Manchester is one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in the UK. With a rich history and culture, world-class museums and galleries, fantastic food and nightlife scenes, and legendary sports teams, Manchester has something for every type of traveler.
This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip to Manchester, England. You’ll find tips on the top things to see and do, recommendations for where to eat, drink and stay, and all the essential information to help you get around and make the most of your time in this dynamic city.
- A Brief History of Manchester
- Skyscrapercity Manchester
- What to Do in Manchester
- Explore the Manchester Art Gallery
- Learn at the Science and Industry Museum
- Take a Stadium Tour at Old Trafford
- Relive History at Manchester Cathedral
- Explore Manchester’s Northern Quarter
- Learn About WWII at the Imperial War Museum North
- Discover Something New at Manchester Museum
- Take a Tour of Greater Manchester Police Museum
- Manchester Xmas Parade
- Where to Eat and Drink in Manchester
- How Far is Manchester to Leeds and Manchester to London?
- So What Are you Waiting For?
- Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Manchester
A Brief History of Manchester
Manchester has its origins as a Roman settlement, but it was the Industrial Revolution that really put the city on the map. Manchester became a global hub for textile manufacturing and trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The city was at the forefront of technological innovations that drove the Industrial Revolution, including the Manchester Ship Canal, the world’s first passenger railway, and revolutionary advancements in modern machinery. Engineered textiles from Manchester clothed people across the British Empire.
During World War II, much of Manchester was damaged by German bombing raids, but the city underwent major rebuilding efforts post-war. Heavy industry began to decline in the late 20th century, but Manchester rebuilt itself as a centre of commerce, technology, media, and culture.
Today, Manchester is renowned for its music, sports, media productions, scientific firsts, and as a transport hub. The excellent air, road and rail links make it highly accessible for travelers.
For those of you familiar with the Manchester of the 1990s and early 2000s, visit today and you’ll think you’ve teleported to New York or Hong Kong. Well, maybe not, but Manchester’s city centre skyline features some of the tallest buildings in the UK outside of London.
The tallest building is the South Tower which stands at 200m having recently overtaken the previous title holder – the Beetham Tower at 167m – which had held this title since 2006.
There are a further 10 buildings currently under construction that will be more than 100m whilst the South Tower will soon lose its title to The Lighthouse which will be a 213 m skyscraper also in the Great Jackson Street framework as well as a 264m tall skyscraper in Ordsall facing Great Jackson Street.
Not all Mancunians favour this construction. Gary Neville’s St Michael’s development has been in the press for all the wrong reasons. Meanwhile Manctopia was a nuanced 3 part BBC documentary focussing on all of the recent high rise constructions and the conflict between newcomers, developers and the local ‘Mancs’.
Both me and Noemi love the skyscrapers and the kids love wandering around the developments. We’ve also fallen in love with the artwork of local artist Steve Bewsher who paints modern interpretations of the skyscrapers, often using just a Costa loyalty card.
While not as tall, the Gothic Revival Manchester Town Hall is arguably the city’s most iconic building. The Victorian architectural marvel dates back to 1877.
What to Do in Manchester
Manchester is brimming with museums, historic sites, attractions, and places to explore. Here are some of the top things to see and experience:
Explore the Manchester Art Gallery
This excellent gallery houses an outstanding collection of pre-Raphaelite art and rotating exhibits of contemporary artists. Don’t miss masterpieces like Ford Madox Brown’s epic painting Work.
Learn at the Science and Industry Museum
Interactive exhibits on Manchester’s industrial achievements, plus steam engines, locomotives, and a captivating look at the city’s role in innovations.
Take a Stadium Tour at Old Trafford
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the iconic home of Manchester United on a guided tour. The museum showcases the club’s trophies and history. Alternatively check out one of the many stadium tours that the Etihad plays host to each summer. We were fortunate to see Ed Sheeran in June 2022.
Relive History at Manchester Cathedral
Dating back to the 15th century, this impressive Gothic cathedral is one of the grandest medieval buildings in Manchester.
Explore Manchester’s Northern Quarter
This hip, vibrant neighbourhood is known for its independent boutiques, record stores, street art, and bohemian vibe. Wander its charming side streets and alleys and discover the amazing Afflecks Palace, alternatively check out Forbidden Plant, a shop to embrace your ‘inner child’ or discover one of the amazing bars or restaurants including Ramona’s and Manna, the only Michelin stared restaurant across the whole of Greater Manchester.
Learn About WWII at the Imperial War Museum North
Although technically in Salford, and not in Manchester, take the tram out to Media City to discover the striking Imperial War Museum North. The striking architecture houses exhibits exploring life in wartime England and the social history of 20th century conflicts.
Discover Something New at Manchester Museum
From mummies to fossils to wildlife dioramas, this extensive museum has fascinating natural history and ancient world collections.
Take a Tour of Greater Manchester Police Museum
Get an inside look at the history of law enforcement in the city and check out vintage police equipment and vehicles.
Manchester Xmas Parade
If you’re visiting around the Christmas period, then be sure to get into the holiday spirit at Manchester’s annual Christmas Markets.
Building upon the huge success of the Christmas Markets that now take over almost the whole of central Manchester, 2022 welcomed the first ever Manchester Christmas Parade. So far no news has been released as to whether this will take place again in 2023, but locals and visitors alike are crossing their fingers in anticipation. Be sure to check back soon to discover if it will be held again in 2023.
