Manchester is England’s second biggest city, having been settled since 79 AD by the Romans. Manchester is a vibrant urban hotspot with excellent nightlife, arts and culture. The city is surrounded by countryside and the gorgeous Pennine mountains, making it a great base for exploring wilder regions of the country. Manchester has an extensive history and is important in many fields, including music, science and transport. It is home to the world’s first inter-city passenger railway station and a thriving culture scene, making it one of England’s most exciting cities. Here are 25 of the best things to do in this buzzing city.
1. Manchester Museum
The Manchester Museum is the country’s biggest university museum with a collection of 4,500,000 items from all around the world. The museum is housed within a striking gothic-style building and showcases the best in archaeology and natural history. The museum features a number of galleries focusing on diverse topics such as fossils, the ancient world, and world culture. There is a special exhibition on the natural history of Manchester which looks at the city’s origins as an underwater world and then a swamp. Spend some time in the museum’s vivarium, a collection of live reptiles and amphibians and home to some of the rarest frogs in the world. Don’t miss Stan the T.Rex, a well-preserved skeleton of an infamous dinosaur, boasting the world’s best tyrannosaurus rex skull. There is a café on-site to offer a break after a few hours exploring this wonderful museum.
2. John Rylands Library
John Rylands Library is perhaps the most well-known of Manchester’s famous libraries. Opened in 1900, the library exterior features beautiful gothic-style architecture popular amongst the university buildings. The library is worth a visit for the architecture alone, boasting gorgeous vaulted ceilings, soft illumination and ornate archways. John Rylands Library is also one of the best academic libraries in the UK, featuring a number of special collections. The library houses medieval manuscripts, early printed texts, as well as personal letters from a number of notable figures. For lifelong learners, students, academics, and architecture-lovers, John Rylands Library is a peaceful haven set in the heart of the bustling city.
3. Manchester Art Gallery
Manchester Art Gallery is situated in the city centre, in a building that has stood on this space since 1823. The gallery celebrates local and international work with an extensive collection that spans centuries. Here you will find paintings by artists such as Gainsborough, Turner and Pissarro. The gallery also features collections of crafts, from ceramics to metalwork and home items, as well as clothing and accessories dating from 1600 to the modern day. Take a guided tour to make the most of your visit, and stop by the café for an afternoon tea or a slice of cake. Be sure to check the gallery’s events listings for unique one-off and temporary exhibitions, workshops and tours. Manchester Art Gallery is one of the best places to go for art and culture in the city.
4. Manchester Town Hall
An iconic element of Manchester’s skyline, Manchester Town Hall is the unmissable heart of the city. Featuring dramatic gothic-style architecture that dates from 1877, spend some time admiring the Town Hall from picturesque Albert Square. The clock tower reaches 85 metres and looks out upon the city. Book a tour to explore the gorgeous interior, with tall arched ceilings and beautiful spiral staircases, gilded in gold. Visit the Sculpture Hall, home to a number of statues and busts celebrating people of importance to Manchester. Manchester Town Hall has been used to film scenes in several big-budget movies, including The Iron Lady, Sherlock Holmes and Victor Frankenstein. This historically important location is a great way to learn more about the city and view some stunning architecture.
5. Museum of Science and Industry
Manchester has played an important role in the fields of science and technology throughout its existence. The Museum of Science and Industry celebrates this contribution with a number of displays and exhibitions on areas such as transport, power and computing. Learn about Manchester’s role in the booming transport industry with a ride on a train from 1830, and demonstrations of original machines used over the last 300 years. The museum is ideal for families, with a number of hands-on activities suitable for children and adults alike, including scientific experiments, virtual reality booths, and games. The museum offers a fun and entertaining way to learn about the city and industry, and how science is still an important part of Manchester’s heritage today.
