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A stone path by the side of canal waters with an old and a modern bridge. A goose is in the water and in the distance a skyscraper.
Photograph: Marketing ManchesterCastlefield basin

The 22 best things to do in Manchester

Foodie heaven and clubbers' paradise: Get to know Manchester with a little help from our expert suggestions

Rob Martin
Written by
Rob Martin
Contributor
Rosemary Waugh
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Whether you’re looking to sample top-notch contemporary cuisine at one of the city’s hottest restaurants, get acquainted with the most cutting-edge art exhibitions or see some of the best live theatre in the country, Manchester is the place to be. And that’s all before we even get a chance to mention the iconic clubs that have made it famous across the globe.

Manchester’s history looms large in its mythology. The Stone Roses, The Smiths and the Hacienda all cemented its place in musical legend, while its rich industrial and architectural history make it a fascinating place just to take a stroll around. But while its past is unarguably interesting, its present and future are perhaps more so. Those famous red-brick mills are now independent art hubs and the Victorian markets have a new lease of life as Instagram-friendly food halls. We also never say no to a quick pint in one of the historic pubs, especially when there’s a gig on.

To make choosing how to pass your time here a little easier, we’ve pulled together our ultimate list of ‘must do’ Manchester activities.

Best things to do in Manchester

What is it? A canalside neighbourhood that’s suddenly become the place to be. With a wave of a regeneration wand, this former textile district is now a hit with resident and visiting foodies.

Why go? Way back before it became a favourite hang-out for food-obsessed Millennials, Ancoats was known as Little Italy in honour of the many Italian immigrants who came to live here during the late 19th century. Honour that heritage with superb pizza at Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza, one of the first transformational eateries to set up show here in recent years. Or, if pasta is more your Mediterranean dish of choice, load up on lunchtime pasta at Sugo Pasta Kitchen. For those more in the market for morning coffee, head to Pollen and grab a cruffin while you’re at it (that’s a croissant-slash-muffin, btw). Independent bakeries are another highlight of the area, so think ahead to tomorrow’s breakfast and grab some sourdough en route to meet your mates at a low-key bar.

Don’t miss: Mana, Manchester’s first Michelin-starred restaurant since 1977.

What is it? Manchester's home to all things Spanish.

Why go?
Known widely for its Spanish language courses, Instituto Cervantes Manchester also plays host to some stunning art and cultural events. Ranging from traditional to contemporary, the programme takes in all manner of forms, from dance to cinema and much more.

Don't miss: A visit to the bookshop.

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Stroll down Beech Road
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Adam Bruderer

3. Stroll down Beech Road

What is it? A relaxed, pretty street in the suburb of Chorlton, packed full of independent cafes and shops. 

Why go? After a night out on the tiles, take your pick from the stretch of cute independent cafés that line Beech Road. Soothe your weary head under the sheltered terrace of The Laundrette, where you can order a cheeky Bloody Mary and a brioche bun breakfast burger that’ll blow your socks off.

Don’t miss: It’s just a short walk from here to Chorlton Green, and then on to Chorlton Water Park, a lush nature reserve where a flask of tea and picnic in the sun (yes, sometimes it’s sunny in Manchester) will round off a perfect day.

Go on a coffee crawl through the city

4. Go on a coffee crawl through the city

What is it? Manchester’s thriving artisanal coffee scene.

Why go? Craving a brew? If you’re in the Northern Quarter beeline for Takk, an Icelandic-style joint; seek out the sprawling, modernist Foundation Coffee House; or settle down in the quaint Fig + Sparrow, which places a sharp focus on locally sourced produce. On the other side of the city, in Deansgate, you’ll find Pot Kettle Black in the Barton Arcade. 

Don’t miss: Local roasts are somewhat treasured in Manchester, so look out for Heart and Graft and ManCoCo when ordering.

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Flip through sleeves at the city’s best record stores
© Daniel Kennedy

5. Flip through sleeves at the city’s best record stores

What is it? Independent record stores such as Vinyl ExchangeEastern Bloc and Piccadilly Records have been supplying Mancs with good tunes for years.

Why go? The shops have become world-renowned for their collections. There are some gems outside the city centre, too. A quick trip to Burnage, for example, and you’ll find Sifters, immortalised in the Oasis song ‘Shakermaker’.

