Birthplace of bands like Oasis and The Smiths, two rival football clubs, clubbing at the Warehouse Project and, of course, the most famous fictional Street on UK television.
It’s got nightlife, brilliant shopping, and a lot of really quite cool hotels which means if you haven’t made your way northwest to spend a weekend here yet, you’re definitely missing out.
So if you’re in need of a bit of inspiration for your next day trip, here are 25 things to do in Manchester to give you some ideas.
1. Explore the different neighbourhoods
The Northern Quarter is the place to grab a cocktail, and is full of vintage shops.
Spinningfields also has amazing restaurants and bars, while Castlefield is one of the prettiest areas of the city.
2. Get some good food
If you like your food simple and served up in front of the TV, then try the Fab Cafe theme bar for a light snack. Former Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand’s restaurant, Rosso, has firmly established itself in the Manchester dining scene for top-notch Italian nosh.
Elsewhere, Wilmslow Road in Rusholme has earned the moniker, the “Curry Mile”, thanks to the huge number of South Asian restaurants in the area.
3. Go for a big night out
Manchester has one of the biggest nightlife scenes in the UK.
For a posh night out, hotel bars like Cloud 23 in the Hilton Manchester Deansgate and Mr Coopers House & Garden in The Midland Hotel are great for swanky cocktails. Or try one of 15 different champagnes by the glass at Epernay Manchester in their stylish, bare-bricked bar.
If you’d prefer a proper pub, complete with beer garden, real fireplaces and tiny intimate rooms, try The Britons Protection. One of the oldest pubs in the city, it has a great range of whiskies.
In the Northern Quarter, visit the Walrus or the The Whisky Jar for a cocktail or three. It’s very atmospheric, set in a converted textile mill. The Wharf in Castlefield is also great for real ales and their canal side terrace.
We’ve also put together a guide to Manchester’s most brilliant bars to help you with your night out.
4. Learn about Manchester’s music scene
If all the bands to come out of Manchester played a gig together, it would produce one amazing set list.
In the 1960s, The Hollies and The Bee Gees paved the way for Manchester’s musical legacy, while the 1980s saw The Smiths and Joy Division release ground-breaking albums. Then in the 1990s the Madchester movement thrust the city into the forefront of popular culture.
A visit to the The Salford Lads’ Club is a pilgrimage for many fans of The Smiths, they even have a room dedicated to the band thanks to the iconic photograph on their 1986 album, The Queen Is Dead. Find out more on a Manchester Music Tour – the company was founded by Inspiral Carpets drummer, Craig Gill.
5. See some live music
Unsurprisingly given its rich musical heritage, there’s no shortage of places to see live music.
The huge Manchester Arena has played host to acts like Madonna, The Rolling Stones and Oasis, or try the charity-run Band on the Wall for a bit of jazz. A former Victorian pub, it’s been playing live music since the 1930s.
If underground dive clubs are more your style, then head to South. Clint Boon’s Disco Rescue on the Saturday night gives a neat nod back to Manchester’s 90s indie heyday. Even cabaret is covered at The Birdcage, where you can see Vegas-like shows.
6. Check out Canal Street
The cobbled streets, bars and clubs of Canal Street are home to one of the liveliest, biggest and best gay scenes in the country.
In August the streets comes to life with stalls, live music and a parade for Manchester Pride. At one end is the Velvet Hotel, which has a bar and restaurant, and at the other end you can grab a drink in the G.A.Y. bar.
7. Tour a football stadium
Two of the biggest football teams in the world can be found in Manchester – the reds of Manchester United and the blues of Manchester City.
The teams, and fans, share a long, fierce rivalry and an illustrious history.
Old Trafford has been home to the Red Devils since 1910. The stadium tour also gives you access to the Old Trafford Museum, where you can pretend you’re leading out the team as you emerge from the tunnel.
8. Look around the National Football Museum
Test your footy skills in interactive exhibits like Penalty Shootout and Shot-stopper, or if you’re an armchair commentator, have a go at the Match Of The Day Commentary Challenge.
Interactive exhibits cost extra but entry is free to the museum itself, where you can view the 1966 Jules Rimet World Cup Trophy (won by England) and iconic shirts from superstars like Pele and Diego Maradona.
9. Get wet (and we’re not talking about the rain)
Built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the National Aquatics Centre is now a community facility, where you can swim, dive or just splash about.
For watersports outdoors, visit Chorlton Water Park, the first designated nature reserve in the city. Its large lake is great for sailing, windsurfing and canoeing.
