Things to do in Manchester

The city of Manchester is one of the UK’s premier visitor attractions. Home to an incredible range of restaurants, museums, art galleries and one of the country’s most vibrant music scenes, it’s easy to see why so many people love to visit this exciting destination in the north-west of England.

Whether you want to hit the stores at one of the city’s two shopping malls, catch a gig at one of its many atmospheric music venues or simply wander the streets and gaze up at its fascinating architecture, there’s something new around every corner. The city is also a huge draw for sports fans, with two of the world’s biggest and most successful soccer clubs calling Manchester home.  

Car hire means you can make the most of Manchester’s fantastic location and use it as the perfect base for discovery. Head south-west to the hills of North Wales, venture to the nearby city of Liverpool or hit the M62 and set a course for the rolling hills and history of England’s biggest county, Yorkshire.

Whatever the reason for your visit, you’ll find there’s always something happening in Manchester. We’ve taken a closer look at some of the best things to do in and around the city.

History and architecture

Standing in the centre of Manchester today, it’s hard to believe it was once little more than a small market town. The arrival of the Industrial Revolution changed the face of the city forever, with its location near ports and coal mines transforming it into boom town in the 18th century.

For a fascinating delve into the city’s industrial past and how it formed what you see today, pay a visit to Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. The museum is made up of five historic buildings, which together formed Liverpool Road Station, the oldest passenger railway station in the world. It offers a compelling insight into how Manchester came to be known as the ‘Warehouse of the Western World’ in the 19th century.

You’ll also have the chance to explore the Textiles Gallery, which highlights Manchester’s former position at the very heart of the global cotton industry. A huge number of hands-on exhibits give you the chance to dive into a sector that made Manchester a global industrial heavyweight.

Just a short walk away, in the Spinningfields area of the city, you’ll find the People’s History Museum, a former Edwardian pump station that today houses a collection of materials and exhibitions ushering you through years of change in life and politics across the UK.

Also nestled within the heart of the city is one of its most beautiful buildings, the John Rylands Library. This neo-Gothic structure first opened to the public in 1900 and today forms part of the University of Manchester library.

Open seven days a week, highlights include the Historic Reading Room, laid out to resemble a church – complete with an ornate colourful stained glass windows. Also well worth a visit is the Crawford Room, housing thousands of historic manuscripts and several rare sculptures.

Just a short drive south of the city centre you’ll find another of Manchester’s most famous historic buildings, the Victoria Baths. First opened in 1906, this impressive structure once offered swimming and leisure facilities to the city’s residents. Today it retains its sense of early 20th-century grandeur, filled with intricate decorative features such as mosaic floors and vibrant stained glass windows.

Victoria Baths served the city for more than eight decades before finally closing in the 1990s. But its impact on the city is not about to be forgotten; work is under way to restore it as a heritage attraction.

You might not be able to swim or enjoy its Turkish Baths just yet, but the venue plays host to a variety of musical and cultural events all year round, as well as offering passionate guided tours to help you see the impact the baths had on the city and its residents.

Finally, no visit to Manchester would be complete without seeing the city’s cathedral – an imposing Gothic structure on Victoria Street, which looms large over Manchester.

Located on the site of a former medieval church, the building was extensively renovated during the Victorian period and partially rebuilt following bomb damage in the Manchester Blitz of 1940.

The ornate stained glass windows were restored during the 20th century, with the most recent installation being added in 2004. Wander through the cathedral and marvel at the way the coloured glass bathes the interior in a haze of hues on a bright day.

What to do in Manchester

As well as a rich history peppered with change, Manchester also has a strong heritage when it comes to sport. If you’re a soccer fan, make time to visit the city’s two most successful clubs and learn all about the successes they have enjoyed through the decades.

In the Stretford area to the west of the city, you’ll find Old Trafford, home of the world-famous Manchester United. Join a guided tour of the iconic stadium and you’ll have the chance to come face to face with the litany of trophies the club brought home to Old Trafford under its most legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. You’ll also have the chance to experience what match day must be like for the biggest stars in the sporting world as you walk down the tunnel and onto the pitch.

On the other side of the city sits the Etihad Stadium, home to rivals Manchester City, a club that has enjoyed plenty of success stories in recent years. A tour here will allow you to see where the players prepare for the game and where press conferences take place, giving you an insight into the inner workings of a winning team.

If you don’t want to pick between the reds and blues, you can stay neutral and head to the National Football Museum in the city centre. Here you can learn all about the social and cultural history of the game, follow its development through to the modern sport we know today and even try your hand at a penalty shoot-out.

Cricket fans will want to catch a match at Emirates Old Trafford, one of the most iconic venues in England, where Lancashire Country Cricket Club play their home matches and England compete in Test matches. It’s one of the oldest Test venues in the country, hosting its first Ashes match between England and Australia way back in 1884.

For non-sports fans, there’s plenty more to do in this exciting and vibrant city. You can find a world-class art collection housed within the Manchester Art Gallery on Mosley Street in the city centre. Perhaps best known for its extensive Pre-Rafaelite collection, the museum also contains art from around the Europe, stretching all the way from the 17th century to the present day.

