The only UK city to feature in Lonely Planet’s Best In Travel guide for 2023, Manchester has something for everyone! A hub for culture, great food, sport and generally having a great time, this gritty northern city is ready to welcome you with open arms and show you how to have a good time.
Manchester has undergone a massive transformation over the past 10-15 years. Visitors to the city will find a rapidly developing urban center with new apartments and areas springing up at what feels like a daily rate. The city always has something new to offer yet retains its unique character that makes so many fall in love with the place.
As a born and bred Mancunian, I have lived here for the majority of my life and watched as my incredible city has come back from adversity, modernized, and firmly established itself in the 21st century as a top European city. I rave about the place to everyone who will listen! Every visitor I have welcomed has fallen in love with the unique Mancunian charm and always comes back. There is a space for everyone here!
So dive on into my itinerary for a weekend in Manchester where I will give you all the essential places to visit as well as my top tips on how to have an authentic Mancunian weekend.
As our famous son Tony Wilson, owner of Factory Records, once said: “Welcome to Manchester. We do things differently here!”
- Weekend In Manchester Itinerary
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Where To Stay In Manchester For 2 Days?
- FAQs: Visiting Manchester
- Final Thoughts
Weekend In Manchester Itinerary
Without further ado, here’s a 2 days in Manchester itinerary ideal for weekend visits.
Breakfast in the Northern Quarter
After waking up in your city center accommodation (potentially to some rain but more on that later!), make your way over to the Northern Quarter. A previously rundown area after the decline of Manchester’s cotton industry, bohemian artists and entrepreneurs began to make the area their home attracted by the low rent costs and proximity to the city center. The regeneration of the area accelerated after the turn of the 20th century and the Northern Quarter is now one of the trendiest areas of the city.
The area is the perfect place to hang out at any time of day. There are some great cafés, fun bars, and plenty of independent stores. You could easily spend a day here!
You are spoilt for choice of places to have breakfast but here are my top 3 picks:
- 19 Cafe Bar (Newton Street): Located right off Piccadilly Gardens, this cute little café offers a top-class breakfast menu in an unfussy setting. The food is great, and the staff are friendly. A booking is advised as there is always a queue outside.
- The Pen And Pencil (Corner of Tariff Street and Hilton Street): A great place for a traditional English breakfast as well as vegetarian and vegan options. Brunch is served right through until 4 PM.
- Ezra & Gill (Corner of Newton Street and Hilton Street): A popular Manchester stalwart, Ezra & Gill regularly features on the list of best breakfasts in Manchester. They serve up all sorts of breakfast classics, both meat and veggie. They also have a great range of more substantial breakfasts if you’re feeling particularly hungry.
Explore the Northern Quarter
After finishing breakfast, explore the rest of the Northern Quarter. Have a wander around the area, checking out some of the street art and visiting the various shops. The area is a haven for vintage and second-hand stores so if this is your vibe, you will feel right at home.
The area’s most famous attraction is Afflecks, an unmissable stop during your weekend in Manchester. It is an absolute treasure trove of independent stores. First opening in the 1980s, Afflecks describes itself as “‘an emporium of eclecticism, a totem of indie commerce in Manchester’s Northern Quarter,” which is a perfect description.
The emporium is spread across numerous floors and invites you to explore its twisting corridors. There really is something for everyone and you are bound to get lost in its colorful maze-like corridors. Being all under one roof, Afflecks is also the perfect place to spend a couple of hours when the Manchester rain kicks in.
The best thing about Afflecks is discovering things for yourself but some of my highlights include:
- Pop Boutique: A Manchester staple where you will find all the best retro and vintage clothing. They also have a standalone store in the Northern Quarter.
- Muobu, Gay Pride Shop and LGBTQ+ Bookshop: Located on the 2nd floor, these neighboring stores cater to all your queer needs. There are flags, cards, fans, badges, glitter and so much more in the Gay Pride Shop, whilst the LGBTQ+ Bookshop has a fantastic range of queer literature and friendly staff who will recommend you the perfect read.
- The Manchester Shop: An essential place to buy your Manchester souvenirs. There are various souvenir shops dotted around the city, but this is the one with the best and most tasteful souvenirs in the city!
- Vinyl Resting Place: Located on the 3rd floor, this record store has tons of vinyl catering to every taste and genre. Make sure you check out the store’s wide range of records and see if you can find a hidden gem.
From the Northern Quarter, cut across Shudehill and head towards The Printworks. This behemoth of a building was the largest newspaper printing house in Europe before closing in 1986. The building was left derelict until the area was redeveloped following the 1996 IRA bombing and is now a popular entertainment venue in the city.