10. Cycle in a circle
If you’ve been inspired by Sir Chris Hoy or Laura Trott, visit the National Cycling Centre and have a go on an indoor Olympic-standard track.
Over 12s can try a taster session in the Velodrome, and spend an hour learning the skills needed to ride the banked sides.
11. MOSI around Manchester’s museums
The Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) is free to visit, and you can lose several hours seeing a working cotton mill or experiencing a Victorian sewer (smells and all) – see their top ten “must sees” if you’re visiting for the first time.
For dinosaurs and mummies, the Manchester Museum has live animals to play with, like frogs and lizards, in their Vivarium.
Working class history is showcased in the democratic People’s History Museum, which showcases political objects involved in the struggle for equality in Britain.
On Tuesdays you can visit the Greater Manchester Police Museum to find out more about the history of the force from the Peelers up to the present day.
The Imperial War Museum North is housed in a futuristic, aluminium-clad building in Trafford Park, and looks back at the effect war and conflicts have had on the people of Britain. The interior has been designed to be purposely unsettling, just like war, and the AirShard entrance is exposed to the elements (it’s actually a straight tower, but looks like it is leaning).
12. See where the Suffragettes started
The campaign that brought women the vote began at No 62 Nelson Street – now the Pankhurst Centre.
Home to Emmeline Pankhurst, who lived there with her family; she hosted the first ever meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union there.
The museum, which pays tribute to the fight for women to become equal, is only open on Thursdays.
13. Find out more about Manchester Cathedral
The refurbished Manchester Cathedral hides a wealth of history behind its sturdy doors. The Angel Stone is all that remains from an early Saxon Church (c700) and was found embedded in the South Porch of the current cathedral in Victorian times.
A £2.9m visitor centre was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 2002, and in the basement you can see the remains of a medieval hanging bridge, only discovered during excavations in the 1880s and now a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
14. Read a book in two of the finest libraries in the world
While they contain endless book-shaped treasures, you’ll mainly marvel at the buildings they’re housed in.
The Grade I listed John Rylands Library, part of the University of Manchester, is famous for its neo-Gothic architecture and was built in 1900. The fine Polish Oak panelling inside comes from Gdansk, and the exquisite Reading Room was built 30ft above the street so as not to disturb readers when the horse-drawn traffic passed over the Deansgate cobblestones .
It’s undergone a £17m refurbishment, but the original fixtures and fittings have been preserved. You can see some fine collections of books and other items in its exhibition gallery for free.
Manchester is also home to Chethams Library – the oldest public library in the English-speaking world (1653). But the building its housed in is even older, as it was built in 1421 for priests to live in.
As well as the unique furniture in the beautiful Reading Room, they have a collection featuring works once owned by Henry VIII and the Renaissance playwright and poet Ben Jonson.
Its free to visit, but as it’s run by an independent charity, they welcome donations to help its upkeep.
15. See a theatre show
The largest “theatre in the round” in the country is Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. With an interior designed to resemble a lunar space craft (weighing in at 150 tonnes), no seat is further than nine metres from the stage, which has seen Helen Mirren, Tom Courtenay and Maxine Peake tread its boards.
The Palace Theatre in Oxford Street first opened in 1891 as a music hall venue, and shows West End musicals as well as opera and ballet. There’s also the Contact Theatre – run by the charity Contact – which aims to give opportunities to the next generation of creatives, so expect a dynamic and diverse programme.
The Opera House has been a theatre, cinema and then bingo hall, before moving back into theatrical productions in the 1980s. Expect West End shows and plays on their regional tours, along with comedians, cabaret and “audience with….” evenings.
16. Spend some time (and money) shopping
Manchester has a great blend of large shopping centres, independent shops and boutiques.
There’s two Selfridges in Manchester, one in the Trafford Centre and the other in Exchange Square. You can find more high-end shopping in Harvey Nichols, which is close to the National Museum of Football and the Royal Exchange. Don’t forget to pop into the bar for a glass of champagne.
You’ll find all your high street favourites in the Trafford Centre – which also has a cinema, adventure golf, a Sea Life centre and LEGOLAND® Discovery Centre. It’s five miles out of the city centre, but you can drive, get the bus, train or tram there.
If you’re staying central, the Manchester Arndale centre has more than 200 shops, or Deansgate’s Barton Arcade is like stepping in time as you shop, as the bright, airy Victorian glass and iron structure, built in 1871, has been significantly restored.
