The 15 best things to do in Manchester

John Ryland's library, Manchester - the best things to do in Manchester
Touring the spectacular John Rylands Library is one of the best things to do in Manchester - ALAMY

Famous for its football, but also the birthplace of the suffragettes, and home to the oldest public library in the English-spoken world, Manchester is crammed with things to do. On a trip to this friendly, feisty northern city, admire its architecture and street art, take a food-based tour, and be inspired by stories of locals who fought to change the world for the better. From tours of two legendary football stadiums and posing like The Smiths, to imagining life in a Manchester mill during the Industrial Revolution, here are some of the best things to do in the city.

For more Manchester inspiration, see our guides to the city's best hotels, restaurants and bars.

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Learn about the city’s history through your stomach

A fantastic introduction to Manchester’s varied and booming food scene, Scranchester Tours’ Eat the City tour combines tasters at around eight venues with Mancunian culinary history. In areas such as the Northern Quarter and Chinatown, you’ll stop to sample egg tarts, poke, ice-cream and more while guide, Rob, teaches you about everything from the origin of ice-cream cones to mead.

Insider’s tip: Do this tour at the beginning of a trip to Manchester as the tasters, plus advice from tour guide, Rob, may inspire your dining choices for the rest of your break.  

Price: £££

Scranchester, Manchester
Sample a poke bowl while ambling through Manchester's Northern Quarter - Alexander Spatari/Alexander Spatari

Northern Quarter

Take part in a street art “anti-tour”

Manchester’s Northern Quarter is one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the city, with street art, independent businesses and the highest density of listed buildings in Manchester. On a street art tour with Skyliner, you’ll find out how the area became filled with creatives, the stories behind some of the street art, and knowledgeable guide, Hayley, will discuss social issues.

Insider’s tip: Bring your camera as Hayley will take you to see some of the most interesting pieces of street art in the Northern Quarter, including a huge lady in a scarlet dress called Serenity and a mural of Anthony Burgess.

Nearest Metrolink: Shudehill
Price: £

Manchester's Northern Quarter is known for its street art – see it on a tour - © Raspu/Alberto Manuel Urosa Toledano

Go on a library crawl

Manchester is a Unesco City of Literature and libraries are part of its identity. In the city centre, visit neo-gothic John Rylands Library to see its spectacular reading room with a vaulted ceiling; take a weekday tour of medieval Chetham’s Library (book in advance), the oldest public library in the English spoken world; and peek inside Manchester Central Library’s fantastic domed reading room.

Insider’s tip: Relatively unknown, even by locals, The Portico Library on Mosley Street is small but has a beautiful domed ceiling, café and an interesting rota of events, such as sessions on Manchester’s radical history.

Contact: John Rylands LibraryChetham’s LibraryCentral LibraryThe Portico Library
Price: Free

John Rylands Library, Manchester
The spectacular neo-gothic reading room in John Rylands Library - tupungato/tupungato

Explore a world-famous football stadium

Manchester is known worldwide for its football teams, United and City. Both clubs offer stadium tours with the chance to snoop in dressing rooms, run through the players’ tunnels towards the pitch and sit in press conference rooms. For the ultimate football-themed trip, complement a tour with a National Football Museum visit, where you can try your own penalty shootout.

Insider’s tip: If you have mini Manchester City fans, book them into the free Manchester City Kids Fanzone before a home match. For two-and-a-half hours, there are activities including football matches, skills sessions, photo opportunities with mascots and a march to the match. (Match tickets not included – you don’t need to be attending the match.)

Contact: Old Trafford stadium tour; The Manchester City stadium tour; National Football Museum
Price: ££

Manchester United, Manchester
United and City offer stadium tours with the chance to snoop in dressing rooms - PhotoLondonUK

Escape to a pocket of green space

In 2022, two new green spaces were created in Manchester’s city centre. The Grade-II listed Castlefield Viaduct has been turned into a temporary, High-Line style ‘sky park’ by the National Trust. Meanwhile, Mayfield Park, next to the Escape to Freight Island food and drink venue, was Manchester city centre’s first new public park for 100 years and has a central lawn, cool kids’ play area and a section of the River Medlock to spot wildlife on.

