Manchester Travel Guide

England  #4 in Best Day Trips from London

Best Things To Do in Manchester

If you're a football (soccer) fan, you've come to the right place. Join fervent fans at Old Trafford or Etihad Stadium, or marvel at trophies and practice penalty kicks at the National Football Museum. History buffs will want to walk through John Rylands Library and the Imperial War Museum North, while culture hounds indulge in some retail therapy at Afflecks or a performance at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated September 30, 2016

  • #1
    Things to do in Manchester
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    #1 in Manchester
    0.1 miles to city center
    Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    0.1 miles to city center
    Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    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 and opened to the public in 1900. Among its vast collection are a fragment of Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" manuscript, as well as the personal letters and papers of writers, military generals and more. There is even a papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John from the Bible. The fragment is believed to be the earliest part of any New Testament writing ever found.

    Recent visitors said that the architecture is stunning, likening it to a scene out of the world of "Harry Potter." Though tripods and flash photography are not allowed, reviewers suggested snapping several photos of the interior (with no flash). Others recommended a stop in the restroom to have a look at the Victorian toilets, which have remained largely unchanged since 1900.

  • #2
    Manchester Art Gallery
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    #2 in Manchester
    0.3 miles to city center
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    0.3 miles to city center
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Established in 1823, the Manchester Art Gallery boasts a collection of more than 25,000 items that has been collected over a period of 200 years. Of particular note is its pre-Raphaelite collection. There is also a costume collection of dress from the 1600s to present day. Families with younger children will appreciate the museum's explorer tool belts with binoculars, magnifying glasses and more items. Plus, visitors can refuel in two on-site cafes.

    Recent visitors said the museum is a great spot to see beautiful, romantic paintings and well worth a stop. Many also recommended indulging in a cake at the cafe.

  • #3
    Old Trafford
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    #3 in Manchester
    2 miles to city center
    Sports, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    2 miles to city center
    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. The 80-minute tour takes you everywhere from the locker rooms to the tunnel where the players emerge onto the field and more.

    Recent visitors advised there is a lot of walking and stairs to climb on the tour and recommended arriving an hour before your tour begins. Others said the tour is great even for non-football fans and highly recommended visiting the museum.

  • #4
    Imperial War Museum North
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    #4 in Manchester
    2.1 miles to city center
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    2.1 miles to city center
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Imperial War Museum North, one of a series of Imperial War Museums throughout the U.K., traces Britain's involvement in different conflicts from World War I through the present day. Items on display include the gun that shot the first British shell in World War I, as well as twisted steel rubble from the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York City. There are also 360-degree movies covering the topics featured at the museum.

    Many past visitors said they were moved by the presentation of the artifacts and displays at the Imperial War Museum North and described the staff as knowledgeable. Several reviewers recommended taking time to admire the suitcase wall, which features old suitcases once used by soldiers.

  • #5
    Greater Manchester Police Museum
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    #5 in Manchester
    0.7 miles to city center
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    0.7 miles to city center
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Greater Manchester Police Museum, which sits in a restored Victorian police station, traces the history of policing in the Greater Manchester area. Visit the courtroom, the old cells (complete with wooden pillows) and see numerous artifacts dating from the era, including police uniforms and old police vehicles. The volunteer tour guides are founts of knowledge, ready to answer questions about policing.

    Recent visitors said the museum holds fascinating artifacts and is larger than you would expect. They also reported that volunteers are friendly and knowledgeable.

  • #6
    Science and Industry Museum
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    #6 in Manchester
    0.3 miles to city center
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    0.3 miles to city center
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Science and Industry Museum is an extensive museum spread across five buildings with exhibits that range from textiles to electricity to the development of railways. You'll find the world's oldest surviving passenger railway station built in 1830, as well as the interactive "Revolution Manchester," where visitors will be challenged by a number of games and tasks that test the user's knowledge of everything from energy and nuclear fusion to coding. Other must-do experiences include admiring the display of old aircraft and trying your hand at the flight simulator.

    Families raved about the museum, saying it's great for all ages thanks to its variety of interactive exhibits.

  • #7
    Afflecks
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    #7 in Manchester
    0.6 miles to city center
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    0.6 miles to city center
    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 Thai massage services to all types of clothing to anime and art. You'll also find tarot card readers and tattoo parlors.

