You might not know it if you’re new to this blog, but I’m originally from Manchester, England, and I’m actually very bloody proud of the fact. While I do love sunning myself on Mediterranean beaches and exploring the Balkans, I’ve never forgotten where I’m from and actually, the more I travel, the prouder I become to be a Manc.
I meet so many people who tell me that they have visited the UK, and when I ask where, the answer is always invariably London. Now, while I understand the appeal of visiting England’s capital city (er, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, RED TELEPHONE BOXES), I can’t help but feel that London tourists are missing out on the ‘real England.’ You see, while London has a lot to offer, there is so much more to the UK and Great Britain (yes, there is a difference!) than London, and I may be biased but I truly believe that Manchester is a really special city that is unlike anywhere else in the UK.
With this in mind, I decided to put together a list of all the wonderful reasons to visit Manchester, my hometown and the best city in England! I didn’t want to make this a generic ‘things to do in Manchester’ style post, because my love for Manchester goes deeper than merely what there is to do in this city. Of course, I have included a tonne of things to do in Manchester on this list, but you will also find those things that cannot simply be ‘done’ but have to be ‘experienced.’
Manchester – A Brief History
If you’ve never been to the UK before, you’d be forgiven for not knowing a lot about the city of Manchester and its people, so before I get into the main article, I’m going to give you a brief rundown of the city of Manchester, its history, and what Manchester is like today.
Manchester is located in the Northwest of England and contrary to popular belief, it is actually only the sixth biggest city in the United Kingdom with a population of just over half a million. Thanks to a boom in the textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution, Manchester became the world’s first industrial city, and Mancunians today still pride themselves on being hardworking and down to earth, something that we feel really sets us ‘up North’ apart from the ’Southern Fairies’ in London (Southerners like to refer to Northerners as ’Northern Monkeys’ in response to our ’Southern Fairies’ jibes, but the rivalry is all in good fun and there is nothing meant by it).
Manchester also had a large influence on Marxism, with both Marx and Engels meeting and studying together in Manchester while they produced some of their greatest works. Not only that but Manchester was an important city for the left-wing Labour Party as well as the Suffragette movement, with the first public meeting on women’s suffrage being held in Manchester and attended by a 15 year old Emmeline Pankhurst.
However, if you think that all there is to Mancunian identity is being working-class and proud then think again – not only is Manchester home to two of the world’s most famous football clubs (and even those among us who don’t like football are still secretly very proud of this), but we have a music scene that is unparalleled (with Manchester being christened as the ‘birthplace of Indie music’), some of the most diverse foodie options in the UK, and a thriving LGBT+ scene in the Gay Village.
I could talk all day about the complex identity of being a Manc, but I think it better to actually walk you through just a few of the reasons why you should visit Manchester, including things to do in Manchester, day trips from Manchester, Manchester attractions and more.
So, if you’re ready to learn about all of the wonderful reasons to visit Manchester then get yourself a cuppa tea, get some biscuits to dunk in it, and get comfy, because I’m going to tell you all about what makes my home city of Manchester so special.
33 Reasons to Visit Manchester, UK
1. Manchester is affordable
Let’s get the elephant out of the room – London is very bloody expensive and lots of visitors to the UK assume that the whole of the country is just as pricey. Well I’m here to tell you that Manchester is super affordable. Hotels in Manchester start at just £40 per night and a dorm bed in Hatters Hostel including breakfast will only set you back about £20. Not only that but you can get a pint of beer for as little as £2 and bottles of wine for £10 in city centre pubs. There are also dirt cheap student nights at Manchester’s various clubs where entry and all drinks are £1.
If your idea of being cultured doesn’t involve necking pints of beer in a Manchester pub then fear not because most museums and galleries in Manchester are free to enter, transport is super cheap (again, more on that later) and you’ll find a wide range of affordable cafes, restaurants and food trucks to take your pick from.
2. Manchester is friendly
I touched on this earlier but it deserves a point all of its own because Manchester is a really friendly city. Mancs may be a bit rough around the edges but we will go out of our way to help someone out and you’ll never be lonely if you decide to go for a drink in a pub in Manchester. We may not be quite as chirpy as the Americans, but as far as Brits go, Mancs are definitely up there when it comes to being open and welcoming, and we are certainly not the type to look down on anyone for being different.