Don’t miss: Over the way in Chorlton, Kingbee Records offers a treasure trove of rare cuts among the Wet Wet Wet and Meat Loaf albums nobody wants any more. In fact, so good is Kingbee’s collection that some have been known to regularly come all the way from New York to visit (with an empty suitcase).

 

Sip the city’s finest craft beer

6. Sip the city’s finest craft beer

What is it? Manchester produces some of the finest craft beer in the world, make sure you sample some of the city’s finest. 

Why go? Make a beeline – or should that be beer line? – for speciality bars like Port Street Beer House, the Piccadilly Tap (run by the team behind London’s Euston Tap) and Beermoth, all within a few minutes’ walk of Piccadilly Gardens. After something more specific? Try one of a number of bars run by local brewers: Blackjack Brewery’s Smithfield Market Tavern (just next to Band on the Wall), Seven Bro7hers’ Bar in Ancoats or the historic Marble Arch pub on Rochdale Road, which showcases Marble’s newest beers.

Don’t miss: In normal time brewery visits are ideal for those looking to sample beers fresh from the tank. The industrial area to the east of Piccadilly is home to cult names such as AlphabetRunaway, and the highly regarded Cloudwater Brew Co.

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Fill up at a food market
Photograph: Honest Crust Pizza

7. Fill up at a food market

What is it? From street food to local independent crafts, Manchester’s brimming with markets all year round.

Why go? Keep an eye on Grub for the best food stalls around and Mackie Mayor, a huge converted Grade II-listed building close to Band on the Wall that promises 400 seats and cracking food from the likes of pizza Gods Honest Crust and seafood specialists Fin.

Don’t miss: Pay a trip to the regenerated Altrincham Market. A game-changer for the region’s culinary offering if ever there was one.

What is it? Manchester’s Central Library - an astonishingly beautiful building with a wealth of media within. 

Why go? Following a four-year-long, £50 million renovation project, this incredible piece of architecture is a must-see. The oldest surviving public library in the English-speaking world is Chetham’s in Manchester, an extraordinary place filled with ancient books and Hogwartian dark, wood-panelled rooms. There’s also the Victorian Gothic John Rylands Library on Deansgate, and the Portico Library, a hidden haven completed in the Greek revival style in 1806.

Don’t miss: The renovation has made the building fit for purpose as a 21st century children's library, media lounge, extensive music library, a BFI Mediatheque as well as, of course, host to an awful lot of books.

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  • Art, craft and hobbies

What is it? The award-winning Manchester Craft and Design Centre with over 30 independent artists, designers and craft makers under one roof.

Why go? The arts and crafts scene in Manchester is sizzling – meaning there are plenty of opportunities to learn a new skill, and that you’ve got no excuse for not taking home a decent souvenir. The Northern Quarter’s Manchester Craft and Design Centre has lessons on screen printing, watercolour painting and silver jewellery making, while chic lifestyle store Form hosts regular workshops on terrazzo tiles, calligraphy and embroidery. Just try not to buy the entire contents of the shop on your way out.

Don’t miss: When your bags are bursting, refuel at Oak Street Café which offers up good stews, salads and cakes, as well as a decent coffee.

Head down to Chinatown
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Head down to Chinatown

What is it? Reputedly Europe’s largest Chinatown, with a wide selection of restaurants, bakeries, businesses and supermarkets concentrated within a handful of city-centre blocks.

Why go? A beautiful three-tiered pagoda welcomes you into the area and as a collection of excellent places to eat and shop, it’s not to be missed and, while there are other opportunities to experience Far Eastern culture elsewhere in Manchester, the array of treats on offer here is hard to beat. 

Don’t miss: While it’s a great place to visit at any time, the last few years have seen Chinese New Year celebrations become a much bigger part of the city’s cultural calendar, extending Chinatown’s reach across the centre. 

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What is it? A maze of backstreets between the High Street, Piccadilly train station and rapidly-smartening-up Ancoats, packed with galleries, bars and shops. 

Why go? Manchester is synonymous with a creative spirit and a point blank refusal to take itself too seriously, and nowhere is this anarchic attitude better exemplified than in the Northern Quarter. The NQ (as per local shorthand) is a hotchpotch of architectural styles. Record labels and fashion designers have set up shop inside Edwardian mills; office workers sink after-work pints in Victorian pubs; beard-stroking DJs (seriously) gather in modern beer gardens to compare purchases from stores that do a roaring trade in vinyl and art galleries like the Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery, to name a couple, have set up shop here. 

