How to Spend One Day in Manchester

There's plenty to see and do in Manchester – and the tram makes it easy to get around
There's plenty to see and do in Manchester – and the tram makes it easy to get around | © kevin walsh / Alamy Stock Photo
As the biggest city in the north of England, Manchester is a great destination for cultural sightseeing as well as unforgettable nightlife. Planning a day trip is easy – just jump on the tram and you can visit a host of galleries, bars, museums, restaurants and music venues. Here’s Culture Trip’s guide to the perfect day out.

Morning

Grab a greasy-spoon breakfast at the Koffee Pot

Start your day at the Koffee Pot on Oldham Street at the tail end of the Northern Quarter. Arrive early to grab a booth or table at this much-loved greasy spoon. If it’s mid-morning, you might have to wait a bit, but the reward is worth it. As one of the city’s oldest cafes, it’s nursed many a hangover with its meat, vegan and veggie fry-ups, sandwiches and bloody marys. The ANCmuffin breakfast burger should set you up nicely for the day ahead with its sausage patty, runny egg and American cheese. There are even a few breakfast cocktails on offer for those craving a hair of the dog.

Pro tip: take a picture of the giant mural on the wall outside. It remembers the 22 victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing and features an illustrated bee for each soul lost.

The wall of the Koffee Pot features a bee mural by Qubek (Russell Meeham) | © lowefoto / Alamy Stock Photo

Browse Manchester Craft and Design Centre

From there, head across the road to the Manchester Craft and Design Centre. Once a fish market, the bright and airy space has been converted into studios for local artists, creatives and makers and is overseen by the Arts Council, Manchester City Council and Elbow frontman Guy Garvey. Studios are occupied by a collection of creatives, but expect to find painters, jewellers, ceramicists and illustrators selling their wares. There’s also an art gallery here, featuring work by regional artists.

Swing by Siop Shop for a coffee and a doughnut

Stay in the Northern Quarter and stroll the short distance over to Tib Street to this independent Welsh coffee bar and bakehouse, which specialises in colourful doughnuts. The venue is a favourite among foodie-loving locals who drop by for a sweet treat or a more substantial brunch.

The coffee features a selection of punchy guest beans including those grown locally, and we recommend the oat-milk flat white. Meanwhile, the doughnuts combine left-field flavours with designs that look too good to eat, so Insta-snap them first. Flavours change daily, with vegan and gluten-free options regularly making an appearance. Look out for the sticky and delicious lemon meringue.

Pro tip: take your time to stroll through the Northern Quarter. New independent stores, pop-ups and street art appear all the time. You never know what you might find.

Afternoon

Enjoy a light lunch in Ancoats

After you’ve finished exploring the Northern Quarter’s maze of back streets and independent shops (Siop coffee in hand), head over to the cobblestoned Ancoats neighbourhood. Look up and you’ll see signs for Loom Street or Cotton Street harking back to the area’s industrial past, all leading off from the restaurant and bar-lined Cutting Room Square. Here you’ll find the Counter House, a relaxed and independent eatery with a menu of comfort food classics and healthy dishes.

Soak up some culture at Home

Take a 10-minute walk up towards Piccadilly Gardens and jump on the tram to Deansgate. Once you’ve reached Deansgate-Castlefield (less than five minutes away), hop off and head towards First Street where you’ll find Home, Manchester’s leading arts, theatre and cinema venue. Independent movies are screened here and inside the gallery space you can enjoy some art and culture.

Opened in 2015, Home is an arts and cinema venue that merged the old Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company | © Russell Hart / Alamy Stock Photo

The walls of the ground-floor gallery of Home – which opened in 2015 after the old Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company were merged – are movable, making each exhibition look completely different.

In 2019, it housed an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures from visionary film-maker and artist David Lynch, the first time his work had been featured in the UK outside London.

Pro Tip: all-day travel cards are available for Manchester’s Metrolink from just £1.90 – or you can tap in and out with your contactless bank card when travelling.

Go behind the scenes of Manchester Gin with a distillery tour

Staying in the Deansgate area, walk up towards Watson Street. Here, in the looming shadow of the Beetham Tower Hilton, you’ll find Three Little Words, a cocktail bar and restaurant in the lovingly restored red-brick railway arches. Don’t be fooled by the rustic aesthetic – this modern venue offers plenty to keep you entertained. Looking to kick-start your evening? Check out the cocktail menu with carefully mixed creations that are unlike anything else in the city. Want to get more hands-on? The in-house distillery tours gives you a peek behind the scenes to see how the team makes their award-winning Manchester Gin. Tours run from Thursdays to Sundays at various times and last around 45 minutes – which includes a sampling session.

Evening

Try some locally made street food at Hatch

With night approaching, start your journey down Oxford Road, home to a large chunk of the city’s bars and pubs. Just past Oxford Road Station you’ll find Hatch, a vibrant and energetic collection of colourful shipping containers that play host to street-food vendors, bars and independent shops. You can shop for souvenirs here while sipping on a locally crafted beer and enjoying a bite from one of the city’s coolest independent vendors. Its constantly changing nature makes it popular with the city’s young adults, and its unusual cuisine options cater for vegetarians and vegans alongside more traditional meat-based choices.

Take in the atmospheric party vibes of Canal Street

Having filled up at Hatch, make your way back towards the Piccadilly area via Canal Street. As the central hub of Manchester’s gay village, this welcoming stretch of town hosts the city’s annual weekend-long Pride celebration – itself a testament to Manchester’s long-standing love and support for its local LGBTQ + community.

Twinkling lights festoon the street, illuminating the many bars, pubs and clubs located down the main area and outdoor seating lining the Rochdale Canal. Combined, they make for a lively spot to while away a warm summer’s evening. If you’re in the mood for dancing, try the G-A-Y. For quiet drinks, the Molly House is warm, intimate and sure to do the trick. Whatever your plans, you’ll find something to suit here.

Canal Street is home to Manchester Pride, one of the biggest annual Pride festivals in the UK | © John McGovern / Alamy Stock Photo

End the day by escaping to Freight Island

Just a stone’s throw from Canal Street is a new immersive cultural experience located right behind Piccadilly Station. Escape to Freight Island, at Mayfield Depot, styles itself on New York’s Coney Island or Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, with street-food vendors, visual art installations and musical performances from acts both large and small. Wander through the space and you’ll find a 70s-style roller disco, a corridor dedicated to retro gaming and a secret bar that transforms itself into a karaoke paradise after dark. The venue – dubbed Platform 15 – also caters for kids, so this a family-friendly way to end your day in Manchester if the little ones are travelling with you.