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48-hours   ›   Short breaks › Travel Inspiration  ›  North West of England

48 hours in Manchester - what to do on a weekend in Manchester

So you’re thinking of coming to Manchester for a weekend away, and who can blame you!
We’re famous for being pioneers in the industrial revolution and trailblazers in the music industry, being “mad for it” and dead friendly at the same time.
There’s a bit of everything; the city centre is hustling and bustling, with a huge variety of shops ranging from discount, high street, seriously quirky and high-end. You won’t go hungry here – there are all kinds of restaurants, cafes and takeaways absolutely everywhere and many of them are open late.
We’ve got free buses to get you around the city centre as well as the Metrolink tram system, but a lot us just get about on foot in the city centre.
Entertainment venues are everywhere, keeping our famous music scene thriving.
Up in North Manchester you can find quaint little towns in the beautiful countryside and hills, which for me are well worth visiting for a nice contrast between Manchester’s busy city life and the slower-paced life of the countryside with its gorgeous views.
Then there are areas in between such as Salford Quays and Media City which attract many visitors and for good reason.
I’ve written this itinerary as if you have a car, purely because I tend to drive when I visit other cities, however I know just as many people who don’t do that – it is possible to get around Manchester by public transport or to make it easier, just jump in a taxi. I’ve also made sure it’s adaptable for if you have the kids with you (the evening drinking activities are optional of course!) You can Google Transport for Greater Manchester to have a look at getting around via public transport.

November 2, 2021

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Friday afternoon in Manchester

Welcome to Manchester! I hope it’s not raining – that being said, make sure you bring a good umbrella while you’re out and about just in case! After you’ve checked into your hotel you’ll probably want to start with some lunch.
Now hear me out – this section is LONG, but only because I’ve written up some great directions to guide you through your first day here.
I recommend easing yourself in by heading to A Place Called Common, a popular spot for Mancunians based in the Northern Quarter. Some brand it as a place for hipsters but in Manchester that’s a good thing. They serve good food, both healthy and naughty, good drinks (they’re one of the best if you’re into the craft brew scene) and are also family friendly – me and my mates have been taking our kids here for yonks. They also play good music and often exhibit artwork from local artists. It’s no wonder this place was featured in the 25 Coolest Restaurants in Britain by The Times.

Finished eating? Let’s start by exploring the city centre. On foot is best, as this way you can take in the glorious mash up of our vintage architecture against the new and modern.
First up, I thoroughly recommend you head to Afflecks’s Palace for a very interesting browse. You probably will buy a thing or two. Affleck’s is a Mancunian treasure, an emporium filled with quirky and unique independent traders. Here you’ll find friendly shops selling everything such as neon PVC catsuits, artwork, beautiful 1950’s style dresses, soaps and vinyls, and services such as thai massage, acrylic nails and beauty. It’s a friendly place and you’ll notice our significant Manchester worker bee proudly dotted around a lot round here.

Next I recommend heading to the famous John Ryland’s library on Deansgate. Here are some directions I recommend so you get to enjoy a few more gems: from Affleck’s Palace, head towards Piccadilly Gardens and continue South-West onto Mosley Street. Not long after, turn right onto York Street (just after Toni & Guy) to get to the famous King Street. Along this route you’ll see the impressive Rosso restaurant, one of Manchester’s swankiest restaurants co-owned by legendary footballer Rio Ferdinand. Just after this you’ll see the magnificent Hotel Gotham on your left. Keep walking along King Street and you’ll enjoy the beautiful architecture – historically this area was the centre of the banking and financial industry in the North West, and you can still see the many listed buildings that have been preserved (including Rosso and Hotel Gotham.)
From King Street you can head to St. Ann’s Square via Cross Street and St. Ann’s Alley, then as you walk along the square you’ll see HSBC on your left. Turn left after that and you’ll be met with the slightly hidden yet grand cast-iron and glass entrance to Barton Arcade. Go in here and enjoy the beautiful interior of this Victorian shopping arcade that has been beautifully restored.
There are a few lovely shops, cafes, restaurants and services along the ground floor in here, including a favourite coffee spot of mine called Pot Kettle Black. If you fancy a beverage I recommend a quick stop here – you can even order it from the takeaway hatch rather than go inside the café, although I prefer to sit outside it and enjoy looking up at the intricate ceiling and balustrades.
When you come out of the other side you’ll be on Deansgate, a major road running through the city centre full of bars, restaurants, shops, art galleries etc. Turn left and start heading South – you’ll pass the House of Fraser on your right and again, notice more of the wonderful restored historic buildings. Within five minutes you’ll be outside John Ryland’s Library and it’s hard to miss – it’s a large, neo-gothic building situated right beside super modern glass buildings and the grand interior is magical. Like Hogwarts. As well as the building being absolutely stunning, wait until you see the book collection and artefacts inside. I won’t spoil the surprise. It’s free entry but they welcome donations and there’s a pretty decent gift shop at the end.
The library closes at 5pm, so you might have some time here to have a little wander around the trendy Spinningfields next door. Here you’ll find designer shops such as Emporio Armani and Mulberry, along with plenty of stylish bars and restaurants and the Crown Court right at the back.
If shops aren’t your thing I recommend scrapping that and crossing over Deansgate to get to Brazennose Street, walking along past the Abraham Lincoln statue then coming out opposite the grand Manchester Town Hall (unfortunately thus is currently being majorly renovated until 2024!). If you then walk South along Mount Street you’ll come across a brilliant round building known as Manchester Central Library situated in St. Peter’s Square. From here you can marvel at the striking external décor of the Midland Hotel, and in contrast, opposite the library you can see some of Manchester’s newly renovated architecture.