To experience shopping in Manchester, head just a few miles west and you’ll find the Intu Trafford Centre, one of the biggest malls in the UK, and home to more than 250 stores. The centre also boasts Europe’s largest food court, with dozens of restaurants serving dishes from all around the world.  

Or if you want to check out some live music during your stay, Manchester won’t disappoint. The city has been the launch pad for true global icons such as Oasis, The Smiths and The Stone Roses, and today it continues that fine heritage with a number of fantastic venues.   The city is home to the O2 Apollo, Manchester Arena and a number of smaller, intimate venues, which host a variety of contemporary and classical gigs. Alternatively, you can head to the Lowry Theatre or Manchester Opera House to sample some drama or performance art.

Where to stay and eat in Manchester

Manchester hotels

To enjoy the best that Manchester has to offer, it’s a great idea to book a hotel close to its main attractions. There’s plenty of choice, so we’ve rounded up just a few great options.

The 47-storey Beetham Tower, one of the most recognisable buildings of Manchester’s skyline, houses a Hilton Hotel, from which you can enjoy what are without a doubt some of the best views of the city.

Some rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, and you can also head to the Cloud 23 bar for sensational views.

Another central option is the King Street Townhouse, located on Booth Street, not far from the main shopping areas of the city. Boasting an infinity spa pool on its seventh floor, you can also enjoy a tasty meal at the Tavern Restaurant and Bar, serving a seasonal menu and classic dishes.

For something a little different, head to the Ainscow Hotel in the nearby city of Salford. This impressive red brick building once served as a brewery and factory, and the owners have sought to retain some of its original characteristics while kitting out the rooms in a contemporary style.

This hotel is ideally placed for visits to the Lowry Theatre, the Imperial War Museum and the huge number of other attractions the booming area of Salford has to offer.

Manchester’s best restaurants

Manchester is renowned for its diverse offerings in terms of cuisine, so you’re sure to find excellent food to suit any taste. We’ve compiled a list of just a few of the best restaurants on offer.

Some of the best restaurants are located within the trendy Northern Quarter, near the main Market Street and Arndale shopping areas. Head to Cottonopolis for a tasty menu inspired by Japanese cuisine, or The Pen and Pencil for American-style dishes and cocktails.

To sample traditional British cuisine with a twist, visit Masons in the city centre. Its chefs use locally-sourced ingredients to create dishes with exotic influences from around the world, all served within the historic surroundings of Manchester Hall.

For a delicious lunch, visit the Bus Stop Café in Urmston, just a short distance outside the city centre. With coffee, cakes and plenty of vegetarian options to choose from, the café offers relaxed atmosphere that makes it a great place to stop off during a busy day of sightseeing.

Hikes and walks near Manchester

Manchester might be one of the UK’s biggest and most exciting cities but it also has some peaceful countryside right on its doorstep. Head just a few miles east and you’ll find the Peak District National Park, an incredible landscape of rolling hills and green valleys.

Spanning hundreds of square miles and several counties, the park offers activities ranging from hiking and watersports to caving, rock climbing and pony trekking. You can also head to historic villages such as Hathersage to explore local artisan stores and traditional English pubs and cafes.

The biggest town within the Peak District is Bakewell, a picturesque settlement in Derbyshire, brimming with historic stone buildings and medieval courtyards. If you visit, make sure to sample the town’s most famous dish, the Bakewell tart – a delicious cake made from flaky pastry with a layer of jam, topped with an egg and almond filling.

Day trips from Manchester

There’s plenty to see and do in Manchester but if you have any spare time during your stay, the city’s location off the M62 motorway means you’ll be perfectly placed to visit nearby attractions in the north of England.

Just over 30 miles west of the city lies Liverpool, another city awash with cultural history. Home of the Beatles, the Albert Dock and plenty more besides, Liverpool is a city that is intensely proud of its heritage. Named European Capital of Culture in 2008, Liverpool is a thriving tourist destination, with visitors flocking to experience the World Museum, Walker Art Gallery and Tate Liverpool to name just a few.

Head to the Baltic Triangle, where a number of former factories and warehouses have been transformed into trendy bars and restaurants or, for a more relaxing afternoon, visit the 235-acre Sefton Park, just a short distance outside the city centre. Featuring a calming boating lake and Victorian palm house filled with fragrant exotic plants, it’s the perfect place to escape the crowds.

If you fancy a slightly shorter drive, head just a few miles southwest of Manchester to Dunham Massey. Here you’ll find a stunning Georgian mansion with the remains of a castle housed within its grounds, alongside gardens filled with lush greenery and colourful plants.

As you stroll around the parkland you’re almost guaranteed to see some of Dunham Massey’s most famous residents – the fallow deer that roam freely throughout the grounds. The park is home to four different colours of these animals, so see if you can spot them all during your visit.

From peaceful parklands to vibrant cultural venues, Manchester really does have everything you need for an exciting UK getaway. And with its combination of history, architecture and great food, it’s easy to see why the residents here are so proud of their city. Make the most of your time in the city by arranging car hire in Manchester, so you can enjoy all the best parts of the centre and some great days out in the surrounding area.