Mancunians are fiercely proud of their city. And rightly so as the ever-growing metropolis houses an impressive collection of attractions, with options to appease even the most cultured visitors.
It’s not just football and great music, either. Awesome art galleries, museums with free entry and all manner of festivals are possible contenders for your itinerary. Not sure where to start? Here’s just a snapshot of the best things to do in Manchester.
1. Go to a gig
The Madchester years may be over and the Haçienda long gone (or, rather, remodeled as a block of flats), but Manchester’s musical spirit remains very much alive. The city has nurtured numerous bands over the years and still plays host to countless live music venues.
Attending a gig is easily one of the best things to do in Manchester at night. Band on the Wall and the Deaf Institute showcase an eclectic mix of up-and-coming acts, while the MEN Arena is the domain of globally renowned superstars. You could also treat your ears to free live jazz at friendly neighborhood bar Matt and Phreds or listen to classical masterpieces courtesy of the Hallé Orchestra at Bridgewater Hall.
Detour: The Science and Industry Museum's Turn It Up: The power of music exhibit lets visitors get hands-on with music making, with displays that include odd and groundbreaking instruments and a space to create your own masterpiece.
2. Explore the Northern Quarter
Manchester’s hippest neighborhood sits a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Gardens and offers numerous refreshing alternatives to the chain cafes and high street stores of nearby Market Street.
As well as being adorned with thought-provoking street art, the Northern Quarter’s red brick buildings are filled with vintage clothing shops, indie record stores and quirky themed bars.
Some of the best restaurants in Manchester can be found here, too. Head to Northern Soul Grilled Cheese for a cheap and indulgently cheesy lunch. You could also join the queue for a table at Aussie-run brunch spot, Federal, where great coffee is served alongside plates piled high with smashed avocado, grilled halloumi and freshly-baked sourdough toast.
Local tip: With lots of boutique hotels and situated in a convenient location, the Northern Quarter is also a good place to stay in Manchester.
3. Indulge your inner football fan
Manchester is the home of not one, but two legendary football teams. Whether your loyalties lie with Manchester City or Manchester United, you’ll find much to entertain you at the National Football Museum. Tucked behind the cathedral, it’s the biggest museum of its kind and one of the most popular attractions in Manchester.
Local Tip: Rather see a ball being kicked across the pitch? The Premier League season kicks off in early September, with matches hosted at both the Etihad Stadium and Old Trafford. Pick up tickets for as little as £20 or go inside Old Trafford during a private stadium tour.
4. Tick off some museums
There’s no shortage of ways to spend a day in Manchester. With no fewer than ten museums located within the city limits, it’s an excellent place to expand your knowledge on a range of different subjects.
Learn about the Suffragette Movement at the Pankhurst Centre or uncover the city’s natural history at the Manchester Museum. The Imperial War Museum North in Salford Quays is as educational and evocative as its London counterpart.
Visiting with kids? The Science and Industry Museum is hands down one of the best things to do in Manchester as a family. It’s lodged inside the oldest railway terminus in the world and has some brilliant interactive exhibits, including astronaut virtual reality experiences for wannabe space explorers.
5. John Rylands Library
The John Rylands Library – with its Gothic facade and dramatic interiors that wouldn’t look out of place in a Sherlock Holmes mystery – is more than just a giant storehouse for rare books. It’s stood on the same spot on Deansgate since the 1890s and is probably the city’s most impressive heritage site.
A visit to the library is one of the best things to do in Manchester, whether you’re a certified bookworm or not. Entry is free and it’ll take you less than an hour to admire its wood-paneled reading rooms, sweeping stone staircases and glass cases filled with fading, antique papyrus.
6. Eat your way around the city
If you take away one piece of advice, let it be this: always come to Manchester with an appetite. The city has some serious culinary credentials, spanning Michelin-starred fine dining to vegan-friendly fast food. Mouth-watering global cuisine is always on the menu, too.
Ancoats (the Northern Quarter’s equally cool neighbor) is Manchester’s unofficial Little Italy and where you’ll be able to gorge on stonebaked pizza and other carb-heavy delights. For fragrant ramen and delectable dim sum, the brightly decorated restaurants of Chinatown are your best bet.
Local Tip: Searching for a cozy Sunday lunch spot? Book a table at Sam’s Chop House. It’s one of the best pubs in Manchester and still has the same moody Victorian decor as it did when it opened in 1868.
7. Check out the city’s craft beer scene
Manchester is swiftly catching up with the capital when it comes to craft beer. A good chunk of its breweries (many of them with onsite bars) lie a short walk from Manchester Piccadilly station. This includes trendy Cloudwater Brewing Co and the slightly more rustic Alphabet Brewing Company.
Detour: Prefer a G&T? The Manchester Gin distillery behind the Odeon Great Northern offers terrific tasting tours.
8. Hit up a market
Sucker for a good market? Manchester has plenty. Foodies will be thoroughly satisfied with the treats on offer at Altrincham Market and Mackie Mayor in the Northern Quarter. If it's vintage treasures you’re seeking, make a beeline for eclectic Afflecks on Church Street. There’s also the Didsbury Maker’s Market – an emporium of locally made gifts and crafts – which sets up shop just off Burton Road on the last Sunday of every month.
9. Salford Quays
Looking for things to do outside Manchester City Center? Hop on the tram and head for Salford Quays. The modern waterfront district is on the site of the former Manchester Docks and serves as the home of the BBC and ITV in the North. You’ll spot their studio buildings in the aptly named MediaCityUK.
Directly opposite is The Quays, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex. Within it is the Lowry, one of the top-performing arts centers in the region, and Salford Water Sports Centre where you can hire paddleboards or kayaks to explore the surrounding canals.
10. Attend one of Manchester’s many festivals
No matter the season, there’s bound to be a festival to take your fancy. Mancunians love to celebrate, whether that’s by heading en masse to Heaton Park for the Parklife music festival or by lining the streets of the Gay Village for the annual Pride parade.
You could also enjoy avant-garde film screenings and immersive performance art at the biannual Manchester International Festival or join in with the Lunar New Year festivities in Manchester’s Chinatown in early February.
11. Take a dip at Victoria Baths
This early Edwardian swimming pool turned cultural events venue is worth trekking up Oxford Road for. Victoria Baths first opened in 1906, and it’s managed to retain its period beauty. Original tiles cover the walls of the entrance hall, while powder blue changing cubicles with red and white striped curtains line the edge of the female baths.
The long-term goal is to refurbish it as a public pool and Turkish bath. For now, though, Victoria Baths is open for tours between March and September.
Local tip: Various events are held throughout the year too, including the Vintage Home Show in June and a pop-up festive cinema in December.
12. Embark on an art-themed tour of the city
Art fanatics will be in their element in Manchester. The Whitworth Art Gallery’s collections are vast and include prints by Renoir and Cezanne, as well as a room dedicated entirely to wonderfully colorful wallpaper.
Back in the city center, Manchester Art Gallery is a haven for fine art aficionados and usually has a fantastic temporary modern art exhibition. You could also browse bold works with hefty price tags at Castle Fine Art Gallery on King Street.
Local tip: After a unique date idea? Leisurely uncovering the street art of the Northern Quarter and Ancoats – preferably with a coffee in hand – is one of our top things to do in Manchester as a couple.