Once the heart of the Industrial Revolution, the Manchester of today is forging a new identity. Thanks to continuous investment, the former manufacturing areas are transforming into cool new neighbourhoods. Although proud of its past, it has its sights set firmly on the future. A weekend in Manchester is a great way to experience the best that the city has to offer.
Manchester is famous for its two football clubs, so lovers of this popular game will have plenty to keep them busy. However, you do not have to be into sports to enjoy the city.
From historic architecture and cultural sights to vibrant nightlife and music scene, there is an abundance of things to see and do for all tastes. Manchester is also undergoing a dining renaissance with a wave of new eateries serving up sumptuous fare.
This guide to spending a weekend in Manchester will help you put together your own exciting itinerary.
The Best Things to Do on a Weekend in Manchester
Marvel at Historic Sites and Architecture
Manchester went through a period of rapid growth during the Industrial Revolution. You can experience the influence of the wealth generated during that time by visiting some of Manchester’s most famous heritage sites.
The imposing Manchester Town Hall in Albert Square is a city icon and one of the finest Neo-Gothic buildings in the country. Unfortunately, visitors are unable to enjoy this architectural gem right now due to the extensive restoration works currently underway. The Town Hall will be back in 2024.
Don’t forget to check out the nearby Central Library housed in an impressive Grade II-listed building inspired by Roman architecture.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the neo-Gothic John Rylands Research Institute and Library on Deansgate is an ancient castle. It was commissioned by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of late John Rylands, a successful Manchester industrialist.
The John Rylands Library contains a valuable collection of printed books, maps manuscripts and objects of art. Today, it is part of the University of Manchester Library. Visitors can enjoy Harry Potter-esque interiors and highlights from the collections. Entry to the library is free.
However, Manchester’s heritage is not just about the Industrial Revolution. You can get a glimpse of the Medieval times by visiting Manchester Cathedral. Although it was upgraded and extended in the 19th century, it traces its history all the way back to the Middle Ages. On your visit to the Cathedral, take in the beautiful interiors and elaborate Medieval woodwork. Entry is free.
Just a short walk from the cathedral is the Old Wellington pub housed in a 16th century building, one of the oldest in Manchester. It is a great place to enjoy a traditional pint and watch the world go by from its beer garden.
Visit Manchester Museums
The city boasts a great selection of museums covering different topics of interest, from natural history to civil movements. Just a weekend in Manchester might not be enough to cover them all.
For a traditional Victorian museum experience, head to Manchester Museum that re-opened after an extensive refurbishment in February 2023. It is home to an impressive collection of objects and artefacts spanning different time periods, continents and cultures. From plants and insects to ancient Egypt and dinosaurs, there is a plethora of fascinating things to discover at Manchester Museum.
Learn about the history of Manchester’s innovation and scientific discovery at the Science and Industry Museum. It is located on the site of the oldest surviving station of the world’s first inter-city railway. Through the museum’s exhibits, you can uncover the stories of the Industrial Revolution, social history and the emergence of creative industries that all took place in and around Manchester.
Located in Spinningfields, People’s History Museum showcases the development of Britain’s democracy. Learn about how the right to vote and our freedoms, which we often take for granted nowadays, came about. You will also get to engage with ideas such as social justice and equality and get inspired to build a better future for all.
Just a short journey away from central Manchester, in the trendy Salford Quays, is Imperial War Museum North (IWM North). Housed in an award-winning futuristic exhibition space, this museum tells the story of 20th and 21st century warfare, from the First World War to contemporary battlefields. With the help of historic objects, multimedia displays and poignant art, you will learn how conflict has shaped our world.
Entry to many Manchester museums is free, but a few of them do charge entry fees. Be sure to check the admission policy before you go.
Immerse Yourself in Art
Manchester also offers fantastic opportunities for enjoying the arts. Whether you are into classical paintings or edgy street art, the city has something for every taste.
