Manchester is one of those cities that really took a piece of my heart. I lived there for a year and a half and have nothing but fond memories – besides the excessive rain, we can all really do without that. There is no shortage of things to do in Manchester and especially to eat and drink. Get yourself ready for a city that definitely does not sleep and has rightfully earned its reputation in being artistic, passionate, and friendly as hell.
As a tribute to those establishments, I want to share some of my favorite activities (okay, museums), places to grab the best food, coffee, and late night drinks. While the greater Manchester area covers quite a bit of land, the city center is small and easy to walk. It has a small town feel with a city population and amenities. Endless stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and of course pubs. Manchester was once a Roman settlement, Mancunium, in what is today’s Castlefield neighborhood, and yes there are still remains visible. It also was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, which is very obvious when exploring the architecture of the city.
Currently, Manchester is undergoing massive renovations, a new tram line being put in, roads rebuilt, and new buildings going up everywhere. There is always a new restaurant or bar opening up, endless events, comedy nights, more music than you can manage, and museums. Some go as far to claim that it is a mini London. Having lived in both I get where they are going with that statement, but it discredits Manchester’s impressive history and culture.
Things to see and do in Manchester
Awarded Museum of the Year 2015 by the Art Fund, and definitely deserving, the Whitworth Art Gallery is a must see. I have been to my fair share of museums and I underrated this one. I went for my first time the last week living in Manchester. Mainly because it was a bit out of the way for me. The university area is not serviced by the tram system, so you will have to travel there by bus.
The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday 10am-5pm and should only take about 30 minutes or so.
Chetham’s Library is the oldest free public library in the English-speaking world and a Grade I listed building. These aisles were walked by Frederick Engels and Karl Marx while they worked together in the reading room. Which you can still see in its original form today.
Manchester was the birth of the Industrial Revolution and with that also came the birth of political and social movements. Engles wrote about his experiences and observations in Manchester and this sparked Marx’s ideas around communism. For history buffs or even library lovers this place is a do not miss!
Due to the state of the library, visitors are limited so you must pre-book a slot to ensure you can visit.
Built in honor of John Rylands, opened in 1900, is said to be one of the best examples of neo-Gothic architecture in Europe and is noted to be one of the most impressive libraries in the world. Free to enter, and worth the 15 minutes to wander around and admire the architecture.
Manchester City Hall is a beautiful Victorian/Neo-Gothic Grade I listed building completed in 1877. Today it is still in use ceremonially by the Manchester City Council. This is one of the main squares in Manchester and is always bustling with activities. If you’re lucky enough there might be a food festival or the annual Christmas Markets taking place here.
Unfortunately, at the moment it is closed for restoration and will reopen in 2024.
The Central Library is recently renovated and absolutely stunning! If you like libraries and if you are interested in local histories, go here. In the main part of the library, there is an interactive exhibit where you can view maps of Manchester through time, go through archives, see points of interest. It is a really inventive way to interact with archives.
Afflecks is an independent assortment of shops inside a historic building and a staple of Manchester. Spanning four floors you can find almost anything your heart desires; vintage toys and games, gothic clothing, band tee shirts, handmade jewelry, get a tattoo, go to a cafe, buy American candy, and more. It is located in the Northern Quarter and open daily.
This is a neighborhood of Manchester that is much more modern than the other parts. I particularly like this area for restaurants and nightlife. From my personal experience, the summer is the best time to enjoy this area, there is a huge area with a massive canopy, I mean massive. Always a great crowd and decent drinks makes it the perfect summer spot. Also, if you go here during the Christmas Markets they have private huts where you can reserve one to do karaoke!
Once a year, Manchester is full of Christmas Markets. Stalls spanning across the city full of Christmas items, gifts, food, and most importantly beverages! These markets often find themselves on the top 10 lists of all of Europe and for good reason. I’ve visited markets across Europe and Manchester’s is in my top three favorites.
A neighborhood in the city center where all of the “hipster” bars and shops are. Hipster sentiment aside this is my favorite area in the city, you can find items from local artisans, boutiques, vintage shops, record and art shops, and I am going to go ahead and say the BEST coffee, beer, and food in the city. Many of the restaurants source their food locally, and it is priced cheaper than most other restaurants in the city. A lot of my food, drink, and coffee recommendations below are in this area.
Maybe not a typical stop when visiting Manchester, but I lived here for a year and loved the architecture, being near the water, and the social life. Salford Quays is primarily known for being home of BBC and ITV and the Lowry Theatre, but also just across the water, you can see Old Trafford, for the football fans. There is also a mall, some excellent restaurants, and my favorite grocery store in England, Booths. If you are a foodie and love to browse local shops, add this to your list! You can even grab lunch here.
Additionally, not far from here is the Trafford Center, the second largest shopping center in England. This mall is beautiful and massive, and a sight to see during the holidays. It also boasts the largest food court in Europe and we all know how I feel about food…haha.
Places to Eat in Manchester
This place opened up towards the end of my time in Manchester but immediately became a favorite. The people who work here are the nicest I’ve come across. Their iced americano is ALWAYS spot on, and the vegetarian breakfast is THE BEST. I take everyone here and they all say they love it. Never heard a complaint. So next time you go to Manchester, make sure you eat here!
