Fast forward to the summer of 2019, and my friend wanted to come visit from Germany. I was house sitting in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, a small town in Northern England, so we wanted to find a place that was close to an airport but also not too far from me. (The home owner I was house sitting for had asked me to stay longer than we’d originally agreed, and I’d already made these plans; so she found a couple to cover for me while I went away for the weekend with my friend!)
We’d narrowed our options down to London or Manchester but we’d both been to London before, and I wanted to find out what Manchester looked like in the daylight rather than an alcohol-fueled haze.So we settled on spending a weekend in Manchester! And I can now confirm that it’s just as fun during the day.
It’s such a pretty city, very compact and walkable (key for me), and it has a lot going on but doesn’t feel as overwhelming as London. We also happened to be there during the Manchester International Festival (MIF) so there were plenty of free concerts and events to attend.
Wondering what to do in Manchester THIS weekend? Go here for a list of upcoming events!Most people also visit Manchester because they want to see Manchester United. Well, I personally couldn’t give a rat’s ass about most sporting events, so I passed on that, along with the football museum and anything else sports-related. There are still so many things to do in Manchester, even if you’re not a sport-watching-person!
I hope you enjoy this Manchester travel guide.
HOW TO SPEND A WEEKEND IN MANCHESTER
THE NORTHERN QUARTER
After arriving (assuming you’re headed there sometime on Friday), get settled and head to the Northern Quarter for dinner and bar hopping. The Northern Quarter is a great place to go for nightlife, and is a trendy area with lots of bars and clubs.
Grab dinner at SOUP, a popular restaurant/bar that serves, you guessed it, soup! You can also order sandwiches, salads, and other mains.
After grabbing food at SOUP, we went to a random bar (sorry, I can’t remember the name for the life of me…). My favorite spot was Cane and Grain, in which the downstairs area is a chill, 80’s skate scene inspired bar, while the upstairs turns into The Liar’s Lounge, a really fun tiki bar! They were playing lots of early 2000’s throwback R&B music for people to dance to. That was fun, and made me reminisce about high school dances, ha.
I’d suggest walking around and seeing what calls to you! According to the internet, popular nightlife spots include:
- Dusk Til Pawn: A bar with a pawn shop storefront
- Hold Fast Bar: This bar is located at Hatters Hostel, and boasts a downstairs bar decorated in a nautical theme with a speakeasy vibe. There are lots of games to play too, from board games like Jenga, to old video and arcade games!
- Behind Closed Doors: A hidden basement bar that often has DJ’s spinning soul and funk music all night.
DAY 1 IN MANCHESTER
GRAB A PINT (OR 10) AT THE OLD WELLINGTON IN SHAMBLES SQUAREAfter your night out, start the day at The Old Wellingon, a pub located in Shambles Square in the city center. They serve classic English breakfasts and of course, drinks! This is one of the best things to do in Manchester (Google “Manchester” and I guarantee a photo of it will be one of the first to pop up!).
Although there is ample outdoor and indoor seating, it gets really crowded (see photos above and below). We never actually grabbed a pint there because it was so busy, but it looked really fun. We mostly just walked by it every day and stared at its beauty. If we’d had more time we probably would have waited to sit, but we were on a mission to see everything we could in the city.
The Old Wellington was originally built in 1552 (!!!!!!!) and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Over the years, it was home to everything from a draper’s shop to a fishing tackle shop to an inn. In the late 90’s, The Old Wellington and the rest of the buildings in Old Shambles were taken apart and moved to create Shambles Square.
The buildings in the square are so pretty and built in the traditional “half-timbered” Tudor style.“Shambles” once meant a street of butcher shops, but there are no longer any meat slaughter shops to be seen in the area. Instead, you’ll find 4 different pubs/bars in the historic Shambles Square: The Old Wellington, Sinclair’s Oyster Bar, The Mitre Hotel, and Crown & Anchor.
MANCHESTER CATHEDRALAfter you finish eating, head to the Manchester Cathedral. It’s located right in the city center, across from Shambles Square. The exact origins of the church are a little unclear, but you can click here for a timeline. It’s absolutely beautiful regardless!
JOHN RYLANDS LIBRARYHead to John Rylands Library. It’s absolutely STUNNING with it’s neo-gothic architecture, making it (in my opinion!) one of the best places to visit in Manchester. Once inside, it feels like you’ve been plopped into the middle of a Harry Potter film. I kept expecting to look up and see Harry, Ron, and Hermione appear.
It’s free to visit, but they have a cute gift shop by the entrance.
