Manchester, UK has been my home for almost 7 years and I love to help people explore the city. Manchester often gets a reputation for being gritty and industrial. Both are true but there is so much more to the city than that! As a matter of fact, Manchester was on Lonely Planet’s 2016 list of ‘best in travel’ cities. Manchester played a key part in the Industrial Revolution and, even today, old warehouses and mills are prominent city features. The city is a great foodie destination and eating well should be high on your weekend bucket list. There isn’t just food on offer though, there are plenty of things to keep you entertained during a Manchester weekend break.
Despite its size Manchester has a compact city centre and you can easily cover a few key attractions during a Manchester weekend break. Whilst I would obviously recommend more than just a weekend in Manchester (I’m still finding new places after 7 years!), it’s a good introduction to the city. There are so many things to do in Manchester and places to eat that it can be difficult to narrow it down. Hopefully, this guide will give you a flavour (both metaphorically and figuratively) of what a Manchester weekend has to offer.
Travel to Manchester
Manchester is well-connected to the rest of the UK through the rail network. The Virgin trains from London Euston take just over 2 hours but you can travel to Manchester from most places in the UK. The city has 3 main train stations; Oxford Road, Victoria and Piccadilly (which is the biggest). If you’re travelling on a budget, Megabus connects Manchester to other cities in the UK (including London) by bus. Finally, Manchester is well-connected by air and both Easyjet and Ryanair fly direct from several European destinations. From the airport you can travel into the city by either train, cab or bus. If you choose the bus, I would recommend Stagecoach number 43 which travels through South Manchester all the way to the city centre and Piccadilly Gardens.
Itinerary for a Manchester Weekend Break
Saturday in Manchester
Morning in NOrthern Quarter
Start your weekend in Manchester with a hipster brunch in Northern Quarter. This neighbourhood has so many eatery choices that it’s near impossible to pick just one brunch place. A couple of highlights are Home Sweet Home which serves comfort food and Ezra & Gil that’s popular with the freelancing crowd. Once you’ve filled up on Instagrammable Eggs on Sourdough I suggest you explore the Northern Quarter.
Manchester’s Northern Quarter is the creative hub of the city and is where you’ll find vintage fashion, incredible street art and a constantly evolving food scene. If you want to support independents, this is the place to go. Affleck’s Palace is an alternative shop emporium where independent shops sell everything from American sweets to vinyl players to customisable t-shirts. I strongly suggest that you get lost in the labyrinth of floors and corners for an hour or two. For Northern Quarter vintage fashion shopping, you should also visit stores like Oxfam Originals and Pop Boutique.
Manchester’s street art is your next stop after touring the shops and is one of many great free things to do in Manchester. There is a piece of art around almost every Northern Quarter corner and there are some incredible (and constantly changing) pieces on display. One of my favourite Northern Quarter street art pieces is a giant blue tit (the bird kind) covering the side of a building on Newton Street. The street artist behind this incredible piece is Faunagraphic, check out her page here. There is also a great piece dedicated to Manchester’s terror attack victims on the side of Koffee Pot. It features the Manchester worker bee and a heart of honey.
Lunch in Northern Quarter
By this point you are half way through the first day of your Manchester weekend break and have hopefully worked up an appetite. As I’ve mentioned, there are so many incredible restaurants in Northern Quarter that it would be rude not to have lunch here too. In fact, I have written a rather comprehensive and constantly growing guide to restaurants in Northern Quarter here. My top suggestions would be that you either support independents at the Mackie Mayor food market, take advantage of the £10.99 lunch offer at Evuna or have more traditional British fare at Pieminister.
Cultural Afternoon in Manchester
Right, so if you were starting to think that your weekend in Manchester was getting a bit too hipster, fear not. The plan for the afternoon is to explore the cultural and historical side of Manchester. Start by walking towards the Manchester Art Gallery. Whilst the main collection is definitely worth a visit, the highlights are normally the temporary modern art exhibitions. I’ve been to quite a few of the temporary exhibitions and so far I can’t recall ever having a bad experience. My favourite exhibition to date has been Raqib Shaw (pictured). Entrance is free (but you can make a donation) so this is a good tip for a budget weekend in Manchester.
After the gallery, walk over to the Manchester Town Hall and admire the gothic facade. Unfortunately it’s closed for restoration until 2024, so you can only admire the outside for the time being. Another quick stop before your evening meal should be the Manchester Central Library. The Manchester Central Library was closed for refurbishment for 4 years and reopened to the public in 2014. Have a quick glance at the central reading room and also remember to look up when you walk through the main entrance.
