Manchester really is a city that has everything.
Bursting with culture, history, a packed entertainment calendar, and some of the world’s best restaurants and shops, it’s little wonder the city draws in millions of tourists from across the globe each year.
There’s so much to see and do while in Manchester it can be hard to decide where to start or what to prioritise.
Thankfully, the neighbourhoods that make up the city are all within relatively close proximity to each other – although it may be worth investing in a travel card for the Metrolink if you really want to zip your way around the centre.
So, if you are visiting Manchester – or will be welcoming guests to the city soon – take a look at our suggestions of what we think are essential experiences for visitors.
Go to a football match
Yes, there’s the world-famous big Premiership teams, City and United, both of which attract fans from across the globe.
But you don’t need to head to Old Trafford or the Etihad to experience some quality football. There’s some decent lower league teams too.
Think Bolton Wanderers, Rochdale, Wigan Athletic, Stockport County, Altricham, the list goes on.
Greater Manchester has a number of teams located in the boroughs outside the city and you won’t have to travel too far to experience a game – and there’s definitely an electric atmosphere in the stands of a smaller club.
And don’t forget the women’s teams either – Manchester City Women are one of the best in the world.
Or for an alternative, grass roots option. go and see FC United, the team formed in protest against the Glazers’ take over of Manchester United.
Or go to the football museum
If you aren’t around on match day, or simply want more of a football fix, make sure you check out the National Football Museum.
Based in the glass Urbis museum, it’s the world’s biggest museum dedicated to the beautiful game.
Spread over five floors, it’s packed full of important collections and memorabilia – plus Premier League and FA Cup trophies that you can have your photo taken with.
Check out the huge number of replica shirts from over the years, and the controversial Jules Rimmet World Cup trophy.
Take a wander around Chinatown
Manchester’s Chinatown is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and is the centre of the city’s Chinese community.
It’s a colourful and vibrant area where you are guaranteed a massive range of delicious east Asian restaurants varying from Chinese, Japanese, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Thai and more.
You’ll also find specialist shops, gorgeous bakeries, small markets boasting a wealth of Chinese produce, karaoke bars and massage salons.
Be sure to visit the magnificent and famous arch that straddles Faulkner Street while you’re there – brought from China in 1987 and the first of its kind to be built in the UK.
Explore the Northern Quarter
Packed full of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, independent retailers, clubs and venues, you really could spend a whole day exploring the trendy Northern Quarter neighbourhood.
Centred on Oldham Street, just off Piccadilly Gardens, it offers an alternative experience to the main high street.
With retailers offering a wide range of unique products, from vintage gems to bespoke products, it’s definitely the place to go for those who want to buy something that isn’t ‘off-the-rack’.
The area is also home to many of the city’s creatives, with design and fashion agencies based here, not to mention the wealth of street and urban art found throughout.
You’ll also find the Manchester Craft & Design Centre here, which showcases the work of a number of artist-led studios offering the best in locally designed products.
After dark, the Northern Quarter is still bustling, transforming into a nightlife hotspot with independent and eclectic bars and restaurants to experience – and several clubs where you can dance the night away.
And, thanks to the area’s New York style architecture, it’s regularly used as a film and TV location in Hollywood blockbusters.
Browse Afflecks Palace
This eccentric department store is probably on every single Manchester bucket list – and it’s for a very good reason.
Touted as an “emporium of eclecticism”, this indoor market houses dozens of independent stalls and boutiques over three floors. It specialises in indie and alternative commerce.
From a specialist Star Wars stockist, body piercing and tattoo studios, kitsch accessories, gothic and hippy -style clothing, music stalls, independent art and retro relics, it’s a treasure trove of alternative goodies.
So much so that chart topper Lady Gaga spent £8,000 on a shopping trip there after spending three hours browsing the stalls.
Enjoy a combination of pizza and jazz
This long-established live music venue in the Northern Quarter has hosted shows by everyone from Jamie Cullum to Adele over the years.
It’s best known for jazz, but its six live music nights a week encompass everything from folk and gypsy to salsa, swing and ska.
Entry is free Monday to Thursday and just £5 on Friday and Saturdays, and there are some top happy hour offers if you’re after an affordable night out.
They also have a fab pizza menu, offering a great selection of pies – including a vegan option – so your taste buds can be treated as well as your ears.
Eat at one of the many great restaurants
There’s so many great places to eat in the city, it’s hard to know where to start.
Whatever your taste, dietary requirements or budget, there’s a restaurant in Manchester that will tick all of the right boxes.
Fine dining? Check out the places that made it onto the latest edition of the Good Food Guide.
Or check out some of the newest restaurants on the Manchester foodie scene that are opening their doors in 2020.
Or take a look at the A to Z of restaurants from around the world that you’ll find right here in the city.
One thing is for sure, whatever you fancy for tea, there will be a place that serves it.
Or sample a Mancunian delicacy
There’s nothing quite like a steaming hot portion of proper chips and gravy – ideal for a meal on the go while you’re exploring the city.