Inside of the shopping center is the Arndale Market. This is a great place to grab lunch from one of the stalls. Think street market, but inside. I frequented Panchos Burritos, but be warned, it is spicy!!!! There is also a huge fish market if that is your thing.
This is one of the few places that I enjoy for food and for going out. The burgers here are so good, they also use locally sourced products, yum. At night it is a funky bar with a dance floor on the second floor, great music all of the time. Decent place, decent crowd, add it to your list.
One of my favorite burgers in the world lives here. It is The Cane and Grain Burger, a burger with pulled pork on top. It is one of the most memorable food items I have ever put in my mouth. Really.
A bonus is that there are two hidden parts to this bar, the second and third floor! The ground floor you will find the beer flowing and usually skateboard videos playing on the TVs, the second floor is a dimly lit cocktail bar vibe, and the second floor -which I only discovered the final months here- is more tiki lounge. Think beach vibe and insane cocktails that you only buy when you want to spend the night sleeping near the porcelain throne.
A Northern Quarter staple, each day there is a couple choices on the menu written on the board. Food is done a la high school cafeteria style. Get your tray, tell them what you want, pay at the register. They also usually have great craft beers on tap, and as a bonus, great DJs on the weekend and punk shows in the basement.
Best Places to Drink in Manchester
This was one of my favorite places to go. I knew during the week I could come here, get a beer, and go upstairs to a comfy booth and have it to myself to work away on my laptop. They have the best craft beer choices in all of Manchester, believe me on this, I know. It isn’t cheap, but you will get quality. Also, be prepared for a lot of dudes and beards.
They recently refurbished this place and well done! The original set up was a bit cramped three tables in a tiny place where you share with strangers. Now there are more tables and an upstairs, and they serve food. They carry their own Marble Arch Brewery beer and a few guest beers. Always a few awesome choices. They also have another pub in the green quarter which is more British pub style which is also a cool spot to check out.
If you like whiskey, this is the place to be. Great atmosphere, great selection, great crowd. I always loved starting or ending my night here. There are endless whiskey options and the staff is very knowledgeable. Helps when wanting to try something new and not wanting to break the bank. Don’t be afraid to ask how much it is before you order as some of them can be quite expensive.
If you want to enjoy a quiet night out in Spinningfields this is somewhere to stop. This is an underground (literally) pub with great craft beer choices. A very chill place with a few small tables and a knowledgable staff
For those looking for a swanky cocktail bar with a view, check out Manchester House also located in Spinningfields.
A wild name and even wilder concept attempting to channel American and Mexican culture on a pizza. I never ate here, but I have drank here on a few occasions. They have the red cups if you want to party like an American, and they also have cocktails that come with candy so that is a plus. A guaranteed fun time for a night out or for trying somethings completely off the charts in your mouth.
Best coffee in Manchester
As mentioned before in food recommendations, Ezra and Gill make my favorite iced americano. It is an excellent coffee shop. Always taste great, decent hours, drink up!
One of my favorite places that I did not get to frequent much because of its location. it is located near the Piccadilly train station, which is great, but not really where I found myself frequently. They have a really great cold brew, flat white, and tasty breakfast! *Update* They have a new location in the Northern Quarter!
I took a bit long to jump on this train, but once I did this became a frequent place for me to go and work. I loved their coffee and the environment. The only downside is that the restroom is difficult to reach, it is in another building! But it doesn’t stop most, there is always a decent crowd here any time any day. Rightfully so.
A relatively new coffee shop to the Manchester scene, but not a place to miss. Great coffee, a very Instagram-worthy place, literally every little corner looks like it was made for social media. I am a bit shocked I haven’t taken any photos here.
A classic Manchester favorite, this coffee shop has two locations. While I always thoroughly enjoy my coffee from here, I do not like the seating arrangement so I don’t find myself here unless I am grabbing a coffee on the go.
Day Trips from Manchester
Lake District – Just a 2 hour drive north of Manchester is one of the most beautiful regions of the country. Check out this Lake District Itinerary for some inspiration.
Liverpool – Just a quick train ride from Manchester makes this ideal for a day trip. Liverpool is home to two Premier League teams; Liverpool FC and Everton FC as well as the Beatles. It boasts a similar architecture style to Manchester but is situated on the coast.
Leeds – Only one hour away from Manchester via train. Leeds has a long manufacturing history and has been an economic center since the 17th century. Check out 66 things to do in the Leeds city center!
Chester – One of my all-time favorite places to visit in England. I have been more times than I can count and never tire of wandering the streets and into random pubs. Some of the best shopping and independent shops can also be found in Chester and it is only a short train ride away.
Manchester to South West England
Years ago when I was living in Manchester I took a road trip to South West England to visit Bristol, Wells, Bath, Stonehenge, and more! It is a circular route that takes you through the Cotswolds on the way back to Manchester. This itinerary blends historic inns, countryside roads, and historic towns you shouldn’t miss.
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