As of 2023, the building is currently undergoing a £20 million refurbishment including the introduction of Europe’s largest indoor digital ceiling.
Opened in 1844, Victoria Station is worth walking through on your way towards your next destination. The station has undergone a modernization project in the past few years, but it is the period features that are worth stopping off for. Look out for the old ticket booths as well as the mosaics adorning the station.
The station façade is quaint with the canopy featuring the names of destinations. There is also a mosaic map of the former network of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and a World War I Memorial which was installed in 1923. Finally, there is also a memorial to the victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena Bombing which took place just inside the arena entrance in the station.
Manchester Cathedral (Optional Visit)
Head out of Victoria Station at the doors with the mosaic map and head down the street to Manchester Cathedral. Here you will come to a circular memorial to the victims of the arena bombing in 2017. The memorial is a poignant reminder of the attack and Manchester’s memory of them.
After spending time at the memorial, head into Manchester Cathedral. The cathedral is a grade I listed building that can trace its origins back to the 1400s and is free to visit.
The cathedral contains some impressive stained-glass windows which are unfortunately not originals. Damaged first in the Blitz of 1940 and then destroyed again in the 1996 IRA bombing, the windows have been lovingly restored and remain one of the highlights of the cathedral.
Check out the cathedral’s Fire Window in the Regiment Chapel, a piece to commemorate the cathedral’s rebuilding after the Blitz as well as the Healing Window, which was installed in 2004 to commemorate the restoration of the cathedral following the IRA bomb in 1996. Also when visiting the cathedral, look carefully at the seats in the central nave. Each seat has an individual wood carving that many visitors miss on their way through.
Head out of the cathedral and make your way to Shambles Square. Whilst the two pubs here look very old, the square is actually fairly new. Originally situated in Old Shambles Square, located in roughly what would now be New Cathedral Street, the pubs were painstakingly moved brick by brick to their new location following the 1996 IRA bomb.
The building housing the Old Wellington Inn dates back to 1552 and both this Old Wellington Inn and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar are Grade II listed buildings. Both retain their original traditional character and are popular with locals and tourists alike. Head on in to have a look at the original architecture and have a drink if you are thirsty. In summer, Shambles Square is full of people enjoying the Manchester sunshine.
Post-box on Corporation Street
The next stop seems like a strange one. Why go and see a post-box? The answer is related to the previous stop!
In 1996, the IRA detonated a bomb in the city center at the site of this post-box. Luckily no one was killed, and the subsequent rebuilding led to Manchester becoming one of the most modern cities in the country which continues to this day.
This inconspicuous red post-box is symbolic of the city’s resolve. Despite being located close to the blast, the post-box remained untouched protecting its contents. It was moved during redevelopment in the late 1990s and restored back to its rightful place and has remained there ever since. Check out the plaque on the post-box which explains its significance.
Lunch at Mr Thomas’s Chop House
By now, you are probably feeling a little hungry. Luckily you are mere steps away from a Manchester staple. Mr Thomas’s Chop House (known locally as Tom’s Chop House) is a great venue to sample some traditional British foods. The restaurant was established in 1867 in the middle of Manchester’s industrial boom and has an interesting history including links to the women’s suffrage movement.
Tom’s offers diners a traditional British menu in a pleasant setting using local produce. Its Corned Beef Hash is its speciality and featured in a recent Manchester cookbook as a taste of the city.
John Ryland’s Library
After finishing at Tom’s Chop House, make the short walk down to Deansgate and to John Ryland’s Library. Opened in 1900, the library was commissioned by Enriqueta Rylands, in memory of her husband, John Rylands and has remained open to the public ever since.
Housed in a stunning neo-Gothic building, the library is a fantastic place to spend an hour or two. Those fans of Harry Potter will love the stone statues, big staircases and traditional reading rooms. Owned by The University of Manchester, the library forms part of the wider university library network and is still a working library, open to academics and students.
The library is open 10 AM to 5 PM Wednesday to Saturday with the last entry being 20 minutes before closing.
After exploring the library head back to your hotel for some rest and relaxation. You are going to need it as Manchester’s legendary nightlife is next on your list!
Dinner at Dimitri’s
After relaxing at your hotel, head for dinner at Dimitri’s on Deansgate. The restaurant is a Manchester staple and offers fantastic Greek cuisine to diners. The food here is incredible and the staff are really friendly. It is one of my favorite places to eat in the city and never disappoints.
I have a friend in the city who is part Greek and after bringing his skeptical Greek aunt here, she was completely sold on the food. All dishes are highly recommended, and the prices are very reasonable. It is always high on my list of restaurants to take visitors to in the city.
There are a couple of options for you depending on your interests and what you are looking for.