Art lovers should consider adding Manchester Art Gallery to their itinerary. Founded in 1823, it is home to a significant collection of 19th century British art, including the Pre-Raphaelites. However, the gallery doesn’t sit still and exhibits some cutting-edge contemporary art. The highlight of the collection is an exhibit of the works by LS Lowry and his mentor Pierre Adolphe Valette, who are famous for capturing Manchester’s industrial past in a fascinating way.
Another major art establishment is the Whitworth Art Gallery. It holds a collection of 60,000 artworks and design objects. From historic fine art and Impressionism to sculpture and textiles, there is so much to explore. Although the Whitworth has a permanent collection, they constantly change their displays up. As a result, no two visits are the same.
The Salford Quays area is home to a theatre and gallery complex named after LS Lowry, the 20th century artist whose name is firmly associated with the North West of England. The Lowry stages theatre performance, comedy shows, ballet and opera, contemporary dance and everything in between. The gallery has a permanent collection of LS Lowry’s works and hosts temporary exhibitions of international art.
Manchester’s industrial architecture lends itself perfectly to street art. You can spot incredible works of varying scale when you are wandering around the city, especially in the trendy Northern Quarter. A great way to discover the best street art and learn about local artists is on a guided walking tour. This Northern Quarter Street Art walking tour will help you do just that.
Entry to the art galleries on this list is free. The street art tour is £10 per ticket.
Explore Northern Quarter
Now that the Northern Quarter has been mentioned, let’s look at all the exciting things that this vibrant area has to offer for a perfect weekend in Manchester. This neighbourhood is packed to the brim with independent fashion and record shops, cool cafes, trendy bars and art galleries.
Check out Afflecks, an eclectic four-storey emporium selling vintage clothing, unique homeware, art and vinyl. It is also home to Ginger’s Comfort Emporium that serves up award-winning ice-cream with distinctly British flavours. Experience the work of the top designers and makers at Manchester Craft & Design Centre, located in a former Victorian fish and poultry market which has retained many of its traditional features.
The Northern Quarter is home to some of the most creative and diverse eateries in Manchester. From brunch favourites like antipodean-inspired Federal and Another Heart to Feed to high end establishments like 63 Degrees, there is something for every taste and budget.
If you are looking to enjoy your favourite tipple, the Nothern Quarter has got you covered. Hidden behind a pawn shop window, Dusk Til Pawn is the place to go for amazing cocktails. For a place with unique atmosphere, head to Gatsby-inspired Fitzerald that brings together smart cocktails, live music and stylish vintage décor.
Connect With Manchester’s Football Heritage
The city is home to two world-famous football clubs, Manchester United and Manchester City. Fans of the game can enjoy tours of these teams’ home arenas on a weekend in Manchester.
Visit the Manchester United Museum and go behind the scenes at the hallowed Old Trafford stadium. You can book this tour directly on the Stadium’s website. Get Your Guide offers more flexibility with free cancellation and the buy now – pay later option at no extra cost. You can book the Old Trafford tour here.
Even if you are not a massive football fan, the National Football Museum is still a great place to visit. Uncover the social history behind the game and how it became such a significant fixture in the British culture. Entry is £13 (16.60 USD) per adult if you are booking your timeslot online or £14 (17.90 USD) if buying on the door. You can also book your ticket on Get You Guide if you prefer an option with free cancellation. To learn more about the objects on display, join a free guided tour of the museum highlights.
Enjoy the Legendary Music Scene
Manchester is famous for its thriving music scene that has given the world the likes of Oasis, Joy Division, The Stone Roses and the Smiths. Lovers of live music are spoilt for choice when it comes to venues and styles, from classical to electronic.
The AO Arena is Europe’s largest concert venue where you can catch international big hitters of all genres. Built in 1928, The Ritz, an iconic venue that attracts local and international up-and-coming performers, was originally a ballroom. Its iconic sprung wooden floor has survived to this day.
The stunning Albert Hall will impress not only with its pop and indie line-up, but also with its incredible historic architecture and interiors. Located in the former Wesleyan chapel, this venue delivers an unforgettable music experience. For jazz and experimental music, head to Band on the Wall, Northern Quarter’s most lauded venue.
