This in-depth travel guide to the best things to do in Manchester is brought to you by local blogger Kieren, as part of my UK travel guides series.
Manchester was at the heart of Britain’s industrial revolution. But where there were once cotton mills and factories, now lie museums, bars and restaurants. Manchester has experienced a rejuvenation in recent decades, now featuring luxury hotels and best-in-class shopping centres. The city is known across the world for its football and music culture. But no matter what your tastes, you’re sure to find many things to do in Manchester.
I was drawn to the city over 4 years ago with no plans to stay permanently. But the thriving nightlife, the Peak District on your doorstep and the friendly northern culture are why I decided to make Manchester my home. In this local’s guide to the best things to do in Manchester, I’ll share all of the great things you can get up to on a visit to England’s second city.
READ MORE: 30 Places to Visit in the North of England
Manchester has accommodation options to suit every type of traveller. If you’re visiting as a budget backpacker, there are a growing number of hostels in Manchester to choose from. The best hostel is YHA Manchester, where you’ll pay around £25 per night for a shared dorm. It has modern facilities and plenty of common areas to relax in.
If you’re looking for a budget hotel for a weekend in Manchester, the Motel-One brand has two locations. Both of them provide rooms for around £80 per night. I’d recommend Motel-One Royal Exchange because it is in an overall better part of the city. Although Motel-One Picadilly is ideally located for the train station.
For those on a mid-range budget, Kimpton Clock Tower is a popular choice. This is a modern hotel in a historic building with a gym, great views and a cosy bar and restaurant downstairs. A stay here will cost around £120 per night.
If you want all-out luxury, Kingstreet Town House Hotel is undeniably the best hotel in the city with an iconic heated infinity pool on the rooftop that looks out over Manchester Town Hall. A stay here will cost in the region of £250 per night.
Football Stadium Tours
With two of the world’s most famous clubs, the city is like a mecca for football fans. So it’s right that touring the football stadiums are high up on the list of things to do in Manchester. Both Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, and the Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City, offer behind the scenes tours of the changing rooms, press conference areas and an impressive display of club memorabilia that will keep you entertained for a few hours.
Top Tip: Both Manchester United and Manchester City stadium tours offer a discount if you book in advance.
Museum of Science and Industry
Manchester played a leading role in Britain’s industrial revolution which is showcased at the Museum of Science and Industry. The museum is located inside the worlds oldest railway station. Exhibits will show you how Manchester was integral in the first steam-powered mill, splitting the atom, innovations in the cotton industry, and more. This museum is also free of charge which makes it even more appealing.
Visit the Peak District
Just 50 minutes by train from the centre of Manchester and you’ll be right in the heart of Britain’s oldest national park, the Peak District. On a day trip to the Peak District, you can discover lakes and reservoirs, beautiful walks, cycling routes and cute towns. Get off at Edale train station for convenient access to the Mam Tor ridge walk. This is an easy 2-hour walk along a jagged ridge with picturesque views across the peaks.
Top Tip: Why not visit the small town of Bakewell in the Peak District? Here, you can try one of their renowned puddings from The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: Derbyshire and Peak District Day Trip from Manchester
National Football Museum
As well as the legendary football teams, Manchester is also home to the National Football Museum where you’ll find a whole range of memorabilia from football’s greatest moments – including the ball from England’s victory at the 1966 world cup final.
The museum spans across 5 floors with an immersive cinema, hall of fame, and plenty of chances to have a go at set-pieces in the interactive games.
Top Tip: With over 2,500 items to see, allow 2-3 hours for visiting this museum. Check ticket prices here.
The Crystal Maze
Anyone who remembers the popular 90’s TV show (or the Richard Ayoade reboot) will be in their element at the Crystal Maze Experience. Now you can be the star in this ultimate team game! There are 4 sections, each with puzzles or challenges that one team member must face.
At the end, you’ll enter the crystal dome, just like on the TV show. Here, you’ll jump around catching tokens as they blow around the dome in order to secure a place on the leader board.
Coronation Street The Tour
Get a snap outside Roy’s Rolls and the Rovers Return on Coronation Street The Tour, a tour of ITV’s Weatherfield set in Manchester. The 90-minute tour will allow you to see the working set and uncover behind-the-scenes filming secrets. Bear in mind that it’s outside only, so you won’t see any indoor sets. But it’s still a great experience for any avid Corrie fans.
