best blends and ask the barista what’s on offer that day. 

But coffee shops are not only about coffee, of course! These are the best places in town for breakfasts and brunches. Some of the best spots are Takk, Ezra and Gil and Federal Café in the Northern Quarter, which are all pretty much busy during the weekend.

Chinatown 

Manchester’s Chinatown district, nestled between Mosley and Portland Streets, is the largest Chinese district in England, established here in the early 1900s. 

Among one of the largest Chinese districts even in Europe, the Mancunian one is a melting pot of colourful shops and markets where you can find spices, sweets and souvenirs, but also restaurants serving traditional dishes like dumplings and noodles. 

Chinatown is all about Asian restaurants, including Thai, Nepalese and Vietnamese. If you fancy a spicy, tasty meal, this is where you should go. The giant red arch welcomes visitors to the neighbourhood, and the best time to be around here is for the Chinese New Year, when bright lanterns, festoons and dancing dragons invade the streets.

Mackie Mayor 

Mackie Mayor, situated in a former meat market, is a sort of food court offering tasty, relatively cheap and quality food made from different cuisines. Here you can find both mouthwatering versions of the classic British fish and chips as well as wood oven pizza. 

16 Things to do in Manchester

Apart from food, you can also stop by for a cocktail or a refreshing beer. It’s a good place to have lunch with a wide choice of food that can please any palate. Make sure to get a table as soon as you arrive, take a seat and go to the stand to order your food with your table number. 

You’ll pay directly at the stand and a waiter will carry your dish to you once ready. There are long tables both upstairs and downstairs, avoid the peak times as over the last couple of years the place has become extremely popular and busy.

Albert Square & Town Hall 

Manchester Town Hall is the true symbol of the city, characterized by its imposing neo-Gothic architectural structure that dominates Albert Square. 

It’s considered the most representative building of Victorian neo-Gothic architecture in the whole country, and the most important monument in the city of Manchester. 

During the Christmas period, this public square changes completely as it gets filled up with Christmas markets set up right in Albert Square, in front of the main facade of the building.

Castlefield

Castlefield is an area of Manchester with artificial canals once used to transport goods and coal to different parts of Britain during the Industrial Revolution. They somewhat remind me of being at home in Venice but without the Gondola to ride around on, of course.

16 Things to do in Manchester

In this residential area, between red brick buildings and abandoned factories, steel and reinforced concrete bridges, railway viaducts and steamboats, you can really have a taste of the ‘real’ Manchester. 

It was in Castlefield that the ancient Romans settled in 79 AD. building the fort of Mamucium or Mancunium, which gave Manchester its actual name. 

You can still see some ancient remains and the crenellated towers. Since 1982, Castlefield has been an Urban Heritage Park, a protected area where archaeological and more recent industrial finds are preserved for everyone to admire.

16 Things to do in Manchester

Printworks 

The Printworks is located in the heart of Manchester and is a commercial and recreational gallery. Here you can find a cinema with one of the largest IMAX screens in Europe, and more than 20 pubs, bars as well as places to eat (including the famous Hard Rock). 

There’s also a rainforest-themed indoor golf site! Basically, it’s a great place for both groups of friends and families that are looking for a fun night out. If you fancy staying out late, there are the nightclubs Cargo and The Lounge, perfect venues for dancing all night long.

16 Things to do in Manchester
©Photo by Ali Johnson on Unsplash

Afflecks Palace

Afflecks Palace is a must-stop in Manchester, whether you love shopping or not, it will only take 20/30 minutes or up to no more than an hour to visit it. 

16 Things to do in Manchester

The building is located in the Northern Quarter and more precisely between Oldham Street and Tib Street. Afflecks is an alternative retail park with tens of independent shops and small businesses. 

In 1860, Afflecks was only selling home textiles but during the Second World War experienced a big drop in sales that brought to closure. Only after the end of the war, somebody had decided to create a space where small merchants could sell their products. If you’re looking for a souvenir or a gift to take back home with you, this is the best place to visit.

Manchester Cathedral 

Manchester Cathedral also called the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Mary, St Denys and St George, is one of the most fascinating places in the city centre to visit. 

Things to do in Manchester, visit the Manchester Cathedral

It’s a splendid neo-Gothic architecture cathedral that stands out in the Mancunian urban landscape. Inside it, you’ll walk through the widest nave of all the English churches and admire sculptures and wooden artefacts of considerable interest such as the pier, the choir, the stalls and the canopies. 

Do not miss the Angel Stone, a sandstone table depicting an angel holding parchment which testifies to the existence of a pre-existing church dating back to 700 AD. approximately.

16 Things to do in Manchester

Canal Street

Walking on Canal Street is an unmissable activity to do in Manchester. This is the heart of the Gay Village and every year it takes place the Gay Pride festival. 