6. Old Trafford
For football fans, a visit to Old Trafford football stadium is a must. Home to Manchester United FC since 1910, the stadium is the largest in the country and one of its most iconic. Book a tour for a unique experience through the football grounds, backstage, and into the on-site museum. Learn about the history of the stadium and football club, and walk in the footsteps of football legends like Bobby Charlton and George Best. Stop by the Manchester United store for official merchandise to show your team allegiance, or grab something delicious to eat at the Red Café. Old Trafford is an important location for English culture and a great place to spend a day out.
Manchester’s Chinatown is the second largest in the UK and features a variety of restaurants, supermarkets and shops. It is home to Manchester’s extensive East Asian community and marked by a large paifang arch, raised in 1987. Chinatown is colourful and diverse, with some of the best ethnic restaurants in the city. For authentic Szechuan cuisine, try Red Chilli, one of the best eateries in the area, tucked away in a store basement. For delicious buns, visit Ho’s Bakery which sells all sorts of East Asian baked goods including savoury and sweet Chinese buns. Spend some time browsing the many shops with their colourful traditional wares and bright toys, or visit a local supermarket to cook up an Asian meal in your own home.
8. Royal Exchange
The Royal Exchange is one of the city’s most popular entertainment complexes, with a theatre and shopping centre on-site. The building was completed in 1921 and has survived historical damage in WWII and beyond. The Royal Exchange still features beautiful architecture but the highlight is the theatre, considered to be one of the best in the city. The theatre produces hundreds of shows every year across a range of genres so there is sure to be something on to suit every taste. There are also a number of cafés and restaurants within the complex to visit before or after a show, making this an ideal way to experience some modern culture in a historic setting. If you’re feeling brave, try to seek out the ghosts that are rumoured to haunt the building, including an apparition of actor James Maxwell.
9. Whitworth Art Gallery
Whitworth Art Gallery is a beautiful, eye-catching building housing some spectacular pieces of art. The historic building was recently renovated to increase gallery space and provide a gorgeous and inviting exterior. Within the gallery, you will find work by legendary artists such as van Gogh, Picasso, Turner, Bacon, Hockney and Lowry, making it an absolute must-visit for art enthusiasts. The gallery also hosts regular events, including weekly talks on fascinating topics, late-night openings each week, and workshops and tours that aim to teach visitors more about the art on show. Finish your visit with a light meal – or full Sunday roast at the weekends! – in the stunning café. With floor-to-ceiling windows, the café offers amazing views out onto Whitworth Park and the gallery’s art garden, the perfect place to rest after a day of experiencing internationally important art.
10. People’s History Museum
The People’s History Museum is the only one of its kind in the country, collecting and celebrating the history of working people in the UK. The museum resides in a former industrial building, the perfect setting for its exploration of democracy and ordinary people in Britain. The collections here feature items from around the home and workplace, as well as entertainment and recreational items of interest. Here you can learn about important British historical events at home, including the suffrage movement, trade unionism, welfare and football culture. The museum also hosts a number of events from craft workshops to one-off talks, offering an interactive way to learn about British life. The People’s History Museum offers a unique and informative insight into the lives of everyday British citizens since the 1800s.
11. Chill Factore
For adventurers and thrill-seekers, a visit to Chill Factore is a must. Chill Factore is home to Britain’s longest indoor real-snow slope, boasting a staggering 180 metres! Here you can partake in a number of snow sports and activities, including ski-ing and snowboarding, an ice slide, and snow play park for all ages. The centre offers lessons to those new to snow sports, and also offers other activities such as climbing, airboarding and Snowscoot (a BMX experience on ice!) There are also a number of shops and restaurants on-site so you can recharge after a few hours of fun in the snow.
12. Heaton Park
Heaton Park is Europe’s biggest public green space, spanning a massive 600 acres. The park is a great place to spend a day with a picnic, enjoying the sunshine, or exploring nature. There are also a number of attractions in the park making it a wonderful day out. Visit the park’s Animal Centre built around original stables from 1789. Here you can find goats, donkeys, alpacas, pigs and more. Find the picturesque Hazlitt Wood Pond, hidden away in Hazlitt Wood. Take a ride on the Heaton Park Tramway, featuring a historic tram from the early 20th century. Don’t leave the park without a visit to Heaton Hall, a stately home that has stood on this site since the Middle Ages. Explore immaculately-restored period rooms, including the Cupola which features mirrored walls and a domed ceiling, and is only one of three of its kind in the country. The park also regularly hosts outdoor entertainment and events, so there is always something new to explore in this gorgeous getaway.
