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How to Have the Perfect Manchester City Break

Castlefields Manchester - Things to do on a Manchester City Break

I lived in Manchester for about a year before moving to Barcelona.  It’s a fabulous city, so to inspire you to visit Manchester I asked Manchester expert Polly from Let’s Travel UK to share her top tips for how to enjoy the perfect Manchester city break.

According to many Brits – and all northerners (like me) – Manchester is Britain’s second city (despite being smaller in size than Birmingham. I lived in this vibrant, forward-looking city in the north-west of England for three years, and a weekend in Manchester is a must for anyone who wants to see northern England. Manchester offers a destination with a difference – it’s not cute and it’s certainly not twee – yet it’s packed with interesting stuff and has a fascinating history.

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Mancunians are pleasingly down-to-earth, and like their native city they are full of admirable grit and determination. Manchester’s symbol is the worker bee – and its so many of its folk are indeed grafters – and cool ones with attitude at that. This is a thoroughly modern city, and quite rightly, a very proud one.

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Places to Visit on a Manchester city break

This Northern city is like a string of villages that blend together harmoniously. There are all sorts of areas filled with shops, eateries, bars, pubs and clubs. Each neighbourhood has a different vibe and thus each has its own unique appeal.

The twin city of Salford’s boundaries blur into the edges of the city centre, and in fact, some areas in of Salford are nearer to central Manchester than its own suburbs. Salford University students often live closer to Manchester city centre than those studying at UMIST, Manchester University or Manchester Metropolitan.

The following includes a great variety of areas in which to spend your time and money during a Manchester city break. They all also offer a range of places to stay.

Street Art in the Northern Quarter - Manchester City Break
Street Art in the Northern Quarter – Manchester City Break

The Northern Quarter

The Northern Quarter is a really cool part of the city. Even though I’d never heard of it back in the 1990s – when I was a student at Salford – I certainly spent some time here. Especially in Affleck’s Palace, a multi-tiered old building housing all sorts of independent traders’ wares. Expect to uncover a unique piece of vintage clothing, rare posters, funky homeware or retro gaming hardware and software.

Nearby stores are equally interesting to browse and you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to eating and drinking. The Northern Quarter buzzes with life by night, and you can find some of Manchester’s best bars and clubs here.

Don’t miss Mint Lounge, the Mancunian club that hosts the longest running club night in the city – Funkademia dates from the 1990s, when it was held weekly at Boardwalk. All that remains of this former ‘Madchester’ venue, not far from Deansgate and Castlefield, is a blue plaque on the wall. This recalls its heyday as a live music venue and rehearsal room for local bands. (My memories remain too, of course – I worked at the Boardwalk during my student days.)

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This area is between Deangate and Salford. It has lots of lively pubs, cafes, hotels, bars and restaurants situated close to the canals. There are also old cotton mills and the last remains of ‘Mamucium’ a Roman fort from which the city took its name. This is a great place to be if you want to see Salford as well as Manchester during your stay.

Salford Quays - Places to visit in Manchester
Salford Quays – Places to visit in Manchester

Salford Quays

The opening of the BBC’s Media City has been a breath of fresh air for Salford Quays, which were too often like a ghost town during my student years. Now, there’s a great ‘Makers Market’ during the final weekend of every month, showcasing food, arts, drinks, crafts and vintage items from local traders.

The BBC studios also offer tours and regular events. A little-known fact (outside Manchester’s sizeable student community at least) is that Manchester and Salford compete in the ‘Two Cities boat race’ each year, just like Oxford and Cambridge. The race is held at Salford Quays in the spring.

Old Trafford

Not far from the quays is the home of Manchester United. Although Manchester City are now serious competition, Man U still have a sizeable trophy cabinet. When Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge, they were the team to beat. Not only in Manchester, but across the entire Premier League – and the world.

Old Trafford - Manchester United's football Ground
Old Trafford – Manchester United’s football Ground

The Curry Mile

Wilmslow Road, Rusholme is Curry Central in Manchester, so don’t miss it if you like spicy, flavoursome food. The road has a seemingly never-ending parade of brightly-lit restaurants to choose from. Ask at your hotel, or get your taxi, bus or tram driver to share their favourite spot for a meal. Or simply choose one at random – as there’s so much competition that the standard is pretty high here.

The Gay Village

Canal Street and the surrounding area is one of Manchester’s most colourful areas and is packed with people every evening as they seek their idea of a good time. Although it’s a lively part of town it can be tranquil too, so is just as suitable for those whose idea of heaven is sipping a cool or warming drink by the canal as for those who prefer to dance until dawn.

