Manchester Travel Guide

England  #4 in Best Day Trips from London

Best Things To Do in Manchester

Manchester is passionate about football and music. You can cheer on Manchester United at Old Trafford or root for Manchester City at Etihad Stadium. As for music, there are too many venues to list, but you can check out Song Kick to find out where different bands are playing. The city also contains a number of very good museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry, the Imperial War Museum North and the Manchester Art Gallery. When it comes to shopping, the city boasts popular U.K. stores like Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, but it also has the quirky five-floor Afflecks for one-of-a-kind finds.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated September 30, 2016

  • #1
    Things to do in Manchester
    View all Photos
    #1 in Manchester
    Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The University of Manchester's John Rylands Library is known as much for its beautiful architecture as it is for its collection of rare books and manuscripts. The impressive gothic structure took 10 years to build — after plans were drawn up in 1889, the library finally opened to the public in 1900. Among its vast collection are medieval illuminated manuscripts, featuring a copy of Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales;" the personal letters and papers of notable figures like Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell; and even a Gutenberg Bible. There are also a handful of rotating exhibits."

    One TripAdvisor user compared the ambiance of the John Rylands Library to the library from Harry Potter's Hogwarts with its own restricted section and dragon carvings. This user also had some practical advice: "If you need to nip into the loo, use those on the second floor rather than the basement — fine old Victorian craftsmanship on display, with lovely comfortable wooden seats!"

  • #2
    Old Trafford
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    #2 in Manchester
    Sports, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sports, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Manchester United is one of the — if not the — world's most celebrated football (aka soccer) teams. The team's stadium is even nicknamed the "Theatre of Dreams." Picture a sea of red shirt-wearing fans spread across an oblong stadium cheering madly for a much-beloved bunch of talented athletes. Even if you don't get to watch the team (and the boisterous crowd) in action, you should make time for a guided tour of the stadium and a roam through its museum. The 80-minute tour takes you everywhere from the locker rooms to the tunnel where the players emerge onto the field and more. A TripAdvisor user (and huge fan of Manchester United) says: "It is well worth going to Old Trafford just to see the home stadium of the most prominent football club in the world."

    Ticket prices for watching a football match vary by seat and opponent. You can take a guided tour of the stadium and visit the in-house museum for £18 GBP (about $30 USD). Tours are offered every day from 9:40 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., although times may change on game days.

  • #3
    Castlefield Urban Heritage Park
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    #3 in Manchester
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Castlefield Urban Heritage Park is a conservation area located on the southwest side of Manchester's city center. But first, it was the site of a Roman fort, Mamucium. Later, this area became a hub of industry with the construction of a canal and a train station. Today, the canal has been restored, and there's even a recreated gate of the ancient fort.

    Visitors call the Castlefield Urban Heritage Park a quiet retreat from the bustling Manchester streets, complete with floating houseboats and picturesque pubs flanking the sides. When the weather is nice, a weekend food and flea market sets up shop as well. One TripAdvisor user also notes, "There is a great pub called 'The Wharf' at the center offering up many beers and great food.

  • #4
    Manchester Art Gallery
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    #4 in Manchester
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Manchester Art Gallery has a collection of more than 25,000 items spread across six centuries. Of particular note is its pre-Raphaelite collection: You'll see work by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and William Holman Hunt, among other renowned artists. The metalwork and porcelain in the museum's Decorative Arts section is also impressive.

    Many visitors "ooh" and "aah" about the gallery's changing exhibitions. They also appreciate the gallery's overall ambiance. According to one TripAdvisor user, "The atmosphere in the gallery feels serene and relaxed without being too quiet or desolate, and very welcoming even for someone who knows very little about the art world."

  • #5
    Museum of Science and Industry
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    #5 in Manchester
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Museum of Science and Industry is an extensive museum spread across five buildings with exhibits that range from textiles to electricity to the railways. With its industrial history in cotton production, Manchester is a good spot for such a museum. One of the newest galleries is the interactive "Revolution Manchester," where visitors will be challenged by a number of games and tasks having to do with everything from transport to the structure of matter. Other must-do experiences include walking through a Victorian-era sewer, admiring the display of old aircrafts and completing some of your own experiments.

    In addition to perusing the museum's displays, one TripAdvisor user recommends enjoying some of the programs and demonstrations: "Although the exhibits were good in themselves, they were brought to life by the interesting talks given by some very excellent staff."

  • #6
    Manchester Town Hall
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    #6 in Manchester
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Victorian gothic Manchester Town Hall first opened its doors in 1877, and to this day it still acts as the home of the Manchester City Council. If you visit, you should check out the Ford Madox Brown murals, as well as the Great Hall's skylight, which has the etched names of every mayor, lord mayor and chair of the council since 1838. The Sculpture Hall is also particularly impressive with its depictions of famous Manchester figures. And when you need a break, the on-site cafe is a nice place to sip a cup of tea.

