The Perfect Weekend in Manchester Itinerary: Culture & Food

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Welcome to the industrial city turned cool. Manchester is a playground for culture, inventive eats, unusual shops and colourful street art. A weekend in Manchester is not a weekend wasted.

From the quirky Northern Quarter to stylish Spinningfields and historic Castlefield, there’s plenty to keep you busy during 2 days in Manchester. As well as diverse neighbourhoods, there’s fantastic cuisine (from Chinatown to the Curry Mile and many a British pub), bags of history and friendly locals.

Lots of my friends and family have lived in Manchester and it’s easily my favourite city in the north of England. I’ll share all my favourite places and my suggested Manchester itinerary before finishing with the top day trips from Manchester in case you have spare time.

Another reason to visit Manchester? The prices aren’t half bad. Whether you’re backpacking in England or visiting Manchester as a weekend away, it’s my top pick for affordability.

MANCHESTER WEEKEND ESSENTIALS

Accommodation: Booking.com
// Hostelworld

Activities: GetYourGuide / Viator

Getting there: Air
(Skyscanner) train (Trainline), bus (Busbud)

Getting around: Foot / bus / tram

In a rush? Pin this for later on Pinterest

weekend in Manchester

Getting to Manchester

By air: You can fly directly into Manchester Airport, 7 miles from the city. I use Skyscanner to get the best flight prices.

Trains from the airport to city centre (Manchester Piccadilly) start from £2.90. Book your tickets on Trainline. A Stagecoach bus service also runs 24 hours a day. Or, book a private taxi from £15.

By train: Manchester is well connected to the rest of the country. Search trains in and out of Manchester Piccadilly.

Bus: Arrive or depart Manchester Coach Station or Shudehill Interchange. I use Busbud.com to compare prices of all the UK’s major coach companies. Search buses in and out of Manchester.

The Flixbus is usually cheapest with buses to London from £1!

Looking for UK weekends away? Check out my 2-day itineraries for Oxford, the Cotswolds, Bristol, Dorset, the Lake District, Norfolk and Glasgow.

Getting around Manchester

On foot: If you stick to the city centre, you can easily explore Manchester without transport.

Free bus:
A hop-on, hop-off bus runs between Manchester’s main points of interest.

Bus: Use these to travel around Greater Manchester. Use TFM to plan your journey.

Tram: Purchase tickets for the Metrolink tram at machines beside the stops.

Train: These connect areas of Greater Manchester like Bolton, Oldham and Wigham.

Bike: There are plenty of cycle lanes around the city.

By car: It’s not recommended to drive around Manchester city centre as it’s congested and parking is expensive. However, if you’re exploring nearby towns, use Rentalcars.com to hire a car.

Statue in St Anne's Square

Manchester neighbourhoods

Here’s a quick summary of the areas you could explore during your Manchester weekend away:

  • Northern Quarter – this is my favourite part of Manchester thanks to its quirky bars, independent businesses and abundant street art. NQ is popular with young people and, although many Mancunians claim it’s lost its charm due to Airbnb and mass tourism, it’s always a good night out.
  • Spinningfields – once the financial district, this is now a stylish area with shopping centres and upmarket restaurants.
  • Ancoats – before the Industrial Revolution, this was a dodgy part of town. These days, it’s one of the coolest neighbourhoods with lots of bars and restaurants including Mana, the place that earned Manchester its first Michelin star. 
  • Deansgate – the main road that runs through Manchester. Major attractions can be found here including the Football Museum.
  • The Gay Village – a vibrant area beside the canal. Head to Canal Street for bars and clubs. 
  • Castlefield – located near Deansgate, this is an industrial and historical part of the city with a quality collection of restaurants and hotels.
Pink building Manchester
St Anne’s Square

Where to stay during a weekend in Manchester

Manchester is a city where you get great value for money (especially compared to down south) so there are plenty of options.

Hostel: YHA Manchester is easily the best place to stay on a budget. Their dorms start from £12 and include Wi-Fi, lockers, a social set up and all the rest. Check availability here.

Budget hostel: For location and price, you can’t do better than Motel One Manchester-Royal Exchange. You won’t find a flat-screen TV or Egyptian cotton sheets cheaper elsewhere! Check availability from £60.

Coolest area: To be based in the Northern Quarter, stay at Abel Heywood. This award-winning pub and boutique hotel has bespoke rooms just minutes from all the best cafes and bars. Check availability from £100.

Splurge: It’s all about luxury at Hotel Gotham. Set inside one of Manchester’s grandest buildings and featuring a 1920s New York theme, there’s even butler service available if you want it. Check availability from £130 a night.

Browse all hotels and apartments on Booking.com.

How to spend 2 days in Manchester

Two days is optimum for a first trip to Manchester. You’ll see the main attractions and have time for shopping, eating and nightlife.

Here are some of the best things to do during a weekend in Manchester.

Keep reading for my Manchester 2 day itinerary.

Begin your weekend in Manchester with brunch

brunch manchester itinerary
Start your weekend in Manchester right

Start your Manchester itinerary the best way possible: with coffee and food!

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know eating is one of my favourite ways to get immersed in a new place (plus I’m greedy). When spending a weekend in Manchester, you need to check out the brunch scene. My favourite cafes are:

Federal Cafe & Bar: Aussie food always hits the spot and Federal is no exception. I always order the veggie breakfast bagel with halloumi, poached eggs, mushrooms and rich tomato sauce. Better yet, they serve matcha lattes, my favourite treat from Japan. They have cafes in NQ and Deansgate.