And you can actually study there (I mean duh, it’s a library at the University of Manchester, but it was funny to see people on their modern laptops in this beautiful old building), so I was bummed I wasn’t staying in Manchester longer. I would’ve loved to do some work while pretending I was an extra in a Harry Potter movie!
It took 10 years to build the library, and it became open to the public in 1900. It was also one of the first buildings to have electricity in the area!
ALBERT’S SCHLOSSGrab dinner and drinks at Albert’s Schloss, a Bavarian-inspired pub/restaurant that’s open all day, but includes live entertainment in the evening. Try and get there EARLY, though, because when we left around 10:30PM there was a huge line.
Evening entertainment includes live music or a DJ, dancers, and a dance floor. When I was there, the dancers were dressed in tennis outfits. I’m assuming it was because Wimbledon was taking place at the time, but who knows. Maybe tennis outfits are their thing! It doesn’t have a club vibe, though, and not everyone was dancing. It’s more of a chill, fun vibe, if that makes sense.There’s also a free photo booth downstairs near the bathrooms! So definitely have some fun with that.
They do brunch and it looked DELICIOUS, but we could never get up in time. I’ve heard the food is fantastic, and that the bread is always made fresh in their in house bakery. Definitely stop in if you have time!
After Alber’ts Schloss, head to Canal Street! This is the gay area, and it is POPPIN’ and so fun. You’ll see drag queens, people in costumes, and all kinds of fun stuff. It kind of reminds me of the Castro in San Francisco.
It’s basically a small street lined with bars (alongside a canal, hence the name), so you can just easily pop in from one to the next!
DAY 2 IN MANCHESTER
MACKIE MAYORHave a late breakfast at Mackie Mayor! This is a really cool cafeteria-style warehouse with various food and drink vendors. You purchase food, then find a spot at one of the long tables on the first floor or the bar-style seating on the second floor to eat! I recommend sitting upstairs so you can look over the railing at the happenings below. The building is beautiful, and is the only remaining intact building from the Smithfield Market. I recommend visiting just for that fact alone!
It can get pretty crowded, especially on a weekend morning/afternoon, so keep that in mind.
SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY MUSEUM
From Mackie Mayor, head to the Science and Industry Museum. It’s quite a ways from Mackie Mayor, but you can either walk in about 30 minutes or take public transportation, which takes about 20 minutes.
We actually missed this, but I really wanted to go! It’s free and we meant to go each day but kept getting distracted by other things. There was brunch to be had, and lots of random street fairs that we happened upon. So we never ended up there, unfortunately. I’d love to check it out next time I visit as I’ve heard that it’s really cool!
ANCIENT ROMAN RUINSAfter the museum, walk to the nearby “Reconstruction of Mamucium Roman fort” and the “Mamacium Roman Fort Reconstruction” (as they’re labeled on Google Maps) in Castlefield Urban Heritage Park. These Ancient Roman ruins are almost 2000 years old!
WALK ALONG THE CASTLEFIELD CANALSLater, walk along the canals and stop at one of the restaurants on the water. I can personally recommend The Wharf for sticky toffee pudding! We ate outside, with a beautiful view of the canals to stare at.
There were several other restaurants right on the water nearby, and each would have made for such a scenic place to sit and catch the sunset.
CLOUD 23 – HILTON BAR
If you have time before your flight, head to Cloud 23, a bar at the Hilton that supposedly has a GREAT view. I wish we had taken advantage of that, but I found out about it the last night we were there and it was already too late.
It does sound like the drinks are a little pricey, but just get one and sip slowly while you take in the view! You can also get afternoon tea if you really feel like getting your Brit on 😉
PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN MANCHESTERThey have a fantastic little tram that runs through the city, but we just walked everywhere. It was easily possible to do so since it was pretty compact and we were staying about a 5-10 min walk from the city center.
Manchester is about a 2-hour direct train ride from London, but 4 hours by car (so, definitely try and take the train!). I took the train from Saltburn-by-the-Sea, the small northern coastal town that I’d been house sitting in. It took me about 3 hours, even though it was closer, since I had to transfer and take a slower train. My friend flew in from Germany, and easily got from the airport to Manchester city center in about 25 minutes via another direct train.
WEATHER IN MANCHESTERSince Manchester is in England, you may want to plan for cloudy days and rain! It’s certainly likely that it may rain at least once throughout your stay, even in the summer, so bring a coat just in case.
We visited in July, and were lucky that it was quite warm and sunny the whole time.
I hope you enjoy your visit to Manchester!
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