If you are looking for a UK city break then Manchester is an ideal choice. This industrial cog of a city is epitomised by the worker bee and nothing could be more apt for the city that constantly works to revitalise itself. With a strong industrial heritage and a modern cosmopolitan sheen, you are spoilt for choice for things to see and do in Manchester. Here is your guide to spening 48 hours in Manchester on a short city break.
I know this may sound sacrosant coming from a scouser (someone from Liverpool, Manchester’s famous rival city, for those outside of the UK) but I actually pretty like Manchester. It isn’t as great as Liverpool of course but I am contractually obliged to say that! Living relatively close to Manchester means that I get to enjoy the city on a relatively frequent basis, but spending a city break weekend here however allowed me to really appreciate what a great city this is.
Manchester is a city that is packed with things to see and do, so much so that you obviously won’t see them all in just a weekend, but its rich history and vibrant, ever changing cosmopolitan atmosphere makes it an ideal choice for a unique and different city break.
Getting To And From Manchester.
Getting to and from Manchester is easy. For international (or local) visitors Manchester Airport is one of the largest international hubs in the UK and has a direct train from the airport to the city centre. Fun fact it is also one of the airports (as well as John Lennon) I fly to and from the most so the place is almost like a second home to me! Manchester is also extremely easy to reach on public transport. Manchester Picaddilly train station links up to every major city hub in the country and smaller train stations Manchester Victoria, Oxford Road and Deansgate reach more regional train stations. There is also an excellent regional bus service that whilst not always the most reliable will get you to most places you would want to go.
Exploring The City.
It is pretty easy to get round Manchester city centre on foot and most places you will want to get to are within a half hours walk of each other give or take, most of the time at least half that depending where you are going. For those who can’t (or don’t want to) walk very far there is also the excellent tram Metrolink that reaches most of the main sites and a free hop on, hop off bus between the major train stations and shopping districts. See if you can spot all of the bee murals that are dotted about the city. The worker bee is the famous symbol of Manchester. (Liverpool has a mythical bird, just saying!)
The Northern Quarter.
The Northern Quarter is Manchester’s bustling place to shop, eat, drink and party. Despite being vigourously regenerated it has also managed to retain a lot of unique industrial character and you can spend an entire day here alone just shopping in the vintage clothes and record shops and alternative boutiques. Let’s face it, Manchester has a great city center full of every major chain shop and brand you can think of, but you can get that in any major city right? When you visit somewhere new you want something unique and this place is hipster central full of smaller independent shops that you will not find anywhere else. The Northern quarter is also home to a ton of unique, independent bars, eateries and cafes that cater to every taste and specialist diet, so wether you are looking for a good old dirty pizza or a gluten free lactose free goats cheese hippy salad, you will find something to your taste here. After dark the Northern quarter gets packed out with people looking to drink and party at the craft breweries, hipster bars and cocktail places!
Continuing your epic Mancunian night out you can also head to Canal Street. This is the heart of Manchesters famous Gay Village and is full of LGBTQ venues, bars, parties and even the occassional drag act or two. And normally if you are visiting in August the Manchester Pride Celebrations are among the biggest in the country!
The printworks bills itself as the entertainment heart of Manchester, and there is certainly some weight to that claim as it has become an iconic Manchester institution. With a Vue Cinema and restuarants including another icon, the Hard Rock Cafe, this is the place to come in Manchester if you want to grab some good food and catch a movie.
Taking In Some History.
Manchester has a rich history and a vibrant culture scene that has to be explored at least a little bit while you are here. Nearby Shropshire’s Ironbridge Gorge may have birthed the insudtrial revolution, but Manchester provided the gears and cogs that kept it going, and that heritage is evident throughout the city. Like neighbouring Liverpool Manchester went through decades of ruin and decline, but since its proverbial rise from the ashes a lot of investment and regeneration has seen a lot of the red brick storehouses and factories reimagined, some of them as bars and entertainment spaces, but others as galleries and museums, and it is these transformed museums and galleries that sit amongst the gleaming glass and chrome high rises that really tell the story of Manchester.
It is at the Museum of Science and History that you get the truest sense of this heritage. In a vast building literally housing planes, trains and automobiles, the building opens out onto half of what was the worlds first real train station, part of the Liverpool and Manchester railway which opened in 1830.
And for art lovers there is always the Manchester Art Gallery. Housed in magnificently period Greek Revival buildings, the collection has an impressive array of Victorian art and Turner watercolours. It also has some modern art for those who like that. (I’m personally not a fan!)
While you are here check out the impressive John Rylands Library for some of the most impressive Gothic architecture around. Ignore the modern entrance and go inside the original Victorian interior. The architecture here is second only to Manchester Cathedral, restored and rebuilt over the years obviously, but mostly dating back to the 14th Century, this is for me one of the true (and often forgotten) highlights of a trip to Manchester.
