The “ultimate” guide to Manchester, now, that’s quite a statement. However, having lived in Manchester for almost 8 years, I thought it was about time I jotted down a local’s guide to Manchester. There’s just so much to write about this wonder of a city – from its industrial history to modern foodie revolution. From the shiny skyscrapers of Spinningfields to the red brick buildings of Northern Quarter. It’s hardly a secret that I adore this city; I’ve lived in quite a few places but nowhere has captured my heart quite like Manchester. Whilst I might not be a Manc born and bred, I’m very happy that I get to call this city home. In the hope of inspiring at least a few visits to Manchester, I therefore present you with the ultimate guide to Manchester.
If you like listening more than reading, then I talk through a lot of the information below in my interview with the Amateur Traveler podcast.
Basic Guide To Manchester
Population: 541,300 (Manchester), 2.78 million (Greater Manchester)
Currency: GBP (British Pound)
Timezone: GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) in winter, BST (British Summer Time, GMT+1) in summer.
Plug type: 3 pin, type G. 220V – 240V. The plug type is different to most of mainland Europe.
A Brief History of Manchester
Don’t worry, this is not my history book writing debut. However, I strongly believe that the key to a great city trip is to have some basic understanding of the destination’s history. In addition, Manchester actually has a really interesting history that’s full of world firsts. I’ve put together a very brief history guide to Manchester below:
- Mamucium – Manchester as a Roman fort.
- 18th century – Manchester starts to see growth due to building of canals
- Industrial Revolution – birthplace of industrial revolution during 19th century. Rapid growth and Manchester gains city status in 1853. Cotton processing is a key production area.
- 1830 – world’s first passenger railway station opens with trains running between Manchester and Liverpool.
- 1842 – the worker’s bee is incorporated into the city’s coat of arms. The bee represents community and hard work.
- 1894 – Manchester Ship Canal opens to compete with the port of Liverpool.
- 1917 – Ernest Rutherford splits the atom.
- 1918 – women over 30 are granted the right to vote thanks to the Suffragette movement lead by Emmeline Pankhurst.
- WW2 – Manchester sees damage during the Blitz.
- After WW2 – the cotton production declines as little investment is made in new technologies and production moves to developing countries.
- 1982 – infamous nightclub The Hacienda opens. It was a key music venue during the Madchester years in the late 80s and early 90s.
- 1991 – famous rock band Oasis is formed in Manchester.
- 1990s – gentrification begins in Manchester including defining the borders of Northern Quarter.
When To Visit Manchester
Manchester, like most of England, is famous for rain and the city sees on average 140 days of rainfall every year. In fact, the wet climate was one of the reasons the cotton industry fared so well here; the high humidity made the cotton threads less fragile during production.
Apart from the very real possibility of getting soaking wet, Manchester actually has quite mild seasons. Despite the less defined seasons the weather can be pretty unpredictable due to the city’s location between the coast and the Peak District. As a matter of fact, I don’t even bother deciding my outfit for the day until the same morning, as the weather predictions can change so much from day to day.
Winter in Manchester (Dec – Feb)
You might get snow in the hills surrounding Manchester but it’s rare to see snow in the city centre. Temperatures are unlikely to drop below freezing and generally hover between 2 to 7 degrees. Do keep in mind that buildings don’t always have the best insulation, so it can feel damp and cold.
A definite draw of visiting Manchester in the colder season is the Christmas Market. The Christmas Market is massive and runs through November and December. In February you have the yearly Chinese New Year celebrations.
Spring in Manchester (March – May)
One of the more unpredictable seasons as the city often gets mini-heatwaves where temperatures soar to above 20, only to be followed by a week of 10 degrees and rain. Aim for May if you want a higher chance of sun. Average temperatures during these 3 months are between 4 to 15 degrees (with May significantly warmer than March).
Summer in Manchester (June – Aug)
July has the lowest amount of rain days (20, same as May actually) but you can get very intense downpours. Rain in Manchester often comes and goes, so you get a few hours of rain, a few hours of dry skies, a few hours of rain…you get it. Average temperatures in summer are 10 to 20 degrees, but you can definitely get warmer days during heatwaves.
Summer in Manchester is great if you want to experience events; the music festival Parklife takes place in June followed by Pride in August. The city also hosts events such as Manchester Jazz Festival, King Street Festival and the Caribbean Carnival of Manchester.