Insider’s tip: Tours of Castlefield Viaduct are free in the morning but should be booked in advance. From 12.30pm on weekdays, all day Wednesday and weekends, you can wander the viaduct at your own pace without a booking.

Contact: Castlefield Viaduct; Mayfield Park
Price: Free


Appreciate the people who fought for equality

On the banks of the River Irwell, People’s History Museum shares stories of those who have fought for equality and social justice. There’s a broad range of exhibits including banners and political cartoons to teach you about the Peterloo Massacre, the women’s suffrage movement and more. Children will enjoy playing Banner Bingo, and the interactive 1930s Co-op shop.

Insider’s tip: Climb down the steps outside to see a huge mural by street artist Axel Void on the riverside wall of the museum. Commissioned for the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, it’s a tribute to the sacrifice of ordinary people.

Nearest Metrolink stop: St Peter’s Square or Exchange Square
Price: Free

The People’s History Museum, Manchester
Axel Void's commission for the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre at the People's History Museum

Experience Manchester’s legendary music scene

Manchester is synonymous with music, having been the place where many iconic bands started out. And the city is home to a plethora of pulsing live music venues, from the new Co-op Live (the UK’s largest live entertainment arena) and the Bridgewater Hall (home to the Hallé orchestra) to more intimate rooms in pubs and bars. Look up what’s on before a visit.

Insider’s tip: You don’t have to pay a fortune to watch live music as there are lots of free events to take advantage of – look at venues including the Stoller Hall (free lunchtime concerts) and the Blues Kitchen.

Price: Varies

Coop Live, Manchester
The city is home to a plethora of pulsing live music venues, including the new Co-op Live

Oxford Road Corridor

See where the first meeting of the suffragettes was held

Emmeline Pankhurst’s former home is open to visitors on Thursdays and Sundays from 11am to 4pm. In The Pankhurst Centre, you can step inside the parlour where the first meeting of the WSPU was held – it’s set up to look like it did on that day – and learn more about the history of women’s campaign to vote. The centre also has an exhibition called At Home with the Pankhurst Family, which showcases the life and work of Emmeline and her family.

Insider’s tip: Talk to one of the members of staff at The Pankhurst Centre. Run by passionate volunteers, you’ll learn extra facts about Emmeline Parkhurst and the suffragette movement as well as hearing opinions on what Pankhurst was actually like.

Price: Free

Pankhurst Centre, Manchester
Run by passionate volunteers, you’ll learn extra facts about Emmeline Parkhurst and the suffragette movement - 2018 Getty Images/Leon Neal

Admire indoor and outdoor artwork

In 2015, the Whitworth doubled in size after a £15 million development. Set in Whitworth Park, there’s a diverse range of artwork to look at including textile collections, historic fine art, modern art, a wallpaper collection and sculptures indoors and out. A trip here is extremely family friendly with regular family events, plenty of space and free children’s art hampers.

Insider’s tip: Allow some time during a visit to have a coffee or lunch in the Whitworth’s café. Known as the café in the trees, the floor-to-ceiling windows with views across the park make you feel like you’re dining outside.

Price: Free

The Whitworth, Manchester
Be sure to stick around for lunch at The Whitworth - This image is subject to copyright./Emma Farrer

Delve into the diverse story of Manchester

When Manchester Museum re-opened in 2023 following a £15 million transformation, there were huge queues to visit its dinosaurs and Golden mummies. Things have calmed down now, but the free museum whose mission is to tell the diverse story of Manchester is well worth a visit. The Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery, where short documentary films capture personal experiences from within Manchester’s Chinese communities, is a highlight while children will love its vivarium and Stan the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Insider’s tip: Find out what is on in the museum’s exhibition hall before your visit as you will need to book a timeslot.