Or push the boat out and have it with cheese – a sort of Mancunian version of poutine.
There’s loads of decent chippys in town, try Wright’s on Cross Street, home to the famous fish supper butty, Leo’s on Oldham Street that has its own gelato ice cream bar or Portland Plaice – an authentic old-school style chip shop.
Or try a rice and three dinner – a meal that consists of a base of rice with three curries of your choice from a set menu.
It’s served canteen-style, queue up and pick your chosen curries from the board before picking your garnishes/toppings.
It’s exciting, it’s cheap, and above all, it’s delicious.
Try This & That, Yadgar Cafe and Cafe Marhaba for your city centre rice and three fix.
Don’t forget your Vimto either.
Have a brew at the Cat Cafe
If you’re in Manchester and a cat lover then a visit to the Cat Café is a must.
Offering a relaxing sanctuary behind a number of secure doors, this café is home to a large number of resident cats that just need to be petted.
They also have an extensive menu of hot and cold drinks and comfy settees – and there’s no limit to how long you are welcome to stay.
They even run a number of special events including film nights and Cat Yoga sessions.
The cats are never caged and there are always staff on duty to give the cats as much (or as little) attention as they want or need.
All of the resident cats and kittens come from registered GCCF breeders who abide by the rules of ethical breeding, and they only ever take in cats that will be happy in the café and are struggling to find homes elsewhere.
Enjoy some live music
Whether you’re in the market for a massive stadium gig or fancy discovering an up-coming new band, there are plenty of venues across the city.
All showcasing the best musical talent across all genres, you’re certain to find a performance to suit your taste.
For classical, try the Bridgewater Hall, Chethams or the Royal Northern College of Music.
For live DJs, dance and trance, head to the Warehouse Project, Soup Kitchen and Gorilla.
For top bands and your favourite singers, there’s usually gigs on at the O2 Ritz, O2 Apollo, The Albert Hall and Manchester Academy.
Intimate gigs are a regular occurrence at many of the smaller live music venues across the city centre, favourites include Band on the Wall, The Deaf Institute and Night and Day.
We even have some of the world’s best buskers.
Even if you’re only visiting for a short time, be sure to take in some of the best live music while you’re here.
See some of Manchester’s great art collections
Manchester is home to several galleries with some of the most impressive collections to date.
The Whitworth is home to an internationally important collection of art, including significant work by William Blake and J.M.W. Turner, as well as hosting an exciting roster of visiting exhibitions and events.
Manchester Art Gallery also boasts some truly world-class work, most notably its outstanding collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings.
As well as historic fine art and international contemporary work, the Mosley Street building is also home to a treasure trove of craft and design, from ceramics and silver to glass and furniture.
Salford Quays is also home to The Lowry, home to the world’s largest public collection of paintings and drawings by LS Lowry.
Get acquainted with Stan
Stan the T Rex, the skeleton cast of a fearsome dinosaur, is Manchester Museum’s most famous resident.
While you’re there you can pose with him and his pal Percy the Plesiosaur in the Fossils gallery, meet Maude the Tigon from Belle Vue Zoo and discover artefacts from Ancient Egypt and other ancient civilisations.
The museum has some of the best anthropology, archaeology and natural history in the country with over four million items from across all continents.
Get up close to some planes
The Museum of Science and Industry opened in 1983, within a collection of Grade I and II-listed buildings, part of the former Liverpool Road railway station in Castlefield, the world’s first passenger railway station.
The free gallery houses a collection of cars, bike, planes and other transport rarities that guests can see up close.
You’ll find star exhibits like the Avro Shackleton and Avro Avian, which were designed to locate and attack submarines and conduct rescue missions due to their ability to fly long periods of time.
There is also a red Avro 707A plane built in 1952, and a Rolls Royce Avon 100 jet engine.
Or see a See a replica of the Roe Triplane 1, which became the first all-British aeroplane to take to the skies on 23 July 1909.
You can also see a 1912 Ford Model T, built in Trafford Park, Manchester.
Go for a drink on Canal Street
Home to the Gay Village, Canal Street is a shining example of pride and living proof that Manchester is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the world.
The area has blossomed over the years into a thriving community, with a combination of bars, clubs, restaurants and green spaces set alongside a long stretch of the Rochdale Canal, making it the perfect setting for alfresco drinking and dining.
By night, the village welcomes all members of the LGBTQ community with a variety of venues offering entertainment every night of the week.
Browse the many independent shops
Manchester is a hive of thriving independent retailers specialising in a variety of different products.
For music fans, there’s a ton of record stores just waiting to be discovered – from the steadfast Piccadilly Records to the Vinyl Exchange, and the popular Eastern Bloc specialising in house, techno, dub, funk and reggae.
Not forgetting Vinyl Revival on Hilton Street, which opened at the height of the Britpop scene and dedicates a good percentage of its shelves to Manchester music from the 60s to the present day.
Bibliophiles will love the selection of eclectic book shops dotted around the city – from the old-school Paramount Books, an eccentric independent retailer with shelves stacked to the ceiling with books on every subject, to Chapter One – a book store cum coffee shop that houses a collection of unusual titles and even has typewriter booths to craft your own bestseller.
