Manchester is often touted as the UK’s second city and it’s not hard to see why. There are seemingly no end of fun things to do in Manchester! Read on to discover why Manchester should be top of the list for your next city break.
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I moved to Manchester at the age of 18. Ready for all the adventures university life could throw at me, I packed up my belongings and made the short trip down the M62 from my home city of Liverpool. My intention was only to stay for the 4 years it would take me to finish my degree. 5 years later, I was still there.
So what was it about Liverpool’s rival city that made it so difficult for me to leave?
Well, for a start, Manchester is responsible for many things we don’t ever give it enough credit for.
From being a leading powerhouse in the industrial revolution (many of those old mills are now trendy apartments), Manchester was also the place where the first computer with a stored memory was built (‘Baby’ – you can visit it here), the home of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and the birthplace of vegetarianism.
Fast-forward to the present day and Manchester is making no less of an impact.
Not only is Manchester a thriving cultural hub, packed with museums, galleries and stunning architecture, but it’s also the home of Britain’s most loved street, countless bars, delicious eateries, quirky boutique shops and the host of not one but two premier league football teams.
And that’s before you even get me started on the music scene….
Manchester really is the definition of a buzzing city (and I’m not just talking about the worker bee which has been the emblem of the city for over 150 years). Read on for my epic guide to all the fun things to do in Manchester. You’ll be booking yourself onto the next train to Piccadilly Station before you’ve even reached the end of this page!
- 1 VENTURE UP NORTH’S TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN MANCHESTER
- 2 EXPERIENCE CULTURE IN MANCHESTER
- 3 SEE A GIG AT ONE OF MANCHESTER’S LIVE MUSIC VENUES
- 4 PLAY GAMES IN MANCHESTER
- 5 GO ON A MEDIA CITY TOUR
- 6 VISIT A PARK IN MANCHESTER
- 7 TRY MANCHESTER WATERSPORTS
- 8 RELAX ON A CANAL BOAT CRUISE IN MANCHESTER
- 9 EAT FOOD IN MANCHESTER FROM AROUND THE GLOBE
- 10 SAMPLE THE BARS AND PUBS IN MANCHESTER
- 11 GET YOUR CAFFEINE FIX
- 12 WATCH THE BEAUTIFUL GAME
- 13 TAKE A TOUR AROUND MANCHESTER
- 14 GET INVOLVED IN INCREDIBLE FESTIVALS IN MANCHESTER
- 15 UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN MANCHESTER
- 16 GET OUTTA TOWN!
- 17 MANCHESTER ITINERARY – PLAN YOUR TRIP
- 18 WHERE TO STAY IN MANCHESTER
- 19 NEED MORE MANCHESTER INSPIRATION? CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO
- 20 What will YOU choose to do in Manchester?
VENTURE UP NORTH’S TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN MANCHESTER
- Explore the city by foot on a walking tour
- Discover a bookish retreat in the city centre
- Experience the Manchester music scene
- Learn how to snowboard
- Go on a craft beer brewery tour
EXPERIENCE CULTURE IN MANCHESTER
If you’re after some fun things to do in Manchester with culture at their heart, you won’t be disappointed. There are theatres, museums and galleries galore! Throw a brand new, iconic, cultural hub into the mix, stir in some pretty spectacular libraries (you’ll want to go and marvel at the stunning architecture even if you don’t want to browse the books) and you’ve got yourself the most perfect cultural cocktail you could ask for.
The Lowry (in Salford) is a smaller theatre in a beautiful setting on Salford Quays which also hosts a fantastic calendar of theatrical events.
Smaller still, is Hope Mill Theatre. Contemporary in design, it was a recent winner of the Fringe Venue of the Year award and its programme ranges from local independent theatre to high-end musicals. They have a special initiative for up and coming Manchester based playwrights too!
If you’re after unique comedy, theatre and dance, then make your way to The Dancehouse Theatre, but if thought provoking international drama, dance, film and contemporary visual art is more your thing, then head to Home – Manchester’s purpose built centre for creative learning and innovation.
