Manchester is a city located in the north-west of England. It’s well known today for its football teams, music, and food. It’s also a city with a rich past, having been at the centre of the Industrial Revolution.
Laurence worked and lived in Manchester for a time, and it’s a city we both enjoy visiting where we always find plenty to see and do.
In this guide, we’re going to share with you some of our favourite things to do in Manchester. These cover a diverse range of sights and activities, from cultural highlights through to food and shopping experiences.
We’ll also share some tips for your visit, including how to get around the city and where to stay in Manchester.
So, whether you’re visiting Manchester for the weekend, catching a match, or in Manchester with kids and looking for entertainment, we think this guide will help you figure out how to fill your time.
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15+ Things to do in Manchester
This guide features some of our favourite things to do in Manchester. Of course, as a major city there are lots more than 15 things to do in Manchester!
If you are in Manchester for an extended period of time, then you will no doubt discover many more things to do in the city.
But we think this guide covers the main highlights of the city and should give you some ideas for your visit.
Visit a Football Club
It’s hard to mention Manchester without instantly thinking about football (soccer). There are two main football clubs in Manchester, which are Manchester United (often referred to as “Man U”) and Manchester City (often just referred to as “City).
Both are popular and well-respected Premier League football clubs. They’re also longtime rivals and both clubs date back to the 19th century.
Manchester United in particular is one of the world’s most well-known football clubs, with supporters all around the world. Whenever we travel overseas, we nearly always find ourselves chatting with a Man U supporter or two!
You can also visit both teams’ stadiums should you wish. If you happen to be in town on a match day then it is also often possible to get tickets to watch the players in action.
Alternatively, you can take a guided tour of their respective stadiums. Tours of Old Trafford, the Manchester United Football Stadium can be booked online in advance here. Tours of the Etihad Stadium, the Manchester City Football Stadium, can be booked here.
We recently visited the Manchester United stadium, Old Trafford. The tour included access to the excellent museum as well as a full tour of the stadium itself. We’re not exactly huge football experts, but the tour was a lot of fun and well worth it. Definitely recommended, even if you aren’t a huge football fan.
Advance booking is definitely recommended as these are some of the more popular activities in Manchester. Also note that both stadiums are a bit outside the city center. From central Manchester, you can get to either of the stadiums using the city tram or public buses in under 30 minutes.
Take a Sightseeing Bus, Cruise, or Walking Tour
Taking a sightseeing bus ride, a boat cruise, or a walking tour is one of our favourite ways to get an idea of the history, layout, and culture of a new city.
So if you are new to Manchester, taking one of these tours can quickly orient you and give you some local knowledge. Here are some options to consider.
A good way to get around all the major sights in the city is with a hop-on hop-off bus. This covers the main highlights of the city and also provides commentary so you can learn about what you are seeing.
You can book a hop on hop off bus tour here. As the name suggests, you can get on and off as often as you like for the duration of your ticket, so this is also a good way to visit a number of sights and save walking.
A river or canal cruise is one of the most popular activities in Manchester. The city is criss-crossed with canals, and it’s also where the Manchester Ship Canal starts.
Opened in 1894, this 36-mile-long canal was a serious engineering feat of its time, linking Manchester to the Irish Sea and allowing for the passage of goods and freight from the city.
It was the largest river canal in the world when it opened, and enabled Manchester to become one of the UK’s largest ports. This despite Manchester being over 30 miles inland.
You can learn all about the canals of Manchester by taking a river and canal cruise like this.
We always enjoy taking walking tours when we visit a new city. They are a great way to learn a lot in a short time. We also often pick up tips and advice on what else there is to see and where to eat from a local.
There are a number of walking tours you might consider taking in Manchester, here are some suggested options.
- This group walking tour focuses on the highlights and history of the city. A similar private tour is also available here.
- This group walking tour focuses on the musical and football heritage of the city
- Food lovers will want to check out this guided Manchester food tour which will tell you the history of Manchester through its food
- Manchester’s Salford Quays area is famous for the Manchester Ship Canal, as well as being the home of media giants like the BBC. This tour will introduce you to this fascinating area.
Some of these are special interest tours. So for example, if you’re interested in the Salford Quays area you might want to take this one, wheras if you are interested in combining food and history you might want to take this one,.
Finally, we just wanted to mention this tour of the Coronation Street set. This is one of the most well-known and longest running UK TV shows, and the set is found in Manchester.
The tour is fully guided, and is a must for fans of the show, as well as those who just love to see behind the scenes of how a TV show works.
