The Best Things to Do in Manchester, UK

Manchester is a vibrant city with a host of exciting outdoor adventures
Manchester is a vibrant city with a host of exciting outdoor adventures | © eye35.pix / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Stephanie Andrews
19 August 2020

Manchester is a young, energetic city fuelled by a love for sports, a thriving arts scene and a hip vegan and vegetarian dining culture. Whether your ideal vacation involves delicious drinks, sampling award-winning local delicacies, museum-hopping or bopping along to live music, these tips from Culture Trip’s local insiders will have you soaking up Manchester’s infectious energy.

Sip Wine Bar

Wine Bar, Wine, $$$
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If you’ve ever had a tough time deciding which wine to drink, then Sip Wine Bar is the place for you. Grab a glass and choose from more than 30 different bottles from its self-service machine. Pour as little or as much as you want, and try a mix of different wines to pair with the delicious charcuterie boards and small plates. It’s the perfect spot for a boozy brunch or an evening of wine and tapas. Recommended by local insider Natalie Hetherington

Cocoa Tree

Cafe, Coffee
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If you are a professed chocoholic, feed your sweet tooth at Cocoa Tree, an independent, ethical chocolatier in the Manchester neighbourhood of Chorlton. Mancunians deem it the best hot chocolate in the city (made from Belgian chocolate), and it also serves biscuits and cakes, as well as a wide variety of handcrafted truffles and sweets. Start the morning off right with coffee and something sweet, or enjoy an afternoon pick-me-up with a hot chocolate and slice of cake. Recommended by local insider Natalie Hetherington

Altrincham Market

Market, Authentic
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Market House Coffee stall in the Grade II listed Market house in Altrincham town centre, Cheshire. A busy and exciting food destination
© Mark Waugh / Alamy Stock Photo

Altrincham is one of the country’s original market towns, so it’s no surprise that between Manchester and Cheshire’s farming community, you’d find the vibrant, award-winning Altrincham Market. This market, with an indoor food hall, comprises shops from local craftspeople and produce vendors, along with 10 food stalls. Here, you’ll find everything from pies and pastries to artisan coffee and wood-fired pizza. It’s the perfect place to hang out with friends for a drink or to enjoy a meal in a relaxed setting. Recommended by local insider Natalie Hetherington

Virtual Hideout Manchester

Amusement Park
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If you consider yourself a gamer, then the perfect evening awaits you at Virtual Hideout, a virtual reality and gaming hub in the Great Northern. This gaming hotspot can accommodate groups up to 25, and it offers more than 100 different VR experiences, with HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets that fall under nine different categories, including horror, fantasy, family and kids. Virtual Hideout is a great way to spend an evening with the entire family. Recommended by local insider Natalie Hetherington

intu Trafford Centre

Shopping Mall
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The Great Hall inside The Trafford Centre shopping complex, Dumplington, Greater Manchester, England, UK
© Ian G Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re someone who loves to shop, then you’ll be in retail heaven at intu Trafford Centre, one of Europe’s largest indoor shopping centres. Spanning three floors, it contains more than 140 shops, as well as an arcade, bowling alley, cinema and a variety of drink and dining options. The gorgeous Barton Square is decorated with painted Roman murals and a stunning water fountain, while the enormous Great Hall dining area is designed to look like a cruise ship. Recommended by local insider Alexandra Jones

Afflecks

Store
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Known as an “emporium of eclecticism”, Afflecks indoor market in the city’s Northern Quarter caters to weird, quirky fashion, accessories, music and art, as well as tattoos and piercings. Afflecks gives off a cool indie style and is brimming with Mancunian culture. Travellers with an open mind will find it a charming and worthwhile curiosity. Just don’t be surprised if you walk away with a new top hat or funky cat art. Recommended by local insider Alexandra Jones

Chinatown

Market
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Chinese arch in Faulkner Street in Chinatown Manchester
© Andrew Wilson / Alamy Stock Photo