Museums & Historical Sites
Visit the World’s first computer with a built in memory at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, discover how the lives of ordinary people have been shaped by wars from WW1 to the present day at The Imperial War Museum North, or browse extensive collections from the natural world and different cultures at the Manchester Museum.
You can also discover the history of Democracy in Britain at the People’s History Museum, visit the houses of Elizabeth Gaskill and Emmeline Pankhurst, celebrate the important role of the regional fire and police services at the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum and Greater Manchester Police Museum or head a little further out to Stockport and visit the Stockport Air Raid Shelters or Hat Works – Museum of Hats.
If you like historic buildings, track down Victoria Baths – an Edwardian swimming pool and Turkish Baths complex that fell into disrepair in the 1990s but now, thanks to a reality TV programme, is being restored to its former glory. Going back a little further in time, you can also visit the ruins of a Roman Fort in Castlefield.
And make sure you keep your eyes open when you’re walking round and remember to look up! There is some stunning architecture in and around Manchester including, but certainly not limited to, Manchester Town Hall, John Rylands Library and Manchester Cathedral. Take a walking tour so you don’t miss out on any of these beautiful buildings.
There’s plenty more fun things to do in Manchester involving museums and historical sites – check out Visit Manchester for more ideas.
For new and emerging UK talent, and the chance to buy artwork from major Hollywood Studios, visit Generation Gallery in the centre of town. If you like more traditional art mixed with international contemporary pieces, you’ll enjoy Manchester Art Gallery. Bringing art, nature and people together for indoor and outdoor activities, The Whitworth is Manchester’s gallery in the park or, for something a little bit different, head to Bankley Studios, Rogue Artists’ Studios or the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art.
Manchester’s libraries are housed within buildings that are just as impressive as the collections within them. Even if you can stop yourself from taking a peek inside, you have to at least walk past the Victorian neo-gothic John Rylands Library on Deansgate, the 1930s built Central Library that forms the focus point of St. Peter’s Square and the Greek Revival style Portico Library – a fascinating, secret haven hidden away behind Piccadilly Gardens.
Other options include Home for international and arthouse cinema and, for something completely different, check out Hold Fast – a dimly lit, nautical themed bar with retro games and a cinema room showing cult classics.
SEE A GIG AT ONE OF MANCHESTER’S LIVE MUSIC VENUES
Wow – music in Manchester. Where do I even start?!
Well, firstly I should make it clear that it doesn’t matter if you’re into jazz, rock, indie, world music, classical or a bit of hairbrush-style power ballad karaoke, Manchester will cater for your all your musical needs and guilty pleasures. From Take That, Simply Red and M People through to the iconic Stone Roses, The Smiths and Brit Pop legends Oasis, Manchester’s musical heritage is pretty diverse!
I’ve seen many a gig in Manchester: from up and coming bands in a sweaty Academy 3 to electronic loveliness in the Albert Hall. I’ve seen rock giants play in the Manchester Arena and I’ve sung along outdoor in the rain at Castlefield Bowl.
But it’s not just the music that makes seeing a live concert here one of the top fun things to do in Manchester. No….it’s the music venues that host these events that really make the atmosphere come alive.
Yes, there’s definitely a time and place for the huge acts at The Manchester Arena but dig a little deeper too, and you’ll soon discover a little musical magic in the smaller venues across the city.
I’ve listed some of my favourite smaller venues below. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Manchester and you have the chance to go to a gig – take my advice and just do it.
- The Deaf Institute
- Night & Day Cafe
- Band on the Wall
- Albert Hall
- Rebellion Manchester
- Matt & Phreds
- Chethams School of Music
PLAY GAMES IN MANCHESTER
It wouldn’t really be a guide to all the fun things to do in Manchester without a shout out to the compendium of games on offer around the city centre.
Yep, that’s right: games. And I’m not talking board games either (although you can do that too!).
Games seem to have really hit it off in recent years and I’m a huge fan of the immersive playful movement that’s sweeping across the country. Never one to be left behind, Manchester has embraced the playground craze with a pretty eclectic selection to keep you amused during your visit.
- Breakout – locked in a room, you’ve got 60 seconds to solve the puzzles and breakout!