Science and Industry Museum
Manchester has been at the epicenter of some seismic technological advancements, from the rise of industrialization and steam-powered mills through to the creation of the world’s first computer with memory.
If you’d like to learn about some of this incredible history, then you’ll want to visit Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum.
The museum buildings themselves sit on the site of Liverpool Road Station, the Manchester terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and the world’s first purpose-built passenger railway.
This free museum covers a huge amount, from the Industrial Revolution that changed how people lived and worked, through to modern advancements in computing. There’s also a whole floor of interactive experiments which is fun for both adults and kids alike.
Note that some sections of the museum are currently closed for a major renovation project that started in 2019 and will be ongoing until 2030, so check the website before visiting to see what sections are currently open.
The Science and Industry Museum permanent exhibits are free to visit, although donations are obviously welcome and encouraged. There are also often paid temporary exhibits and experiences. You can find out more and plan your visit on the official website here.
Try the Local Food
Manchester is a fantastic place for dining out, with everything on offer from street food to afternoon tea to independent coffee shops and even Michelin star restaurants. Of course, there are also all the common chain restaurants and bars as well.
So you will definitely want to schedule some time during your Manchester visit to dine out.
There are of course many options. For street food for example, you might consider the Mackie Mayor food hall which showcases some of the region’s best food and drink. Another central option is the Picadilly Gardens Street Food Market which has a range of eating options.
We always love to indulge in an afternoon tea when we travel, and Manchester also has some good options. We had a lovely afternoon tea at the historic Midland Hotel (where Rolls and Royce met to discuss their car venture!), but there are lots of great options for those of you who love afternoon tea.
If you enjoy Indian food then we can definitely recommend Dishoom, they’re one of our favourites and they have a restaurant in central Manchester. Reservations recommended.
For high-end Michelin starred dining, we can highly recommend Mana Restaurant. This is a Michelin-starred restaurant offering fantastically creative British dining.
We loved that you could watch the whole kitchen at work and the service and attention to detail was spectacular. Definitely worth the price, and one you will need to reserve for in advance.
Of course, there are many more options, and there’s a good list of dining options on the Visit Manchester website here.
If you’re wanting to try some local food specialties while in Manchester, then we recommend dishes like Lancashire hotpot, Eccles cake, Morecambe Bay potted shrimp, local black pudding, and chorley cake.
People’s Story Museum
Manchester was the world’s first industrial city. The massive rise in industrialization led to the creation of all sorts of new jobs, and people flocked from the countryside to the city for work.
Unfortunately, many of the jobs were incredibly dangerous, with profits generally put above workers’ health and safety. This lack of focus on the rights of workers led to the popularity of trade unions in the UK, and a general movement towards human rights in general, including the right to vote.
The story of people challenging the status quo and improving their rights is told in Manchester’s excellent, and free, People’s History Museum.
If you are interested in learning about the past, present and future of issues like the right to vote, fair pay, social justice and time off, then this is definitely the museum for you. You can find out more and check opening times on the museum’s official website here.
We learned a lot when we visited, and can highly recommend it.
If you love shopping, you’ll find plenty of options to keep you busy in Manchester. There are a number of locations to choose from, depending on what you are interested in. Here are some of the main shopping options and areas to consider:
- The massive Arndale Centre in the middle of Manchester has all the major high street brands as well as dining options
- The Northern Quarter is where you’ll want to head for independent outlets, where you’ll find vintage clothing stores and handmade items
- For jewellery, you’re going to want to visit the aptly named Jewellery Quarter, where you’re going to find a huge range of watches and jewellery to suit any taste
- For high-end designer shopping, plan to visit The Avenue in Spinningfields, which has a range of designer stores
Of course, there are plenty more places to shop across Manchester, including the Trafford Centre which is a little out of the town centre. But we’re sure if you’re into shopping you won’t run out of options in Manchester!
If your idea of a museum includes dinosaurs, fossils, and other properly old stuff housed in a beautiful Gothic building, then you’ll definitely want to head to the Manchester Museum.
This free museum focuses on natural history, archaeology and anthropology. It has around 4.5 million items in its collection, which means you’re likely to find something that interests you.
So whether you’re into the history of how the world came to be as it is today, understanding the Egyptians, or staring at frogs, we think you’ll find something to enjoy.
The Manchester Museum is free to visit, although donations are greatly appreciated. You can see more about opening hours and other information for your visit on the official website here.
Manchester Art Gallery
If you love art, then a visit to the excellent and free Manchester Art Gallery should definitely be on your list of things to do in Manchester.