Evening in Manchester
It’s no secret that Chinatown is one of my favourite Manchester neighbourhoods thanks to its food. Did you know that Manchester’s Chinatown is the third largest in Europe? I suggest you admire the ornate arch and then head wherever your stomach leads you. In my case it’s pretty much always to Happy Seasons, an unassuming restaurant that’s my unrivalled Manchester favourite. Expect a queue and don’t let the decor put you off. And make sure you order one of the roast meats. You can thank me later.
Once you’ve had your fill of amazing Chinese food, you can either call it a night or head out for drinks. There are plenty of places to drink in Manchester and where you go depends on your preferences. For a classy cocktail in a more quiet setting, head to Evelyn’s Cafe Bar. For a bustling atmosphere, go to The Alchemist. Finally, for craft beer, head to Seven Bro7hers Beerhouse.
Sunday in Manchester
Football in Manchester
On account of two highly successful football teams, it’s no wonder Manchester has become synonymous with the sport. Start your day by travelling to one of the main football stadiums for a stadium tour; Old Trafford for Manchester United or Etihad Stadium for Manchester City. Bus 250 towards the Trafford Centre is the easiest way to travel to Old Trafford. For Etihad Stadium, your best bet is the tram from Piccadilly Gardens towards Ashton-under-Lyne. Just make sure you double check that you’re not attempting this on a match day and ensure you pre-book online. For Manchester United stadium tours, book your tickets here and for Manchester City, book here. Personally, I’m not that interested in football, but even I enjoyed the tour of Old Trafford. I think it’s such an important part of Manchester’s identity that it would be a shame to skip.
Lunch in Manchester
After your football stadium tour in the morning, head back to the city centre and go for lunch in the Spinningfields area. This is an upscale area of Manchester and there are both luxury brands and great places to eat here. Thaikhun has some really tasty Thai food but it’s worth a visit solely for the incredible interior. Don’t forget to order the mango juice for drinks and the toasted coconut sorbet for dessert.
Historical afternoon in manchester
The next stop on the agenda embraces history and is my number one top thing to see in Manchester. Right around the corner from Spinningfields is John Rylands library on Deansgate. John Rylands library looks like it was plucked straight out of Harry Potter, but is actually surprisingly ‘new’. The library opened in 1900 and was founded by widow Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her husband, who was a textile manufacturer. The library should take you about one hour to explore if you take your time looking at the books and exhibitions. The most spectacular parts are the corridor and the main reading room, where you have to remember to look up. What’s even better; the whole experience is free! Great if you’re looking for free things to do in Manchester.
Continue your historical excursion in Manchester at Manchester Cathedral. The church was built in 1215, but has undergone several refurbishments after e.g. bomb damage. Spend some time admiring the interior and don’t miss the beautiful stained glass windows towards the back. Again, this is a free Manchester activity, but donations are encouraged.
When you’re done sightseeing in Manchester, I suggest you go for a drink in one of the pubs by the cathedral. The Mitre has a nice casual atmosphere, but you could also head to the iconic The Old Wellington.
Sunday Dinner in Manchester
To me, Sunday in England means Sunday roast dinner. Most weekends we go out for Sunday dinner and I’ve tried a fair few Sunday roasts in Manchester by now. One of my favourite Sunday roasts in Manchester is at The Patron, which is a quite new Northern Quarter restaurant. What makes the Sunday roast here so incredible is the gravy. Oh, the sweet, sweet gravy. Whatever you do, don’t miss the gravy (how many times can one write gravy in a paragraph?).
Evening in Manchester
If you get the chance, I really think you should round of your Manchester weekend break with a gig. This obviously depends on whether there is a great band playing the day you’re here etc, but grab the opportunity if you can. Manchester is well-known for music and there are several venues where you can catch a gig. To mention just a couple; Manchester Academy and Manchester Arena. Have a look at upcoming gigs here.
That concludes your Manchester weekend break! This city has to much to offer and one weekend could never be enough to fully explore Manchester. Hopefully this itinerary has given you some ideas of what to do in Manchester and highlighted some great places to eat. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve been to Manchester or would like to visit!
For more UK city ideas, check out my guides to Chester, Edinburgh, Southport and London!
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JacMarch 17, 2018
I loved the street art in the NQ, definitely my favourite find in Manchester! Love the vibes of the place 🙂
LaurenMarch 17, 2018
I have only visited Manchester once very briefly and this post made me realise just how much I missed. I must be a secret “hipster” as Affleck’s Palace and the street art sounds so like my cup of tea! I’ve been backpacking for 6 months so that Sunday Roast Dinner made me so so homesick haha!! Really hope I can return soon to explore!
Elena GilbertJanuary 21, 2022
Amazing blog, really interesting please keep on writing blogs like this in future.