    Past visitors said Afflects is a longtime Manchester institution and a great place for quirky finds. It's also popular with teens.

  • #8
    Etihad Stadium
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    #8 in Manchester
    2 miles to city center
    Sports, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    2 miles to city center
    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 55,000 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. 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 and includes high-tech audio and visual components.

    Past visitors praised the tour and their guides and highly recommended it for football fans. They especially loved seeing the locker rooms and the player tunnel.

  • #9
    The Lowry
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    #9 in Manchester
    2 miles to city center
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    2 miles to city center
    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 exhibitions showcasing the works of beloved British artist L.S. Lowry to a variety of rotating exhibits. While here, you can also attend comedy shows and contemporary dance performances. In addition to the visual and performing arts, the Lowry also has a restaurant, a bar and a coffee shop.

    Recent visitors said the Lowry is a fascinating building. Others advised that lines can be long both for tickets and parking, so buying online ahead of time is a good idea.

  • #10
    Royal Exchange Theatre
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    #10 in Manchester
    0.3 miles to city center
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    0.3 miles to city center
    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 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 cotton trade, which closed in 1968. Some of the remnants of the exchange remain, including the original trading board with the day's closing numbers.

    Past visitors praised the building's architecture and atmosphere, saying it's a great venue to see a show. Many also recommended visiting the theater's cafe.

  • #11
    Whitworth Art Gallery
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    #11 in Manchester
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Part of the University of Manchester, the Whitworth Art Gallery's mission is to "use art for social change." It was originally founded in 1889 to educate and inspire Manchester citizens. It houses a collection of some 60,000 works, though the museum says it has nothing on permanent display. Rather it rotates exhibitions, pulling from its collection with themes ranging from tapestries to wallpaper to Cezanne.

    Past visitors described the Whitworth Art Gallery as a "great surprise" with an eclectic mix of both historic and contemporary artwork. Others warned that the more well-known paintings were on loan and that the space only had largely unknown modern art. Another positive that many visitors pointed out is the cafe.

  • #12
    Manchester Museum
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    #12 in Manchester
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Located on the campus of the University of Manchester, Manchester's own natural history museum boasts four floors of exhibits. Highlights include a T. rex fossil, ancient Egyptian mummies and a vivarium that's notable for its large collection of Costa Rican frogs. In total, the museum's collection comprises more than four million items. Note: The museum is undergoing a restoration and some galleries are temporarily closed.

    Past visitors said the museum boasts an interesting collection housed in a beautiful building. Others warned the museum is quite compact, but said it's easy to get through in about an hour. 

  • #13
    National Football Museum
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    #13 in Manchester
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Located in the city center in the six-story, glass Urbis building, the National Football Museum is a collection of items and information about everything football (that's soccer, to us Yanks). In fact, this is England's only national museum for football. Visitors will find trophies, exhibits on stadiums, fans and the media, as well as opportunities to try their football skills. 

    Past visitors say the museum has lots of interactive exhibits, but warn that there are a lot of stairs. Reviewers also said the museum staff is friendly and that the museum is a great attraction for football fans.

  • #14
    People's History Museum
    View all Photos
    #14 in Manchester
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The People's History Museum is self-described as the national museum for democracy, exploring the development of democracy in Britain. The museum features a variety of rotating exhibits, and its main galleries focus on themes of workers' rights, reform, strikes and voting, among others. Highlights include a suffrogate banner from 1908, 95,000 photos detailing the history of the Labour Party and a variety of political posters.

    Past visitors described the museum as a thoughtful collection of artifacts and exhibits displayed in a balanced and thoughtful way, and many said they were glad they stopped by and would recommend it. 

  • #15
    Manchester Cathedral
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    #15 in Manchester
    Churches/Religious Sites, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    Manchester Cathedral, which dates back to the 15th century, has been through numerous conflicts and suffered damage both in World War II, as well as from an Irish Republican Army bomb in 1996. You'll want to take time to see the "Angel Stone," a stone found embedded in the structure that dates to 700. Also worth a look are the wooden carvings of medieval tales and legends under the seats of the quire stalls and the remains of a medieval bridge in the visitor center.

    Past visitors said the cathedral is a beautiful building with fantastic stained-glass windows. Other said it's worth a visit even if you're not a religious person.

  • Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester
    View all Photos
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

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  • Chinatown
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    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

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  • City of Manchester Distillery
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    Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

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