13. Manchester Cathedral
Manchester Cathedral has stood since 1421, featuring a gothic-style exterior that imposes and awes. The site of the church has been used for centuries, with evidence of an ancient church existing here in 700 AD. The cathedral boasts a lot of history, even in the stone used to build its floors which are full of small fossils. The cathedral is home to a number of excellently-preserved misericords, special shelves to reduce discomfort in standing for extended periods of time, featuring beautiful wood carvings. Stop by the Visitor Centre to learn more about the cathedral’s history, and to view some special items including the Hanging Bridge. This bridge dates from the 15th century and originally provided the entrance to the church. Manchester Cathedral is a wonderful place to learn about the city’s history and to see some stunning architecture.
14. Manchester Jewish Museum
The Manchester Jewish Museum is housed in a former synagogue, built in 1874 with Moorish-style architecture. This building is the oldest-surviving synagogue in Manchester, and the museum is the only one of its kind outside of London. There are beautiful original stained glass windows and ornate ironwork on display. Inside, the museum explores and celebrates the lives and importance of Jewish people in Manchester, through a number of permanent collections and exciting events. Learn about Jewish life in the city through items, documents, photographs and spoken stories, providing an immersive understanding of the role Manchester’s Jewish community played in the city’s growth. Attend an event such as a talk, cabaret evening, or a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter. This is an ideal place to learn about one of Manchester’s important local communities.
15. The Hidden Gem
The Hidden Gem is Manchester’s oldest Catholic church, built in 1794 on a quiet street in the city. The exterior of the church is unassuming. The only indication of the majestic interior is the doorway which features intricate carved designs. Inside, the church features a number of beautiful marble sculptures as well as eye-catching architecture. Find the Adams Stations of the Cross, a number of paintings completed by commission in 1995 to celebrate Catholicism. These paintings draw a lot of visitor and scholarly attention in this true hidden gem of a landmark.
16. Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden
Opened in 1919, the Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden features a range of activities to make for a great day out amongst nature. The botanical garden features rockeries, ponds, ornamental gardens and groves of trees. The site is also home to a nature reserve, making it a lovely place to find some wildlife amongst beautiful plants. The reserve is home to a number of birds including swifts, wrens and parakeets. The Botanical Garden host regular activities and events for those who are keen to get to grips with nature, including walks and nature trails. The site also houses sports grounds for tennis, rugby and more. The Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden is an ideal day out for anyone who loves the outdoors.
17. Stockport Viaduct
The Stockport Viaduct is the largest brick structure in the country, built in 1840 to provide passage for trains. The viaduct is an impressive 34m high and was the largest viaduct in the world when it was constructed. The viaduct represents an extraordinary feat in Victorian engineering, an example of Manchester’s important industrial history. The viaduct has played a key role in local culture, appearing in many of Lowry’s paintings, as well as linking Stockport to London. The viaduct is a must-see in Manchester and one of the city’s greatest historical landmarks.
HOME is Manchester’s hub for contemporary art, film and media, featuring a theatre, cinema, gallery and studio space. HOME celebrates independent art and culture, promoting engagement and curiosity. There is always something new and exciting to experience at HOME, with an ever-changing roster of films, exhibitions, performances and events. Attend a workshop or a tour of the stunning purpose-built building. Watch provocative indie films, participate in a poetry reading, or purchase a local zine from the bookshop. There is a restaurant and two bars offering great views and delicious food, allowing you to recharge. HOME is a buzzing cultural hotspot and the perfect place to learn something new.
