10 great things to do in Manchester

Rejoice in Manchester's cultural energy, stellar chefs and football fervour

10 great things to do in Manchester The People's History Museum - © Ben Rowe/Time Out
By Time Out Editors

Manchester today is unrecognisable from the post-industrial city of 20 years ago. Home to grand relics of the industrial revolution, the modern city is also studded with independent boutiques and top-flight shops, cool bars and snug pubs. Not only do its museums house some of the UK’s finest historic collections, but also Manchester has a contemporary cultural pulse that puts other British cities to shame.

1. Explore the people's history

Reopened in 2010 after a £12.5 million development, The People's Museum – Manchester’s only national museum – is dedicated to telling a 200-year tale of British democracy. Dry and dusty it isn’t: interactive exhibits bring political history to life, while a brand-new wing, fused to the Grade II-listed Pump House and complete with a sunny riverside café, lets light flood inside.

Manchester is rightly proud of the museum – this is a city that has seen more than its fair share of political reform, and the story of British politics is often a Mancunian one (the city is the birthplace of socialism, universal suffrage and the global co-operative movement; it’s also where Marx and Engels drafted the Communist Manifesto).

2. Stick your head in the cloud

Cloud 23 – the swanky bar that’s on the 23rd floor of Beetham Tower – lets you see Manchester in a whole new light. Floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides reveal not just the city but also half of the Northwest to boot. The best time to go is dusk, when the twinkling lights of the metropolis below are laid out like a bejewelled carpet – but the dwindling natural light means you can still spot major landmarks and the hills beyond. An oval plate of glass in the floor also gives a view back down to terra firma – after much jumping up and down on it, we can assure you that it’s perfectly safe.

3. Take part in a trinity of cultural festivals

Started in 2007, the bi-annual Manchester International Festival (www.mif.co.uk), gave Manchester a cultural shot in the arm. The line-up for the 2009 festival was every bit as impressive. Some shows featured artists who’d first appeared in 2007: Damon Albarn worked with documentarian Adam Curtis and theatre director Felix Barrett on a haunted house-inspired show about America’s rise to global pre-eminence in the ’60s; Neil Bartlett, who directed The Pianist in 2007, devised a bingo-themed show for the Royal Exchange; and dancer Carlos Acosta returned with a new show paying tribute to some of the greats of classical ballet. However, other events shone the spotlight on artists who were new to the festival: the world première of singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright’s debut opera, for instance, and two sold-out concerts by Elbow with the city’s Hallé orchestra. The 2011 line-up promises to be just as thrilling.

Now the city’s galleries, theatre and music events aspire to equally high creative standards. Music festival In The City (October) and electronic, experimental music and arts festival FutureEverything (May) are a chance to see the UK’s hottest up-and-coming bands.

See all festivals & events in Manchester

4. Slip into some boutique booty

The best shopping in Manchester can be found at either end of the retail spectrum. While King Street and its environs are great for high-end, big-brand experience, the more quirky items can be found in the one-off independent boutiques that cluster around the Northern Quarter.

Head to the Craft & Design Centre – a long-established creative hub – for the best local talent and one-off gems; to No Angel for chic but affordable garments and accessories from smaller, independent labels such as Motel and John Zack; to Retro Rehab for its range of reworked vintage garments; and Afflecks Palace – a four-floor alternative shopping mecca – for new designers, clubwear, vintage, fancy dress, records and cute and kitsch gifts.

See all shops in Manchester

5. Make in roads to 'cultural corridor'

Infamous for its thundering traffic, Oxford Road nevertheless packs in so many galleries, museums and theatres that locals talk of it as Manchester’s ‘cultural corridor’. At the northern end of the main arterial route connecting the centre to south Manchester is Cornerhouse, the city’s acclaimed contemporary art complex, while at the other is the red-brick Whitworth Art Gallery. In between are theatres, the Manchester Museum and the University of Manchester’s campus, a quadrangle of Gothic buildings designed by Alfred Waterhouse.

See all museums & attractions in Manchester

6. Party hard... for three months

The Warehouse Project – an annual season of underground parties of epic proportions – has been dubbed the ‘biggest thing to happen to clubbing in Manchester this decade’. Running for 12 weeks (September to New Year’s Day), the Project features some of the biggest names in dance and electronica alongside smaller, edgier acts. With an up-for-it-crowd, as well as the old-school vibes of its ‘secret’ underground location, it’s little wonder tickets regularly sell out. If you’re in Manchester in the autumn, this is one not to be missed.

See all festivals & events in Manchester

7. Sample the cuisine of Manchester's stellar chef

A recent-ish addition to the hotels in the city (it opened in 2007), Abode, is notable for its basement restaurant, masterminded by the Michelin-starred chef, Michael Caines. It scooped Restaurant of the Year in the 2008 Manchester Food & Drink Festival awards (www.foodanddrinkfestival.com/awards) and a nomination for 'Chef of the Year' for Ian Matfin's culinary creations in 2009.

South Manchester's Isinglass is one of the city's most impressive restaurants. The name refers to the gelatin-like substance made from fish bladders used to clarify beer and wine – but don’t let that put you off. This idiosyncratic establishment takes the oft-empty promise of only using local ingredients, and shows what can be achieved: salad leaves from Chat Moss, rich Dunham Massey ice-cream, meat from Knutsford. The menu pays homage to traditional British dishes, with the likes of venison toad-in-the-hole, wilted kale, Cumberland gravy and mash, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about the cooking. Prices are impressively low.