Autumn in Manchester (Sept – Nov)
October and November are the wettest months of the year and temperatures drop quite fast after September. Personally, I’d go for spring or summer over autumn (with the possible exception of September which can be nice). Average temperatures are between 4 and 17 degrees, with November significantly colder than September. In November you can watch the opening of Manchester Christmas Market which includes an impressive fireworks display.
How To Travel To and Around Manchester
Travel to Manchester
Manchester’s main airport is Manchester Airport (very straight-to-the-point name), which has great connections to the rest of the world.
- Europe: several airlines have direct connections to Manchester from Europe. There are too many to mention but some key players include Ryanair, Easyjet, Jet2.com, KLM, Norwegian, Lufthansa and British Airways.
- North America: Manchester is served by airlines such as Delta, United, Virgin Atlantic and Air Canada.
- South America: some of the bigger airlines cover South American destinations e.g. KLM and Air France.
- Asia: the airport is served by well-known airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways.
- Africa: some of the bigger airlines cover African destinations e.g. Emirates, Ryanair, KLM and Lufthansa.
Travel Into Manchester
Once you’ve landed, there are several options for onward travel into Manchester.
Taxi From Manchester Airport to Manchester
You can book and prepay for a taxi at the airport’s StreetCars office or go straight to a black cab without pre-booking. I generally find black cabs more expensive. I never get a cab all the way into the city centre but, based on the cost to my house, I would expect a taxi to cost roughly £35. The journey should take about 30 minutes with good traffic. Uber is also popular in Manchester and you can easily find a car to take you from the airport.
Bus From Manchester Airport to Manchester
There are a number of buses serving the airport. For city centre destinations, your best bets are number 43 (more frequent) or 103. Both will take about 1h 10 min into the city, so this is definitely a slower way to travel. Tickets are £3.50. Unless you need to get off before the city centre, I’d opt for the train instead.
Metrolink From Manchester Airport to Manchester
The tram network covers a large area of Manchester so could be a good option for you. A one-way ticket into Market Street (city centre) costs £4.80. The journey takes 54 minutes. You can also carry onwards to Victoria Station, one of Manchester’s main train stations after Manchester Piccadilly.
Train From Manchester Airport to Manchester
If you’re heading into the city centre, train is the best combination of cost and length of journey. The journey takes 15 – 20 minutes to Manchester Piccadilly (different to Piccadilly Gardens which is the main bus station). Prices vary depending on the train provider, expect to pay between £3 and £5.
Travel Around Manchester
Manchester’s city centre is compact and you’ll be able to walk pretty much everywhere, unless you’re visiting attractions outside of the city core. If you were to venture out further, there are a few different options. Your best friend for planning any transport is the Transport for Greater Manchester’s journey planner.
‘Free Bus’ is a free bus service that operates in the city centre. For timetables and bus routes, check out the free bus website. Am I the only one who’s not overly impressed by the imaginative name of this service?
The paid-for buses are handy if you want to travel out of the city centre to explore Greater Manchester. The two main companies are called Stagecoach and First Bus. There are tickets that can be used across both companies but you’ll probably find it more cost effective to plan your excursions around one company’s timetables. You can buy one way, day, weekly and monthly tickets. All except the monthly tickets can be bought on the bus. Both cash and contactless cards are accepted forms of payment.
The tram network covers a large area of Manchester and can be a faster way to explore Greater Manchester (compared to buses). You can buy single, day, weekend, weekly and monthly tickets. The ticket machines are located at the station so buy them before you board. The machines accept both cash and chip cards. You can find the tram map on TFGM’s website.
Where To Stay in Manchester
As mentioned, Manchester is a very walkable city but you still want to make sure you’re not too far away from the action. Hotels in Manchester can vary greatly in terms of quality; you get old hotels that fit the stereotypical drafty English house to luxury boutique hotels and worldwide chains.
Start by deciding what you want out of the neighbourhood you’re staying in; traditional red brick buildings, bars, café culture, sleek upmarket restaurants? Use my neighbourhood guide to Manchester as a starting point and then have a look at the below. I always use booking.com for my hotel stays, as I find them the easiest to use (and you get discounts if you book through them often enough!).
Northern Quarter is great for first-time visitors that want to stay centrally and appreciate a fun atmosphere. The area has loads of bars, restaurants and cafés along with vintage shopping and record stores.
King Street is close to attractions such as John Rylands Library and Manchester Town Hall. It’s traditionally the posh area of Manchester and I’m including it because of two hotels that I seriously want to stay at (and have heard very good things about): The Gotham and King Street Townhouse. I mean, just look at the infinity pool at King Street Townhouse.