Where to Eat and Drink in Manchester
Manchester’s dining scene is exploding with stellar options from street food to Michelin-starred restaurants. Trendy bars, historic pubs, and buzzing nightclubs fuel Manchester’s legendary nightlife.
Breakfast & Brunch
Kick off your day right with breakfast at hip spots like Federal Cafe or Fig & Sparrow, known for dishes like shakshuka and avocado toast. For a hearty Northern English fry-up, head to cafes like Hanging Ditch or Rosylee Tea Rooms.
For lunch on-the-go, grab a banh mi at Banh food stall or an artisan sandwich at Pollen bakery. Relax with leisurely midday dining at eateries like Hawksmoor for refined British fare or Yuzu’s pan-Asian small plates.
In the evening, Manchester’s fine dining scene shines with restaurants like Mana for inventive tasting menus and Hispi for its seasonal, local ethos. More casual spots like TNQ and Sugo Pasta are great for Italian fare.
Pubs & Bars
Historic gems like Sinclair’s Oyster Bar or The Britons Protection serve up pints and pub grub, with cozy interiors perfect for whiling away an afternoon. Trendy cocktail joints like 20 Stories and Dusk Till Pawn mix up innovative drinks.
Alternatively, check out the uber trendy Escape to Freight Island, not far from Piccadilly Train Station where you can sample from over 11 different restaurants all from one table including FUKU, Mia’s Arepas and Patel’s Pies at the time of writing. During day on a Sunday the venue plays host to the Family Zone, offering family friendly activities for the whole family
Dance the night away at legendary Manchester nightclubs like crazily-patterned Hidden and house/techno hotspot Gorilla. Live music and DJs take over Matt & Phreds Jazz Club and Soup Kitchen.
For an authentic taste of Manchester, browse the artisan food and retail stalls at markets like the Mackie Mayor food hall and Hatch on Oxford Road. The Grub Food Fair also hosts street food pop-ups.
How Far is Manchester to Leeds and Manchester to London?
Manchester serves as a transport hub for train and road travel across the UK. Here are the distances and journey times to two top destinations:
Manchester to Leeds
- The distance between Manchester and Leeds is about 40 miles
- By train, expect a travel time of 49 minutes between Manchester Piccadilly Station and Leeds Station
- Driving takes around 50 minutes in ideal conditions
Manchester to London
- The distance between Manchester and London is approximately 200 miles
- The train journey takes around 2 hours and 7 minutes from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston
- Expect a 3.5 hour drive between Manchester and London in normal traffic
The direct train links make getting between the two cities fast and convenient, whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure.
So What Are you Waiting For?
With its iconic sports teams, vibrant music and arts scenes, delectable dining, and fascinating heritage, Manchester has so much to offer.
Follow this guide to the top museums, historic sites, attractions, restaurants, nightlife spots, and more to make the most of your visit to this dynamic Northern English city.
The central location and excellent transport links make Manchester easy to reach from across the UK. Whether you’re coming from nearby Leeds or London down south, Manchester is a destination you don’t want to miss!
So book those tickets, pack your bags, and get ready to explore one of England’s greatest cities. From museum-hopping and gallery-gazing to pub-crawling and clubbing, memorable experiences await in Manchester.
Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Manchester
How do I get to Manchester?
Manchester is served by Manchester Airport, the busiest airport outside London in the UK. There are both domestic UK flights as well as international routes. Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria stations offer direct train connections from cities across Britain. The city also has an extensive public bus network and tram (metro) system.
What’s the best way to get around Manchester?
The Metrolink tram network is the most convenient way to get around Manchester. Trams serve popular areas like Old Trafford, Northern Quarter, Deansgate, and more. You can also walk to attractions in the compact city center. Taxis and buses provide other public transport options.
Where should I stay in Manchester?
For proximity to nightlife and restaurants, look for hotels in the Northern Quarter or along Deansgate. Near Manchester Piccadilly station offers transport links. Major hotels cluster near Old Trafford stadium. Choose Salford for more budget options and a quick tram ride downtown.
What is there to do in Manchester when it rains?
With Manchester’s rainy weather, have indoor activities planned just in case. Museums like the Science and Industry Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, and Manchester Museum offer plenty to see. Also consider the craft beer bars in the Northern Quarter, indoor shopping, or a show at Bridgewater Hall.
What are the best neighborhoods for nightlife in Manchester?
The Northern Quarter and Deansgate Locks are nightlife hotspots packed with bars and music venues. Chinatown and the Gay Village are other lively areas after dark. Head to MediaCityUK in Salford for dining, cocktails, and river views.
If you fancy something a little less central, be sure to head out to Chorlton or Didsbury, two of the most exclusive residential neighbourhoods in the City, both easily accessible on the East Didsbury – Rochdale tram which is a hit with locals, students and visitors alike. Failing that, head to Fallowfield to relieve your student days.
Is Manchester expensive for visitors?
Compared to other major UK cities, Manchester offers good value. You can find budget accommodation options, free museums, and cheaper public transportation. Manchester has luxury hotels and dining too but also many affordable choices.
Let me know if you would like me to expand or modify this FAQ section at all. I’m happy to add more questions and answers about visiting Manchester.