Price: Free

St John’s

Discover Manchester’s industrial and scientific past

Manchester was a key city in the Industrial Revolution and you can learn all about the stories, technology and impact of that time in the city centre Science and Industry Museum. Other Manchester milestones that are brought to life here include the world’s oldest surviving passenger railway station (the 1830 Station - not currently accessible due to restoration work) and “Baby”, the world’s first stored-program computer.

Insider’s tip: To imagine what life was like as a Manchester mill worker 150 years ago, plan a visit late morning or early afternoon as demonstrations of mill machinery are held daily at 11.30am,1.30pm and 2.30pm. The noise is deafening so it’s not suitable for small children. Check timings with a member of staff on the day as they may change.

Nearest Metrolink stop: Deansgate-Castlefield
Price: Free

Science and industry museum, Manchester
Learn all about the stories, technology and impact of that time in the city centre Science and Industry Museum - © Raspu/raspu

Salford Quays

Wander around the largest LS Lowry collection in the world

On the Salford Quays waterfront, looking towards MediaCityUK, The Lowry is home to the world’s largest collection of its namesake’s work. Learn more about the Mancunian artist and see some of his most famous pieces, such as Going to the Match (currently on tour of other north west venues), then admire digital or contemporary art in another gallery. The Lowry theatre hosts a broad range of shows too. 

Insider’s tip: Join one of the free, daily Lowry talks at midday or 2pm to learn more about the artist’s life. If you’re a fan, you can also visit his grave in Southern Cemetery in Chorlton.

Nearest Metrolink stop: MediaCityUK
Price: Free

Lowry bridge, Manchester
The Lowry is on the Salford Quays waterfront, looking towards MediaCityUK - GordonBellPhotography/GordonBellPhotography


Pose like The Smiths

Music fans should head to St Ignatius Walk in Salford to pose outside the red-brick Salford Lads Club. Made famous by The Smiths as it featured on the inside sleeve cover of The Queen is Dead album, take a tour of the listed building with a volunteer. The Smiths Room, covered in messages and pictures from fans, is a highlight.

Insider’s tip: Salford Lads Club is only open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 11am and 2pm. If you can’t visit on these days, look up Manchester Music Tours as private tours can include access.

Price: Free

Salford Lad's Club, Manchester
Fans pose outside the Salford Lads Club

Mooch around gardens in a historic estate

The RHS opened its fifth garden (The RHS Garden Bridgewater) in Worsley, Salford, in 2021. Enjoy a quiet moment in its Western Walled Garden, which has a Paradise Garden by Tom Stuart-Smith and a Kitchen Garden which has been inspired by a network of underground waterways that start in Worsley. If you’re visiting with children, they will love its woodland play area.

Insider’s tip: Visit the Bridgewater pigs while you’re at the gardens. These Berkshire pigs were brought in to turn over and clear the ground.

Nearest Metrolink stop: Trafford Centre (a bus journey away)
Price: £


Take a tour of Manchester’s water palace

First opened in 1906, the Grade II listed Victoria Baths with its three swimming pools, Turkish Baths and an aerotone was described as "the most splendid municipal bathing institution in the country". However, the building deteriorated after closing in 1993. Partially restored with fundraising ongoing, visit on Wednesdays (from late March to late October) or on monthly ‘Open Sundays’ (from May to September) for a tour and to imagine the beautiful building with its glazed tiles, mosaics and stained glass in its full glory. (The pools are not in use.)

Insider’s tip: Check whether there are any events on at Victoria Baths when you’re in Manchester as during warmer months (it’s unheated) art exhibitions, beer festivals, supper clubs and more have been held here.


How we choose

Every attraction and activity in this curated list has been tried and tested by our destination expert, to provide you with their insider perspective. We cover a range of budgets and styles, from world-class museums to family-friendly theme parks – to best suit every type of traveller. We update this list regularly to keep up with the latest openings and provide up to date recommendations.