48 Hours in Manchester: A Guide Full of Tips by Locals

Add a bit of relaxation to your Manchester trip at one of the citys spas
Add a bit of relaxation to your Manchester trip at one of the city's spas | © Mark Waugh / Alamy Stock Photo
Simon Bland

From musical icons to football legends, Manchester is a city that has given the world a wealth of cultural gems. We’ve put together an itinerary to help you make the most out of the city in a weekend.

Manchester is a northern city with a storied musical history and vibrant cultural scene. The Northern Quarter is teeming with bars while its resident Manchester City and Manchester United football clubs make it a go-to spot for sporting fanatics. A weekend trip may not seem long enough to soak up everything, but if you know where to look, you can cram a lot into your two day stay.

Day One – Morning

Enjoy a light breakfast at Ancoats Marina

With just two days in Manchester to play with, you’ll want to jump straight in. On arrival, head to Ancoats behind the Northern Quarter and make your way towards the Cotton Field Wharf Marina. This newly redeveloped neighbourhood has quickly become the city’s coolest hang out, with restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs popping up along its cobble-stone streets. There’ll be time to fully explore these nightlife treats later – but right now, we’re after breakfast.

Wander towards the Marina and you’ll find Pollen, a sourdough and viennoiserie bakery/cafe that specialises in creating golden, buttery croissants, crispy pain au chocolates and a selection of freshly baked breads. Those with a sweet tooth will want to try one of their irresistible cruffins (a croissant, muffin hybrid – we recommend the lemon cheesecake) or cakes, all of which are made in-house and available for under £5.

Savoury bakes like squash, goats cheese and baby basil danishes are also available, alongside an array of sandwiches made with their chunky sourdough bread. Exact prices are dependent on what they have available on the day, although you can expect to spend no more than £6 on a hearty sandwich or bake. Once you’ve stocked up, the marina on Pollen’s doorstep is a great place for an impromptu morning picnic.

Pro Tip: Pollen’s menu changes daily so check their Instagram before you visit to find out what’s available.

Head to the centre of town for some retail therapy at Affleck’s Palace

With your belly full, continue strolling along Ancoats Marina until you reach the Lock Keeper’s cottage. A frequent spot for joggers and dog walkers alike, this route will bring you face to face with canal wildlife and – depending on the time of year – you may even spot some fluffy Canada Geese ducklings pottering around the water. Follow the canal under Great Ancoats Street and the secluded pathway will take you back up onto Ducie Street on the edge of the Northern Quarter. From here, it’s time to indulge in a little retail therapy courtesy of Manchester’s many independent shops.

Head straight over to Affleck’s Palace on Oldham Street. For over 25 years, this multi-storey boutique has welcomed Manchester’s brightest and best creative voices – from painters and illustrators, to local jewellers and handmade-chic fashionistas. It’s a go-to spot for finding an obscure, kitsch gift for friends or family. Maybe even a locally-made souvenir for yourself? If you’re hungry for more handmade goodness, walk over to the Manchester Craft and Design Centre on Oak Street (just five minutes away) and you’ll find 20 studios housing the city’s finest makers and artists, each selling their wares.

Day One – Afternoon

Indulge in a locally sourced lunch at Ezra & Gil

After all that shopping, you’re bound to feel peckish. Thankfully, the Northern Quarter has no shortage of restaurants and cafes. In fact, it has so many food spots that finding the right place to eat can become quite a tricky process. Skip any last minute scouring of online reviews and head straight to Ezra & Gil on Hilton Street. This rustic and airy coffee house and eatery prides itself on having dishes made from locally sourced ingredients and produce. If you’re after something green and healthy, their egg and chicken caesar salad packs a punch (£9). If it’s your cheat day, you have to go for their finger lickin’ sausage butty, served on locally made sourdough bread (£6). We’re drooling just thinking about it.

Pro Tip: Grab a Flat White before you leave Ezra & Gil. Their ethically sourced coffee will give you all the pep you need to avoid any mid-afternoon slumps.

Explore art at Manchester Art Gallery and culture in ChinaTown

With lunch sorted, leave the Northern Quarter and head to Manchester Art Gallery on Mosley Street, which is just a short ten minute walk away. Beyond its impressive columned doorway, you’ll find art collections that span historic paintings and sculptures, to contemporary work from world-renowned artists. There’s plenty to see – with new guest exhibitions appearing throughout the year – so take your time wandering around this grand space in the middle of the city. Before you leave, swing by the ground floor gift shop to pick up a Manchester-focused reminder of your visit. Books, stationary, prints and illustrations – they’ve got the lot.