3. Manchester Museums
When it comes to things to do in Manchester, you can’t go wrong with Manchester’s museums. Manchester has a tonne of museums, most of which are completely FREE to enter! From the People’s History Museum which focuses on democracy and the struggle for equality, to the Imperial War Museum North, Museum of Science and Industry, the Manchester Jewish Museum and even the Hat Works Museum in Stockport, you’ll be sure to find something to interest you in Manchesters’ museum scene.
4. Manchester Art Galleries
If art galleries are more your thing then you will truly be spoilt for choice in Manchester. From the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, the Manchester Art Gallery, venues such as HOME which combine art cinema, theatre and galleries with ever-changing exhibitions, and The Whitworth gallery which houses more than 55,000 items and a whole host of outdoor exhibitions, from an art garden to a sculpture terrace!
All of the above art galleries are totally free to enter.
5. Manchester Chinatown
Manchester is home to the second largest Chinatown in the UK and the third largest in all of Europe, and one of the best things to do in Manchester is to go and stuff your face in one of the many delicious restaurants selling all kinds of yummy Asian food from Chinese to Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Singaporean and more! There are also shops, bakeries and supermarkets all stocking goods that you can’t get hold of in other parts of Manchester, and if you’re lucky enough to be in Manchester for the annual Chinese New Year Celebrations, then you may just see dancing dragons roaming the streets of central Manchester!
6. Manchester Football
It goes without saying that Manchester is world famous when it comes to football, and whether you’re a Red or a Blue, you can’t miss out on a stadium tour if you visit Manchester.
For just £25 you can get a guided tour of Old Trafford stadium, where you can learn all about the history of Manchester United, as well as getting to see the dressing room, tunnel, players’ dugout, press room and VIP room.
If you still haven’t got your football fix then make sure to pay a visit to the National Football Museum in the beautiful Urbis building next to Cathedral Gardens. This is the biggest football museum in the world, and not only is it great for learning the history of the sport, but it is also super interactive, giving visitors the chance to attempt penalty kicks and put their commentary skills to the test! Admission prices to the National Football Museum are £10 for adults, £5 for kids and free for residents of Manchester.
7. Manchester Cathedral
With a history dating all the way back to 700 AD, Manchester Cathedral is a Grade I listed building and rightfully so. Manchester Cathedral is an incredibly impressive building and is totally free to enter (unlike many European cathedrals!). If you want to know more about it then you can request a guided tour from one of the volunteers there.
I actually went to a psychedelic folk gig in Manchester Cathedral when I was about 17 – Coco Rosie – and it was one of the most special and atmospheric performances I’ve ever seen, largely due to the venue.
8. The Oldest Library in the English Speaking World!
Yep, you read that right – Manchester is home to the oldest public library in the English speaking world! Founded in 1653, Chetham’s Library has been a free public library for over 350 years! Not only is it one of the oldest complete Medieval buildings in the North of England, but visitors to Chetham’s can even sit at the very table where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels studied together!
I only visited Chetham’s Library very recently (shame on me!) but I honestly felt like I was walking through the library of Hogwarts, and I couldn’t believe how old some of the books in the collection were! Even if you’re not a bookworm like me I highly recommend a visit to Chetham’s because it’s definitely one of the most impressive things to see in Manchester.
Chetham’s Library is free to enter (with a suggested donation of £3) but you must visit with a guide. Guided tours take place almost every hour between 10 and 4pm so just consult their website for details if you’re interested!
9. Manchester Castlefield
Dating back to Roman times, Castlefield is one of the largest conservation sites in Manchester and has played a hugely significant role in shaping the city of Manchester. Not only are there a tonne of restaurants worth exploring here, but you can also take a stroll alongside one of the world’s oldest canals or explore the Roman fort Mancunium!
10. The Lowry
Although I could have included The Lowry in the ‘art gallery’ section, I felt like it deserved a section of its very own! The Lowry is an impressive building in Salford Quays (a few tram stops away from central Manchester) and is home to the largest public collection of L S Lowry’s work, as well as the work of many other artists! There are free daily talks about the life and works of Lowry, and the building is also home to a theatre which hosts a wide range of events!