Home to three resident orchestras – the Hallé, the BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata – Bridgewater Hall is the top destination for classical music. World music, rock and jazz also feature in its diverse programmes.
Savour World-Class Fare
Manchester is undergoing a dining renaissance with new openings popping up across the city. There is an abundance of exciting spots to discover, from cosy pubs and trendy cafes to tapas bars and fine dining. A weekend in Manchester will not be complete without tasting the fare on offer.
For affordable fare that packs a flavour punch, look no further than Manchester’s Chinatown. It is home to such stalwarts of Chinese cuisine as Yang Sing and Happy Seasons. This neighbourhood also offers food from other parts of Asia. For authentic Japanese flavours, look no further than Yuzu. If you are a fan of Vietnamese cuisine, check out I Am Pho.
Manchester also has endless options for those who are looking for a delicious breakfast or brunch. The Koffee Pot, a Manchester institution in the heart of the Northern Quarter is the place to for traditional English breakfast.
In the trendy area of Ancoats, located right next to the Northern Quarter, you will find crowd favourites such as Elnecot and Cocoa Cabana. The latter also serves up the most delectable hot chocolate.
Manchester’s ever-evolving dining scene is home to a selection of excellent tapas bars. El Gato Negro and Tast on King Street serve up such great fare, they have both got a mention in the Michelin Guide. A firm local favourite, which also boasts an extensive Spanish wine list, is Evuna with cosy outposts on Deansgate and in the Northern Quarter.
For a high-end dining experience, check out Mana, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the city. Located in Ancoats, it showcases the best of British ingredients and international cooking techniques through its seasonal tasting menu.
Combining beautiful interiors and Northern flavours, Adam Reid at The French at the historic Midland Hotel is the perfect spot for a special occasion.
Take a Tour
Thanks to its compact size and walkability, the city can be easily explored independently. However, there is a great choice of guided tours on offer to compliment your weekend in Manchester.
For an introduction to Manchester’s history and highlights, join Free Manchester Walking tours that run every day at 11am. You do not need to book ahead – just turn up on the day. The starting point of the tour is the Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Gardens. The tour is three hours long and is packed with great insights about the city. This is my personal favourite amongst Manchester tours.
If walking is not an option, you can see Manchester’s top attractions on a hop-on hop-off open-top sightseeing bus tour. The tour includes recorded commentary on the city’s industrial past. You can book your spot in advance on Get Your Guide.
If you are looking to experience the best of Manchester’s burgeoning dining scene, but do not know where to start, a food tour is a great way to discover some of the best spots. Scranchester Food Tours run the Eat the City tours where you will learn about the city’s past and present through its food and drink. There are also food tours that focus specifically on the Ancoats and Northern Quarter eateries.
Sample Itinerary for a Weekend in Manchester
Arrive at your accommodation and settle in for a fun weekend in Manchester.
Saturday – Breakfast
Get to know the city with a self-guided tour of Manchester’s most famous historic spots such as Manchester Cathedral, the John Rylands Library and the Town Hall.
Alternatively, join the free Manchester Walking Tour to learn about the history of the city.
Saturday – Lunch
After a good a walkabout enjoying Manchester’s history and architecture, it’s time to re-charge. Head to Chinatown for an affordable and filling lunch.
Saturday – Afternoon
Spend a couple of hours exploring a museum or an art gallery of your choice. You could try to fit more than one, but I would advise against cramming too much into your day.
Saturday – Dinner & Drinks
Head out to Ancoats for a delicious dinner. Elnecot is my personal favourites in the area. Follow this up with a cocktail at one of Northern Quarter’s many cool bars.
Saturday – Evening
Going to a gig is a great way to spend a Saturday night on your weekend in Manchester. Make sure to check out what’s on before you go and book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. Afterwards, party into the night at Manchester’s bars and clubs.
Sunday – Breakfast
If you had one too many drinks the night before, Manchester has the perfect hangover cure. Head to Koffee Pot for a classic Full English Breakfast. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be hungover to enjoy it.
Explore the Norther Quarter street art scene with a guided tour. Make sure to book in advance as it sells out quickly.