- Crystal Maze – based on every 90s kids favourite TV gameshow, play to your strengths to earn crystals for your team.
- Dog Bowl – a bowling venue with a cocktail bar!
- Junk Yard Golf – crazy golf with an emphasis on the crazy.
- Twenty Twenty Two – you’ve heard of beer pong? Now try ping pong.
- Whistle Punks Urban Axe Throwing – yep, exactly as it sounds!
- Virtual Hideout Manchester – enter a virtual reality
GO ON A MEDIA CITY TOUR
On the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, Media City UK is technically in neighbouring city Salford, but with easy access on the MetroLink from Manchester city centre, I felt it deserved an honorary mention here too.
Media City UK is home to studios owned by the BBC and ITV Granada – 2 of the major television networks in the UK. Salford Quays was chosen as the site for the impressive modern development after the BBC made the decision to move a huge portion of jobs from London to Manchester as part of a large scale decentralisation process.
Home of Britain’s most loved and longest running soap opera, Coronation Street, visitors can take a tour around the set and walk down the famous cobbles of the iconic TV show. It’s also possible to take a tour around the BBC studios – packed with trivia and anecdotes about life behind (and in front of!) the lens, you might even get to see yourself on TV at the end!
Definitely up there as one of my top fun things to do in Manchester (or more accurately, Salford!), it’s a great way to spend a few hours.
VISIT A PARK IN MANCHESTER
Although Manchester has a reputation for being a rainy city, it doesn’t rain all the time. Sometimes, the sun manages to break through those clouds and when that happens, you’ll want to flock to one of Manchester’s beautiful green spaces.
At over 600acres, Heaton Park is the biggest park in Greater Manchester and one of the largest municipal parks in Europe. One of the most fun things to do in Manchester outdoors, you’ll probably want to spend the whole day here. Take a picnic and enjoy the boating lake, ornamental gardens, tennis courts, and golf course. If you’ve got kids with you, they’ll love the animal farm, adventure playground and volunteer led tramway. Check their website for information about events throughout the year.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Manchester? Always compare prices for the best deals. I like to check prices at Hotels.com and Expedia.
Don’t forget to check the reviews on TripAdvisor before you book!
TRY MANCHESTER WATERSPORTS
I would have previously said that water sports were something you might want to leave for the warmer weather, but that was until my husband very ‘kindly’ bought me a kite surfing lesson at Salford Watersport Centre for my birthday one year. My birthday is in February. Brrrr.
After I’d gotten over the initial shock of jumping into icy waters in the middle of winter (is it still cold even with a wetsuit on? Er….yes. Yes it is), it turned out that kite surfing is actually pretty damn fun!
It’s not only kite surfing on offer either. You can do any number of water sports from open water swimming and kayaking to windsurfing. Book yourself a lesson or go it alone – it’s up to you! Check out the website for more information.
RELAX ON A CANAL BOAT CRUISE IN MANCHESTER
If your idea of fun things to in Manchester don’t involve completely submerging yourself in Salford Quays (I mean, I can understand why!) then perhaps staying above the surface river boat cruise would be more to your liking?
Manchester has a maze of canals running through its core. Built as a way to transport coal during it’s time as an industrial powerhouse, a canal cruise is now one of the most fun things to do in Manchester – and one of the most relaxing!
Sit back, relax and see the sights from the water. There are different cruises on offer – some with meals or afternoon tea included and all with fascinating commentary about Manchester, Salford and it’s labyrinth of canals.
EAT FOOD IN MANCHESTER FROM AROUND THE GLOBE
Manchester is a total foodie’s paradise. You name a cuisine, and I’m almost certain you’ll be able to eat it somewhere in the city.
The great thing about Manchester’s restaurant scene is the range of food on offer. It’s just as easy to eat decent food on a budget as it is to splurge your cash on a fine dining experience in a luxurious setting.
If you’re feeling fancy, it has to be Mana. Run by Chef Simon Martin, Mana is the first restaurant in the city for many years to be awarded a Michelin star. Another one definitely worth checking out is 20 Stories. This holds the title of the highest restaurant in Manchester (the views from the outdoor terrace are phenomenal) and offers a menu of delicious food made from locally sourced ingredients.