Once you’ve soaked up some culture, head directly behind the Gallery and you’ll find ChinaTown Manchester, the second largest ChinaTown in the UK behind London. This popular city-centre area is known for its giant, ornate archway on Faulkner Street which features engravings of dragons and phoenixes, each painted gold and red. It’s not the biggest part of town but it’s packed with authentic Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Singaporian and Malaysian restaurants, bakeries and gift shops, making it a colourful addition to your city centre sightseeing.

Manchester Art Gallery, UK

Day One – Evening

Enjoy cocktails and street food in Manchester’s eclectic bar scene

With evening looming, ease yourself into the party spirit with a few colourful drinks. Manchester has no shortage of cocktail bars, but if you’re after something with atmosphere and great flavours, visit Arcane in Deansgate. This subterranean drinking hole oozes sophistication with its Victorian-style decor that harks back to a time of drinking jackets, low lighting and leather bound books. From zesty Mojitos to sip-worthy Old Fashioneds, Arcane’s experienced mixologists will whip you up something to help get your night started in style and without breaking the bank, with many drinks costing less than £10.

From here, head over to the Green Quarter behind Victoria Station. This up-and-coming part of Manchester has become the city’s unofficial street food and drink hub. It’s here where you’ll find Grub, a delightful food and drink fair that regularly hosts local traders specialising in a wide variety of cuisines. Such an all-encompassing venue (be sure to check their Instagram before your visit to find out exactly what’s on the menu) makes this a great place to grab some dinner. You can even wash it down with a regionally brewed beer. Their bar is fully stocked with an ever-changing array of IPAs, sours, stouts, pale ales and lagers from local brewers and those based across the UK. Grub’s support-local ethos makes it a happily affordable spot, too.

Day One – Night

Get your dancing shoes on and head to Matt & Phreds!

Head back to the Northern Quarter, it’s time to find some nightlife. An evening on the tiles in Manchester isn’t complete without some live music, so visit Matt & Phreds on Tib Street. Since 1998, this hugely popular jazz bar has been welcoming critically acclaimed musicians from the local area and further afield. It can often be found packed-to-the-rafters with music lovers looking for a good time. The bar can get extremely crowded, but if you arrive early enough you should be able to bag a table near the venue’s stage. From here, you’ll have a prime location to soak up the night’s musical offerings. With gigs often lasting until midnight, the seating area soon disappears to make way for an impromptu dance floor. Got some shapes to bust? Now’s your chance.

Landing back in this central part of town will also place you conveniently close by the city’s primary hotels, hostels and Airbnb spots, making the journey home nice and easy. If you don’t already have your accommodation sorted, you’ll be pleased to discover that there’s a number of nearby options that may have some last minute availability. Head to Piccadilly Gardens and you’ll find the reasonably priced Travelodge, or just around the corner, there’s an easyHotel on Dale Street. If you’re still struggling to find a place to rest your head, you could also try Hatters Hostel on Newton Street for a bargain bed.

Day Two – Morning

Restore your energy with a hearty breakfast at German beer house & bakery Albert’s Schloss

If you’ve woken up feeling a little tender, don’t worry. We can fix that with a slap-up breakfast at one of Manchester’s most exciting and picturesque bars and restaurants. Make your way over to Albert’s Schloss on Peter Street. This lavish space is a German-style bohemian beer house, bakery and cook haus. Arrive later in the day and you’ll likely find it full of punters, all enjoying pints of Manchester Rein, a light pilsner that they brew in-house, and Bavarian-inspired dishes like schnitzel and pretzels.

Early morning sees them serve-up an array of breakfast options and once seated at one of their wooden beer-hall benches or comfy window booths, you can enjoy everything from toast with homemade jam (£3) to a full cook haus breakfast (£11) boasting sausage, egg, mushroom, beans and more. Don’t eat meat? There’s a veggie version (£9) too, alongside a drinks menu that features a choice of coffees, teas (£3) and one of the city’s finest Bloody Mary’s (£7).