Alternatively, make your way to one of Manchester’s famous football stadiums for a tour. If you choose to go to Old Trafford, you can also easily visit the Imperial War Museum North and the Lowry.
If you spend the morning in town, check out the places along Deansgate for a pit stop. If you are in the Old Trafford area, it makes more sense to have lunch there.
Salford Quays, which is just a short walk from the stadium, is home to Kargo MKT. This trendy food hall serves up everything from poke bowls to Ethiopian delights to Korean Street Food and everything in between.
If you were out at Old Trafford, make your way back into town. Have a relaxing afternoon checking out Manchester’s quirky shops such as Affleck’s and Manchester Craft & Design Centre.
Time to go home and start planning another trip to this diverse and vibrant city.
How to Get to Manchester
Thanks to being a significant urban and economic centre, Manchester is well-connected with the rest of the UK and the world.
Manchester has an international airport that receives flights from major UK and European cities. It also connects the city with long-haul destinations such as the Middle East, North America and the Caribbean.
There are four railway stations in central Manchester, with the Manchester Piccadilly station being the largest. If you are travelling from around the UK, taking the train is a great option as it gets you straight into the city centre. I normally use Trainline to plan and book my train travel.
You can also travel to Manchester by coach. The inter-city coach network covers all major UK towns and cities. This is normally the most affordable, but also time-consuming option. You can use Trainline for booking coach travel too.
How to Get Around Manchester
Manchester has a compact and walkable city centre. If you are not planning to go further out, and your level of mobility allows, you can spend your whole weekend in Manchester exploring the main attractions on foot. Alternatively, there are three free bus routes that operate around the city centre that cover the main places of interest. You can check the timetable and route map on the Transport for Greater Manchester website.
If you are planning to visit the Stadiums on your weekend in Manchester, the best way to get there is by tram. Manchester’s Metrolink network has a good coverage of central Manchester and the surrounding suburbs. There are tram stops right next to both the Etihad and Old Trafford. Transport for Greater Manchester (TFGM) provides the best resources for planning your tram journey.
Manchester also has an extensive bus network that offers affordable travel options. Adult tickets will cost no more than £2 for a single trip. If you need to take the bus for more than two journeys, a £5 one day adult travel card covers unlimited travel within Greater Manchester. TFGM has the most up to date information on bus timetables and routes.
Where to Stay in Manchester
To make the most of your weekend in Manchester, I would recommend choosing accommodation in in the city centre. That way, you can easily access most of the attractions on foot and minimise travel time.
For budget accommodation, check out easyHotel which is a stone’s throw from the Northern Quarter. If you prefer to stay in a hostel, YHA Manchester boasts a great canal-side location in the historic area of Castlefield, just a short walk away from Manchester’s top attractions.
You will not go wrong with either Moxy Manchester City or Leven Manchester if you are after a mid-range option. Moxy is in the modern neighbourhood of Spinningfields, where international corporations set up their outposts, while Leven is perfectly positioned for access to Chinatown and Piccadilly Gardens.
If it is luxury that you are looking for, King Street Townhouse and Hotel Gotham should be on your radar. The former boasts more traditional interiors while the latter offers dramatic art-deco inspired surroundings.
Looking to combine a city break with relaxation? Take a look at these Manchester city centre hotels with swimming pools for fantastic options.
FAQs: Weekend in Manchester
Absolutely! Manchester is a fantastic city for a weekend away. It offers something for everyone, boasting a rich tapestry of cultural attractions, historic sites, delectable dining options, and vibrant nightlife. With so much to explore, it’s highly likely that you’ll find yourself wanting more time to fully immerse yourself in all that Manchester has to offer as an exceptional city break destination.
Manchester is undoubtedly a great day trip destination. However, I would recommend spending at least a couple of days exploring the city since there is so much to see and do there.
Yes, Manchester has a walkable city centre. Most of the attractions mentioned in this article are within easy walking distance of each other. However, you will need to use public transport or get a taxi to reach the Old Trafford and Etihad Stadium.
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