If you’re after something a little less pricey, there’s plenty for you to choose from.
Wander through the Northern Quarter or explore the Ancoats area and you will be rewarded with a wealth of mid-range to cheaper options, decked out in an alternatively cool, urban style. And if you’re craving Chinese food, head on down to the second largest Chinatown in the country and grab yourself a meal deal underneath that stunning, richly decorated archway.
For something a little different, head over to the Winter Garden in The Refuge on Oxford Street. A garden you can enjoy no matter what the weather! This place does a great afternoon tea, and I recommend trying one of their cocktails too.
My personal favourites are all the street food options popping up around town. For some scrumptious vegetarian Indian tapas food, my top pick is Bundobust and if you fancy Japanese inspired small plates, you have to check out Cottonopolis.
But if you want a large street food selection all under one roof, Mackie Mayor is where it’s at. The building itself – a Grade II listed market building dating back to 1858 – is every bit as impressive as the food. From pizza to bao buns and wine bars to ale stalls, I just can’t get enough of this place!
If you’re a bit of a foodie like me, I recommend booking yourself onto this food tour. Enjoy samples of some of the best food and drink in Manchester and learn how this can give you a fascinating insight into the city’s past, present and future. History, food and good company. The perfect ingredients for a fab few hours!
SAMPLE THE BARS AND PUBS IN MANCHESTER
One thing is for certain – you won’t go thirsty in Manchester!
From independent micro-breweries to rooftop bars and cocktails that look like they’ve been crafted in a science lab, you’re in for a treat when you go out drinking in Manchester.
Want to gaze out over the Manchester skyline whilst sipping on your drink? Check out my guide to the best rooftop bars in Manchester
If you’re into your craft beer, Beer Nouveau and The Runaway Brewery in the city centre both offer small batch, modern brews. You should also check out Port Street Beer House to sample craft ales from around the world and Albert Schloss for a refreshing pilsner poured from one of their huge 900 pint copper tanks on show in the main bar area. If an afternoon spent visiting some of the best micro-breweries in Manchester sounds like your idea of heaven, then click here to learn more.
If quirky cocktails are more your thing, you’ll want to try The Alchemist and The Botanist (the latter also does cocktail making classes!), or see if you can track down the entrance to speakeasy bars The Washhouse and Behind Closed Doors. And if it’s whiskey bar you’re after, head to Bunny Jacksons whose bar boasts over 100 American whiskeys and beers.
Finally, fancy cocktails and whiskey chasers are all well and good, but sometimes you just want a good old fashioned pint. If that’s what you’re craving then look no further than Manchester’s oldest pub, The Old Wellington – which also happens to be Manchester’s oldest building! Built in 1552 it was moved 100 metres from its original site in 1998 as part of a redevelopment scheme. Good beer, great pub grub and an outdoor seating area for those sunnier days.
GET YOUR CAFFEINE FIX
Despite the fact we’re meant to be a nation of tea drinkers, there are certainly a lot of pretty amazing coffee shops around Manchester.
For cafes with a cosy, minimalist Scandinavian influence, try Takk Coffee or The Fig & Sparrow. Or for a good strong cup of the black stuff in a beautiful setting, head to Pot Kettle Black in Barton Arcade (top tip: try the brunch here too – it’s incredible).
If you’re after something a little bit different, make your way to Rapha Clubhouse Manchester – a coffee shop for bike lovers, or Eastern Block Records – a coffee shop, vinyl record shop specialising in electronic music AND an event space, phew!
And if it really is just a good old cup of tea you’re craving, get yourself down to Leaf on Portland Street for the best selection of loose leaf teas in town. After the success of their Liverpool venue, the team behind Leaf are working their magic in Manchester. Think delicious food, artsy interior and a relaxed vibe. And yes – they do serve coffee too!
WATCH THE BEAUTIFUL GAME
Now, I’m not much of a football fan, but it seemed wrong to write a guide to all the fun things to do in Manchester without at least making reference to the sport that puts Manchester on the map.
