Things to do in Manchester, UK: the perfect long weekend itinerary

Last Updated on 09/09/2021 by secretmoona

Manchester is one of the most important cities in England. The city has, over time, become a well-known cultural hub leaving its past as an industrial city behind. Home to two of the country’s best football clubs, Manchester is a perfect destination for a city break with a vibrant music and restaurant scene. Those who decide to spend a weekend or more in Manchester will be able to enjoy numerous nightclubs, outstanding museums and galleries. So let’s discover the perfect itinerary for a long weekend in Manchester.

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Practical Information about Manchester 

When to visit Manchester

The best period to visit Manchester is during summer when the days are sunnier, the weather is warm, and the city is lively with events. Visiting during the shoulder season (September to November or March to May) is a good option also to avoid the crowds. You might experience the occasional rain throughout your weekend getaway in Manchester, so be sure to take your umbrella and or waterproof jacket along with you. After all, there is this saying “ it always rains in Manchester”. Whether it’s true or not, one thing is sure: the North West region is prone to rain, but this shouldn’t deter you from visiting.

Getting to and around Manchester

With its extensive public transport network, Manchester is an easy city to explore. Whether you plan to travel there by train, car, coach or plane, getting to and from Manchester is simple. The town has three main train stations: Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Victoria. If you are travelling from London, trains will depart from London Euston and arrive at Manchester Piccadilly.

A yellow tram running between a modern and old building

Manchester International Airport, located just 20 mins from the city centre, is the UK’s third-largest airport. The airport is served by a network of trains from the TransPennine Express, Metrolink trams, local and regional buses, and a 24-hour Stagecoach bus service.

The best way to get around Manchester is on foot as the city is very compact. You can pretty much walk to most of the attractions in the city centre. If you are lost, look out for the “City Hosts”, a group of helpful people on hand to help you with directions and other queries you might have. If you get tired of walking, note that Manchester has good bike lanes and cycle paths. Its Metrolink tram lines (7 in total) are also both efficient and fast. They make travelling within the city centre and suburbs easy. The conveniently called free bus (yes, there is a free bus) runs around the city centre offering “hop-on, hop-off” services linking all three major train stations, shopping districts and neighbourhoods like Northern Quarter. 

If you plan to use public transport several times during the day, you can get the System One Travelcard which will give you unlimited use of the network for one day. 

Budget for your long weekend in Manchester 

The amount you will spend during your trip will depend on the type of traveller you are. You can spend a weekend in Manchester without spending an excessive amount. Several of the city’s museums, including the Manchester Museum, are free. To keep your budget low, you can do most of the getting around by walking. The city centre is pretty small and walkable therefore you can easily walk within the museums and other attractions. There is also, as previously mentioned, a free hop-on, hop-off bus which runs daily. With vibrant nightlife and good restaurants, if you are visiting the city for fun, you will for sure spend a lot.

The Hotspur Press building in Manchester
The Hotspur Press building in Manchester, a former cotton mill, was converted into a print finishing shop by Percy Brothers Ltd until 2011.

Where to stay during your weekend in Manchester 

Much like London, Manchester is full of great hotels to match every budget. To get an idea of the accommodation available in the city, please check our guide to the best places to stay in Manchester

I have previously stayed at several hotels on business trips, including Malmaison Manchester, Hilton Deansgate, Doubletree by Hilton Piccadilly and Hyatt Regency.

If you plan to stay in the city centre, consider the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, one of Manchester’s finest hotels. Located in a listed building that housed The Refuge insurance company, it has a stunning design. Extravagant without being bling, elegant without being pompous, The Kimpton Clocktower Hotel is a stop in itself. It’s without a doubt one of the most beautiful hotels in Manchester and one of the top hotels I have stayed at. It’s also ideally located for arrival by train (less than 5 minutes from Oxford Road station and 10 minutes from Piccadilly Station) and major attractions.