Don’t miss: While you’re waiting for things to open up, take to the streets and you’ll come upon mind-blowing street art throughout the Northern Quarter. Many of the bigger pieces were created for Cities of Hope, a festival celebrating street art which makes statements on social issues, like Dale Grimshaw’s ‘War Children’ on Spear Street, dedicated to people fighting for independence in West Papua.

Get your culture fix at The Lowry

What is it? As well as works by its Mancunian namesake, The Lowry features three performance spaces, which play hosts to musicals, comedy and more.

Why go? A long time ago, some very clever people decided that the area where Salford and Trafford come together – the abandoned quays, which once formed a busy dockland – would make an ideal leisure destination. So now we have a wonderful waterside location just 10 minutes from the city centre. The Lowry is a hot spot for top theatre, from world premieres to West End successes. Once the show’s over, there’s also shopping, a cinema, restaurants and plenty of places to relax, so culture lovers, sports fans and shopaholics all get a look-in.

Don’t miss: Imperial War Museum North and Old Trafford Stadium are both within walking distance of The Lowry. 

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Top up your natural history knowledge at Manchester Museum
  • Museums
  • Natural history

What is it? The city's best-known museum famed for its collection of natural history and human artefacts. 

Why go? In the extensive collection of the Manchester Museum, you’ll find everything from a fossilised Tyrannosaurus Rex named Stan to a tomb-like exhibition of over 16,000 ancient Egyptian artefacts, including 20 human mummies originating from Luxor and Thebes. They were all scanned in 2012 using the most up-to-date technology and to describe them as fascinating is an understatement: not only are they marvels to behold, but the stories behind them are pretty amazing, too.

Don’t miss: When the museum is open again and working as normal, it’s worth looking out for one of its bewitching ‘Night at the Museum’-style after-hours events, where you can listen to thought-provoking talks and performances. 

What is it? An inspiring events and community centre. 

Why go? For an even better understanding of how the Suffragettes changed this city. The first meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union, later known as the Suffragettes, took place in Manchester, in what’s now known as the Pankhurst Centre. This place gives visitors a glimpse into a key part of political history, while engaging regular events give a taste of what’s to come next. 

Don’t miss: Join one of the Blue Badge guided tours; at around £10 per person, they’re well worth it.

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Catch a show at the city’s cutting edge theatres
Photograph: Shutterstock

15. Catch a show at the city’s cutting edge theatres

What is it? Manchester is home to some of the UK’s best theatres, staging crowd-pleasing musicals and fearless performance art.

Why go? The spaceship-like Royal Exchange is the city’s most famous theatre, creating a tantalising mixture of radically updated classics and bold new writing. But don’t miss the chance to also head to Ancoats for the Hope Mill Theatre (known to produce some excellent musicals) or HOME, the £25 million arts complex with a penchant for high-quality fringe shows and boundary-smashing performance art. If comedy is more your thing, see local favourites take to the stage at Gullivers or get to know the next generation of stand-ups at the Frog and Bucket.

Dont miss: The stunningly strange interior architecture of the Royal Exchange is worth a visit in its own right

What is it? Both United and City’s grounds offer tours and behind-the-scenes opportunities, or visit the National Football Museum to geek out over the game’s history. 

Why go? Where would Manchester be without never-ending, chant-inducing football? It’s the first thing anyone in the world comments on when you say Manchester to them. With two major teams (arch-rivals and with armies of fans, naturally), plus the National Football Museum in the city centre, it’s safe to say that some Mancunians – and tourists – live and breathe football. Both United and City’s grounds offer tours and behind-the-scenes opportunities, and you could easily spend your entire month’s wages in their shops. For those with a more general interest in the sport, the NFM provides a great opportunity to geek out on your team’s league history, test out your football skills and learn the history of the beautiful game.

Don’t miss: At NFM, you can see the 1966 world cup ball, the Sleeping Beckham work of art by Sam Taylor Wood, Maradona's 1986 'hand of god' match shirt, and postcards from 1906 of women football players.

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What is it? A swanky swimming pool turned events space. 