Oxford Street / Peter Street
Piccadilly Gardens incl Portland Street
Piccadilly Gardens is right in the city centre so you’re close to all the high street shopping. Portland Street on the other hand is a major thoroughfare into the city centre. This is where you’ll find a lot of the chains, such as Mercure, ibis, Novotel and Holiday Inn.
Canal Street, rather unsurprisingly, runs next to a canal and is the LGBTQ district. The area is close to the city centre and great for nightlife.
Salford Quays is located in Salford (Greater Manchester), rather than Manchester city centre. This is a modern neighbourhood that can be reached by tram or bus from the city centre. If you’re a Manchester United fan, you will appreciate the proximity to Old Trafford. The area is also a good option if you are visiting the Imperial War Museum North and The Lowry. Be aware that restaurant and hotel choices are more limited than in the city centre.
What To Do in Manchester
There is a plethora of both paid and free things to do in Manchester and it can be difficult to know where to even start! To give you a taster, I’ve split my suggestions down into types of activities, so you can get started on your Manchester bucketlist.
Historical Things To Do in Manchester
- John Rylands Library: one of my favourite sights, a library dedicated to Manchester’s first multi-millionaire.
- Manchester Cathedral: original was erected in 1215. Known for its contemporary stain glass windows that replaced originals after the WW2 Blitz.
- Castlefield Roman Ruins: reconstruction of Roman fort Mamucium incl artist illustrations of what the area would have once looked like.
- Emmeline Pankhurst Centre: former residence of Suffragette Movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst in south Manchester.
- Abraham Lincoln Statue: Manchester supported Lincoln during his blockade of the Confederate states despite the cost to its own cotton industry.
- Royal Exchange Theatre: originally a world centre for cotton trade and now a theatre. You can still see the old trading boards.
Museums in Manchester
- Museum of Science and Industry: my favourite museum in Manchester, dedicated to the Industrial Revolution and industry in general.
- People’s History Museum: covers democracy and political movements.
- National Football Museum: it’s in the name really, dedicated to British football.
- Greater Manchester Police Museum: small museum dedicated to the city’s police force.
- Manchester Museum: covers natural history, located in south Manchester.
- Imperial War Museum North: one of 5 museums in England, covers modern warfare. Located in Salford.
Art in Manchester
- Manchester Art Gallery: great temporary exhibitions and a permanent exhibition that includes the Pre-Raphaelites.
- The Whitworth: revamped art museum holding almost 60,000 pieces in its collection, constantly changing exhibitions.
- Chinese Centre for Contemporary Art: art gallery focused on Chinese contemporary art.
- HOME: centre dedicated to contemporary art, theatre and film.
- Northern Quarter street art: those interested in street art should definitely not miss Northern Quarter. I especially recommend Stevenson Square and the north end of Spear Street where works are constantly renewed.
- The Lowry: art gallery and performance space in Salford Quays dedicated to the artist L.S. Lowry.
Quirky Things To Do in Manchester
- The Temple: a Victorian toilet converted into an underground pub.
- Victoria Baths movie screenings: cinema nights set up in former public baths, including street food carts.
- Affleck’s Palace: a hot pot of alternative shopping including independent brands, vintage shops, record stores and dress up costumes.
- Chill Factore: indoor ski slope where you can take skiing lessons or play in the snow.
- iFly Indoor Skydiving: experience the feeling of skydiving in a wind tunnel.
- Crystal Maze: old TV show immortalised as a real-life game experience.
- Coronation Street Tour: Coronation Street is the UK’s longest-running soap and you can tour the set in Salford.
- Virtual Hideout: try virtual reality gaming. A host will explain and guide you through the games.
What To Do in Manchester at Night
- NQ64: a basement bar with retro arcade games.
- Matt & Phreds: jazz bar where you can catch free live performances.
- Jimmy’s: intimate live music venue, great for rock and indie.
- Junkyard Golf: minigolf meets bar with everything from flashing lights to party cups.
- The Daisy: beautiful basement bar with vintage vibes.
- Clubbing: Manchester has a history of nightlife and there are endless options. Some examples are Deansgate Locks, O2 Ritz and 42nd Street.
Other Things To Do in Manchester
Just to cover off a few things that don’t fit the other categories!
- Heaton Park: the biggest park in Manchester that hosts events and has its own hall and stable block.