Friday evening in Manchester

I recommend a fun Friday dinner at Crazy Pedro’s on Bridge Street (the original one is in the Northern Quarter, but I like where this one is) – it serves amazing pizza but not as you know it! It’s whacky in here. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I reckon you’ll love it. They claim to have the biggest tequila and mezcal collection in Manchester here and I believe it. It’s really laid back in here and family friendly during the day (under 18’s are allowed in with adults until 8pm, then after that it gets even busier when the drinks start flowing). FYI – the whole pizzas are BIG, but you can go by the slice if you’re not that hungry.
If you’re not tempted to stay there for the rest of the evening (it’s open until 4am!) but want to drink and/or party then head to Mojo’s upstairs. Now I love this place because although it isn’t fancy and pretty small, it’s all about the music! Most of the time you can get away with the fun of table and seat dancing here, and the drinks are pretty good too.
If you fancy somewhere a bit fancier with more room, try Albert Schloss on Peter Street – look for the doorway surrounded by faux wisteria flowers! There’s a show every night in here and on some nights you can expect a cool live band on the stage one moment then sultry podium dancers on the other side of the venue the next. More chair dancing and just good fun to be had in here!

Not a party animal?
There are a ton of theatres and gig venues here too, so you can always check out shows before your visit. The Bridgewater Hall is a beautiful venue and frequently entertain with classical music and theatre, whilst the Manchester Academy has a real gritty student vibe and you’ll usually find quite the opposite to classical music. Check out their websites for show listings and tickets.

Saturday morning in Manchester

Whether you’re hungover or not, I thoroughly recommend Moose Coffee on York Street. It opens at 8am so if you’re not too done-in with booze, I’d get there early as they don’t take bookings. Good luck choosing something on the menu though, everything I’ve had from there is seriously good whether it’s sweet or savoury!
Next, it’s time to get out of Manchester city centre and seek out some fresh air and humbling views.
Hop in the car with some good walking shoes on (trainers that you don’t mind getting a bit dirty will do, maybe a raincoat if it’s drizzly) and head for the hills.
Drive up north to Ramsbottom to climb to the top of Holcombe hill and see Peel Tower – the views here are amazing, and the tower is another important part of our Mancunian history. It’s a memorial to Sir Robert Peel, who was born in north Manchester and, amongst many other things, established the Metropolitan Police Service, hence the nickname “Bobbies” for police.
You can park at Lumb Road Car park or at the The Shoulder of Mutton car park (they do expect your custom though), or there should be some road parking available. Make your way up from where you park by following the signs – it’s a fairly easy walk and takes around 30-60mins to get to the top depending on your pace. The inside of the tower is closed most of the year but that doesn’t matter, the views are worth it.

Saturday lunchtime in Manchester

Head back down into the centre of Ramsbottom; it’s a lovely little town that has kept its quaint charm, despite it being quite busy these days with its great choice of independent retailers and eateries. Here you can visit the Mouse Trap for a cheesy lunch! You may have guessed already, but this is a cheese café and it is SO good. They serve up platters and cheeseboards and they know their cheeses and wines. I recommend booking a table as this place is very popular at the weekends.
If cheese isn’t your thing then you could pay a visit to the sweet family-run Chocolate Café to try their afternoon tea – again it’s best to book in advance for this. Or you could just browse (and definitely buy) a few things from their incredible chocolate selection – check out their chocolate pizzas!