Fun fact: my graduation ceremony was actually held in The Lowry!
11. Manchester’s Gay Village
Manchester has historically been a very LGBT+ friendly city, so much so that we even have a whole section of Manchester called the Gay Village, which has actually been serving pints to LGBT+ patrons since at least 1940! Here you’ll find pubs, bars, clubs, cafes and more, and whether your idea of a fun night involves singing to Cher at GAY or watching a drag show at AXM, you’re sure to find something in the Gay Village.
Each year in the Gay Village is the annual Manchester Pride event, which is a ten day event that begins with poetry readings, film showings and pub quizzes before culminating in a 72 hour weekend party with performers from all over the world! Manchester Pride is one of the longest running Pride events in the country, and it is a great celebration of diversity, equality and freedom of expression.
12. Heaton Park!
I hail from North Manchester, and so for me, Heaton Park was a staple of my childhood. From epic fireworks displays on November 5 to regular fun fares, charity events (such as the Cancer Research Race for Life) and concerts, Heaton Park is where it all happens! Heaton Park is also home to a golf course, tennis courts, an animal farm, ornamental gardens, bowling green, boating lake, and of course the majestic Heaton Hall!
Spanning 600 acres, Heaton Park is actually the largest municipal park in all of Europe, making it super fun to explore. Whether you want to take the dogs for a walk, feed the ducks, get lost in the forest or simply bring a picnic and enjoy a (rare!) sunny day in Manchester, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Heaton Park.
13. The Manchester Music Scene
I couldn’t write about reasons to visit Manchester without writing about the Manchester music scene. Manchester has an undeniably fantastic history when it comes to music, and bands such as Oasis, Joy Division, The Stone Roses, The Smiths, Simply Red and Take that all hail from Manchester.
Not only has Manchester produced some absolutely legendary musical talent, but it is also home to the Manchester Arena, which is the largest of its type in Europe!
If large-scale music venues are not your thing then fear not because Manchester has a tonne of intimate live music venues including Night and Day Cafe, the Ruby Lounge, Matt and Phreds jazz club and The Deaf Institute – this is a good job seeing as Manchester has the most indie and rock music events in the UK outside of London!
The Warehouse Project is another of Manchester’s finest musical offerings. The WHP is a series of club nights hosted seasonally (from September until New Year’s Day) and has played host to some of the world’s biggest international DJs, from Aphex Twin to Annie Mac, Armand Van Helden and Deadmau5, as well as artists including The Prodigy and Disclosure. Mixmag magazine actually named The Warehouse Project as the best club in the UK back in 2007.
For those looking to buy music in Manchester then make sure to pay a visit to Piccadilly Records, which is considered one of the world’s best independent record stores and has won many awards over the years.
Another musical gem that not many people know about is the free lunchtime concerts held at Chetham’s School of Music every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during term time. Chetham’s School of Music is the largest specialist music school in the UK, and the 45 minute free concerts can include anything from a solo performance to a full orchestral ensemble!
14. Manchester’s Public Transport!
Manchester has a fantastic public transport system that allows you to be transported quickly, cheaply and easily across the whole Greater Manchester area. Tram ticket prices actually came down recently (you can travel around zone 1, 2 and 3 of Manchester all day for £4.20, and zone 3 is more than 6 miles from the centre!).
Not only is the tram system in Manchester fantastic, but there is also the free metroshuttle bus, which travels around the city centre all day and is TOTALLY 100% FREE TO USE.
15. Manchester Food (Scran!)
To all the non-Mancs out there, ‘scran’ means FOOD, and Manchester has a lot of local grub that you absolutely cannot miss. From the ‘World Famous Bury Black Pudding’ (woohoo, my hometown!), to the humble chip butty, the Eccles cake, the ‘pasty barm’ (a pie or pasty on a barm/bun popular in Wigan), Manchester tart, Manchester caviar (that’s mushy peas), the Manchester egg (a quirky take on the classic Scotch egg) and good old CHIPS AND GRAVY, Manchester grub can only be described as good old-fashioned comfort food.