Manchester is renowned for its liberal and accepting nature and nowhere exemplifies this better than the Gay Village. The village is a five-minute walk from Piccadilly Gardens and is the perfect place to enjoy a Manchester night out.
Start your night at The Brewers and enjoy 2-for-1 cocktails all day from Sunday to Thursday and until 10 PM on Fridays and Saturdays. After starting the night, head down the street and to Via. Located in a quirky building with multiple floors, Via is the perfect place for those who love pop music and drag cabaret. The venue is free to enter and always has tribute or drag acts on. The venue always is packed at a weekend and you’re sure to make friends if you are a solo traveler. If you see me, make sure you say hello!
For those wanting a quieter evening, consider visiting The Molly House, which has a good selection of fantastic beers, ciders, and gins in a relaxed atmosphere. Also worth visiting are The Goose and Oscars, which serves cocktails and show tunes.
In reality, you will have a great time anywhere on Canal Street, but these are my personal recommendations.
Enjoyed your time in Manchester’s Gay Village and looking for more LGBTQ+ fun in a warmer climate? Check out my post on the 11 best gay-friendly places to visit in Spain.
For those looking for a non-LGBTQ+ evening, head to Alberts Schloss and its neighboring bars or to the Northern Quarter. There are plenty of venues in both parts of the city so try the different venues and see which suits your vibe the most. There is everything from live music to chilled vibes and places to dance.
Breakfast in Ancoats
Start off your second day by heading to Ancoats. Similar to the Northern Quarter, this was previously a rundown area after its heyday in the Industrial Revolution. The regeneration started slowly in the 1990s and today Ancoats is one of the trendiest places in Manchester.
Head to Cutting Room Square and you’ll be spoilt for choice over places to eat. My personal favorite is The Counter House. They serve some great brunch food in a fun environment and their cocktails are great.
Once you have finished your breakfast (or brunch depending on last night’s events!), head on over to Anita Street, known as Manchester’s most “Instagramable”’ street. The row of terraced housing offers the perfect shot and a glimpse into Manchester’s past. Then head back towards Cutting Room Square and over to the marina, a newly developed area of the city.
After finishing at Ancoats, make your way back over to the city center to Manchester’s Gay Village. Based along the canal, this area was originally warehouses used to store the city’s goods. Once abandoned, the area became a hub for LGBTQ+ people who could meet in secret given the warehouses had no windows. Nowadays it is a beacon of Manchester’s liberalism.
Have a walk down Canal Street and head into Sackville Street Park. Here you will be greeted by a rainbow bee (the symbol of Manchester) and further into the park, you will come across a statue of Alan Turing on a bench. Turing is closely connected with Manchester having been a professor at the local university and helped to develop the world’s first computer.
Manchester Central Library
Head to the end of Canal Street and turn right at the New Union and head to St. Peter’s Square. Home to Manchester Central Library, this square also is home to a statue of one of Manchester’s most famous daughters, Emmeline Pankhurst. Leader of the Suffragette movement, she can be seen standing on a chair. The monument entitled “Rise up, Women” was unveiled in 2018 to mark 100 years since women earned the right to vote.
Continue on into Manchester Central Library, another of Manchester’s free attractions. The library is a big circular building with a blend of historic and modern architecture. Inside you’ll find reading rooms, computer areas and exhibition spaces. Take some time to walk around the building, walking through the vast reading room.
Continue on your journey down to Market Street, the city’s premier shopping district. The Arndale Centre, Manchester’s major indoor shopping center is located on the right. Manchester is home to all your major high street stores so if you enjoy shopping you will feel right at home here.
Royal Exchange Theatre
Heading down Market Street towards Deansgate will eventually bring you to St. Ann’s Square. The square is a beautiful part of the city with beautiful architecture and a church at one end. Halfway down the square is the Royal Exchange Theatre and our next stop.
The Royal Exchange Theatre is a beautiful Grade II listed building that was originally used to conduct business. Nowadays it is home to a theatre and a café. The theatre is an impressive one, offering some of the best performances in the city. Its theatre-in-the-round experience creates an intimate experience for the audience.
Museums and Stadiums
For the next part of the tour, you have three different options depending on your interests and preferences.
National Football Museum
The National Football Museum located close to The Printworks is a fascinating look at the history of the beautiful game. Its exhibits are interactive and contain some fascinating pieces. You can see the oldest surviving FA Cup trophy, the 1966 Jule Rimet Trophy replica and match ball and the original Laws of the Game.
Located in the city’s university quarter, a short bus ride from the center, the Manchester Museum is a great place to explore, especially if you have children. The Museum has recently undergone a £13.5 million renovation and has a plethora of articles and exhibits. It is free to visit but I recommend that you book a time slot for some of the more popular exhibits.
