Manchester has long been celebrated as a cultural, entertainment and arts hub in the north of England. Buzzing with energy, and full of life (pandemic or not!) the city and its surroundings are now home to almost three million people, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
With significant development and regeneration projects happening in the city centre and across Greater Manchester, and the government’s ongoing commitment to creating the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ there’s never been a better time to add a visit to Manchester to your bucket list.
If you’re familiar with Manchester or not, the city has some impressive exports. Underpinned by a rich musical history, the city prides itself on being the birthplace of the likes of The Stone Roses, The Smiths, and the legendary nightclub the Hacienda. But don’t be fooled into thinking the best is behind it, the city is home to some of the biggest and brightest newcomers to the music scene.
Whether you’re heading to Manchester as a day tripper, or looking to make the city your permanent home in 2021, the place is packed to the brim with things to do, places to eat and exciting things to see. We’ve put together a handy guide of what to see in Manchester – the best places in the city are unrivalled, unique and downright unmissable.
Start with a walk in the park
Green space isn’t often the first thing you think of when picturing a bustling city, but Manchester is rapidly evolving into a place where nature and innovation go hand in hand. It’s also worth noting that many of the districts of Greater Manchester are easily accessible by tram from the city centre, so you’ll be able to explore on a budget and in a more environmentally-friendly way.
Get some friends together and head north to Heaton Park. Most famously known as the host of the annual Parklife festival these days, but the 600 acre park is worth a visit all year round. With plenty of green space, a boating lake and a small farm, the park is suitable for people of all ages.
If botanical gardens peak your interest, Fletcher Moss in Didsbury is a bit of a hidden gem but a favourite with locals. Head for a walk through the park then indulge in a Sunday roast at Volta, the perfect way to round off a weekend.
Staying pretty central? Wander along the canal networks that thread through the city centre. Start on the Rochdale Canal in Ancoats and take a walk up to The Etihad Stadium, home to Manchester City Football Club, or meander through New Islington Marina, stopping at Pollen, a sourdough and Viennoiserie bakery, for a fresh loaf or homemade croissant.
Become a culture vulture
When visiting any city, soaking up the history and culture of the place can make it feel more like home. We’ve touched upon Manchester’s rich history of music, but what about the everyday people that made the city is it today? The People’s History Museum is the UK’s national centre for the collection of materials that represent the working people, and as with all UK museums entry is free, but donations are welcome.
The cities museums are known for being family-friendly, and the Manchester Museum is a great day out no matter your age. You could head out to Salford Quays to visit the Imperial War Museum North, don’t forget to stop by the Lowry or visit the Makers Market for a treat while you’re there!
If art is more your scene, Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery in the city centre are worth a stop on your visit, or head to HOME on First Street to experience some of the best and brightest creative talents showcase their work. You could also catch a show at the Royal Exchange theatre, where fresh off the West End talent and travelling theatre companies present their work.
Check out the architecture
When exploring a new city, it can be easy to get caught up with what’s on ground level, but don’t forget to look up and around you! Manchester is a city brimming with stunning architecture. Take a walk down Deansgate and pass the John Rylands Library, the outside of the building is just as attractive as the inside. Remember to look out for the staircase, a focal feature of the building.
Have you thought about taking a guided tour of the city? Walking tours are an easy and budget-friendly way to get acquainted with the places to see in Manchester, and you might learn something new too. Most tours will cover Manchester Cathedral, and take you through the history of the city, including St Anne’s Square and the Town Hall.
Have a pint in hipster’s paradise
You may have heard of the Northern Quarter, if you haven’t, where have you been? Once renowned for being the home of the offbeat and creative, the Northern Quarter is now as well known for its student scene as it is for its street art. Take a walk through the backstreets and you’ll spot plenty of walls and buildings adorned with stunning artwork created by graffiti artists and local creatives alike.
Manchester’s Northern Quarter is well regarded for its food and drink scene too. Once you’ve taken in the culture, whet your appetite with a visit to one of the bars or restaurants that line the streets. If you’re looking for the ultimate comfort food, head to Home Sweet Home, a cosy spot on Edge Street that is beloved for its brunch and overloaded desserts. If you need more inspiration for the best places to eat in the city, check out our guide.
Exploring a city is thirsty work, make sure to take the time to stop at one of the quirky bars dotted around the Northern Quarter, or head to the New Cross border and have a craft ale or glass of wine at Mackie Mayor. Formerly part of Smithfield Market, the building harks back to 1858, but had lay empty since the nineties before being refurbished in 2017 into a dining hall full of local food vendors.
Watch some live sport
We couldn’t talk about places to see in Manchester without mentioning the wide range of sports teams in the city. If you prefer football, cycling or cricket, there’s options to suit any sports fan.
Whether you’re red or blue, the city is home to two of the best football clubs in the world. Manchester City are based just outside the city centre, while Old Trafford football ground, home to Manchester United, is just across the River Irwell. Getting tickets to live matches can be a struggle, but they are sometimes available if you plan ahead. If you’re unsuccessful, matches are often shown in pubs across the city, so you’ll get the next best thing.
If cricket is more your game, head to the other Old Trafford, home to Lancashire County Cricket Club. The ground hosts test matches and club games throughout the year. The cricket ground is also often used as a concert venue, so keep an eye out for ticket announcements throughout the year.
For fans of sports on two wheels, take a trip to the Velodrome. The indoor venue also boasts a BMX track, was the site for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and is still the home of British Cycling today. Part of the SportsCity area of Manchester, it’s worth a visit for any sports fan.
If that isn’t enough, you can visit the National Football Museum in the city centre, located next to Victoria Train Station. With hands-on exhibits, places to test your football skills and over 140,000 football related-items it’s the perfect day out for any football fanatic!
Put on your dancing shoes
Exploring a new city in the day is one thing, but everyone knows places truly come alive at night, and Manchester City Centre is home to some of the best nightlife spots in the country. When wondering what to see in Manchester, don’t forget to make time to have a proper mancunian knees-up during your time here.
Start out with a Michelin star dinner at Mana in Ancoats, before putting your gladrags on and heading down for cocktails at Australasia. Keep your eyes peeled, as Spinningfields is a hotspot for reality stars and footballers alike. If quieter pubs and bars are more to your taste, head down to Salford and visit the King’s Arms, where you’ll find local ales and up and coming musicians playing to a willing crowd every weekend.
If you want high energy, grab tickets for the Warehouse Project and dance the night away, or check out a gig at one of the many music venues in the city centre. There’s Manchester Arena, which hosts pop superstars regularly, or more intimate venues such as The Albert Hall. If you’re watching music there, stop into Albert’s Schloss for an after show tipple as they have live music of their own into the small hours each weekend. Or why not party well into the night and head to Canal Street and the Gay Village.
There are lots of places to see in Manchester, have we missed any hidden gems? Let us know via our Instagram page.
Please note: this article was written prior to lockdown restrictions in England, some venues may not be open or have restricted capacity. Please check with the venue before making a booking.