    One TripAdvisor user mentions that town hall's afternoon tea is good, but says that the service might need some addressing, saying tea is "always served well and with a smile, but too slow."

  • #7
    Imperial War Museum North
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    #7 in Manchester
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Imperial War Museum North, a part of the series of Imperial Museums throughout the U.K., traces Britain's involvement in different conflicts from 1914 through the present day. Exhibits include an audio-visual Big Picture Show on a variety of topics, from "Children at War" to "Al-Mutanabbi Street: A Reaction." There are also 1,400 historic documents and objects, including the gun that shot the first British shell in WWI. Families will especially appreciate the museum's TimeStack program, in which visitors can hear about different items in the museum's collection and actually handle them.

    Many visitors say they were moved by the presentation of the artifacts and displays at the Imperial War Museum North. One TripAdvisor user said: "We found that the museum gave us great insight into the horror of man's failings. […] This museum is an absolute must for appreciative deep thinking people."

  • #8
    Greater Manchester Police Museum
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    #8 in Manchester
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Greater Manchester Police Museum traces the history of policing in the Victorian era. There is a replica court where mock trials are held and a charge room, not to mention numerous artifacts dating from the era, including old police uniforms. The volunteer tour guides are founts of knowledge, filling out the museum experience much more with their accounts of crime from yesteryear. (Parents should keep in mind that the museum is not recommended for children 5 years and younger because of the nature of the exhibits, especially in the crime room.)

    Many visitors are pleasantly surprised with this museum. One TripAdvisor user said: "The quality of the exhibits was superb [and] the volunteers were very helpful and informative. The reconstructed Victorian cells [are] an experience."

  • #9
    Afflecks
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    #9 in Manchester
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Afflecks calls itself "an emporium of eclecticism" and "a totem of indie commerce." This mall, which spreads itself across four floors, is no usual shopping center — you won't find your typical British stores like John Lewis or Cath Kidston here. Instead, Afflecks' shops and stalls are filled with everything from Chinese massage services to vintage and secondhand clothing to crafts. You'll also find tarot card readers and tattoo parlors here.

    One TripAdvisor user expressed her love for Afflecks like this: "You can always find something and it's a legendary place, it's been a huge part of [the] Manchester alternative scene for over 25 years!"

  • #10
    Etihad Stadium
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    #10 in Manchester
    Sports, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sports, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Etihad Stadium is home to Manchester City, one of the city's much beloved football clubs (or soccer teams to Americans). This stadium is one of the U.K.'s largest, with the capacity to seat 47,805 rowdy spectators. If you're able to view a match, be sure to wear a light blue shirt and don't even think about badmouthing the home team — Manchester City fans are a very loyal bunch. They're also very fond of their stadium. One TripAdvisor user compared Etihad Stadium to paradise, saying: "This is my favourite place in the whole world. The service at the bars at half time is woeful, and you can't smoke, but […] it's such a magical environment."

    But if you can't make a game, you could stop by for a 70-minute guided tour that takes you behind the scenes from the media conference room to the entrance tunnel. The stadium is open for exploration seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays), and guided tours are offered between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (3 p.m. on Sundays).

  • #11
    The Lowry
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    #11 in Manchester
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Lowry is a mixed-use facility — part art gallery and part theater — contained in a modern steel and glass structure. You'll find everything from a permanent exhibition showcasing the works of beloved British artist L.S. Lowry, who was born in the greater Manchester suburb of Stretford near the Old Trafford football stadium. While here, you can also attend comedy shows and contemporary dance performances. In addition to the visual and performing arts, the Lowry also contains a restaurant, a bar and a cafe.

    A TripAdvisor user found the Lowry exhibit especially captivating, saying, "Lowry led an incredible life and the gallery and info really do his life justice walking you through what he went through."

  • #12
    Royal Exchange Theatre
    View all Photos
    #12 in Manchester
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Royal Exchange Theatre is known for its compelling stage layout: None of the 760 seats are more than 30 feet from the seven-sided stage. It's also known for its impressive performances, which range from Shakespearean plays to modern works. What's more, the building used to house a different kind of production: It was the site of the city’s old Cotton Exchange, which closed in 1968. Some of the remnants of the exchange can be found in the gold painted cotton flowers on the theater’s pillars.

    One TripAdvisor user, who has viewed many a performance at the theater, says: "I […] have always enjoyed the way the seating encourages an intimate atmosphere — you feel so close to the players that you could be part of the action."

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