The Lawn Club in Spinningfields, Manchester
The lawn Club in Spinningfields

Manchester’s neighbourhood:

  • Chinatown – Second largest Chinatown in the UK, the small neighbourhood is packed with shops and restaurants.
  • Spinningfields – Developed in the 2000s as Manchester’s financial district. You’ll find lots of restaurants, shops, cafes, pubs and clubs there. As such, it’s an ideal place for shopping and entertainment. 
  • Northern Quarter & Ancoats – both districts are trendy with independent shops, street arts and music stores.  
  • Canal Street/Gay Village – Located on Canal Street, the Gay Village is home to many bars, clubs and cafes. 
  • Castlefield – Home to a Roman fort, the Castlefield Bowl, plenty of green spaces and  quaint canals.

Weekend in Manchester Itinerary and Things to Do

Manchester is a vibrant and diverse city, just like London. As such, it offers lots to see and, no matter your preferences and interests. If you seek to discover more about Manchester’s cultural heritage, you will want to visit the Manchester Museum, John Rylands Library, or the People’s Museum. Football fans would want to walk through the Old Trafford or Etihad Stadium or practice their penalty kicks at the National Football Museum. Those into music or foodies will also have plenty of venues to discover too.

Whether you plan to stay 24 hours, 48 hours or more in Manchester, this itinerary to Manchester will be a starting point to planning your trip. Manchester is close to many other great destinations like Liverpool or the Lake District, so why not extend your weekend in Manchester to include them into your itinerary? 

To make the most of a few days in the city, here is a complete 48-hour itinerary featuring Manchester’s best attractions, bars and restaurants.

Manchester Itinerary: Day One

AM – Explore Deansgate, Castlefield & Spinningfields 

After arriving in the city, drop off your belongings at the hotel and start exploring the city. We recommend staying at the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. This hotel housed in a Grade II listed building is close to everything, making it a perfect base.

Start your first day by wandering in the city centre. Start via the Gay Village, considered to be the “homeland” of the gay community. The village has a cluster of bars and restaurants and is very lively during the evening. From there, you can walk down Whitworth St, where you will find a mix of building styles, or you can walk down along the canal. 

If you decide to go down the Whitworth Street way, walk to Deansgate, Manchester’s longest street. The area is famous for its nightclubs and bars. You will find along the way the Beetham Tower, the tallest building in Manchester and the tallest residential building in Europe. It is also known as the Hilton Tower because the hotel chain occupies the first 23 floors of the tower. Whenever you are in the city centre, you will spot the Hilton logo across the building. The 23rd floor of the Hilton Tower is home to Cloud 23, a lovely rooftop bar offering fantastic views of the city.

Skyscraper at end of canal in Manchester

Close to Deansgate is one of Manchester’s gems, Castlefield. The entire district is made of a network of canals and bassins. On a nice day, you can walk along the canal paths and see the most industrial part of the city. There are lots of canalside restaurants you can stop by for a drink. Castlefield is not only picturesque, it also  has lots of history: home to the Mamucium, an old Roman fort which gave its name to Manchester (Mancunium) and the first industrial canal.

If you fancy discovering exciting things, stop by the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry). There are plenty of exhibits displaying Manchester’s past as an industrial powerhouse focusing on trains, planes etc.

Castlefield's canal with canal boats and railway in background

There is also the People’s History Museum, where you will find the history of the people of Manchester from the 19th to the present. This museum is located in Spinningfields, the newest area in Manchester, just off Deansgate. As the financial district of Manchester, it is where you will find a mixture of restaurants and bars. Spinningfields was very vibrant and I really enjoyed the vibe there . Everyone I encountered seemed to be in a party mood.

Things to do in Manchester: visit the People’s History Museum

PM – Explore Manchester’s architecture, Chinatown, Albert Square, Manchester Town Hall

Have lunch in Chinatown 

When it comes time for lunch, Manchester is full of places you can choose. I recommend going to Chinatown, located at the back of the Town Hall. If you love Japanese food like I do, I recommend stopping by Teppanyaki Chinatown for a delicious Japanese lunch cooked right in front of you! Manchester’s Chinatown is the second-largest in England. Although small, it is packed with places to eat, karaoke bars, grocery shops and more. This place comes to life during the Chinese New Year, in February. That said, it is still busy all year round, especially during lunchtime. As well as Chinese food, you will find Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese and many more Asian cuisines. Most of the restaurants offer good value. 