Go and watch one of Manchester’s two premier league football teams play at home at Old Trafford or the Etihad Stadium. You can even take a tour around Manchester United’s Old Trafford Ground or Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium and gain access to spaces like the tunnel and the changing rooms, usually only reserved for players!
If you really want to max out on football related activities, get your ticket to the National Football Museum. Housed inside the Urbis building in the city centre, you can browse through some important collections of football memorabilia.
TAKE A TOUR AROUND MANCHESTER
I love taking walking tours when I arrive in a new city. You can learn a lot about a place in a couple of hours and it really helps me to get my bearings too.
There’s only one problem with the walking tours on offer in Manchester: there are so many of them, covering so many different aspects of Manchester life, that if you’re anything like me, you’ll have a hard time choosing which one to go on!
From free tours to self-guided tours, food tours and music tours to graffiti tours, historical tours to tours of canals and old buildings, you are well and truly spoilt for choice.
Need some help deciding? Don’t worry – I’ve got your covered.
GET INVOLVED IN INCREDIBLE FESTIVALS IN MANCHESTER
If there’s one thing Manchester knows how to do well, it’s put on an incredible festival.
One of my favourite festivals, purely for the fact you just never quite know what to expect, is Manchester International Festival. MIF happens once every 2 years (next taking place in 2021) and showcases a collection of artists from different art forms and backgrounds, all creating new work to be presented at different venues around the city. The venues might be perfectly ordinary places such as theatres, galleries or concert halls, or they could be completely extraordinary places like car parks, old warehouses and disused railway depots. Acts range from the more mainstream to the downright bizarre, but you can be sure it’ll always be a totally unforgettable experience. Check the programme of events before you arrive and book your tickets in advance as many of the acts sell out.
If you want more information about festivals in Manchester (including the legendary Christmas Markets) check out the guide to what’s on.
UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN MANCHESTER
Some of the most fun things to do in Manchester are pretty unusual. But if you’re like me and you love a bit of a unique day out, you’ll love what Manchester has to offer.
What if I told you that you could take skiing or snow-boarding lessons just a short drive from the city centre? Or that you could do a skydive….indoors? How about going rock climbing in an old church building, petting a cat in a Japanese inspired cat cafe or channelling your inner yogi and trying out some Reggae Yoga?
And then there’re the activities that might not be so strange but may not spring to mind when you first start to plan your Manchester city break. Fun things like taking a gin masterclass, a cocktail making class, going on a cookery course or getting creative in a craft workshop. You can do it all in Manchester and more!
Intrigued? Click here to read more about unusual things to do in Manchester!
GET OUTTA TOWN!
My last suggestion in this bumper guide to all the fun things to do in Manchester, is actually to get out of Manchester!
Yep, that’s right! If city life gets a bit much, then it’s all too easy to escape the crowds. Manchester is conveniently located for day trips to pretty Cheshire villages, the Peak District, the Lake District and Lancashire beauty spots such as the Forest of Bowland.
You can make your own way there, book yourself on one of these incredible tours or check out the options below.
MANCHESTER ITINERARY – PLAN YOUR TRIP
If you need some extra inspiration to help you plan your incredible trip to Manchester, then I recommend you check out my Ultimate Manchester Itinerary. This post covers:
- How to get to Manchester
- The weather in Manchester
- Where to stay in Manchester
- What to pack for your trip to Manchester
- What to eat and drink in Manchester
- …plus a sample itinerary to help you get the most out of your time in Manchester!
WHERE TO STAY IN MANCHESTER
There are plenty of places to stay in Manchester to suit every budget and taste. My top tip would be to book in advance if you want the pick of the accommodation options as places get full, particularly on weekends. Check out this guide if you’re after a hotel with a spa or a pool in Manchester City Centre. You can also have a search for other accommodation options here and here too. Don’t forget to check the reviews on TripAdvisor before you book!
NEED MORE MANCHESTER INSPIRATION? CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO
What will YOU choose to do in Manchester?
I’m certain you’ll love Manchester as much as I do. It’s an absolutely fantastic city with so much variety and fun things to do.
What are your favourite things to do in Manchester? Drop me an email and let me know!