16 Things to do in Manchester

During this time, both Canal Street and nearby streets are full of people celebrating, surrounded by rainbow-coloured buntings and flags and loud music. 

Here you can find many gay-friendly clubs and bars and drinks are particularly cheap. It’s worth visiting the district at night when there are more people moving around and enjoying a bit of nightlife in this part of the city.

Science and Industry Museum

Explore Manchester’s rich legacy of innovations and discoveries in the Revolution Manchester Gallery, find out how the city’s heritage is interwoven with the cotton industry in the Textiles Gallery and see science brought to life in Experiment, the family-friendly interactive gallery. 

Plus, look out for expert Explainers at Science Stops around the museum and step out into the cobbled Upper Yard to enjoy the beautiful new garden and uncover stories of the museum’s historic site. 

16 Things to do in Manchester

John Rylands Library

The John Rylands Library is one of the finest examples of neo-Gothic architecture in Europe and is indisputably one of the great libraries of the world. The library became part of The University of Manchester in 1972. It now houses the majority of Special Collections of The University of Manchester Library, the third largest academic library in the United Kingdom.

16 Things to do in Manchester

John Rylands Research Institute and Library is home to one of the world’s richest and most unique collections of books, manuscripts, maps, works of art and objects. The Historic Reading Room resembles the layout of a church; however, the alcoves in this purpose-built library were designed for private study. The glass in the high windows was chosen to let light in, but obscure the view to the outside. Today, anyone can study in these inspirational spaces or wander the room to marvel at the beauty and peaceful nature of the space.

Football and Manchester

If you know anything about Manchester you probably have heard of the football teams and the Mancunian obsession with football. Of the many things to do in Manchester if you are a football fan here are 3 of the top places to visit.

Old Trafford

Manchester is perhaps best known for Manchester United Football Club, and fans can visit the Museum which is open for visitors, and the Stadium Tour follows a great route, so you’ll see the players’ tunnel, walk next to the world-famous pitch, and visit the dugouts, before getting the view from the Ability Platform.

16 Things to do in Manchester

National Football Museum

The National Football Museum is the place to come if you want to learn all about Manchester’s two football clubs, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Experience the world’s greatest sport at the National Football Museum. Whether you’re a football fanatic, planning a visit with your family or on a weekend break to the great city of Manchester, this is the place to come and share stories about everyone’s favourite game. You can explore the history of the beautiful game through the world’s finest collection of football objects. From incredible FA Cup silverware to the FA’s replica of the Jules Rimet, right up to the present day.

Manchester City football club

Manchester’s other football team is Manchester City, and you can tour their stadium and club and learn all about their history.  Tours will take you behind the scenes and you will even get the chance to see areas such as the player’s dressing rooms. Tours start at £25 per adult.

16 Things to do in Manchester
©Christian David, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Where to Eat in Manchester?

You’ll be spoiled by the huge choice of restaurants and bars in Manchester. You can find both British and ethnic places to eat, so it’s really up to and based on what you’re looking for. 

Apart from the usual food chains, you can see all around the UK, you should give some of the Mancunian specialities a try. 

First is the Manchester Egg, a dish invented by chef Ben Holden in 2010 and consisting of breaded and fried sausage and a black pudding ball containing a hard-boiled egg. Manchester Caviar, mashed peas, a side to accompany meat and fish & chips dishes. The Lancashire hotpot, a stew of lamb, potatoes and onions. 

16 Things to do in Manchester

I also recommend you try the steak and ale pie at Pie Minster, or, the Pie & Ale. Also, be sure to try the best fish and chips in the city at Wright’s Fish and Chips.

Where to Stay in Manchester

Unlike the capital London, Manchester is a fairly affordable city and you can find accommodation for less than £100 pounds per night.

During the low season, if you want to stay in the heart of the city you can find 3-star hotels or bed and breakfast in a double room from £40 to £70 per night, while in high season prices start from at least £50/£60 up to £80/£90 per night. 

There’s a wide selection of accommodation types: luxurious hotels, guest houses, B&Bs and hostels. The Northern Quarter is a good place to stay if you like being only a step away from the local hustle and bustle but still close to all the main attractions.

Summary 

Manchester is a city you should definitely visit in England. It’s the perfect weekend getaway and there’s always something going on. 

If you travel on the first Sunday of the month you can also find the markets around the streets of the Northern Quarter. 

The things to see and do in Manchester don’t end with this list. Make sure to visit the lesser-known but beautiful Cheetam’s Library, walk around King Street and Deansgate and get a tram to Salford Quays (just 15 mins outside the city centre) where you can visit The Lowry and the IWM museum and stroll along the picturesque canals.

Guest Post Author: Residing in Northern England with her Master’s Degree in Tourism studies. Maddy From Venice Travel Tips is passionate about sharing her knowledge of Venice. When she is not obsessing over canals and bridges, she is usually travelling to new parts of the world.

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