The red-lantern-studded trees and the dragon-painted archway of Faulkner Street welcome you to Chinatown. Manchester is home to the second-largest Chinatown in the UK after London. Here, you’ll find a variety of authentic Asian supermarkets and restaurants offering everything from Chinese and Japanese to Vietnamese and Nepalese delicacies. You’ll also find speciality grocery stores, massage parlours and lively karaoke bars. Grab a pillowy red-bean bun, dip into some dim sum, or sit down and experience traditional teppanyaki. Recommended by local insider Alexandra Jones

HOME

Art Gallery, Cinema, Theatre
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Cinema fanatics and lovers of art will feel right at home at HOME, an expansive international artist hub filled with galleries, cinemas and theatres. It’s renowned for its independent movie scene, as well as live entertainment and dances, stunning visual art, thought-provoking theatre and cosy café and bookshop. HOME even offers talent development for artists looking to create incredible works with other artists from around the world. Check out what’s happening here, and make sure to book tickets online. Recommended by local insider Alexandra Jones

Old Trafford Manchester United Museum and Stadium Tour

Sports Center, Museum
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Football tunnel at Old Trafford stadium, Manchester United's home ground, during an Old Trafford Tour.
© David Brabiner / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re obsessed with football, then you’re in good company, as Manchester is home to not one but two of the most famous football clubs in the world. Manchester United Museum and Stadium, located in Old Trafford, offers behind-the-scenes tours of the iconic stadium where guests can listen to unbelievable stories about Manchester United’s famed athletes. For those looking to experience some action, the VIP experience will get you seats to a home game. If you’re planning to visit, make sure you book your tickets in advance. Recommended by local insider Alexandra Jones

Visit clubbing history at the Haçienda

Building, Music Venue
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These days, it might be a city centre flat block, but back in its ’90s heyday, the Haçienda was a cultural melting pot that helped define the Mad-chester scene. You’ll find it by Deansgate train station in the centre of town – and getting a photo outside is easy enough. However, venture down the canal path below the building, and you’ll discover a wall art installation chronicling the venue’s legendary life story.

Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Accessible (Deaf), Accessible (Blind), Accessible (Wheelchair)

Take a Smiths selfie at Salford Lad’s Club

Building
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Okay, okay, it’s not technically in Manchester – but no trip to the city is complete without venturing out to Salford Lads’ Club for a selfie at the same spot featured on the sleeve of the Smiths’ iconic 1986 record The Queen is Dead. After more Morrissey and co? Head inside and you can explore the Smiths Room – a space jam-packed with music history surrounding the band.

Catch a gig at the Night and Day Café

Bar, Contemporary, $$$
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There are plenty of bars in the Northern Quarter, but few of them are as legendary as the Night and Day Café. A long and narrow space, its tiny stage has hosted a wide variety of bands and artists at various stages of their careers. It’s also played an integral role in introducing audiences to the much-loved bands of tomorrow. Gigs are an almost daily occurrence here – so drop by, grab a pint and hang out. You never know who you might see.

Eat and drink local at GRUB

Bar, Market, Craft Ale Bar, Food Truck, Food Stall, Dessert, Eco-friendly, Snacks, Beer, Healthy, Ice Cream, Dim Sum, Vegan, Gluten-free
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Beyond Manchester’s many mainstream bars and hipster pubs lies a thriving street food and drink scene showcasing produce from local caterers and breweries. Many of these converge at GRUB, the city’s popular street food and drink fair based at the Redbank Project over in the Green Quarter. With their support-local ethos and independent vibes, this pop-up style venue is a great place to sample something new. You might even find your new favourite beer.

Meal service:

Dessert, Takeaway, Dinner, All Day

Atmosphere:

Arty, Fast Casual, Pop-up Restaurant, Outdoors, Family Friendly, Unusual, Relaxed, Quirky, Casual

Discover Manchester's industrial past at the Science and Industry Museum

Museum
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Manchester has a proud and storied history of industrial work and cultural progress. It’s the reason why the black and yellow worker bee is its emblem, reflecting the tenacious nature of its residents and the hive of activity found in the city. The Science and Industry Museum in Deansgate chronicles Manchester’s many industrial achievements with installations, galleries and interactive displays. There’s also a free soft-play area for kids to explore during your visit.