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The impressive Chinese Arch acts as the gateway to one of the biggest and best Chinatowns in the UK. People do of course disagree about which Chinatown restaurant gets their top vote, but finding a favourite is all part of the fun. Feasting on noodles, stir-fries, egg fried rice and spring rolls is just the ticket before wandering down to the Canal Street area to find the bar that most appeals to you.

China Town in Manchester
China Town in Manchester


The area on the banks of the River Irwell is where large office blocks sit side by side with retail, food and drink outlets. The Avenue houses all sorts of designer stores, while the magnificent John Rylands Library is an impressive example of neo-Gothic architecture.

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Things to do in Manchester

Visit a Museum

There are some world-class museums and art galleries in Manchester – and also the aforementioned John Rylands Library.

Manchester Science and Industry Museum

This is one of Manchester’s best known and loved museums. Entry is free and there are many interactive displays, which are particularly good for children. The museum is in the Castlefield area, on Liverpool Road near Deansgate.

Manchester Art Gallery

Manchester Art Gallery is on Mosley Street in the city centre. It is also free to enter and boasts a sizeable collection of British art. Media include sculpture and photography. Art history buffs can also gaze at pre-Raphaelite pieces as well as a range of William Blake’s works.

Inside John Rylands Library - Things to do in Manchester
Inside John Rylands Library – Things to do in Manchester

The John Rylands Library

The architecture of John Rylands library is more akin to a castle or cathedral than a place for book browsing and borrowing. The Victorian Gothic building was commissioned by Ryland’s widow in 1890.

As well as the architecture, there are some rare exhibits here. These include a 1476 William Caxton edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a range of medieval manuscripts and the St John Fragment, the most ancient remainder of the New Testament.

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The Imperial War Museum North

The award-winning Imperial War Museum North is in Salford, close to The Lowry and BBC Media City. It specialises in immersive displays and tells the tales of various wars from the last century.  The museum is filled with interesting things, including galleries and featured exhibitions, and also plays host to special events.

The Lowry

The Lowry is a museum and theatre complex, named after L S Lowry who lived in Salford and spent many years painting scenes from the city.  An exhibition of his work is the main draw here, but as well as the famous Matchstick Men there are also artworks from other creative types to see. There are three theatres on site too where you can see a range of performances from contemporary dance to stand up comedy.

Lowry Theatre Salfrod Quays
Lowry Theatre Salfrod Quays

Go Shopping in Manchester

There are all kinds of shops in Manchester, from high street favourites to quirky, independent places full of unique or vintage finds.

The Trafford Centre

The Trafford Centre is easy to reach, as buses run from the city to its own bus station five miles out. Allegedly a favourite with footballers’ wives, this large shopping mall has all the usual stores and restaurants as well as some local retailers.

The Arndale Centre

Right in the middle of Manchester, you can find all the standard high street shops at the Arndale Centre. There are some independent shops and cafes here too.

Designer Stores

These who love a designer label can find their heart’s desire on The Avenue in Spinningfields, in King Street or along Deansgate. Exchange Square, meanwhile, features Selfridge’s Manchester.

The Jewellery Quarter

King and Exchange Streets and St Ann’s Square are home to range of jewellers’, including those that specialise in luxurious, classic, modern or vintage styles.

Christmas Market in Manchester - Great for Shopping
Christmas Market in Manchester – Great for Shopping

Independent Shops

Shops and retail regions not to miss when in Manchester include Affleck’s Palace and Piccadilly Records in the Northern Quarter. Both are Mancunian institutions and the latter dates from 1978. It’s also one of the last and greatest examples of a ‘proper’ British record shop.

For stylish threads, visit the central Royal Exchange. If your visit happens to coincide with the third Saturday in the month, the Manchester Vintage Fashion Market is held in central Piccadilly Gardens.  You’ll also find a wonderful Christmas Market in Manchester, in front of the Town Hall.

Enjoying a City Break in Manchester

Whatever you do and wherever you go, this Northern English city is a place to live along the locals and soak up the atmosphere as much as it is to admire historical artefacts or architecture. Wandering the streets in search of your own hidden treasure is all part and parcel of a visit to Manchester, so why not simply go with the flow and see where your visit takes you?

About the Author

Polly Taylor is a graduate of Salford University who spent years living in the city, thus spending a large chunk of her time working and playing in Manchester. She often visits Manchester to break up a long journey between her home in Dorset and relatives living in Cumbria. Polly later worked as a travel consultant in London, before settling down to family life in Dorset and a career as a copywriter and blogger.  You can follow her adventures on her website Let’s Travel UK, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to Manchester, get a quote now from World Nomads.

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Last updated: September 28, 2020

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