For some good traditional Northern scran then get yourself down to The Lass O’Gowrie, where you’ll find the Manchester egg with pickled cabbage, corned beef hash and hot pot! The name may suggest that this place is an Irish pub, but apparently the original owner was actually a Scotsman who named it after his favourite poem (this may explain the amount of Scotch eggs on the menu…).
Not only is traditional Manchester food worth sampling, but Manchester is also home to a few incredible food markets which showcase foods from all over the world! From GRUB, which hosts ‘GRUB Food Fair’ every Friday and Saturday and ‘Plant Powered Sundays’ which is Europe’s first and only weekly vegan street food event, to Mackie Mayor, a huge Grade II listed building with 400 seats and everything from tacos to reserve wines and a fish bar.
16. Girl Power!
As I mentioned earlier, Manchester was the place where the first UK meeting on women’s Suffrage was held, and Emmeline Pankhurt herself was a Manchester native, being born in Moss Side! Emmeline did SO much for women’s rights and was named by Time Magazine in 1999 as one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.
Today you can go and visit Emmeline Pankhurst’s former home and the place where the Women’s Social and Political Union was held. Functioning as both a women’s community centre and heritage centre, the heritage is open for the general public on Thursdays from 10-4pm and admission is free. There you can learn all about the Pankhursts and the Suffragette movement.
17. The Trafford Centre
Now, I am not much of a shopper (gotta save those pennies for my travels!) but if you do like to shop till you drop then a visit to Manchester Trafford Centre is a must. Not only is the building absolutely breathtaking, but it is also home to Europe’s biggest food court, designed to look just like a steam ship! The Trafford Centre is also home to a cinema, laser quest, crazy golf and many more fun activities for all the family.
18. Manchester Town Hall
I couldn’t mention Manchester architecture and not give a nod to Manchester Town Hall, which is one of the most revered Grade I listed buildings in the UK! Although it was only built in 1987, the impressive Neo Gothic architecture makes it seem much older, and it is totally free to enter and walk around inside!
19. Manchester is a City of Literature
Did you really think that the only literature reference you were getting was Chetham’s Library? Oh no dear readers, I would never deprive you like that, especially not when Manchester is a UNESCO City of Literature ‘known for possessing a radical literary history.’
As well as being home to the aforementioned oldest public library in the English speaking world, Manchester is home to the magnificent John Rylands library (a stunning Victorian Gothic building) and classic novelist Elizabeth Gaskell penned most of her works in Manchester (you can now go and visit ‘Elizabeth Gaskell’s House’). Manchester was also where Charlotte Bronte began writing Jane Eyre, where Frances Hogsden Bennet was born (and where she wrote The Secret Garden) and where Charles Dickens set Hard Times.
Contemporary Mancunian writers include The Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess, Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay and John Cooper Clarke (um, and a wonderful young lady named Danielle Leigh, who goes by the alias Travelling Jezebel…ahem).
20. Sinclair’s Oyster Bar
Remember I said that you could get a pint for as little as £2 in Manchester? Well, I lied…a little. Pints of lager in Sinclair’s Oyster Bar are actually £2.08 – don’t come at me. Sinclair’s Oyster Bar is my FAVOURITE pub in all of Manchester, and for more than one reason!
Firstly, it’s cheap. Like, really cheap. I haven’t found a cheaper beer anywhere in Manchester, and trust me, I’ve tried! Nowhere else in Manchester can you buy two pints of beer and still get change from a fiver. Part of the reason for this is that Sinclair’s is a Sam Smith’s pub, meaning that they don’t sell branded drinks but instead have a collection of local high quality stouts, ales and lagers, all at very low prices.
Secondly, Sinclair’s has genuine historical significance in Manchester. Not only did it survive the blitz of World War 11 and the 1996 IRA bombing, but it also survived a brick-by-brick move 300 metres north to where it currently stands. The building itself is a beautiful tudor building with lots of cosy nooks and crannies to hide in and a truly ‘old England’ feel with low wooden-beamed ceilings, leather couches and beautifully old-school carpets. Sinclair’s is also home to the biggest beer garden in the centre of Manchester, so if you’re looking for fun things to do in Manchester that involve lots of booze then get yourself down to Sinclair’s!