With a collection of over 25,000 objects which includes everything from oil paintings to sculpture to ceramics. It also covers art from around the world and across the years, with items including a 3,000 year old Egyptian jar as well as a strong collection of Victorian-era artworks.
Suffice it to say, we think that whatever art you are into, this museum should cover it. Don’t forget to admire the buildings when you visit as well. The museum is spread across three buildings, two of which are listed.
Manchester Art Gallery is free to visit although donations are very much appreciated, and you can see opening times and what’s on on the official website here.
National Museum of Football
Fans of football will definitely want to visit the National Museum of Football which is found in central Manchester just by Manchester Cathedral (also worth popping into).
This museum tells the story of the sport of football from its beginnings right up to the present day. Being a national museum, it isn’t focused on a specific club, meaning it’s a great location to visit regardless of which team you support.
Inside you’ll find all sorts of things, from football memorabilia to interactive screens detailing the history of every club in the country. There are also a number of interactive football games where you can test your skill.
This is definitely a worthwhile visit for anyone with even a passing interest in football. You can book tickets online in advance here.
Admire the old Architecture & Historical Buildings
With the rise in industrialization in Manchester came a rise in wealth, and this led to the creation of some rather spectacular buildings. Most notably, many of the 18th and 19th century mills, warehouses, canals, and other structures still exist doing in “warehouse city” which is a square mile of mainly Victorian commerial buildings dating back to when Manchester was called Cottonpolis. There have also been some more recent interesting additions to the city as it has continued to grow.
Overall, Manchester has quite a few really lovely buildings that are well worth having a look at. Some we recommend checking out include:
- John Ryland’s Library. This was built as a library in 1888 and is a truly incredible bit of Gothic architecture. It looks far more like a Cathedral than a library, and the main reading room really is a sight to behold. It’s free to visit.
- Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. This was built in the 1890s as the headquarters of The Refuge Assurance Company, and had space for around 2,000 staff! Today it’s a luxury hotel, but many of the original features remain, as does the gorgeous exterior.
- Royal Exchange Theatre. Originally built as an exchange for cotton traders in the 1860s, this building was home to the largest trading hall in England. Today the hall is home to a theatre which takes the from of a giant pod sitting in the middle of the hall. It’s a very cool design and worth popping in to see.
- Co-operative Group Building. If you prefer your buildings of the more modern type, then you should schedule a visit to One Angel Square, head office of the Co-operative group and completed in 2013. It’s one of the most sustainable buildings in Europe and looks quite spectacular.
- Manchester Cathedral. Dating from 1421 this beautiful cathedral is constructed from three types of stone and is well worth popping into as it’s beautiful inside
- Chetham’s Library. Opened in 1653 and in continuous use since then, this is the oldest free public library in the English-speaking world. It’s also remarkably pretty inside, and tours are available.
- Free Trade Hall. This Italian Palazzo style hall was built on Peter Street in the 1850s on what was then St. Peter’s Fields, where the Peterloo Massacre took place. Orators from Churchill to Disraeli to Dickens have spoken here.
Of course, there are many more impressive buildings in Manchester which you will see as you walk around, but we think the above should definitely be included in your list of sights to see when you visit the city.
One of my personal favourite musuems in Manchester is the Police Museum, which is unfortunately only open for one day a week.
However, if your visit to Manchester does happen to fall on a day when it’s open, I highly recommend visiting. The museum, which is found in a former police museum, tells the story of the Manchester Police force from its beginnings.
As well as lots of informative panels and memorabilia, there are some really knowledable volunteers on hand, many of whom are former police officers, who are well worth chatting to as they have lots of stories to share.
The other highlight is the set of Victorian jail cells and charge office. Here you can see how inmates were kept, and the sort of crimes they were arrested for. It’s a fascinating insight into policing over the years. It’s also free.
Manchester is a fantastic place for a night out. From theatre performances to live music to bars catering to all tastes and nightclubs, there really is something for everyone.
All you have to do is decide what kind of night out you want. The Gay Village is a popular area of Manchester for a night out for example, found around Canal Street, and has a range of cafes, bars and dining options.
For live music, there’s a massive range, from the Bridgewater Hall to indie venues like The Castle Hotel. Manchester is the home of bands from Oasis to Take That and Joy Division, and we are sure you’ll find a venue that plays music to your taste.
Imperial War Museum North
Found to the south of the city centre in Salford Quays, the Imperial War Museum North is an excellent free museum which covers the history of conflict from the First World War to the present day.