The Avenue in Spinningfields has a Mulberry and Empporio Armani, or the Oldham Street area is great for independent shops. Visit Affleck’s Palace, on Church Street, which has tattooists, vintage clothing and jewellery among its stores.
17. Browse the markets in Manchester
Church Street Market has been a city fixture for more than a 100 years, selling clothes, fruit & veg and second hand books, as well as street food.
Piccadilly Gardens also holds a weekend arts and crafts market.
18. Stroll around Manchester’s art galleries
The galleries collection was started in 1823 as the Royal Manchester Institution for the Promotion of Literature, Science and the Arts, becoming the MAG in 1882, and has a fine collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
The Gallery of Costumes have been collecting outfits since the 1920s, and its collection of children’s clothing from the 19th Century is a particular highlight.
Between them they have more than 25,000 pieces and are free to visit.
The University of Manchester’s The Whitworth, scooped the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015, since a £15m development has created twice the gallery space it had before.
It houses paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, J M W Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso and Bacon, among others. And don’t miss some of the new sculptures that have been installed outside in the grounds of Whitworth Park.
The Lowry is a mixture of art gallery and live entertainment venue, where you can see theatre and top comedians as well as paintings.
This is of course the place to see some of the Lancastrian artist, LS Lowry’s greatest works and they have a permanent gallery devoted to him.
19. Take photos of street art
The Northern Quarter has plenty of street art spot, with new pieces added all the time. “The Wall” in Church Street (pictured above) is one of the best known examples, and you’ll also find more artwork in Stevenson Square.
Ford Madox Brown painted his ground-breaking murals in Manchester Town Hall, and you can visit the delightful dozen from Monday to Friday.
20. Relax in the parks and open spaces
Piccadilly Gardens has undergone a huge redevelopment to become a major public space in the city, hosting live concerts and events, particularly in the summer.
It has fountains as well as grassy areas to sit and have a picnic on, and is surrounded by listed buildings, cafes and restaurants.
Didsbury St James Conservation Area is a great place to see some of Manchester’s finest buildings, including The Church of St. James. Or Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury has beautiful botanical gardens to visit, while Heaton Park is a Grade II listed open space.
One of the largest conservation areas in Manchester is in Castlefield, where the Roman’s built a fort they called Mamucium.
21. Walk along the canals…
In Manchester, you’re never very far away from the network of canals that helped turn Manchester into an industrial powerhouse.
The Canal & River Trust have a list of places you can visit in the Manchester area.
22. …or take a cruise on them
You can hire your own boat or jump on a guided cruise of the waterways to find out more.
City Centre Cruises will take you out on either the LS Lowry or the Emmeline Pankhurst. You can even have Sunday lunch or afternoon tea onboard.
23. Visit Albert Square (no, we’re not mixing our soaps up)
Although it’s the home of ITV’s Coronation Street, one of the most popular places to visit in the city centre is Albert Square (also the fictional home of its arch soap rival, Eastenders).
The Victorian Gothic, Grade I listed Manchester Town Hall dominates the public square, but The Albert Memorial is equally striking (and listed), with its ornate spire – its one of several public statues in the area.
24. Attend one of Manchester’s famous festivals
The city’s cultural calender is pretty packed throughout the year – and in the summer time in particular, when the festivals come thick and fast.
The Manchester International Festival (MIF) takes place every two years (the last was in 2015) in venues across the city. They offer a critically-acclaimed performing and visual arts programme.
Heaton Park hosts music festival Parklife, which usually takes place in June. Or at Castlefield Bowl, an open-air amphitheatre, Summer in the City has live music over three weekends in the summer – past headline acts include Noel Gallagher and Paolo Nutini.
However the major annual event in the city, usually held over the August Bank Holiday, is Manchester Pride. Manchester’s Gay Village is the hub of the colourful celebrations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life in the city.
25. Make it a festive trip
Manchester is fast gaining a reputation for its Christmas markets, with around ten city centre markets to choose from.
The chalets arrive in the middle of November, and finish just before Christmas Eve. Along with all the gifts, there are bars and street food.
The Christmas Lights usually have their big switch on at the start of November, with a celebrity pushing the button in Albert Square.
We’ve already put together a list of the coolest hotels in Manchester to get you started.
We’ve also got plenty of other hotels in Manchester to stay at, whatever your budget.
Tell us your Manchester memories
We’d love to know what your favourite things to do in Manchester are. Let us know by leaving a comment below.