How to spend the ultimate weekend in Manchester, the North's creative hub

Manchester salford quays - travel guide
A weekend in Manchester showcases its blend of industrial heritage and thriving culture - CHUNYIP WONG

Manchester’s ornate listed buildings, red-brick cotton warehouses and weaver’s cottages are reminders of its industrial past. But the city’s ever-growing popularity means many are now home to luxury hotels, hip bars and imaginative restaurants.

Creativity is a key part of Manchester’s identity, with musicians and artists from the city being celebrated worldwide. This is shown in its thriving cultural institutions and live music venues, plus cutting-edge events such as the Manchester International Festival. Manchester’s diversity also means that, in the surprisingly compact city centre, you can stroll between Chinatown, the Gay Village and the Northern Quarter’s street art before continuing to Ancoats’ independent restaurants.

And while its two fantastic football teams are synonymous with Manchester, did you also know that it’s a Unesco City of Literature and the birthplace of the suffragette movement? You’ll leave craving more of the city about which music mogul Tony Wilson said: “This is Manchester, we do things differently here.”

Explore our interactive map below for all the local highlights, and scroll down for our suggested day-by-day summary of the best things to see and do.

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

In this guide

How to spend your weekend

Day one: Morning

Set yourself up for a day exploring with avocado, smoked salmon and toasted seeds on rye bread at Ducie Street Warehouse then head into the Northern Quarter to admire its street art. Start in Stevenson Square as its buildings are painted every three months as part of the council-supported Out House Project. On Little Lever Street, off the square, you’ll find a mural called Serenity, which is a tribute to women who have fought against injustice.

If you’d like to be guided around the art, plus find out how the Northern Quarter became so cool, book a tour with Skyliner.

Street art in Manchester's Northern Quarter
Street art gives the Northern Quarter a unique identity


Refuel with lunch in Mackie Mayor, a huge Grade-II listed former meat market where there’s a range of independent food outlets – including sourdough pizza, steak and steaming ramen. Another historic market nearby, Manchester Craft and Design Centre, has two floors of craft studios for unique gifts.

Walk from here to Exchange Square, where you’ll find high-end shops such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, on to St Ann’s Square, passing the Royal Exchange Theatre, which was formerly one of the world centres of the cotton trade. In the domed building, trading boards have been left as they were on the day it closed in 1968.

Carry on to Deansgate, stopping to look at the neo-gothic John Rylands Library building then visit the nearby People’s History Museum to learn about inspirational people who fought for equality.

John Rylands Research Institute, Manchester
John Rylands Research Institute and Library is a late-Victorian neo-Gothic building on Deansgate


For some glamour, head to the ultra-modern No. 1 Spinningfields Tower, home to 20 Stories, a rooftop cocktail bar. Sit under the trees on its terrace and watch the sun start to go down over Manchester.

10 Tib Lane is a more laid-back affair for dinner, with generously sized small plates to share, plus high-quality natural wines and cocktails. Start your meal here with oysters by candlelight.

Fancy more cocktails after dinner? Head back to Mackie Mayor for some of the best drinks in the city at Stray. Prefer something more traditional? Order a pint of pale ale in Victorian pub, Mr Thomas’s Chop House. For more nightlife inspiration, see our guide.

20 Stories terrace, Manchester
20 Stories cocktail bar is a great place to watch the sun set over the city

Day two: Morning

Start your day in The Whitworth art gallery, allowing time to look at both the collections inside, from rare wallpaper to historic fine art, and sculptures in the surrounding gardens and park. If you’re peckish, enjoy brunch or coffee in its café, which, encased with floor-to-ceiling glass, seems to float among the trees. If you’re visiting on a Thursday or Sunday, you can also see where the first meeting of the suffragettes was held a five-minute walk away at the Pankhurst Centre. Manchester Museum (open Tuesday to Sunday) is a 10-minute walk away, too.

Walk up Oxford Road to St Peter’s Square in around half an hour (regular buses run from here to Portland Street too). Known as the Oxford Road Corridor, a combination of places to eat and cultural centres means there’s plenty to break up the stroll. 

Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, Manchester
Emmeline Pankhurst was born in the Moss Side district of Manchester


One worthwhile stop is The Refuge in the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel for small plates from around the world. If you’d rather a deliciously thin and crispy pizza, keep walking to Rudy’s on Peter Street – but book in advance.

Once you’ve eaten, look at the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in St Peter’s Square, which was unveiled to mark the centenary of British women gaining the vote, and pop into Manchester Central Library to see its spectacular reading room.

Dine at the trendy Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, Manchester
Dine at the trendy Kimpton Clocktower Hotel

From here, decide whether you’d like to dedicate your afternoon to gin or history. For gin, The Spirit of Manchester Distillery offers a tour and tasting, or longer gin-making experience (book before you visit as dates and timings vary). The distillery under Grade-II listed railway arches is where the excellent Manchester Gin is made.

Prefer history and innovation? At the Science and Industry Museum learn about Manchester’s part in the Industrial Revolution and take the children to the Experiment gallery then go for a stroll in nearby canal-side Castlefield via the Roman Fort of Mamucium. and Castlefield Viaduct.