The museum is found in a stunning building which is actually designed to disorient the visitor, in a similar way to how war can be very disorienting.
The exhibits include a range of permanent displays, with objects, videos and sound relaying the various conflicts that Britain and the commonwealth have been involved in over the last century or so. We found it to be a very immersive and, yes, quite a disorienting experience. Definitely recommended for those with an interest in military history and conflicts.
If you visit Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium, then it’s just a few minutes’ walk to the Imperial War Museum. Otherwise, you can easily get to this area by tram.
You can find out more about the museum and check its opening hours and dates on the museum website here. Entry is free.
Visit a Garden or Park
If you’re looking for some green space to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a bit (perhaps with a picnic), then there are a few options in the city centre.
Some central options to consider include Saint John’s Gardens, Hulme Park, Parsonage Gardens and Cotton Field Park.
We can also recommend Sackville Garden, near Canal Street. This is home to a statue of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped advance computer science so much.
If you’d prefer a more formal garden experience, then the beautiful Royal Horticultural Society Garden in Bridgewater is worth checking out. It’s a little outside the city centre, but the entry ticket includes free return shuttle transfer.
Spot the Bees
As you walk around Manchester, you are going to quickly notice that the city appears to be obsessed with bees. You’ll find representations of bees all over the city.
The worker bee has been a symbol of the city since 1842, when the city adopted it to show to the world how industrious Manchester is. Since then the bee logo has flourished, and you’ll find it everywhere from the side of buses to the city coats of arms to statues in public spaces.
As you walk around the city, it can be fun for you (and your family!) to see how many places you can spot a Manchester bee.
Other Attractions & Museums in Manchester
We have covered a number of Manchester’s museums, however there are more to choose from depending on your interests. There are also several family friendly attraction options that we haven’t mentioned. Here are a few more to consider.
- Jewish Museum. Found in a former synagogue, this museum covers the history of Jewish migration and settlement in Manchester
- Museum of Transport. This focuses on the history of Manchester’s public transport system from horse-drawn buses to the present-day tram system.
- The Whitworth. Art gallery which focuses on more modern art pieces, with artists including Van Gogh, Picasso and Hockney.
- Elizabeth Gaskell’s House. This Victorian era house museum which tells the story of the writer Elizabeth Gaskell, who lived here for over thirty years. She is best known for her books Cranford, North and South, and Wives and Daughters.
- SEA LIFE. With over 2,000 creatures to meet, Manchester’s SEA LIFE is the perfect family attraction for everyone with an interest in the sea
- LegoLand Discover Centre. A popular option for families, the LegoLand Discover Centre is basically a huge Lego playground. Ideal for a rainy day or for burning off some youthful energy
- Coronation Street tour. Fans of Coronation Street won’t want to miss this behind-the-scenes tour of the show!
As you can see, there’s no shortage of excellent museums and attractions in Manchester, covering all sorts of topics and interests!
Take a Day Trip out of Manchester
Whilst there’s plenty to do in Manchester itself, the city also makes for a great base for exploring. These include everything from national parks to seaside resorts to England’s biggest theme park. Here are some suggestions for some great day trips from Manchester.
- Chester. This beautiful old city was founded by the Romans in the 1st century, and is only an hour from Manchester by car or public transport. Lots to see and do here, you can either visit yourself or as part of a day tour like this.
- North Wales. The northern coastline of Wales is home to spectacular hillwalking as well as a great many beautiful castles. The easiest way to visit will be with your own car or on a day trip like this, although it is possible by public transport.
- The Lake District. England’s largest National Park, the Lake District is a lovely place for walking and just getting out into nature. It’s just over an hours drive from Manchester and is best visited with your own transport or on a day tour like this
- The Peak District. Another beautiful national park, the Peak District has cute villages and plentiful walking opportunities. It’s around an hours drive from Manchester and there are also some public transport options. Another option would be to take a day trip like this
- Blackpool. One of the UK’s most well-known Victorian-era seaside resorts, Blackpool is the place to come for walks on the promenade, sea-side amusements, and fun shows. Don’t forget to head up the Tower! It’s a family friendly spot, and can be easily reached by train or car from Manchester in under 90 minutes.
- Liverpool. This famous port city is well-known for being the home of the Beatles. It also has a rich maritime history. There’s lots to see and do here, and you could easily fill a day visiting. It’s easy to visit by public transport, with direct train connections taking less than an hour.
- Alton Towers. If your idea of a fun day out is rollercoasters and thrills, then you’ll want to head to Alton Towers. It’s about a ninety-minute drive from Manchester, and you can book your tickets online here.