Or try Magma, a bookseller dedicated to design-focused reads.
Lovers of all things retro will adore the vintage clothes and furniture stores found in the streets of Manchester.
The likes of Cow Vintage, Blue Rinse, Pop Boutique, Thrift and Retro Rehab all stock unique pieces from yesteryear covering all trends and styles.
Don’t forget to check out Empire Exchange for a wild range of kitsch classic homeware items.
Or explore a truly phenomenal high street
Manchester really is a shoppers paradise, being home to many big brands and flagship stores.
Including Market Street, the Arndale Centre, King Street, Deansgate, Spinningfields and the surrounding areas, the shopping district attracts millions of visitors from near and far.
Whatever brand, product or retailer you’re looking for, chances are you’ll find it in Manchester.
From a massive Primark store to the likes of DKNY and Louis Vuitton, shoppers will find the biggest and best ranges on offer here in the city.
See a theatre show
Manchester has such wide variety of amazing theatre spaces – from grand historical auditoriums to modern stages.
From theatrical classics to intimate comedy acts, family friendly shows to stunning dance performances, the city has a buzzing performing arts scene that simply needs to be experienced by both locals and visitors alike.
With an ever-changing programme of entertainment suiting all tastes and moods, discover your new favourite performance in Manchester at a venue like the Royal Exchange, the Lowry, or the bijou Hope Mill Theatre.
Visit the most stunning library you’ll ever see
Known as the most remarkable university special collections library in the world, the John Rylands Library was designed by the architect Basil Champneys in magnificent neo-gothic style and built as a gift to the city.
And it’s not just visually stunning either, it’s home to a massive number of important items with over 1.4 million items in its collections – the manuscripts alone cover more than fifty languages and span over five millennia.
There’s a large number of rare books, archives, maps, works of art and objects.
The library is also home to the St John Fragment, a scrap of papyrus that is widely regarded to be the earliest part of any New Testament writing in existence.
Or the oldest…
The oldest public library in the English speaking world, Chetham’s Library dates back to 1421 when it was built for the priests of Manchester’s Collegiate Church.
Today, it is packed with historical fact and amazing stories – plus more than 100,000 volumes of printed books.
With the smell of old leather-bound books and traditional polished mahogany and medieval architecture, it’s a truly magical place for bibliophiles and heritage fans alike.
There’s also a chained book area and visitors can see the famous desk in the main reading room where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels studied together – ultimately leading Marx to publish the Communist Manifesto.
Mamucium, also known as Mancunium, is what remains of a former Roman fort in Castlefield and dates back to AD 79. T
he ruins were left completely undisturbed until Manchester expanded rapidly during the Industrial Revolution.
Large parts of it were levelled to make way for the Rochdale Canal and the Great Northern Railway.
However today, a section of the fort’s wall along with its gatehouse, granaries, and other ancillary buildings from the original, have been reconstructed and are open to the public.
Go on a cruise
See the city from a totally different viewpoint with a cruise along its waterways.
Enjoy a boat journey along the Manchester Ship Canal or take a river cruise on sightseeing trips from Salford Quays.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city roads and streets, take a gentle trip along the rivers and canals.
Take in some of the best and unspoiled views of the skyline, seeing the landscape change as the boat sails idly by.
Walk the cobbles
Step onto the set of the nation’s most famous street – and the largest working television set in the country.
Coronation Street is the UK’s longest running soap and synonymous with Manchester, and is broadcast across the globe with fans in every corner.
Follow in the footsteps of your favourite characters on the official Corrie tour and you’ll be immersed in the places that you know and love – the iconic Rovers Return, Roy’s Rolls, Underworld and The Kabin.
There’s so many geek-centric places to visit in town that are perfect for any comic, film or game fan.
Try Travelling Man on Dale Street or Forbidden Planet on Oldham Street for your comic book and merchandise needs.
FanBoy3 near Piccadilly Gardens stocks everything tabletop and card gamers need and has knowledgeable staff to help you on your quest.
Head over to the Roxy Ball Room and you’ll find a whole host of physical games – ranging from mini golf, ping pong, beer pong, and shuffleboard, all washed down with craft beer and cocktails.
Or if video games are more your thing, Fab Cafe, Hold Fast 17 Below and NQ64 are all a haven for gamers, varying from retro arcade classics to more recent console creations.
If you have the time to venture out of the city on your trip, head to Bury for the Bury Arcade Club – the largest classic video game arcade in the UK.
Get an aerial view
Take a different look at Manchester from one of the rooftop bars and terraces found in the city centre.
Try 20 Stories, which is perched at the top of the No 1 Spinningfields tower and has a huge roof garden with spectacular, wraparound views across Manchester.
Head to the trendy Cloud 23, Hilton hotel’s smart cocktail and champagne bar on the 23rd floor of the landmark Beetham Tower – the tallest building in Manchester – which has some of the best views across the city.
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