Enjoying Some Modern Culture.
But Manchester’s strength is arguably not in its history, it is in its constant regeneration and modern culture. Manchester is a city that thrives on reinventing itself and as such there is always a new show, festival, art scene or other cultural extravanganza waiting for you to enjoy.
Manchester has an abundance of Theatres and it is always possible to find a ticket or two for something. You have the larger venues such as the Palace, the Royal Exchange and the Opera House for example, or an entire plethora of smaller venues to choose from, all showing a vast array of famous West End Musicals, independent plays, comedy nights or anything else that might take your fancy. HOME is a great place if you love independent film and one of my favourite places is the Victoria Baths, nicknamed Manchester’s Water Palace, but it is not what you think! This glorious Grade II listed Victorian bath house has been beautifully restored and hosts a lot of vintage fairs and cinema screenings. It is actually a Christmas tradition now to come here and watch their screening of Elf every December.
Where To Stay In Manchester.
Manchester is actually relatively expensive to stay over in compared to many UK cities, and in general terms the larger hotel brand chains (you know which ones I’m talking about) that are all present here are not worth staying in, although the exception to that are the basic but reliable budget chains such as Ibis and Premier Inn.
There are a number of good hostels available and heavy competition has driven the quality up quite a bit. Unfortunately it hasn’t driven the prices down at the same time. There are still some great options though if you can get a deal, and Hatters Hostel in the Northern Quarter is fantastic.
Quite often the best choice (and sometimes not all that much more per night than a hostel if you get a good deal or time it right) are the boutique hotels and independent brands. The quality of the hotel is at least as good as if not better than the larger chains, you get some independent uniquenes and the price is often right in the mid range bracket. INNSIDE Manchester is a prime example of this.
You Need A City Break In Manchester.
A city break in Manchester is as good as any European city in many different ways, without the added expense of flights! I love travel, I do, but when you are in between big trips and still need to get away or you are just looking to explore some more of the UK on a staycation, or maybe you just need a quick, easy city break getaway, Manchester has to be right up there at the top of your list! (Just under Liverpool!)
Did you enjoy this article? Have you ever taken a staycation? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.
INNSiDE Manchester Hotel Review, Manchester England.
Is Backpacking Just About Travelling The World?
I grew up near Manchester! Been there loads and never really thought of it as a destination I’d want to travel to.
I know what you mean Tom, we tend to overlook our own homes as travel destinations.
I am from the US, and did go to England. That happened five years ago when the choir at my family church was in residence at Bristol Cathedral. Friends, family, and parishioners were also invited to go. A pilgrimage was built around that.
London was where the first few days were spent- July 31st-August 2nd. My family went up two days early to get used to the time change and to get more out of London. July 30th was an exciting night: my mom and I saw Les Mis in the West End: while my mom I were there, my dad and sister got their own date together. With the actual group, Windsor Castle, Walking Tour of London, Evensong at Westminster, Eucharist at St. Paul’s and Tower of London (there was only time to go around).
Outside of Bristol, Salisbury, Bath, Berkeley Castle, and Chepstow Castle were places we went to. Including Tintern Abbey, Old Sarum and Stonehenge.
That sounds great. But no Manchester?
No Manchester. The places I went to were all part of the Bristol Pilgrimage- the places we went to had to be of close distance to Bristol.
We did start in London- somewhere else would be outside of Bristol. Bristol was our homebase- after all the church choir sang at Bristol Cathedral for Evensong and Eucharist
Very informative article. I had no idea about the many different sections of the city. As Manchester is my main airport, I will definitely use this information and tag on a couple of days before hopping on the plane.
You should! A far better option than any airport hotel! ;D
Thanks for this, since our holiday plans for this year have been scuppered we were thinking of having an Autumn half term break down in London but now we are thinking maybe up North in Manchester instead! How long would you recommend?
That’s hard to say Alan it depends what you want to do. I’d say a long weekend minimum, there is plenty of things to see and do in Manchester in that time. If you fancy a few day trips or coupling it with some time in neighbouring Liverpool I’d say a week easily. You still won’t see everything obviously but that will give you a good overview.
Thank you for promoting my home city 🙂 . We usually get loads of people coming for concerts and musicals, or away fans coming for United or City matches, and obviously that’s not happening at the moment, so we could really do with some staycationers!
You are more than welcome, and I hope more people do come and stay to see what a great city Manchester is beyond the concerts and football. The sooner the tourism industry recovers the better!
Pretty similar to the places I visited a couple of years back – only we spent a bit more time in Northern Quarter!
The Northern quarter is great!