As you can see, there are plenty of options for day trips from Manchester!
Where to Stay in Manchester
Manchester has a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and taste, from hostels and guesthouses to high-end hotels and apartments. Below are some of our suggestions for where to stay in Manchster, which are approximately ordered by price from low to high.
Pricing does vary of course, so you’ll need to click through and compare prices for when you plan to visit.
- ibis Manchester Centre – this budget option in the centre of Manchester offers comfortable en-suite rooms. Breakfast is available, and there’s an on-site restaurant.
- Motel One Manchester Royal Exchange – this is a good value and well reviewed 3* hotel in a good central location. Rooms are en-suite and air-conditioned. Breakfast is available.
- Moxy Manchester City – a well rated centrally located 4* hotel. Offers air-conditioned rooms with tea/coffee facilities and and an on-site nightclub. Breakfast also available.
- StayCity Aparthotels Manchester Piccadilly. Just moments’ walk from Manchester Piccadilly train station, this aparthotel offers comfortable apartments with kitchens and washing machines. We stayed here on a recent longer trip to Manchester and it made for a great base to explore.
- Leven Manchester – a well-reviewed boutique hotel found in a former cotton warehouse on Canal Street which has both rooms and apartments.
- Stock Exchange Hotel – centrally located very well reviewed 5* hotel offering air-conditioned rooms, some with balconies. There’s a hotel bar and breakfast is available.
- Dakota Manchester – a very well reviewed 4* hotel in central Manchester, just 3 minutes walk from Manchester Picadilly. Offers air-conditioned en-suite rooms as well as an on-site restaurant, with breakfast available.
- Kimpton Clocktower Hotel – found in a gorgeous old building, this centrally located 4* hotel offers elegant air-conditioned rooms. There’s a restaurant and fitness center on-site.
- The Midland – a beautiful historic 4* hotel in the heart of Manchester with air-conditioned rooms and on-site restaurants. We had a lovely afternoon tea here.
Of course, there are many more options across Manchester. When we travel we nearly always use booking.com to book accommodation, they have everything from hostels to apartments to hotels, and we love how easy it is to filter by the amenities we need, whether that’s free parking or included breakfast.
You can see their listings for Manchester here.
How to Get Around Manchester
Manchester is very easy to get around. First, the majority of the sights are in the city centre, which is very walkable. If you like to walk, then you’ll be able to reach most of the attractions in our guide within about a 20-minute walk of any city centre accommodation.
Manchester also has an excellent public transport system, which is handy for reaching the more distant attractions, like the football stadiums or Imperial War Museum. There’s an excellent tram system, as well as a comprehensive bus network. You can find out more about the public transport network in Manchester here.
Speaking of the bus, Manchester also has a number of entirely free bus routes that will shuttle you around much of the city center. There are stops around the city centre, including at Manchester Picadilly train station, and the free buses are clearly marked. You can see the routes and stops here.
If you’d prefer a hop on hop off bus with commentary, then Manchester has a sightseeing bus you might consider. This covers many of the major highlights and the commentary will provide background and information on the history of the city. You can book tickets for this online here.
Further Reading and Resources
That’s it for our guide to our favourite things to do in Manchester. We hope you found it useful.
Before you go, we wanted to share a few of our other guides to help you plan your trip to Manchester as well as the rest of the UK, as well as some third-party resources we think you’ll find useful.
- For wider UK trip planning, we have suggested one week and two week UK itineraries
- If you’re driving in the UK for the first time, check out my tips for driving in the UK for some advice. We also have a guide to how much it costs to travel in the UK.
- We have guides to many other cities in England. See our guide to things to do in Stratford upon Avon, things to do in Bristol, things to do in Portsmouth, ttips on a weekend in York, tips on Visiting Oxford on a Day Trip, and things to do in Cambridge
- Manchester is not too far from Alton Towers, see our guide to visiting Alton Towers for more information
- If you’re heading to Scotland, check out our 2 day Edinburgh itinerary, our Glasgow and Loch Lomond itinerary, our guide to the best day trips from Glasgow, our guide to things to do in Edinburgh, our itinerary for Skye and the Highlands, our guide to the best day trips from Aberdeen, and our guide to the best day trips from Edinburgh to get you started. We also have a guide to getting from London to Edinburgh.
- We have a guide to 10 of the best Stately Homes in England
And that’s it! Have you ever visited Manchester? Do you have anything you’d add to the above? Just let us know in the comments below!