Now relax in one of Manchester’s oldest pubs, The Briton’s Protection and try a dram from its extensive whisky collection. Hop in a taxi to Ancoats afterwards, or walk there in half-an-hour, to eat in one of the city’s most exciting restaurants. 

Book well in advance to get a table in Michelin-starred Mana and expect playful tasting menus. For a more laid-back option, tuck into small plates at Erst. For more restaurant inspiration, see our guide.

Mana restaurant, Manchester
Michelin-starred Mana offers playful tasting menus

Insider tips


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.


If you’re a fan of libraries, swap the city’s big hitters for a visit to the Portico Library on Mosley Street. The building, with a beautiful domed ceiling, is more than 200 years old and there are regular exhibitions to complement its collection of books.

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. It's only open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 11am and 2pm.

Neighbourhood watch

Next to the hip Northern Quarter, the neighbourhood of Ancoats used to be home to Manchester’s Little Italy. Now it’s known for its independent food and drink venues, such as the aforementioned Mana or Erst, plus its interesting bars and cultural venues. Live music venue, Jimmy’s, is in Ancoats too.

ANCOATS, Manchester
Ancoats is a neighbourhood on the rise - ©2022 R A Kearton/Photos by R A Kearton


Bag an excellent view from your room in King Street Townhouse without paying a hefty bill, by requesting room 56. It’s the smallest room in the hotel but, as it’s snuggled between two suites on the hotel’s fifth floor, it shares their knock-out view of the Town Hall clock – for a fraction of the price.

Did you know?

The ice-cream cone was apparently invented in Manchester in the early 1900s by ice-cream seller Antonio Valvona who was looking for a solution after penny licks (ice-cream served in small reusable glass bowls) were banned due to hygiene worries. To try some of the best ice-cream in Manchester now, head to Ginger’s Comfort Emporium in Affleck’s Palace.

City hack

If you need to lug a suitcase from one of Manchester’s city centre railway stations, or just want to rest your legs while exploring the city centre, hop on a free Metroshuttle bus rather than paying for a taxi. Some routes run until 11.30pm and there are stops in Spinningfields, Castlefield, the Gay Village, Oxford Street and more.

When to go

Manchester knows how to have a good time year-round, with a broad range of events held in its music venues, theatres and public spaces every season. Be aware that some events, such as Parklife in June, Manchester Pride in August, plus popular football matches or concerts will push hotel prices up considerably.

There are attractions and events for every type of weather in the “rainy city”. Ones worth looking up are the biennial Manchester International Festival in July and the Manchester Food & Drink Festival in autumn. The annual Christmas markets also sprawl across the centre spreading good cheer and bratwurst.

Where to stay

Luxury living

The city centre Stock Exchange Hotel, which makes fine use of the former Stock Exchange, shows off its heritage with style. Original features such as marble columns, stained glass and fireplaces sparkle, while an excellent restaurant is in pride of place in the building’s magnificent dome, formerly the trading floor.


£ 296


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Stock Exchange Hotel, Manchester
Stock Exchange Hotel is co-owned by former footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs

Boutique beauty

It's not hard to feel relaxed in King Street Townhouse, a charming 40-room boutique hotel. From its infinity spa-pool with a spectacular view of the Town Hall clock, and stylish public areas, to bedrooms you’ll struggle to leave, this is an indulgent retreat in the city centre.


£ 261


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King Street Townhouse, Manchester
The infinity spa pool on the seventh floor is the jewel in the King Street Townhouse's crown

Budget bolthole

The Cow Hollow Hotel is a hip addition to Manchester's Northern Quarter. Guests are given plenty of treats – including free prosecco and nibbles, Netflix in all rooms and milk and cookies before bed. The interiors are high-spec and many original features have been retained from the former textile warehouse it occupies.


£ 89


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Cow Hollow Hotel, Manchester
Beds in the Cow Hollow Hotel are made out of old railway sleepers

What to bring home

Manchester’s worker bee symbol is all around the city on bins, bollards and street art. Take home bee-themed items from The Manchester Shop, which regularly raises money for local charities.

There are several excellent gin brands in Manchester, so pick up a locally-distilled bottle. Try FAC51 Hacienda Gin, made by Manchester Gin in partnership with music icon Peter Hook.

Manchester Pride, Manchester
Manchester Pride is a popular time to visit - 2021 Shirlaine Forrest/Shirlaine Forrest

Essential information

Tourist board information: Visit Manchester has information on everything from what’s on to how to get around.

Manchester has excellent transport links with three main railway stations in the city centre (Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Victoria), as well as Manchester Airport around eight miles south of the city centre.

Manchester’s Visitor Information Centre is inside Manchester Central Library and is open Monday to Saturday 9.30am-4.30pm, and until 6pm on Thursdays.

About our expert

Cathy has lived in Manchester all of her life and still feels spoilt by the culture and varied dining options on her doorstep. You’ll find her chasing her children around the Whitworth or sipping G&Ts in The Refuge.