London has Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge, and Liverpool has The Beatles, but have you thought of making Manchester your next travel destination in the UK? More affordable than England’s sparkling capital, still filled with superb dining options, pioneering cultural institutions and loads of cool places for your night escapades, Manchester should be added to your UK-itinerary!
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How to get to Manchester
Manchester has its own international airport, so you can fly directly not only from Europe or other places in the UK, but also from the United States, Canada and Asia (from Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific). There is a variety of cheap European air services flying to Manchester, like EasyJet and RyanAir, which might be a good option if your journey starts in Europe and you are travelling on a budget.
If you want to reach Manchester from another location in the UK, eg. from London, you can travel by train or bus/coach. The latter option is much more affordable, but note that your travelling time will become significantly longer. The bus ride will take approximately 6 hours, compared to a train journey of slightly over 2 hours. If you choose the train, be prepared to pay an expensive fare though. While the bus tickets with National Express start from 7.40 GBP for one-way trip, a standard train fee will be more than 100 GBP, and even 150 GBP if you want to travel first class.
What to expect in Manchester
With its four universities in the city itself, and additional 22 universities within an hour’s drive, Manchester is a very “young” city with a vibrant, yet very relaxed atmosphere. You can expect running into loads of young people not only from different parts of the UK, but from all over the world. The universities are a significant part of the city’s culture, so coming to Manchester, simply be open-minded, as you will meet many friendly locals willing to give you recommendations for fun things to do in Manchester or they might even invite you to join for a pint!
Going to Manchester, prepare for some walking! The city centre area is quite small, and you can easily go and explore it on foot. Also do not let the (sometimes rough) look of the city determine your impression of it. Be prepared to see remainders from Manchester’s industrial past undergone a makeover; like the Ancoats district located slightly out of the city centre. The area used to be home to textile mills, and now the red-brick buildings are full of cool places to eat and drink.
Dos and don’ts for your trip to Manchester also involve some general travelling etiquette. Overall, the city is very laid-back, however there are a few things you need to be aware of, for example the fact that smoking is strictly prohibited in all indoor public places which also includes train platforms. Another matter to be considerate of is… your language. Since trains are often taken by commuters, be mindful of and respect the so-called “Quiet Zones” dedicated to people who wish to get some work done on their travel.
When it comes to services like taxis or in restaurants, there is no tipping culture per se, but of course if you have an exceptionally pleasant experience, a tip is always appreciated. Many places may already have included the service charge in their prices or it could also be added on top of your bill (if the latter is the case, it will be clearly marked on the menu), depending on the company/place.
Things to do in Manchester
The list of fun activities in Manchester is long, but one of our top-picks would be to check out the vibrant art scene in the city. With one of the most intriguing institutions for contemporary art: The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester has a strong position among other British cities when it comes to visual arts. Whitworth Art Gallery does not limit its program to fine art exhibitions though.
Every Thursday the so-called “Thursday Lates” take place, and everyone is invited to join and listen to talks and lectures, participate in film screenings, or enjoy live music, performance art and other forms of creative takeovers. Another cultural spot for carefully curated “After Hours” events is the Manchester Museum. The events are in mostly free of charge, and you can prepare yourself for another batch of lectures and expert talks, music gigs and performance art as well as movie screenings.
If museums and “after sunset” events aren’t enough, and you are hungry for an extraordinary cultural experience, you should plan your visit to Manchester in accordance with MIF: Manchester International Festival. The event only takes place every other year (odd years), and it’s staged at different venues all over the city. MIF is like a splashy cultural biennale where all sorts of artistic expressions meet. If you go, be prepared to see a mix of crafts, artists, performers, innovative thinkers and all kinds of creative troublemakers.
Exploring the local culture while on holiday is amazing, but there are also other Manchester attractions worth spending some time on. Shopping in Manchester is fun, and you will find both high-street brands (eg. in Arndale Centre) as well as independent shops. For the ultimate shopping experience in Manchester one must go to the Northern Quarter. When exploring the area, do stop by Afflecks Palace – a true Mecca for indie commerce. There you will find quirky shops with contemporary and vintage fashion, accessories and knick-knacks. At Afflecks you can break your shopping experience with (another) culture trip, as the Three Minute Theatre (referred to as a “DIY arts venue”) is located on ground floor of the Afflecks Arcade.
Another great place to combine a cultural and shopping experience would be Manchester Craft & Design Centre (also located in Northern Quarter). You can buy art and design goods directly from the makers and artisans, and you can have a sneak peek into their studios at the same time! Great way to secure some unique souvenirs and connect with the creative crafters behind the products. Last but not least, we must mention an unmatchable golden oldie of the Northern Quarter: Fred Aldous. It is a nearly 130 years old art store that caters not only to creatives; it’s a beautiful gift-shop too! Next to art supplies you will find beautiful stationery, homeware and unique accessories. Go there with an open mind and prepare for surprises!