- Chinatown: the 3rd biggest Chinatown in Europe and home to some lovely restaurants.
- Fletcher Moss Park & Parsonage Gardens: my favourite place in Manchester, a forest and botanical garden in south Manchester.
- Football stadium tours: go for a guided tour at either Old Trafford (Manchester United) or Etihad Stadium (Manchester City).
Where To Eat in Manchester
To recommend a place to eat in Manchester is almost impossible. Manchester is such a foodie city that the choices are pretty much endless and, more importantly, always changing. New restaurants are constantly opening up and it can be difficult just to keep up. I have detailed some great places to eat in Northern Quarter in a separate post, but below you can also see some of my favourite restaurants by cuisine. There’s obviously more great restaurants in Manchester than these, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right?
British Food in Manchester
Let’s start the list close to home with British food.
- Sam’s Chop House: once L.S. Lowry’s favourite pub, which is commemorated with a statue at the bar.
- Pieminister: specialises in one of England’s staple foods; pies.
- The Refuge by Volta: ok, technically The Refuge’s main menu isn’t very British. However, I’ve included it here as you need to try their Sunday roast, which is one of the most English dishes in existence.
- The Didsbury: located in one of Manchester’s suburbs (Didsbury), this pub serves some pretty ace food. Service can be slow but the food is worth it.
European Food in Manchester
There are some great restaurants in Manchester that serve different cuisines from mainland Europe – from Spain to Austria.
- The Spärrows: great little restaurant that specialises in European dumplings such as spätzle and gnocchi. Make sure you book in advance.
- Evuna NQ: Spanish tapas in two locations, I recommend the one in Northern Quarter.
- Gusto: Italian food, their 3 meat lasagna is amazing.
- Albert’s Schloss: one of my personal favourites; they serve traditional alpine food.
- The Pasta Factory: this slice of Italy located in Shudehill has an incredible pasta menu and super friendly staff.
Asian Food in Manchester
Forever my favourite part of the food world, this will be the longest (and most tried) list.
- Happy Seasons: my favourite Chinese. You come here for the food, not the interior.
- Viet Shack: Vietnamese that started with a food stall in Arndale Food Market and then expanded with a restaurant in Ancoats (north Manchester).
- Yuzu: Japanese restaurant with a mention in the Michelin Guide. Focus on dishes such as udon, katsu and tempura rather than sushi.
- Chaopraya: fine Thai dining that has a few outlets across the United Kingdom.
- Thaikhun: another great Thai restaurant in a cool environment.
- Koreana: their japchae is top notch and they also have tasty bulgogi.
- Tattu: modern Chinese cuisine and incredible interior design.
- Mughli: Indian charcoal grill restaurant with street food inspiration.
- Bundobust: Indian street food eaten at communal tables.
- This & That: Manchester’s worst kept secret, this is THE place to go for good value Indian food.
Burgers and Pizza in Manchester
Pizzas and burgers have definitely had a resurgence in Manchester the last few years, with emphasis on high quality ingredients or quirky toppings.
- Crazy Pedro’s: the master of indulgent and quirky pizzas. Or what do you say about toppings such as waffles, mini hamburgers and blueberries?
- Ply: I’m a big fan of the pizza at Ply, probably thanks to their sweet tomato sauce.
- Rudy’s: quickly becoming a Manchester classic, they have won numerous awards for their Neapolitan pizza.
- Solita: their Bacon Double Cheese is, hands down, my favourite burger in Manchester.
- Almost Famous: another Manchester classic famous for their dirty burgers.
Cafés in Manchester
Café culture is definitely becoming a thing in Manchester and I’m a little bit obsessed. I’m Swedish after all, we’re very into our coffee breaks (fika anyone?).
- Chapter One Books: beautiful café with enough nooks and crannies to guarantee you a secluded spot.
- Fig + Sparrow: small café with a Scandinavian vibe.
- Foundation Coffee House: café / working on your laptop kind of space. Their hot white chocolate is divine.
- Takk: think wooden communal tables and hipster vibes.
- Cha-ology: Japanese teahouse that’s very different to all other suggestions on this list. They have strict rules around behaviour and reservations and only serve a limited amount of patrons at a time.
- Black Milk: this place is the definition of sugar overload, from cake milkshakes to ice cream sundaes.
- Sugar Junction: lovely retro café serving up sweet treats.
Other Great Restaurants in Manchester
Let’s just finish with a few great places that didn’t fit into the categories above but still deserve a mention!