Day Two – Afternoon

Kick off your afternoon with a trip to the National Football Museum

With your energy levels replenished, it’s time to make the most of your second day in town. No trip to Manchester is complete without experiencing the region’s proud football heritage. In fact, odds are you’ll have already encountered the city’s feverish dedication to the sport; it’s difficult not to spot a blue Manchester City or red Manchester United shirt on passers by whilst wandering around town. If you’re after a deeper understanding of Manchester’s relationship with the game, and the sport in general, head to The National Football Museum in Cathedral Gardens.

This uniquely shaped building is free to visit for Manchester residents but will set non-locals back £11 for an adult ticket or £6 for a child admission. Once inside you’ll find countless stories of football, its history and relationship with fans told via an array of colourful artefacts like shirts, trophies and memorabilia. The space houses a variety of pop-up exhibitions that come and go, so be sure to check the website for a better understanding of what you’ll find during your visit.

National Football Museum, Urbis building, Manchester, UK

Learn about local history at the People’s History Museum

If your visit to the National Football Museum has kick started a quest for more local knowledge, a trip to the People’s History Museum should be the next stop on your afternoon itinerary. One of the good things about Manchester City Centre is that most places are in close proximity, which means you can find this hub of cultural preservation via a short and comfortable stroll from Cathedral Gardens over to Bridge Street in the nearby Deansgate neighbourhood.

Entry to the People’s History Museum is free (there’s a suggested donation of £5) and the space is open daily from 10am to 5pm. It’s dedicated to sharing the personal stories of revolutionaries, reformers, workers, voters and local citizens and inside you’ll find the largest collection of politically inspired materials in Britain alongside countless cultural items and artefacts. Many objects in this museum have been donated by residents of Manchester and the surrounding area, making it the perfect place to widen your knowledge about the area and its people.

Day Two – Evening

Drop by Manchester’s dive bars

As evening arrives on your final day in Manchester it’s time to visit some of the local haunts and dive bars that have helped make Manchester a cultural and musical melting-pot. A quick Google search will quickly reveal that you’re spoiled for choice, but if you’re looking for a place with real character, head to Temple Bar on Oxford Road. Hiding in plain sight, you’d be forgiven for walking past this underground dive bar without even noticing it’s there. At one point in time, it was a Victorian toilet. Now, it’s a tiny drinking hole just two meters wide, covered in tiles and full stocked with a wide array of European beers, ales and lagers. Temple is known for its jukebox, which features an array of classic hits (many of which are from bands that started life right here in Manchester) and its toilets are covered from floor to ceiling in eye-catching graffiti.

If your trip to Temple has whet your appetite for Manchester’s unique drinking scene, head back up towards the Northern Quarter to The Castle Hotel. Much like its NQ neighbour The Night & Day Cafe, this intimate and low-lit bar has welcomed an eclectic array of musical acts over the years who regularly pack-out its church-like live-music space. It’s one of the few bars in town where you can pick up a pickled egg alongside your choice of beer, wine, spirit or soft drink, and much like Temple Bar, it’s famous for its juke box which pumps out a constant stream of classic tracks. It’s usually filled with locals, which provides an authentic Manchester vibe that isn’t as easily found in some of the city’s larger venues.

Day Two – Night

Round out your weekend with a glitzy meal with a view at 20 Stories

You’ve immersed yourself in some Manchester culture at museums and landmarks, and experienced the city’s cultural heartbeat in its character-packed pubs. Now, it’s time to bring your two-day trip to an end. What better way to close out your time in Manchester than with an evening of extravagance? Spinningfields is the place to go for glitz and glamour. By booking yourself a table at 20 Stories, you’re guaranteed to get a night to remember. As one of the city’s newest restaurants, this aptly-titled venue is located (you guessed it) twenty stories up, offering unrivalled views of the city and surrounding area.

If the weather’s working with you, a table on their heated outdoor terrace is an ideal spot for an al fresco cocktail. If you’re after a bite to eat, their ala carte and set menus offer a range of carefully curated starters, mains, sides and desserts. It may not be the cheapest (their 8oz aged fillet steak with confit tomato and buttered spinach is delicious but comes with a £35.50 price tag), but such a dramatic and luxurious surrounding makes 20 Stories a place that’s not easily forgotten.

Of course, you’ll need somewhere to stay for all this busyness. Check out the best hotels near Canal Street, Manchester, bookable with Culture Trip.

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