Why go? When it opened way back in 1906, Victoria Baths was described as the ‘most splendid municipal bathing institution in the country’. When it closed in 1993, everything from the ornate Edwardian tiles to the retro pool-side changing rooms were perfectly preserved. Now, it hosts some of the best events in the city, the empty pools filled with antiques fairs and food festivals. Their long-term aim is to turn the space into a Turkish bath, so visit these top events – it could be your last chance.

Don’t miss: The best event of the bunch is the Independent Manchester Beer Convention, one of the country’s leading beer festivals. Keep an eye out for its next date. 

What is it? Manchester's annual LGBTQ+ celebration - now one of the biggest Pride events in Europe. 

Why go? Usually taking place over August Bank Holiday, Manchester’s queer celebration is huge. Its last outing took place in a massive disused former railway depot and included a four-day Gay Village Gathering, with even more music in Sackville Gardens. After a year off in 2020, Pride returned in August 2021. 

Don’t miss: If you want to join in, but don’t want to splash out on a full pass, the celeb-led parade on Saturday offers a good dose of the much-loved Pride atmosphere for free.

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What is it? Four floors of big beats and big eats

Why go? We really can’t stress enough how major Manchester’s music scene is. These fertile red-brick streets have birthed the likes of Oasis, The Smiths, Chemical Brothers, Take That (oh yes) and M People – to name but a modest handful. Given the city’s open-mindedness, bands of all genres have made it and continue to make it here, so no visit would be complete without a trip to at least one live gig. We’d recommend catching an up-and-comer at one of the city’s many brilliant small venues. Sink some rooftop cocktails before seeing a top band at Manchester’s hottest new music venue, YES, or dance to some locally grown talent at the sweaty, subterranean Soup Kitchen

Don’t miss: The monthly guest club nights from Deptford Northern Soul in the eye-popping ‘Pink Room’. 

What is it? One of Manchester’s more mature live music venues hosting regular jazz and world music gigs.

Why go? There’s a rich music history that’s worth exploring at Band on the Wall, not least its punk roots. The name comes from its origin as a pub in the ’30s, when the landlord erected a stage on the wall where musicians played above the crowd’s heads. It came into its own as a music venue in the ’70s, hosting iconic punk bands such as Buzzcocks, The Fall and Joy Division. Now, the award-winning venue continues to showcase new talent and cult heroes, and is well known for putting on lesser-known legends from around the globe.

Don’t miss: We’re normally found at the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Club, a dance-a-thon hosted every month by the big Radio 6 Music man himself.

 

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Marvel at the city’s ornate Town Hall
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Julius

21. Marvel at the city’s ornate Town Hall

What is it? A neo-Gothic masterpiece with a taste for events, festivals and a flick or two. 

Why go? Like many major cities, Manchester has been used as a film and TV location for decades. From ‘Hell is a City’ and ‘A Taste of Honey’ in the ’60s through to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Queer as Folk’ in the ’90s and, more recently, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, the city has served as the set for countless productions and much fun can be had spotting some of the famous locations. Manchester Town Hall has long stood in for the Houses of Parliament. Situated on Albert Square, the town hall is iconic and regarded as one of the finest examples of neo-Gothic architecture in the UK. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse - who also designed London's Natural History Museum - and completed in 1877, the building includes majestic staircases, and the beautiful Mayor's parlour, a stunning clock tower and a wondrous great hall, decorated with murals by Ford Madox Brown which illustrate Manchester's rich history. 

Please note that the Town Hall is closed for visitors during extensive refurbishments until 2024.

What is it? One of the world’s most celebrated night-out destinations.

Why go? It’s no exaggeration to say that Manchester’s Warehouse Project is well-known across the globe. The clubbing series’s phenomenal success has propelled its move from the disused Boddingtons brewery near Strangeways prison to a Second World War air raid shelter underneath Manchester Piccadilly station, with various stops in-between. In 2019 they relocated yet again – to the Mayfield Depot, a much bigger (and more impressive) space just around the corner.

 

Tastebuds tingling? Here’s where to head next...

The 24 best restaurants in Manchester
  • Restaurants

Eating out in Manchester has never been better. Over the past few years the food scene has flourished: trailblazing indie restaurants have opened across the city, under-the-radar local favourites have been celebrated by national restaurant critics and world-famous chefs are setting up flashy new ventures.

WTTDManchester

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