- Home Sweet Home: Home Sweet Home has been around for ages (by Northern Quarter standards) serving up classic comfort food.
- Mackie Mayor: any self-respecting guide to Manchester should include Mackie Mayor; an indoor food market in a Grade II listed building.
- Oké Poké: I’m a huge fan of Oké Poké and their Hawaiian poké bowls, so fresh and tasty.
Day Trips From Manchester
No guide to Manchester would be complete without a mention of the city’s great location (ignoring the weather consequences). Manchester is very much a hub of the north (makes me think of Winterfell) and you can easily make day trips to both cities and nature.
Countryside Day Trips From Manchester
Manchester is ideally located for both peaks and forests, so you’re spoilt for choice if you want a countryside day trip.
- Peak District: the Peak District is perhaps the most obvious day trip from Manchester if you’re craving a bit of nature. There are plenty of things to do in this 555 square mile national park; from hiking to horse riding.
- Lake District: the Lake District is a firm favourite with Brits. Perfect day trip if you have access to a car (which I unfortunately don’t).
- Delamere Forest: Delamere Forest is a personal favourite. Located in Cheshire, you can explore the forest by walking, cycling or Segway.
- Lyme Park: all you need to know about the estate of Lyme Park is that Colin Firth has walked the grounds. Fangirling aside, Lyme Park was the backdrop to Pride & Prejudice (the TV series) and features beautiful gardens as well as a deer park. Perfect if you want to take your date to a historic place (even if you technically only went for Colin).
- Manchester Ship Canal: whilst parts of the canal is now closed to commercial trade, you can travel the length of Manchester Ship Canal to Liverpool on a tour boat. You can read my dedicated guide to the Manchester Ship Canal here.
- Quarry Bank Mill: if you’re interested in the Industrial Revolution, you’ll enjoy Quarry Bank Mill in Styal. This is a preserved textile-mill-turned-museum surrounded by beautiful nature that’s perfect for a post-museum walk.
City Day Trips From Manchester
Manchester is incredibly well-connected by train to other cities in England. Below are some suggestions, although there are plenty of places you could go!
- Chester: I spend a lot of time in Chester so might be slightly biased, however, this Roman city is a great and affordable day trip from Manchester. You could also visit Chester Zoo where they invest heavily in conservation work.
- York: York is another historical highlight and a classic English tourist destination. Make sure you visit York Minster and The Shambles.
- Southport: Southport are famous for their pier and make for a great day trip to the sea. They also have a lawnmower museum so if you’re up for something quirky then look no further.
- Liverpool: Manchester and Liverpool are locked in a permanent stand off when it comes to what city you should visit. Thankfully, it’s really quick and easy to travel between the two so you can combine Liverpool’s Beatles history and Manchester’s industrial past.
- London: admittedly, a day trip to London could get pretty expensive. However, if you plan far in advance and don’t mind an early start and late finish, a day trip from Manchester to London can definitely be done.
Some Useful Manchester Vocabulary
We’re almost at the end of this ultimate guide to Manchester but I figured we’d end on a fun note with some local tongue. Since moving to Manchester I’ve learned some weird, wonderful and arguably useful words. These are some of my favourites (that they definitely don’t teach you in school!):
- Chip barm: in an interview for the Amateur Traveler podcast I announced my fascination with this English food. It’s basically chips in a bread roll (or a barm in the North West, which is a slightly different kind of bread roll). So carbs on carbs. With sauce.
- Cheeky: used when you treat yourself to something you probably shouldn’t, like a cheeky kebab.
- Chuffed: you’re satisfied with or happy about something.
- “Dead” anything: you want to emphasise something e.g. dead chuffed or dead annoying.
- Innit: pretty obvious one, short version of “Is it not?”.
- Mint: something’s great.
- Mither: someone’s bothering you / you bother someone. Alternatively you don’t want to do something.
- Mingin’: something’s really gross.
- Sound: someone or something is good or decent.
- Buzzin’: let’s finish this Manchester vocabulary with a bee reference. This means you’re really excited about something.
And that’s everything! Hopefully I’ve made it obvious just how much there is to see and do in Manchester and inspired at least a couple of you to look into flights. If you are considering a weekend trip to Manchester, I’ve got a suggested Manchester itinerary on the blog.
Finally, this guide has made me realise just how much I eat out… Meh, whatever. At least I know why I have no disposable income. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve ever been to Manchester or would like to visit!
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