Shop independent at Manchester Craft and Design Centre

Market, Shop, Architectural Landmark
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Looking for a souvenir from your day trip to Manchester? You’re bound to find something unique, beautiful and created by a local artist at Manchester Craft and Design Centre. Located at the back of the Northern Quarter in an ornate building that was once a Victorian fish and poultry market, this shopping space has two floors worth of studios operated by a variety of local makers and artists, each selling their wares. Paintings, jewellery, ceramics – whatever you’re after, you’ll find it here.

Meet Frank Sidebottom in Timperley

Historical Landmark
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The green and leafy Timperley is just a short tram ride away from the city centre and the birthplace of Mr Frank Sidebottom. Unfamiliar with Frank? Created by local artist and enigma Chris Sievey, this odd-ball character was known for his giant, papier-mâché head and shot to cult-fame in the early ’90s thanks to his artwork, live shows and short-lived TV series. Sievey sadly passed away in 2010, but a statue in his hometown of Timperley keeps Frank’s spirit alive.

Indulge in afternoon tea at Richmond Tea Rooms

Tea Room, Tea , Coffee, British, Vegetarian, Vegan, $$$
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You’ll find a few places serving afternoon tea in Manchester, but none offer an experience as immersive as Richmond Tea Rooms. Draped in atmospheric curtains and adorned with delicate pink flowers, their velvet booth seating invites you to get comfy and enjoy tea, cake and nibbles in its Alice in Wonderland-themed surroundings. Be sure to have your camera at the ready – this place is an Instagrammer’s dream.

Tour a local distillery with Three Little Words

Cocktail Bar, Craft Ale Bar, Pub, Cocktails
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Underneath the railway arches in the centre of town lies Three Little Words, a gin bar, restaurant and distillery that offers visitors the chance to unwind in a rustic setting. What’s more, its Spirit of Manchester Distillery tour lets cocktail lovers peek behind the scenes and find out how they make their award-winning Manchester Gin. Tours last around 45 minutes and are topped off by a sampling session where you can wet your whistle. We’ll cheers to that!

Wander around the Maker's Market

Market
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Taking place in various spots around town on various days (check their official website for listings), Manchester’s Maker’s Market features a series of pop-up gazebo stalls selling freshly prepared food, locally created gifts, artwork and souvenirs, and homeware items like candles, ornaments and furniture. If you’re in the centre of town, you’ll find them taking over the Northern Quarter’s Stevenson Square on the second Sunday of each month.

Relax in the infinity pool at King Street Townhouse

Hotel
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Located on the seventh floor, the spa at the King Street Townhouse offers unparalleled views of Manchester Town Hall that visitors can enjoy whilst soaking in their heated infinity pool. Connected to a seemingly invisible glass window, this luxurious spa might just be the most chilled spot in the city, letting you watch the world go by with a glass of prosecco in hand. A steam room and relaxation area are also available for all those looking to unwind after a long day of sightseeing.

Expand your record collection at Sifters

Shop
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You may recognise the name Sifters from Oasis track “Shakermaker”, which featured on the band’s game-changing 1994 album Definitely Maybe. Not content with just singing about his old record store haunt, outspoken frontman Liam Gallagher also used it as photoshoot backdrop for his Pretty Green fashion line in 2014 – cementing its status as part of Manchester music and cultural history. Travel out to Didsbury, and you can find out what all the fuss is about – and maybe bag a new record for your collection.

Learn local history at the People's History Museum

Museum
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Peoples History Museum
© Made by Memo
The People’s History Museum is a celebration of democracy and the power and importance of ideas. Within its red-brick walls, you’ll find the largest collection of political material in Britain, each telling a different story of revolutionaries, workers, voters and local folks who inspired change. Entrance to the museum is free, and once inside, visitors can explore over 450 political banners, 2,000 political posters, 7,000 badges, tokens and medals, alongside personal items from Manchester residents.

Simon Bland contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on August 19, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.