Back when I was 18 years old, I moved from my home city of Liverpool in the United Kingdom to Manchester to study for a 3-year degree. 5 years later, I was still there.
So what made me fall in love with Liverpool’s rival city so much that I found it almost impossible to tear myself away?
Manchester has a fascinating and varied social history. Not only was it an industrial powerhouse in the early 19th century (many of the old mills have now been converted to trendy apartments), but it was also the home of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, the birthplace of vegetarianism and the city where the first computer with a stored memory was developed. Didn’t know you had Manchester to thank for so much, did you?
Present-day Manchester is no less exciting. This thriving cultural hub is host to not one, but two premier league football teams (this would explain the rivalry that exists between Manchester and my home city of Liverpool), quirky little boutique shops, delicious eateries, countless museums, and galleries, as well as being the base of Coronation Street – Britain’s longest-running and most loved soap opera.
I don’t live there anymore, but Manchester will always be my second home. Read on and you’ll soon start to realize why this city holds a special place in my heart.
Originally opened in 1906 and described by designers as a “water palace”, the beautifully ornate building fell into disrepair after closure in the early 1990s. After winning a restoration grant (thanks to a reality TV show, would you believe!), the building has now been restored to its former glory and is open to the public for cultural tours, special functions (you can get married here!) and yes… even swimming.
Hidden away behind Manchester’s busiest bus and tram terminal, the Portico Library sits, almost untouched by time. Set up in 1796, the library still holds the same 19th-century texts that it did when it first opened, including a selection of first editions. It’s a peaceful retreat back in time away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
There are many museums that are worthy of your time in Manchester, but my favorite has to be the Museum of Science & Industry. This place focusses on the industrial development of the city and houses the world’s first computer with a stored program and memory, developed in Manchester in 1948.
The Crystal Maze was a TV game show that captured the imagination of an entire generation of British kids in the 90s. Well, much to my delight, the game is back and now anyone can play! Work your way around the maze, using your skills to solve challenges and earn crystals along the way. Incredible fun and a great way to spend a few hours!
From glossy designer stores to smaller, quirky independent shops, Manchester has it all and then some. Browse the beautiful Barton arcade, find something truly unique in Afflecks, treat yourself in the jewelry quarter, or stick to the familiar high street names that you’re used to. If it’s raining, you might fancy staying undercover and visiting the shopping mecca that is the Trafford Centre, and if you’re up for going a bit further afield, grab yourself a bargain at designer shopping outlet Cheshire Oaks.
I’m not really a huge football fan myself, but I couldn’t write a guide to Manchester without including at least one reference to a football (soccer to any of your overseas readers!) related tour! Arguably one of the world’s most iconic football stadiums, visitors can take a tour around Old Trafford – the home of Manchester United – gaining access to areas usually only reserved for players, and hearing the story of one of the world’s most popular football teams.
This ‘gallery in the park’ was transformed beyond recognition in 2015 into the fantastic space you see today. Situated in the grounds of Whitworth Park, events take place both outdoors and indoors and showcase everything from historic pieces to more contemporary works.
One of largest municipal parks in Europe, Heaton Park covers over 600 acres and is the biggest park in Greater Manchester. Take a picnic and enjoy the boating lake, ornamental gardens, tennis courts, and golf course. Kids especially will love the animal farm, adventure playground and volunteer led tramway. It’s so easy to spend the whole day here as there is just so much to do!
Home to one of the largest Chinese communities in Britain, the incredible, richly decorated Chinese archway, indicating the entrance to Chinatown, can be found just on the outskirts of the city centre. This is the place to go if you have a craving for Chinese food and/or night-time karaoke!
Manchester is surrounded by a maze of canals dating back to the Industrial Revolution. They were originally built to transport coal but now act as a pleasant way to spend a few hours cruising up and down the canals, seeing the sights of Manchester and learning about the fascinating history of this amazing Northern city.
Manchester has a wealth of restaurants and cafes covering pretty much every worldly cuisine you can imagine.
It’s perfectly possible to eat out on a budget, but it’s equally as easy to find somewhere to spluge your cash on an incredible fine dining experience.
From pop-up street food markets and pub grub through to refined afternoon tea experiences and vegetarian, vegan and halal food, one thing is for certain: you won’t be going hungry in Manchester!
I’m currently loving all the street food options at the moment.
My personal recommendation would be to check out Mackie Mayors on the edge of the Northern Quarter. Set in a 1858 Grade II listed market building, the surroundings are every bit as impressive as the food on offer!
And if you’re getting thirsty, head on down to one of Manchester’s micro-breweries for a fresh, locally produced craft beer. Beer Nouveau and The Runaway Brewery both offer small batch, modern brews, and if you’re willing to travel a bit further out, you’ll find many more local beers worth tasting outside the city centre too!
There are so many fun things to do in Manchester and many ways that you can keep costs down on your visit. Here are some top tips:
Most of the museums and galleries are free to enter. There’s so many of them to explore that you could spend a good couple of days visiting them without spending a penny! For the tours that aren’t free (such as the Old Trafford Football Stadium Tour) check online to see if you can save money by booking in advance.
