Monday 26 February 2018


The Ultimate Guide of Things to Do in Manchester

I absolutely love Manchester. It's one of my favourite places in the UK but one that is greatly underrated. My first visit was driven by meeting up with friends, rather than exploring the city, but since making my first trip down a few years ago I've been back plenty of times and there is always something new to discover. Filled with tons of arts & culture, great shopping districts and wonderful places to eat, it's a city I would highly recommend when hitting up the UK. It makes a good day trip from London as the Virgin Train from Euston station to the heart of Manchester is just over two hours each way (and tickets can be as cheap as £5 each way when on offer), or a long weekend getaway if you want a little more time to explore.

Visit the Northern Quarter

One of Manchester's most iconic districts is the Northern Quarter. This eclectic part of the city is filled with gorgeously vibrant street art, independent shops and restaurants, and generally a relaxed vibe. I already published a blog on the art that can be found in this area in particular, so have a look on there for more highlights from this part of the city.

Afflecks & Other Shopping Highlights

Afflecks is a quirky several-story high building with small independent and alternative shops. Whether you're looking for eclectic jewellery and piercings, vintage clothes, cute stationery, or figures from your favourite anime, you can probably find it here. Think London's Camden Town but all within a single building (so great to hide out in when the weather isn't co-operative!). Other shopping highlights in Manchester include the Makers Markets for art, crafts and artisan food from independent sellers, as well as the Arnsdale Centre in the city – or slightly further out the massive Trafford shopping centre (which has a very cool design with the food court looking like a steam ship and baroque architectal features throughout) – for your well known high street brands. Manchester has a LOT of shops and you can easily spend a full day just browsing the huge variety on offer.

Museums & Art Galleries Galore

If you love soaking up arts and culture, then you'll be in for a treat in Manchester as there are a lot of museums and art galleries to check out and they're almost all free too! The obvious one is of course Manchester Museum. This one is big and a little further out so be prepared for a 20-minute walk, or catch a bus. I particularly recommend the Earth Sciences and Animals collections. While I haven't visited them yet myself, there are also more specific museums, such as the Museum of Science and Industry, People's History Museum, National Football Museum, Manchester Jewish Museum (£4.50pp) and Museum of Transport (Greater Manchester, £4pp). When it comes to galleries I've been to the Manchester Art Gallery (Hetain Patel's Spider-Man piece pictured above is currently on display here) and Whitworth Art Gallery, both of which have an eclectic mix of modern and classic art on display so they have something of interest for everyone, regardless of your art preferences. 

Literary Lover? Visit ALL of the Libraries

As someone who writes about literary connections in places I travel to (see my series: A Book Lover's Guide To...), I cannot switch off looking for bookish links when I'm visiting another city. I haven't quite managed to gather enough different things for a dedicated Literary Manchester blog just yet, but their beautiful libraries certainly make for a great starting off point. There is the gorgeous neo-Gothic John Rylands Library dating back to 1900 (its interior rivals Hogwarts!); Chetham's Library, operating for over 350 years it's the oldest free reference library in the UK and often has some lovely exhibits on; and The Portico Library and Gallery (pictured above) is another one worth checking out for its exhibitions, to name but a few. 

Tons of Theatre

When it comes to theatre, London is the indisputable star of the UK but that isn't to say that other places don't have a lot to offer too. If you're not very familiar with Manchester you might not immediately think of it as a stagey hub but it has multiple theatres and gets all of the big UK tours in addition to its own original plays and shows, so it's definitely worth checking out. The mains ones are The Royal Exchange (where I saw an excellent rendition of Sondheim's Into the Woods a few years back with a stellar West End cast), The Palace Theatre, Manchester Opera House, The Lowry and The Hope Mill, so lots to choose from at any given time. Visit their websites for up-to-date agendas for what's coming up. (Picture unrelated because apparently I haven't taken one of any of the theatres yet!).

Relax at Richmond Tea Rooms

I've done a dedicated post about Richmond Tea Rooms before so won't go into too much detail but it is one of the very best places to visit in Manchester – and one I return to every single time I visit. This gorgeous hidden gem smack-down in the centre along the Canal (it's a short 5-minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly Station) is perfect for breakfast, lunch, brunch or an afternoon tea (I particularly recommend the pancake stack with bacon, maple syrup and seasonal fruit, yum!). It's stunningly decorated, very affordable and so delicious. Make sure to check out my full post. The area it's located in is called 'Gay Village', a vibrant part of town filled with lots of options for a night out if you're visiting Manchester for more than a day!

Detour to Didsbury

If you have a car (or a friend with a car, in my case) I highly recommend making a trip down to Didsbury as well, a suburb of Manchester. I only made it there myself for the first time on my most recent visit last month but it was well-worth the trip and I'd definitely love to return when the weather is warmer and drier. One of the most attractive features of Didsbury is Fletcher Moss Park & Botannical Gardens (sadly flooded when I was here, which is why I'd love to go back). Free to visit, this large green space makes for a great location for a wander and breathing in some fresh air. Alongside the park there is the Fletcher Moss Museum & Art Gallery (I saw a most excellent free exhibit here of local artist Peter Brighouse who draws delightfully whimsical pictures for the Louisa's Ginger Nuts Cat Books), which also has a small garden area. There are a few restaurants just outside the park as well and we had a great evening at Olive & Vine, a Mediterranean tapas eatery perfect for sharing platters. 

Festive Christmas Markets

Something you cannot visit all-year around but is an absolute must towards the end of the year are the Manchester Christmas Markets. I went a few years ago and it was an incredible experience, easily rivaling the famous German Christmas markets but much closer to home for us UK people. They're huge, covering the entirety of the city centre, and are split into several different markets, each with their own theme. You'll find tons of scrumptious seasonal food and drink, alongside Christmas trees and unique gifts you cannot find on the high street. The variety is immense and when the weather is good, the Manchester Christmas Markets would make a brilliant day trip on their own already. I highly recommended adding them to your festive diary and if I manage to go again this year myself I'll make sure to post a separate blog with tips and highlights.

Quick Travel Tips

  • One of the greatest things about Manchester is that it's a very compact city and mostly everywhere is easily walkable within the centre. If you are a bit rushed for time, however, or less mobile, then have a look at the Metroshuttle which offers free bus service within the town centre.

  • Subscribe to the Virgin Trains emails to stay up-to-date with their latest travel offers. A return London-Manchester booked at the last minute can be very expensive, but booking around three months in advance is much cheaper. Not only that, but Virgin often has offers on for £5 or £10 one way that book up quickly, so sign up for the newsletter to make sure you don't miss out next time they have a seat sale.

And that's it for my tips on the best things to see and do in Manchester. Whether you go for a day, a weekend, or even longer, as you can see there is plenty to enjoy in this city in the north. Do you have any recommendations to add? Leave them in the comments below!

🎵 Listening to: Sam Smith - Too Good at Goodbyes
🔹 Mood: Cold

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