21. The Manchester Bee
The Manchester Bee has been a symbol of Manchester ever since the Industrial Revolution when it symbolised the Mancunian ‘worker bee’ work ethic and Manchester being a hive of activity in the 19th century. The Manchester Bee symbol has been everywhere, from The University of Manchester’s coat of arms to the Boddingtons logo, as well as appearing on lamposts, dustbins and bollards all around the city.
However, after the May 2017 Manchester bombing, the Manchester Bee was given a new lease of life as Mancunians proudly embraced it as a symbol of solidarity against terrorism and Mancunian identity. The Manchester Bee began popping up EVERYWHERE, from street art and sculptures to souvenirs, and the Manchester Tattoo Appeal, in which tattoo studios began donating money that they made from tattooing the Manchester Bee onto people to organisations to aid the victims of the attack and their families. Two years ago it was estimated that more than 10,000 people had got the Manchester Bee tattoo, raising more than half a million pounds for charity.
Nowadays it is impossible to walk down any street in the centre of Manchester without seeing our Bee somewhere, and this is truly one of the things that makes me proudest to be a Manc.
22. Manchester Northern Quarter
The Northern Quarter is my favourite part of Manchester, and for good reason! Here you will find all manner of cool and quirky things from vintage clothes shops to hipster coffee bars, real ale pubs to live music venues, vinyl record stores to erotic adult shops. There are also speakeasy bars, jazz clubs, independent boutiques, comedy clubs and so much more. The Northern Quarter is gritty and unpolished but it’s super eclectic and there is a lot to be explored there.
23. The Manchester Gin Experience
Gin is HUGE in Manchester, and The City of Manchester Distillery is not only Manchester’s first city centre distillery but it also offers ‘an interactive Gin Experience,’ which has been named by TripAdvisor as the ‘number 1 thing to do in Manchester.’
In the Gin Experience, you’ll learn all about the history of gin, walk around the production facility, taste 4 types of gin and even create your very own 700ml bottle of gin using whatever flavourings you want!
If you want to know more about The Manchester Gin Experience then just click here.
24. Manchester Craft Beer
Manchester is reputedly home to some of the best craft beer in the world, and so to see the some of the finest craft beer that Manchester has to offer, head on over to one of the speciality craft beer bars such as Port Street Beer House, Piccadilly Tap, or Beermoth.
You can also partake in a brewery visit and sample fresh beer straight from the tank – some of the most popular cult names are located in the industrial area to the east of Piccadilly and include Alphabet, Runaway and Cloudwater Brew Co.
25. Manchester Curry Mile
I mentioned in the introduction that Manchester is a foodie paradise and the affectionately named ‘Curry Mile’ is the nickname given to the part of Wilmslow Road running through Rusholme (that is actually only half a mile!) with over 70 South Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants, which is where you can find the biggest concentration of South Asian restaurants outside of the Indian subcontinent!
I am actually ashamed to admit that I have never eaten at the Curry Mile (for real for real you guys) but I have heard nothing but stellar reviews and the Curry Mile is the place to be if you want to scran on some South Asian or Middle Eastern cuisine. You can reach the Curry Mile in just 5-10 minutes by bus from Manchester city centre!
26. The Quays and MediaCityUK
I spent a year living in Salford Quays, just beside MediaCityUK. To those who don’t know, MediaCityUK is the largest media hub in Europe and is the home of the BBC and ITV studios and is not only a lovely place to visit for a day trip, but is also just a 15 minute tram ride from the centre of Manchester!
You will definitely not be short of things to do in The Quays. I suggest having a walk around the spectacularly preserved Tudor mansion, Ordsall Hall, before ambling by the waterside to the Lowry theatre and galleries. After a look at the exhibitions and a browse around the on-site shop, treat yourself to a spot of lunch at one of MediaCityUK’s fantastic restaurants such as The Botanist, The Alchemist, or perhaps something a bit more casual at The Dockyard pub.
When your belly is full, why not pay a visit to the Coronation Street studios and partake in a guided tour, or perhaps enjoy a full tour of the BBC studios? After that, it’s time to learn about history in the Imperial War Museum North before wandering down the other side of the Ship Canal and looking at the various sculptures, all commemorating the areas’ past as a thriving industrial dock.