There’s an underworld of foodie delights in Manchester, ranging from artisan cafes to upscale restaurants. Here are some of the best food spots I’d recommend to anyone visiting Manchester.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: Manchester Food Tour with a Local Guide
In a Grade II listed building that was originally a fresh food market, lies an enormous food hall, Mackie Mayor. Inside, local vendors offer tastes from around the world; including Italian pizza, French rotisserie, Taiwanese bao buns, Mexican tacos and more. It’s laid out in a food court style with long tables down the middle so you can all choose what you want and congregate at the table.
Hidden away beneath an Armani store in Spinningfields lies one of Manchester’s favourite restaurants, Australasia. If the name didn’t give it away, the restaurant specialises in food from Australia which is highly influenced by flavours from Asia. Expect Korean BBQ beef, Mongolian Lamb, Sushi and plenty of seafood choices.
Solita is a chain in Manchester known for its award-winning burgers, which are cooked and seasoned to perfection. A must-try meal here is the Big Manc, Manchester’s answer to the Big Mac. With two giant beef patties and their own secret sauce, this mammoth burger would have the burger king himself struggling to finish it. They also serve Texas-style steaks and a range of craft beer to go with your meal.
When you need a quick bite to eat, head over to Pollen Bakery which has become a hit on the Manchester foodie scene because of their cruffins. “What’s a cruffin?”, I hear you ask. Well, for those unfamiliar, it’s a cross between a croissant and a muffin, filled with cream or curd and it tastes as good as it sounds.
The cruffins are only served on Saturday’s but throughout the week you’ll find a huge range of other baked goods so you best leave room after breakfast.
One thing’s for sure, Mancunians know how to have a good night out. The city is awash with bars and nightclubs, so you’ll never be short of somewhere to drink. My personal favourite area to enjoy Manchester’s nightlife is the Northern Quarter which has lots of indie pubs and bars. If you prefer more of a classy night out, then Deansgate is overflowing with sophisticated cocktail bars and nightclubs. Here are a few alternative ideas for nightlife in Manchester.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: Manchester Beer Tour Experience
Manchester has a thriving music scene that has given rise to The Stone Roses, The Chemical Brothers, the BeeGees, Take That and of course Oasis. As you can imagine, the city is awash with live music venues almost every night of the week and claims the most live music gigs per head of population than anywhere else in the UK. Great venues for live music include the Deaf Institute, Night & Day, Gorilla and Soup Kitchen so check the listings for these places.
Frog and Bucket Comedy Club
Situated in the Northern Quarter, the Frog and Bucket is an excellent venue where you’ll catch some up and coming comedians before they hit their prime. Previous acts include Jason Manford, Sarah Milican, Johnny Vegas and Peter Kay. Shows run Thursday to Saturday every week and occasionally other nights too, tickets start from £6.
On August bank holiday every year, Manchester turns rainbow to celebrate Pride which is an epic weekend whether you’re part of the LGBT community or not. There are events across the city including Manchester Pride Live with artists such as Ariana Grande and Basement Jaxx, and huge parties on Canal Street which is at the heart of the city’s Gay Village.
2020 dates: 28th-31st August | 2021 dates: 29th-30th August
Each year over 150,000 people head to Heaton Park in Northern Manchester for Europe’s biggest metropolitan festival, Park Life. The music festival features a broad range of genres from bands to DJ’s, and been headlined by George Ezra, The XX, Snoop Dog, Disclosure and Lian Gallagher to name a few.
2020 dates: cancelled | 2021 dates: 12th-13th June 2021
Manchester Day Parade
Each year on one Sunday in June, the entire city is taken over for Manchester Day which sees a huge parade from canal street to exchange square. The annual event also sees street vendors, dance displays, musical performances and a whole range of fun activities.
2020 dates: 21st June | 2021 dates: TBC
If you have more time in the UK, or want to extend your trip, check out some of these fab recommendations…
This post was part of a series of “locals guides” to British cities. The goal is to help people discover the best of the UK with the help of genuine locals. If you’d like to take part with a post all about your own town, please get in touch.
Is there anything you’d add to this list of the best things to do in Manchester? Scroll down to leave a comment!
Kieren is a 20-something year old from Wales with a passion for adventure and backpacking. He’s spent time travelling through Europe and Southeast Asia with plenty more on the bucket list. Kieren shares tips and travel guides over at Got My Backpack.