Along with being an accessibility-friendly destination that’s also doing a lot for sustainability, Manchester has some exciting things happening in 2023. The Manchester Museum is getting a major renovation, the Manchester Jewish Museum is expanding and historic Castlefield Viaduct is being transformed into a green walking trail.
We asked Jemima Forbes to craft a one-day itinerary to learn more about Manchester.
I’m a full-time travel writer and part-time explorer. While I’ve lived and worked all over the world, the UK is where I was born and where I’ll always call home. Manchester holds special significance for me: it’s the place I’ve lived the longest – and it has never failed to satisfy my food-loving heart.
Why you should visit Manchester
Delectable food, world-class sports, exquisite art, cool industrial-era architecture: Manchester really is a city that has something to appeal to everyone. It’s grown in both size and renown in recent years, metamorphosing into a brilliantly creative, proudly musical and gastronomically diverse hub. Quite simply, it’s one of the best – if not the best – cities in the UK.
Twenty-four hours is just enough time to scratch the surface of this great Northern city. Foodies will get a taste of Manchester’s constantly burgeoning culinary scene, while culture lovers will have ample opportunities to learn a thing or two at its many free museums and galleries.
Take in Manchester’s monuments
8:30am – Start your day off with a leisurely stroll from your hotel toward Deansgate, one of the center’s main thoroughfares. Whitworth Locke hotel is a great pick thanks to its central location, stylish decor and affordable rates. If you’re staying there, head straight up Princess St until you hit St Peter’s Sq. Soak up the Central Library’s elegant classical architecture and snap a photo with the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst – the city’s famed suffragette – before going west along Oxford St.
9am – When you reach Deansgate, cross the road and grab a table at Federal. This Antipodean-inspired brunch spot is a local favorite for its strong coffee, tasty halloumi and avocado on toast, and its homemade pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) are as flaky and creamy as any you’ll find in Lisbon.
10am – Now that you’re sated and caffeinated, head a few doors down to the magnificent John Rylands Library. The neo-Gothic landmark is free to enter and houses over 20,000 rare books and manuscripts on both its shelves and in special display cabinets in the Rylands Gallery. With its cathedral-like windows and handsome wood paneling, the Historic Reading Room is particularly impressive – and wouldn’t look out of place at Hogwarts. Don’t skip popping to the downstairs restrooms, either, to admire their authentic Victorian tiling and fittings.
11am – Exit the library and cut through the swish Spinningfields neighborhood to the Science and Industry Museum. Set within one of the world’s oldest (and now disused) rail stations, this institution gives you a fascinating rundown of Manchester’s industrial heritage. Spend an hour or so exploring its detailed exhibits, including its mock Victorian cotton mill.
12:30pm – Afterward, venture down Liverpool Rd back toward Deansgate, stopping en route to peer at the Castlefield Roman Ruins, which date to 79 CE, when the city was known as Mamucium. Once you’re back on Deansgate, hop on the free bus, which runs in a continuous loop around the city center. You’ll find the stop just outside the tram station, near the bottom of the steps.
Consider exciting lunch options, and soul-nourishing art
1pm – Jump off the free bus at High St on the edge of the Northern Quarter – a hip neighborhood whose grid-like streets, tall brick buildings and plethora of fire escapes remind many of New York City. It’s additionally famed for its vibrant street art (a popular free attraction in town), edgy vintage stores and abundance of spots for drinking and dining. Wander to the top of High St to Mackie Mayor for lunch. Once a Victorian meat market, this stunning glass-roofed building now hosts several fantastic food stalls. Tuck into delectable bao buns, stone-baked pizzas and succulent steak sandwiches, among other delights.
2pm – After lunch, spend an hour or so exploring the Northern Quarter. Highlights include the Manchester Craft and Design Centre (a collection of artists’ studios selling splendid handmade gifts), Afflecks (a self-proclaimed emporium of hip independent stores) and Piccadilly Records (a must-visit for music aficionados).
3pm – When you’re done shopping, cross Great Ancoats St and head toward bustling, bar-lined Cutting Room Sq. From here, venture east and cross the Rochdale Canal Path to enter the up-and-coming New Islington neighborhood. On your way, get a takeaway coffee and a pastry (the cinnamon morning buns are divine) from Pollen.
3:30pm – To save yourself a bit of time, catch the tram (a one-way ticket costs £1.40) from the New Islington back stop to St Peter’s Sq (a 10-minute trip). From there, walk two minutes north to Manchester Art Gallery.
4pm – Admire the gallery’s impressive collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and industrial-inspired landscapes by the Manchester-born L.S. Lowry. Have less than an hour to spare? Prioritize the European Old Masters gallery, or pop into the temporary exhibition space, where past visiting shows have included works by Leonardo and Van Dyck.
True art fanatics might want to skip the stroll around Ancoats and New Islington and head straight for the gallery (just cut through Piccadilly Gardens from the Northern Quarter and go straight down Mosley St to reach it).
Sample Manchester’s dining and nightlife scene
6pm – After freshening up at your hotel, head back out for a pre-dinner cocktail at Refuge. Lodged inside the swank Kimpton Clocktower Hotel on Oxford St, it has grand interiors (including the enchanting, fairy-light-lit Winter Garden) that are matched by a tempting cocktail menu. Slake your thirst with a refreshing rhubarb-gin concoction, or a fiery pisco-and-chili tipple.
7pm – Next, it’s time for dinner. Options are aplenty in Manchester City Center, with Rudy’s on Peter St being the proud purveyors of arguably the best pizza in town (even the buffalo mozzarella–topped Margherita here is divine). Another good pick is Three Little Words, an elegant bistro run by the neighboring Spirit of Manchester Gin Distillery. As you’d expect, it serves fantastic gin-based cocktails: peruse the bible-like menu for options like the sour cherry–flavored Gold Digger or the marmalade-infused Paddington’s Breakfast. Prefer to dine with a view? Pre-book a table at the aptly named 20 Stories and request a spot on the terrace to make the most of the excellent cityscape vistas.
9pm – If you’re not ready for the day to end, you’re in luck. Manchester’s entertainment offering is extensive, with something on the agenda most nights of the week. Head back to the Northern Quarter to catch live jazz music at Matt & Phreds or to laugh your head off at a stellar stand-up set at the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club. Alternatively, there’s a slew of bars in the area – from the cozy Whiskey Jar to speakeasy-style Science and Industry – perfect for a quiet nightcap.
Late night: Keep the party going
11pm – Want to stay up even later? Manchester has no shortage of nightclubs and music venues that stay open into the small hours. Check out Band on the Wall on Great Ancoats St for live gigs, dance to techno tunes at a gritty Northern Quarter basement bar like SOUP or hit the dance floor at one of the vibrant clubs in the Gay Village. Located in and around Canal St, this zone really comes alive at night and features a venue for every kind of vibe.
Have a bit more time to spend in Manchester? Jemima Forbes has this extended four-day itinerary if you’d like to extend your visit.