Download the free Manchester Walking Tours app and be guided round the city at your own pace, or book yourself onto one of the free walking tours – daily at 11am.
Get 30 minutes free internet on the streets of Manchester with the wifi network FreeBee (£3 for the day after your 30 minutes is up). BusyBee, within Manchester’s public buildings, offers free browsing all day, and Metrolink Wifi on the tram system is free all day.
Manchester’s music scene is pretty legendary. Want some free music? Head to Chetham’s School of Music for free lunchtime concerts during term-time.
The transport network is so well connected that you’ll be able to get to most places without having to use a taxi.
Manchester has a cool, effortless city style so no need to get dressed up in anything special to go sightseeing.
Comfortable shoes are a must – there’s so much to see and do you want to make sure your feet are up for the challenge!
Smart, casual attire is fine for most restaurants, bars, and clubs, but if you’re going somewhere, in particular, do check the dress code before you arrive. For the men out there, it’s always worth packing a pair of smart shoes as there are some places that won’t let you in if you’re wearing trainers – particularly at a weekend.
You’ll find a wide range of accommodation in Manchester and something to suit every budget.
My advice would be to stay in the city center if you want to make the most of your time in Manchester. Transport links are so good that you’ll find it easy to get around Manchester itself as well as be conveniently located for any onward travel.
Budget: Hatters Hostel
It’s perfectly possible to walk to most of Manchester’s central attractions. However, if your feet are getting tired, Manchester has amazing transport links and it’s incredibly easy to get around Greater Manchester using the public transport network.
If you’re flying into Manchester International Airport, there is a direct train from the airport to Piccadilly Train Station in the city center. It’s also possible to call an Uber or pick up a taxi from outside the airport. Many hotels also offer an airport transfer service.
Manchester has its problems just like any large city. Having said that, in the 5 years that I lived there and in all the times I’ve been back since, I have never had any issues with crime or felt intimidated in any way.
Make sure you’re sensible and follow the same advice that you would for any city, anywhere in the world: keep your belongings close to you, stay in well-lit, busy areas and plan your route before you leave the hotel so you don’t end up looking lost and vulnerable. It’s always better to spend a little extra and jump in a taxi if you’re unsure of where you’re going.
The majority of places in Manchester will accept cards as payment, even in the bars and nightclubs. You might want to double check this for the specific venue that you’re going to, but if you can, consider paying by card rather than withdrawing large amounts of cash.
Be sensible and you’ll be golden.
It’s never a good idea to travel without travel insurance. You can read Claire’s full review of the best backpacking insurance here.
Manchester has a busy cultural calendar and there are always reasons to come and visit the city no matter what the time of year. It’s always worth checking What’s On Manchester to see what’s on.
Weather in Manchester can be pretty unpredictable – much like the rest of the UK!
It’s generally going to be a bit warmer in the spring/summer months (April – September) although we can get some pretty cold and wet weather then too! One advantage of visiting during the spring/summer period is the lighter evenings which provide more daylight for sightseeing.
Hi! I’m Helen – proud Northerner and the founder of Venture Up North.
Disclosing local secrets to inspire unique adventures, join me on my mission to make sure that Northern England is recognized for the truly wonderful place that it is.
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Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist is a great companion on your trip to the UK. You can get it before your trip to help you plan out all of the best places to go. It’s a go to bucket list of the not to miss places to visit in the UK.
It’s full of beautiful photography and it goes much further than just the typical tourist traps and includes everything from coastal walks, music festivals, and hidden away pubs you must visit.
If you are interested in learning more about the upper echelons of the British aristocracy then this book abut the life of Anne Glenconner is a great read.
She has long been at the center of the royal circle as a life long friend of the Queen and her sister. Her father was the Earl of Leicester and controlled one of the largest estates in England.
Sadly Anne turned out to be “the greatest disappointment” to her father and she was unable to inherit his great estate and instead make her own way in the world while surviving the vipers of court life! And interesting read to see how the ‘other half’ live.
The UK that you will see today is a product of the post WWII industrial revolution.
Nineteenth-century Britain experienced an unprecedented series of changes in the wake of the war. Cities grew fast and revolutions in transports, communication, science, and the way people lived happened in quick succession.
Added to these changes was a growing skepticism of religion, a questioning of power resulting in political and social unrest.
In spite if these turbulent times Britain remained strong on a global level which saw it quickly rise as a global leader… this was of course before Brexit!
Us brits are legit obsessed with manners to a fault. Seriously we love nothing more that throwing as many please and thank you’s in to a sentence as we can make fit. And don’t even get me started with our obsession with apologizing for EVERYTHING!
But our obsession doesn’t just stop there, there is so much more to British etiquette most of which will confuse the hell out of visitors from foreign lands.
In this book you will get an illuminating insight in to all of the social rules we are governed by, from never putting your elbows on the table to holding open doors. But this book goes deeper and shines a light on where this crazy obsession with good manners comes from. Its a interesting and quirky must read.
Looking for a novel to sink your teeth into on those long cross country train journeys in the UK. White Teeth is it.
Set against London’ s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.