Places to visit in Manchester
When you visit Manchester make sure you are not sticking only to the city centre, but also check out the different districts around it like the Northern Quarter (especially good for shopping), Ancoats (for unique dining experiences) and Spinningfields. They are relatively close to each other, but the general feeling can vary a lot. One of the most famous places in Manchester is the legendary Gay Village.
The annual Pride events kick off every August, but the neighbourhood is worth checking out throughout the whole year. With the pedestrianized Canal Street in its very centre the area is filled with vibrant bars and clubs where everyone, not only members of the LGBTQ+ community are guaranteed to have amazing time. Whether you’re feeling peppy and are looking for a place to dance, seeking a cool place to have a cocktail or simply feel like having a casual beer with a group of friends, the venues around Canal Street will not disappoint.
If night escapades aren’t on top of your list, a great daytime activity would be a trip to Cathedral Gardens! Home to the National Football Museum they are not only great for a relaxed walk, but also a place where you can learn about the city’s (and the country’s) football heritage. The gardens are situated north of the Arndale shopping centre, and since there isn’t much greenery in the Manchester centre, the Cathedral Gardens are also very popular among locals (if you want to avoid crowds, do not go on weekends).
If you are longing for more green vibes and a city park is not enough, Fletcher Moss Park will definitely satisfy your flora-craving. Vast botanical gardens rather than a regular park, the parkland is located around 6 miles south from Manchester’s city centre. It is easily accessible by bus, as there is a direct connection by Bus 142 from Arndale Centre, and we assure that it is worth the (45-minutes long) trip!
After exploring the green areas, if you are still wondering where to go and what to do in Manchester, we highly recommend checking out the city’s many libraries. Home to thousands of university students, the city must be prepared for all the bookworms! From small, cozy reading rooms to giant, impressive athenaeum, the city will not disappoint bibliophiles! A top pick and queen of all tourist guides is The John Rylands Library on Deansgate. Not only does it store an original Gutenberg Bible, but gives you an opportunity to check out a nice, well-stocked bookshop and a cozy café, where events and exhibitions run on regular basis.
The library caters to book lovers, but it will also amaze architecture enthusiasts. And if architecture is your passion, do not forget to also visit the famous Manchester Town Hall! With an impressive interior and breathtaking Neo-Gothic exterior, the town hall should definitely be added to your Manchester-itinerary! Guided tours are available, and they will give you a deeper insight into the building’s rich history and all the metamorphosis is has undergone.
Where to stay in Manchester
Manchester’s city centre is bubbling with a plethora of boutique hotels. Often located in the restored old buildings, the atmosphere is often warm, cozy and very homey. While centrally located boutique hotels might not be within everyone’s budget, they are a great accommodation option, especially if your trip to Manchester is only a short getaway. Their convenient central location will let you explore more and spend less time getting around the city. Hostels are also popular in Manchester, but even with their homey vibes, they are a less intimate accommodation option than hotels. A good compromise might be finding a private bedroom in one of the hostels – it will be cheaper than a hotel, but still give you the privacy you need.
As mentioned before, Manchester’s central areas are quite walkable, so if you do not mind some additional strolling, look for an AirBnb or traditional Bed & Breakfast in the area around Manchester University. If you are on a budget and do not mind spending time in public transportation, there are good connections between Old Trafford Area and the city centre, and more affordable hotels are located there. Old Trafford is also a great place to stay if you are a football enthusiast!
Tours to do in Manchester
Manchester does attract a lot of football fans, so excursions to Old Trafford with a tour of Manchester United Stadium are very popular. They can be arranged as regular visiting trips, but also combined with a water taxi cruise, which adds to the whole experience. For true football lovers one stadium might not be enough, which is why a trip to Liverpool (home to FC Liverpool and Everton) often sneaks onto football fans’ travel agenda. With less than 35 miles between the two cities, the trip can be easily done within just one day!
When in the UK it can also be tempting to join one of the local Craft Beer Tours. Giving the opportunity for a beer tasting experience, Manchester Brewery Tours are popular among tourists, and depending on whether you are travelling alone or in a group, you can either join a scheduled tour or book one privately.
All the nature lovers on the other hand will surely appreciate another popular excursion that can be easily arranged from Manchester – a trip to the adjacent Lake Area. Views of the Langdale Pikes are breathtaking, and the tour itinerary usually includes other incredible sites like Blea Tarn or Tarn Hows as well.
Recommend budget tours in Manchester
- Manchester Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Sightseeing Tour
- Coronation Street The Tour
- Hard Rock Cafe Manchester
- Manchester City FC Behind-the-Scenes Tour of Etihad Stadium
- Manchester: Music Experience with a Local Host
- Six Lakes in a Morning
- The Best in Stand-Up Live Comedy in Manchester
- Private Walking Tour: Discover Manchester with a Local
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