Vying for the title of Manchester’s best new eatery are Aumbry – both the restaurant itself and chef Mary-Ellen McTague have won accolades; Mark Addy – the latest venture from chef Robert Owen Brown, whose food is already the stuff of legend among Manchester foodies; and An Outlet – housed inside a beautifully converted warehouse, it specialises in simple but well-sourced deli food and drinks in a relaxed atmosphere.

See all restaurants & cafés in Manchester

8. Explore the city via Manchester's most famous artist

As the name Lowry Arts Centre might suggest, this landmark waterside building at Salford Quays houses an extensive collection of LS Lowry’s art. Lowry is only half of the story, however, as the centre also brings together an impressive variety of visual and performing arts. As well as a changing programme of painting, sculpture and photography, the steel-clad wonder has also hosted more award-winning theatre productions than any other regional venue. Its two theatres also host blockbuster musicals, dance, opera, comedy, ballet, jazz and folk.

See all art galleries and art museums in Manchester

9. Rest up in a hip hotel

Leave your musical prejudice at the reception – Cliff Richard's Arora is a vision of contemporary cool, with sleek, modern rooms and funky furniture (though unless you’re a fan, you might want to avoid the five Cliff-themed rooms).

The Great John Street Hotel pulls out all the stops to deliver a truly luxurious boutique experience. Hand-carved furniture, roll-top baths and super-sexy fabrics and fittings lend the place a modern-vintage feel.

The Lowry is the hotel of choice for visiting actors, politicians and Premiership footballers. Everything is as it should be – huge, hip rooms with super-sized beds, original modern art, discreet service and clued-up staff.

A favourite with visiting bands and celebs, the Malmaison is a first choice for those who like to think of themselves as arbiters of taste. The real star of the line-up, though, has to be the seriously sexy Moulin Rouge room; the free-standing bath takes around 30 minutes to fill, such is its depth.

See all hotels in Manchester

10. Support one (or both) of Manchester's FCs

Both sets of fans are well-catered for by their teams with tours, museums and of course the obligatory shops, selling the latest strip:

Manchester United fans can take the popular behind-the-scenes stadium tour and trot down players' tunnel or visit the impressive museum, where kids can try and kick the ball as hard as Wayne Rooney, while devotees of Manchester City Football Club can head instead to the City of Manchester Stadium, where you'll find a club shop, a restaurant, and museum, plus stadium tours are available for £8.50 a pop.

No devoted football fan should miss the National Football Museum, which holds both the FIFA and FA collections, including the hallowed ball used in that World Cup final (1966, if you must ask), while changing exhibitions will add interest to permanent displays.

See all museums & attractions in Manchester

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By Alex - May 8 2014

I would add Make a Break escape game to the list.

The premise is basically that you get locked in a room for an hour and have to solve puzzles and search for clues to get out. The clues are difficult enough to test you but not too hard

It's hard to give examples without spoiling it for others so I can't. Groups between 3 and 5 are allowed and it's about 15-20 quid each. The less people the harder.
If you're in Manchester and like games/puzzles you should try it out.....

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By Mac - Feb 17 2014

Web site needs updating- no longer can you kick a ball and see if you do so as hRd as Wayne Rooney at the museum at Old Trafford. Had a very disappointed 9 year old today having told him that he could using the info from your site. Please amend its misleading. Thx

By pip - Jan 22 2014

Well said Mooch.
Education is a wonderful thing that a band wagon simply bypasses.

By The Mooch - Nov 13 2013

Salfordian - L S Lowry was from Pendlebury which didn't become a part of Salford until the 1970's. You are correct he is not a Manc, but he isnt a Salfordian either. The way the people of Salford 'claim' him as one of theirs, while vilifying Mancunians that say the same turns my stomach.

By Paul - Oct 22 2013

I see Andy West is still doing the same job he was doing in the 1980's.Except in the 1980's he was doing it in London rather than Manchester.

Not sure it does much for Time Out Manchester 's image having a stick in the mud like Andy West running it's advertising department. Methinks it's well in need of new blood .West should be put out to pasture. Take note Tony Elliot.

By Skodaman - Aug 4 2013

If you say that the People's History Museum is Manchester's only national museum just what category does the National Football Museum in the Urbis building fall in to? I never wanted it to leave Preston anyway.

By Skodaman - Aug 4 2013

If you say that the People's History Museum is Manchester's only national museum just what category does the National Football Museum in the Urbis building fall in to? I never wanted it to leave Preston anyway.

By Skodaman - Aug 4 2013

If you say that the People's History Museum is Manchester's only national museum just what category does the National Football Museum in the Urbis building fall in to? I never wanted it to leave Preston anyway.

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By Salford/Lowry/Manchester, - Sep 25 2012

Surely Lowry belongs to both Salford and Manchester. He lived in Manchester for many years of his life, attended Manchester college of art and painted dozens of Manchester scenes. While you are right to point out he was an important Salfordian, considering this is an article about Manchester it's really not inaccurate to describe him as a Manchester artist. Also, since the Lowry Gallery and Salford Quays in general is such a fantistic area to visit and is so easily accessible from central Manchester, it's hardly unreasonable to include it on a list of things to do in Manchester.

By Salfordian - Aug 22 2012

"Explore the city via Manchester's most famous artist"

Who's that then? Because you mention Lowry.

That'd be Salfordian artist L.S Lowry, yeah? The one with a gallery named after him in Salford Quays, Salford? The guy who painted all those pictures of Salford?

Salford =/= Manchester

By Ronny - Jun 19 2010

Not even a mention of Manchester Pride on the August Bank Holiday weekend, one of the biggest tourist draws ot the city!