Gate to Manchester's Chinatown

Admire the beautiful architecture 

Manchester has a cluster of beautiful old buildings, so exploring them is a good idea. The architecture is a mix of different styles, so it’s great to wander around the city to see both the new and old architecture. If you are looking to explore the fantastic architecture in Manchester, start with the John Rylands Library. This exceptional Victorian neo-gothic building is stunning and is part of Manchester University. It stands out well since it contrasts with the modern glass buildings of Spinningfields that surround it. The incredible architecture shows on the outside as well as inside. There are plenty of quiet reading rooms complete with some of the world’s finest books and manuscripts. The other library, the Manchester Central Library, has a Roman-style architecture.

The beautiful John Rylands Library

Another great piece of architecture in the same style as the library is the Town Hall. Unfortunately, the Grade I listed building is closed for refurbishment from 2018 and will be for more due to the impact of COVID-19 delaying the work. It’s a shame as the building is stunning!

Manchester's stunning red bricks architecture

For dinner, you will have plenty of choices on King Street. However, our choice will be to head to Refuge by Volta,  and you will not be disappointed! This very glamorous restaurant and bar are located on the ground floor of a beautiful Kimpton Clocktower Hotel (former headquarters of the insurance company The Refuge). We love the mix of styles. After dinner, be sure to explore the hotel and check out the stunning staircase and admire the beautiful ceiling in the lobby.

Manchester Itinerary: Day Two

AM – Northern Quarter, Ancoats, National Football Museum 

Breakfast at Kimpton Clocktower Hotel

On the second day, after a copious breakfast, make your way towards the Northern Quarter. This neighbourhood is completely different from the grand architecture of the city centre. 

Northern Flower, flower shop - Manchester

Explore street art in Northern Quarter & Ancoats 

Ian Curtis Mural in black and white, Akse

Linked to the industrial revolution that Manchester experienced, the Northern Quarter was a fairly poor and unsafe area. However, in recent years, it has become one of the trendiest areas of Manchester. If you are looking for something different and unique, this is the place to come and take a stroll. You can easily spend the day or more in this neighbourhood because there are many things to do. However, we stayed a couple of hours visiting the independent shops and record stores and hunting for street art. Oldham Street is the main street where most quaint shops, vintage clothing shops, restaurants and other businesses are located. Street art fans will be delighted to explore the Northern Quarter. 

Mural of Captain Tom Moore painted by AkseP19
Tribute to Captain Tom Moore painted by AkseP19

As you may have noticed from my posts about Ghent or Paris, street art is something that I appreciate a lot and always find time to explore them. I have to admit that when it comes to discovering street art in a new location, it’s preferable to take a guided tour when possible. This way, you learn about the important meaning behind each work as well as the history of the area. I was keen to book a guided tour with The Skyliner, however, due to Covid the number of tours offered have been reduced. The available slots did not match with my schedule. Just like London’s Shoreditch or Glasgow, street art can be found everywhere in the neighbourhood.

So, if you like street art, the Northern Quarter is not to be missed. In the Northern Quarter, the street art tells the story of the city, the revival and problems caused by the gentrification.

In between wandering the streets, when you feel the need to sit down and take a break, know that the Northern Quarter is packed with cafes of all sorts. 

Stop by Dishoom Manchester for lunch. This Indian restaurant offers small Bombay inspired dishes well spiced and full of flavor. They are perfect for sharing and to sustain you for the rest of the day.

Hit the shops

Afflecks, the temple of indie shopping. Several floors of second-hand clothes, jewellery, fashion accessories, tattoo studio etc. If you like vintage and quirky styles, plan some time to shop while in the Northern Quarter. For high street and designer clothes, there’s Selfridges and Armadale shopping centre. 

PM – Explore Salford Quays 

Salford Quays, things to do in Manchester

Just a quick tram or taxi ride is Salford Quays, home to Media City (northern headquarters of BBC and ITV studios). Salford Quays has a few places worth visiting including the Lowry, a theatre & exhibition centre or the Imperial War Museum North. There are guided tours offered by the studios for fans of Coronation Street or Blue Peter. Take a wander around the area and enjoy the sunset.

Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, UK
Imperial War Museum North

Where to eat & drink in Manchester?

The food scene in Manchester is amazing and there are plenty of British and international restaurants. Here are some of the places tried, tested and recommended.

