This is a long overdue article. I could never figure out what story to tell about Manchester. So many other local bloggers do a fantastic job covering the bases. I lived here for about a year and a half. Rather than talk about my personal experiences living here, I thought to try something different and share all of the things to do around Manchester. So these are all of my recommendations for things to see, places to eat, and places to drink (coffee, beer, & cocktails!).
While the greater Manchester area covers quite a bit of land, the city center is actually small and it is 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.
Awarded Museum of the Year 2015 by the Art Fund, and definitely deserving. 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, just buses, and at my age, I am no longer seeking to frequent the same places as university kids. No offense, just looking for different experiences.
The oldest public library in the English-speaking world!
That is all you need to know really, but as if that wasn’t enough of a reason to visit this beautiful place, Frederick Engels and Karl Marx worked together in the reading room. Manchester was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, because of this a lot of political and social movements started here. Engels writings were based on his observations in Manchester and paired with Marx this sparked the idea for communism. This is where they worked. Some of the most brilliant mind and texts were written in that space! For me, it was absolutely a do not miss when in Manchester.
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.
While I never saw the entire interior and I missed out on doing the clock tower tour (figures I live somewhere and miss out on the tourist stuff) this building always caught my eye. Every time I passed it I had to take a picture. Basically, go see it, you won’t regret it.
Recently renovated, an absolutely stunning library! 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. Excuse all of the construction in the photo, this is a normal daily occurrence in Manchester.
Afflecks is an independent assortment of shops inside a building. 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. Think, a really cool flea market inside of a building in the Northern Quarter of Manchester.
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, decent drinks, 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, so if you can’t make it to Germany or Austria for theirs, definitely stop by Manchester’s.
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. After this
Many of the restaurants source their food locally and are priced cheaper than most other restaurants in the city. Now I will list some of my favorite places as my personal endorsement for “put this in your mouth”. I have taken friends to some, and everyone has been impressed.
Maybe not a typical stop when visiting Manchester but I lived here for about 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.
Favorite Places to Eat
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.
I will admit, I didn’t go here when I first heard about it because of the name I was slightly confused if it was a real soup kitchen… yes we all have those moments. One day I just went for it, and it was worth it. They have a general menu on the board of what you can get usually like a curry with rice and a roll, your 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.
Favorite Places to Drink
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.
I included this as most of my choices were in the Northern Quarter and earlier I suggested hey go to Spinningfields for a night out, well this is somewhere to stop. I used to be all about Manchester House which is a swanky cocktail bar with a view, but after trying a lot of places in town, my conclusion is their cocktails are just overpriced, so pass. Anyway, the Gas Lamp. This is an underground (literally) pub with great craft beer choices. It’s just a cool place to check out, so go for it.
The first time I went here I was a bit “uhhh what?”. It is attempting to channel American and Mexican culture while serving 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.
Most Important Meal of the Day: Coffee
As mentioned before, my favorite iced americano. Great 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!
*Note* Upon checking their twitter account I discovered that they are no longer serving coffee in their old location. Keep an eye out when they reopen!
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 actual seating arrangement so I don’t find myself here unless I am grabbing a coffee on the go.
Really the coffee scene is strong in Manchester. So much to choose from in every corner. I left out so many places that you might enjoy, so feel free to please leave your favorite in the comments!
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 away and home of the Beatles is a favorite of many who visit!
Leeds – One hour away from Manchester this city should not be missed! Check out 66 things to do in the Leeds city center!
Chester – One of my favorite places to visit in England. I have been more times than I can count and I never tire of wandering around the streets and into random pubs.
There are so many other great places to stuff your face around the city, the fun part is exploring them on your own. There are endless things to see and do, so pick a street and walk. It is a very walk-able city and very safe.
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Owner of wanderinghelene.com. Anthropologist, content creator, castle explorer, coffee drinker, and lover of markets and very old places!