Saturday afternoon in Manchester

You’ve got to visit Media City and Salford Quays and just have a good wander around; Media City, famous for it being the new regional headquarters of the BBC since its move from London, is situated in Salford Quays so they’re right beside each other. If you’re lucky enough you might be able to spot some BBC celebrities during their breaks from filming!
In Media City you can enjoy the landscape gardens outside the BBC buildings and a selection of bars and restaurants. The little Blue Peter garden is situated within these gardens which is a nice little touch to your visit. There’s a huge open space here and you’ll see plenty of segways, rollerblading and skateboarding going on.
If the kids are with you they’ll enjoy playing here, and little ones will appreciate the statue of Upsy Daisy and Pudsey Bear outside the CBeebies studio.
On the other side you’ll see the Lowry shopping centre opposite the Lowry Theatre, which are both of course named after Manchester-born artist L.S Lowry.
The architecture around these areas is pretty fun and you can usually spot a fair bit of activity going on in the quays – in summer they often have an open swim in one of the basins here and the water sports centre nearby is popular for kayak and boat enthusiasts.
If you’re here during or after sunset you’ll see the whole place lit up with neon strip lights along the tops of all the buildings and witness the impressive bridges illuminated with multicoloured lights. The skyline here is a favourite of mine and I often visit just to relax.

Saturday evening in Manchester

Ok, you’ll need to go back to your hotel and doll up first for this one. It’s a classy affair.
Although I still haven’t been, dinner at Australasia is a must. It’s hidden beneath Spinningfields, next to John Ryland’s Library in fact. The entrance looks like a minimalistic glass pyramid with stairs descending underground.
Once inside, the décor is very stylish – think lots of white, lots of relaxed lighting and pure, utter elegance. The menu is a little pricey but I’ve been told time and time again that it’s worth it for both the food and the ambience.
It is very grown up in here however, so if you’ve got the kids with you I recommend a place I found to be great with kids whilst still being quite special called Randall & Aubin. It’s a seafood and rotisserie restaurant and although they didn’t have a children’s menu, they can still serve up something as simple as chicken and fries for kids and it’s still absolutely delicious. The interior in here is quite French-vintage, with large pieces of artwork displayed on white-tiled walls and mood-lighting all around. On entry you’re greeted with chefs preparing fresh shellfish!

Back to if you’ve not got the kids. If you’d like to carry on the classy theme with drinks I can recommend a few places. Arcane is an underground speakeasy style cocktail bar and it’s seriously cool – expect dim-lighting, exposed brick walls, old wooden flooring and bar staff who REALLY know how to make a cocktail. They’re the real deal here. It’s not overly flashy or fancy here which is exactly why this works.
If you’re after some place more glamorous with a view, Cloud 23 is situated on the 23rd floor of Beetham tower, which is that tall shiny tower you’ll have noticed while you’ve been out and about (you may have even seen it from the top of Holcombe Hill). It’s a stylish bar that has great views over Manchester all around, even from the toilets! For more views there’s also the renowned 20 Stories, which has a vibrant rooftop terrace with trees and lighting to add to the effect, as well as fire pits dotted around to add some warmth.

Again, if you’re looking for something that’s more about entertainment than bars, you could get really into the Manchester music scene. The Night and Day café in the Northern Quarter is a crucial part of Manchester’s music scene with many successful bands playing there in their early days (it was even mentioned in the famous TV series Lost). You can still go in there today and show your support to local and international musicians – check their website for upcoming gigs so you can grab tickets, as you can’t always get them on the door.

Sunday morning in Manchester

I’m taking it back to the Northern Quarter. The Koffee Pot for breakfast is one last thing you have to do in Manchester as it’s another Mancunian staple – they even proclaim to be a Manchester Institution on their website and rightly so.
They serve such good fry ups that they even serve English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh versions, as well as veggie and vegan. They’re great with kids and the general vibe is modern-retro greasy spoon.

If you’ve got time after breakfast, I recommend a museum trip. Manchester Museum is excellent whether you’ve got the kids or not, with one of the best collections you can expect including a well designed conservation area housing live tropical reptiles. The building is, again, a spectacular piece of enormous architecture and is currently being extended.
Another popular museum, which is great if you’ve got the kids, is the Museum of Science and Industry. You’ll learn a lot about our rich industrial revolution here and upstairs is a fully interactive area where kids (and adults!) can experiment with physics including light, sound and energy. A stone’s throw away fro, here is Castlefield, where the remains of a Roman fort still stand today for you to explore!
So there you have it. 48 hours in Madchester, home of the 24 hour party people. I hope you’ve had enough of a taste to see what this great city is all about and to see why I’m so proud of our incredibly diverse, multicultural and loving way of life. You’ve probably heard the quotes before that I think sum us up. “A city that thinks a table is for dancing on”, and “The thing about Manchester is… it all comes from here”, but our collective favourite of all time, “This is Manchester, we do things differently here”.

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November 2, 2021


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