19. Gorton Monastery
The Gorton Monastery was built in 1867 by Franciscan friars settling in Manchester. The monastery features amazing gothic-style architecture and is considered an important but endangered historical site worldwide. Today, constant conservation efforts are being made to ensure the monastery continues to serve its community for years to come. The interior features beautiful architecture, historic sculptures, and stained glass windows. Book a tour or attend an open day to explore the cloisters, gardens and learn more about the history of this important monastery. Refresh yourself with a snack or tea at the café, and make the most of the monastery’s rich heritage.
Mamucium was a Roman fort founded in 79 AD, also known as Mancunium. Mamucium marked the first settlement of the Manchester area and was used in medieval times for farming purposes. During the Industrial Revolution, the fort was levelled in order to progress local industry. Today, the ruins of the fort are still visible, and well worth a visit. Here you can see the layout of the civilian settlement that grew around the fort in Roman times. This is a fascinating look at the earliest incarnation of Manchester, and a great opportunity to learn more about Roman Britain.
21. Clayton Hall
Clayton Hall is a manor house dating from the 15th century, tucked away behind a little area of parkland. The house is surrounded by a moat and boasts traditional architecture and styling. Today, it is used as a living history museum, having been restored to represent life when the house was originally inhabited. There are a number of rooms on show, with guided tours available, including a dining room, bedroom and wash house. There are hands-on activities for children to give them a taste of period life, and beautiful surroundings to explore.
22. Experience Manchester’s Craft Beer
Manchester is well-known for its craft beer scene which has sprung up over the past few years. There are many pubs and bars offering real ale and home-brewed craft beer, and even annual festivals celebrating the city’s beer. For an extensive collection of beers, try Port Street Beer House, widely considered to be the best place for ale enthusiasts. Bar Fringe boasts eclectic décor and specialises in European imports, while Beermoth has regular tasting sessions for all of the beers on sale. Finally, The Hope has its very own microbrewery in the basement and offers beers and ales from around the world, making it an excellent location to end any craft beer crawl.
23. Northern Quarter
The Northern Quarter is Manchester’s alternative and bohemian capital, full of independent businesses, boutiques and cafés. The Northern Quarter is a shopping haven, home to Affleck’s Palace which was once a department store and used today as a bazaar for alternative clothing and trinkets. Check out the many boutiques and fashion designers hidden in the Quarter’s back streets, or pick up some art at one of the commercial art galleries dotted around the area. After dark, the Northern Quarter boasts some of Manchester’s best nightlife scenes with jazz bars, music venues and secret speakeasies. For music lovers, visit the infamous Piccadilly Records for classic and contemporary vinyl. And for foodies, there are a number of small eateries producing organic and locally-sourced meals and snacks, perfect for recharging after a long day exploring the Northern Quarter.
24. Gay Village
Manchester is home to a thriving LGBTQ* scene, much of which is based in Canal Street – also called the Gay Village. The Gay Village hosts a number of annual events promoting LGBTQ* culture and issues, including Manchester Pride. In addition, the nightlife here is fantastic, with a wide variety of bars and restaurants lining the canal. Visit Alter Ego for exhilarating themed nights, including 80s nights and metal nights. Vanilla is Manchester’s key lesbian bar, known nationwide for its vibrant atmosphere. The Gay Village always offers a fun, safe and welcoming night out, or come along during the day for a pleasant stroll besides the canal. The Village is a key part of Manchester’s culture and offers entertainment for everyone.
25. Hollingworth Lake Country Park
Hollingworth Lake Country Park is a gateway to nature and wildlife just a short distance out of the city centre. The park spans a staggering 118 acres and offers a variety of activities for adventure seekers. Go boating on the beautiful lake, explore the nature reserve, or visit an art exhibition, all in one place. There are trails for hiking and biking, and guided walks through the park. The park is bordered by hills for those who enjoy rugged countryside, and the lake also allows water activities such as windsurfing, swimming and fishing. The park is a wonderful day out and a great way to get away from the city and back to nature.