  • The Refuge by Volta – A trendy restaurant housed in with great setting and great cocktails. The menu is in form of tapas and extremely delicious.
  • Fig & Sparrow – A cute little coffee shop that offers, among other things, a selection of hot / cold teas and a delicious vegan pecan brownie.
  • Mackie Mayor – Food heaven! This food court in a renovated warehouse offers a wide range of cuisines.
  • The Cosy Club – Great place for brunch
  • Takk – Top location for coffee lovers, you can get great coffee but also grab something to eat
  • Almost Famous 
  • Richmond Tea Rooms – For afternoon tea in a setting worthy of Alice in Wonderland and with yummy cakes
  • Evelyn’s Cafe Bar – A trendy and nice upscale bar with a beautiful decor. Great for brunch, dinner or simply for drinks
  • Bill’s – A nice restaurant with an eclectic and warm decor which offers a nice and varied menu. I love that they also sell “homemade” products. 
  • Dishroom – 
  • Cottonopolis – The Japanese inspired restaurant offers lots of yummy options like gyozas, yakitori etc. The staff are cool and the atmosphere buzzing.
Coffee and scones - what to eat in Manchester

More time?

If you have more time to spend in the north, why not add the following places to your itinerary? The good thing with Manchester is that the city is well located so it would be a shame not to take the opportunity to stay a longer and visit other places.

Among all the options, you have of course the Peak District which is a stone’s throw away from Manchester, the cities of Leeds, Liverpool, York and its sublime surrounding region, the Yorkshire Dale, the charming historic medieval town of Chester but also the Lake District. It’s hard to believe that the largest national park in England, famous for its lakes and beautiful scenery, is only an hour and half from Manchester. I had never had the opportunity to get there as it quite difficult to get to without a car. However, it is easy to take a day trip from Manchester to get a glimpse of it or explore further.

In conclusion

I have always wondered what all the hype about Manchester was about ( I had visited the city several times on business trips but never explored). My last trip made me realise that Manchester is best explored as a tourist. The vibe, food and xxx. I didn’t have time to see or do everything since there are lots of things to do in Manchester.

The people of Manchester, the Mancunians, are genuine Northerners: welcoming and warm people who are proud of their city. They think is it the best city in the world.

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Hi there! I'm Mayi. Welcome to my blog SecretMoona! I hope to share with you the hidden secret of places I visit.

24 thoughts on “Things to do in Manchester, UK: the perfect long weekend itinerary

  1. I live so close to Manchester but hardly ever visit! I really need to get over there and explore it properly! I’d love to see all of the incredible street art! I’ll try get to Manchester one weekend soon, thanks for the great guide!

    1. I have also been there several times but never explored it properly until just recently. I’m glad I got the chance to. Hope you visit soon.

  2. Manchester is one of my favourite cities to visit, there’s always so much going on! I love going to the Northern Quarter for brunch I’m actually heading to Manchester in a couple of weeks again!

    1. The Northern Quarter has so much cool places to eat that it’s hard to decide where to go. Have fun! I’ll look forward to seeing your great photos!

  3. Love this itinerary for things to do in Manchester! It all sounds like a great way to spend the perfect weekend. I really need to get out and explore more of English cities outside of London. I really enjoy your photos or architecture and would love to meander and look at the mix of buildings. The coffee sounds great at places like Fig and Sparrow!

    1. Thanks. Manchester has interesting architectures which varies from area to area. I really enjoyed my trip.

  4. I love the cool red buildings of Manchester, but I have never really been there to sightsee (just to visit friends and eat good food…) I really should spend more time there as it is so friendly and has such a great atmosphere.

  5. Manchester looks like such a fun city! I would love to check out all the coffee shops, especially Fig & Sparrow! The street art also looks amazing. Definitely adding to my bucket list!

  6. I was just thinking about visiting Manchester soon so this is really handy. I love all the old buildings and how they’ve rejuvenated some of them. The street art is amazing, and it looks like a fun city with lots of great things to do

  7. Super great blog. I’d love to get back to Manchester and actually explore it. I’ve only ever been to the airport.

  8. Manchester certainly looks like a city that I could spend a lot of time in – esp. enjoying the hospitality options. I love the look of the restaurant in the clock tower hotel.

    1. The vibe at the Refuge restaurant is great and the food is amazing. Highly recommended if you ever visit Manchester.

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