Visiting Afflecks is a rite of passage on any trip to Manchester and is a shopping experience like no other. Afflecks (formerly Affleck’s Palace) is one of Manchester’s main attractions and is an alternative indoor market full of independent stalls, shops and boutiques selling everything from vintage clothing to vinyls, crystals, band t-shirts and more. Afflecks has a comic store, bead shop for arts and crafts, a graffiti/street art store, vintage Star Wars store and Pokemon cards store!
You can also get everything from Thai massages to tattoos, haircuts to tarot card readings and vegan snacks.
To see a full list of shops, as well as opening times, you can find Afflecks’ website here.
28. Marxism and Manchester
Manchester had a huge influence on Marxism, as Friedrich Engels lived here for a while and wrote The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. Whilst Engels was living and working in Manchester, Karl Marx came to visit and the two of them spent hours and hours in an alcove in Chetham’s Library, where they began to write The Communist Manifesto.
I’m certainly no communist myself but it is still interesting that such big names worked together at a desk that you can still go and sit at today.
29. Pub Quizzes
‘England’ is almost synonymous with ‘pubs’, and what better way to spend your time in a pub than by participating in a pub quiz? Almost every night in the centre of Manchester you can find a pub quiz to take part in, and most of them are either free or just £1 to enter, with prizes for winners and runners up.
I found a fun one recently in the Lass O’Gowrie pub, which starts at 8.30pm on Thursday nights and costs £1 per person. Not only was the host hilarious, but the drinks were cheap, the atmosphere was good and there was a wide range of questions to suit everyone.
30. Manchester Christmas Markets
Manchester actually has some of the biggest Christmas Markets in Europe, with one main market and tonnes of miniature markets dotted all over the city! I’ve been visiting the Manchester Christmas Markets since my early teens and every year they get bigger and better, with vendors selling foods and handicrafts from all over the world.
Whether it’s a strawberry beer or a Swiss hot chocolate that will tempt you, you can’t miss the Manchester Christmas Markets!
31. Manchester Festivals
There really is something going on all the time in Manchester, from the annual Parklife music festival to vegan food fests, CHEESE festivals, craft beer festivals, the Chinese New Year Celebrations, the Manchester Literature Festival, Manchester International Festival and of course Manchester Pride.
32. Manchester Nightlife
I LOVE Manchester’s nightlife because there is truly something for everyone. Here in Manchester we have traditional English pubs, incredible comedy venues with events on almost every night, and so much more. If you’re a hipster then you’ll enjoy the live music venues, quirky basement bars and Speakeasy haunts in the Northern Quarter, whereas if you want to show off a little then the fancy cocktail bars of Spinningfields might be more up your alley. For people who love to dance then you can’t beat Deansgate Locks with its tiki bars and Urban playlists.
If this doesn’t satisfy you then perhaps try singing the night away at one of Manchester’s many Chinese karaoke bars, sticking to the floors at one of the indie student nightclubs such as Fifth Avenue, 42s or The Venue, or be slightly more sophisticated and enjoy panoramic skyscraper views at Cloud 23 inside the Hilton Hotel or 20 Stories.
Whatever your flavour, you’ll find it in Manchester.
33. Market Street
I have a love hate relationship with Market Street (it’s nigh impossible to get anywhere in a hurry if you’re walking down Market Street!) but it’s definitely a true Manchester experience. On Market Street you’ll find living statues, buskers, breakdancers, rap artists selling their CDs, charity fundraisers, people preaching the Bible and people selling everything from glittery phone cases to whistles that make animal noises.
The hustle and bustle of Market Street combined with the sheer variety of characters that you find there definitely make for an interesting experience and in my opinion Market Street captures the true essence of Manchester.
So that just about concludes my list of 33 reasons why you have to visit Manchester!
I hope I’ve managed to show you that there are so many fun things to do in Manchester and that Manchester has a lot to offer tourists who want to experience the North of England. There are countless things to see in Manchester, as well as plenty of awesome restaurants and watering holes to visit should you need a break from viewing Manchester’s attractions.
I would love to hear about your experiences visiting Manchester, and if you’re a Mancunian, please let me know whether I missed anything off this list, and what your favourite thing is about Manchester!