Old Trafford/Etihad Stadium Tours
Manchester is home to two of the Premier League’s most famous and successful teams. No football fan’s visit here would be complete without visiting one of these stadiums. Given I am a Red, I would recommend the Old Trafford tour, but you may prefer heading to the Etihad Stadium.
Book your tour online beforehand to avoid disappointment. Both stadiums are located out of the city center but can be visited easily on the metro. Head to Old Trafford or Wharf metro stop for Old Trafford or Etihad Campus for Etihad Stadium. For the metro, you can buy tickets on the platform or tap-on/tap-off with a contactless card.
After relaxing at your hotel after a long day sightseeing, check out one of the restaurants listed below in the FAQs. There are plenty of places to eat in Manchester but where to go will depend on what you fancy.
Frog and Bucket Comedy Club
For a final night activity, why not check out the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club? Located in the Northern Quarter, the club plays host to numerous comedy nights a week. The club has hosted various famous comedians and hosts a range of different events. Check out their website for the latest offerings.
Where To Stay In Manchester For 2 Days?
YHA Manchester: Budget accommodation can be hard to find in the city but look no further than YHA Manchester. A short walk from the city center in Castlefield, the hostel offers beds in shared rooms or private rooms at reasonable prices. Well-liked by guests, the hostel is open 24 hours a day and has social spaces to hang out in as well as a great location on Manchester’s canal.
Motel One Manchester-Piccadilly: Another centrally-located hotel, the Motel One Manchester-Piccadilly is the perfect base to start your day. Located just across the road from Manchester Piccadilly station, this hotel is right in the thick of the action with great transport links around the city. The rooms are comfortable with well-appointed bathrooms and the lounge area serves a buffet breakfast if you would prefer to eat at your hotel.
Hotel Gotham: Located on King Street, this 5-star city center hotel offers guests chic rooms, a 2 AA Rosette awarded restaurant and an exclusive club bar. This Art-Deco-themed venue in the heart of the city will provide the perfect luxurious escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, whilst keeping you in the heart of the action.
FAQs: Visiting Manchester
How many days should I spend in Manchester?
You can see the essential sights in Manchester within 2 days, though there are many more things to see that aren’t featured on this list. I recommend an extra day or two to really see what the city has to offer. With 3 or 4 days, you can visit the places on this itinerary as well as checking out places such as Manchester Art Gallery, The Pankhurst Centre, Media City, Science and Industry Museum, Imperial War Museum North and The Trafford Centre.
Where to stay for a weekend in Manchester?
If you are only staying in Manchester for 2 days, make sure you choose somewhere fairly central. You will want to be in the thick of the action and with a city center place, it offers the chance to head back during the day if you’re feeling tired. The city is very walkable and so anywhere in the city boundaries.
Be careful when booking accommodation to ensure you have chosen Manchester City Centre and not Greater Manchester as the urban area is larger and you may be staying way out from the center.
How to get around Manchester?
The only transportation you will need for this itinerary is the Metrolink. To pay for your ticket with this, you can tap the ticket machines on the platform with your contactless card. Tap again when you have completed your journey. Prices are capped once you make a certain number of journeys per day.
The bus network is also very good, and singles are capped at £2. You can pay by cash or by contactless. However, if following this itinerary, you shouldn’t need to use the bus network, unless you choose to head to the Manchester Museum.
Where To Eat In Manchester?
Manchester has a plethora of different food options, some of which are contained in this itinerary. Some of my other recommendations for you to try are below:
- Almost Famous: The best burgers in town. Almost Famous has two sites – one in the Northern Quarter and one in the Great Northern off Deansgate.
- El Capo: Great Mexican food in the Northern Quarter. Their tacos are to die for. They do offer throughout the week.
- Italiana Fifty-Five: Formerly known as Cibo, this family-owned Italian offers fantastic dishes in a chic setting.
- Dishoom: Indian small plates and grills. Great staff and even better food.
- Maray: Small Middle Eastern plates. A mainly veggie menu, this restaurant is located in the same square as Manchester’s Hidden Gem church.
And there it is. The perfect way to spend 2 days in Manchester! From its rich industrial heritage to its contemporary cultural scene, Manchester truly has something for everyone and can compete with the likes of Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Milan for things to do. Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, a foodie, or just looking for a great time, Manchester has you covered.
This city never ceases to evolve, and in today, it continues to be a dynamic hub of culture and excitement. Whatever your background and whatever your story, you are sure to feel welcome in this great northern city. It is why, after 30+ years, I am still proud to call this great city my home!
Do you have anything to add to this guide about spending a weekend in Manchester? Let us know in the comments section below!