Home Sweet Home: Head here to eat away any hangover. I had the Muscle Beach: steak served with scrambled eggs, a poached egg, avocado, chilli and spinach. I was dying for a brew (and apparently became Northern and started using words like ‘brew’) but got sugar envy at my friend’s hot chocolate.

Read next: cool places to eat in Manchester

Feel cultured at the galleries, museums & libraries

Manchester is a creative, arty city with plenty in the way of traditional and modern art. It’s also a fantastic place to learn about days gone by. From the suffragettes to wartime Britain and the Industrial Revolution, there are countless stories to be told.

If you have two days in Manchester, cherry-pick 1-2 places you’d most like to see.

A few of the top Manchester museums and galleries include:

Manchester Art Gallery – this is a favourite of mine. It’s a bright, experimental space on Mosley Street with ever-changing exhibitions. Stop for tea and cake at the cafe.

The Whitworth – using art for social change, this collection of 55,000 items has been named the Best Emerging Cultural Destination in Europe.

People’s History Museum – the exhibitions and galleries at this museum tell the stories of past and present Mancunians. Exhibitions in 2021 included More in Common: the Murder of Jo Cox and Crossings: community and refuge celebrating migration and Britain’s multicultural communities. 

Science and Industry Museum – focussing on the city’s achievements in these fields, this museum on Liverpool Road looks at how Manchester has changed the world.

The Lowry – set inside an abandoned quay building between Salford and Trafford, the Lowry is a gallery and theatre. Come for art and exhibitions and stay for evening shows.

Manchester Central Library – even if you’re not looking to borrow a book, this impressive library is worth a visit for the grand rooms, art galleries, history exhibitions and cafe.

John Rylands Library – this library set up the widow of John Ryland (the man credited with kickstarting Manchester’s textile industry) holds texts as ancient as Egyptian papyrus. It’s a research library which means they’re always uncovering secrets of past civilisations. The main reading room is surely one of the most impressive rooms in Manchester with serious Harry Potter vibes.

Entry costs – these museums are all free but donations are appreciated. Temporary exhibitions may be ticketed.

Explore the Northern Quarter & street art

Street art fans will be utterly spoiled in Manchester. Along with Bristol and Glasgow, it’s one of my favourite UK street art cities.

Although there’s street art all over Manchester, it’s the Northern Quarter where you’ll find the best bits. Don’t miss locations like Port Street, Tariff Street and Thomas Street from Manchester itinerary.

Suggested activity: Manchester street art tour with a local expert (£10)

While in the Northern Quarter, be sure to browse the independent shops and record stores. Piccadilly Records and Eastern Bloc are two of the best places to flip through vinyls and CDs.

Visit Chinatown

Chinatown Manchester

As well as Chinese food, you’ll find Korean, Vietnamese and more in Manchester’s Chinatown. Break up your Manchester itinerary and refuel over delicious Asian cuisine.

In terms of affordable restaurants, the New Emperor is a firm favourite. Tuck into a 2-course Chinese lunch with rice for £6! Yuzu serves delicious Japanese-style tapas as well as sushi and katsu curries. Small plates start from £3.50 and main dishes start from £7.

For later, there are awesome karaoke bars in Chinatown. I don’t have any specific recommendations but it’s easy to stumble across them.

Hit the shops

Olkahoma shop
Penguin at Oklahoma manchester weekend shopping

Manchester is a fantastic city for shopping. The Arndale has all your mainstream shops but there are also cool and quirky independents.

Best places for Manchester weekend shopping:

Oklahoma: This fun interior shop sells wall art, wacky stationery, travel gear (think arty passport covers and world maps) and other kitsch trinkets.

Affleck’s: This place might just be too cool. It’s a multi-story emporium packed with indie clothes, jewellery, trinket and record shops, plus cereal cafe, Black Milk. The bead shop had me overcome with creativity. Why aren’t I an artist, again?

afflecks palace

Sample the coffee

You can’t knock Manchester’s coffee scene. I’d recommend the following spots to unwind during 2 days in Manchester:

Coffee and cake at Fig and Sparrow
coffee shop

Fig & Sparrow: This cafe on Oldham Street has excellent coffee and cake. The chilled-out vibe and window seats are perfect for people watching.

Takk: Head to the Northern Quarter to experience this Icelandic-themed coffee shop. Despite a distinct lack of thermal lagoons, the vibe is minimalistic and Scandinavian. I opted for cold brew coffee.

Pot Kettle Black (Barton Arcade) – not only is the coffee fantastic, but visiting is a chance to wander this Victorian shopping arcade, easily one of the most ‘grammable places in Manchester.

Read next: the top coffee shops in Manchester

Takk 2 days in manchester itinerary
Coffee at Takk

Celebrate the beautiful game

Football is the reason almost everyone on Planet Earth has heard of Manchester! There are a few things footie fans can do during a weekend in Manchester…

Old trafford
Credit: nmoodley / Pixabay

Watch a match a Old Trafford – obviously the ultimate Manchester football experience is getting inside the stadium to experience the electric atmosphere of a matchday. Check the Man Utd website for everything you need to know about visiting Old Trafford

Manchester United Stadium Tour – learn about the history of the club from a local and visit Manchester United Museum, the trophy room and the players’ dressing room. Book a tour from £25.

Discover alternative Manchester 

Street art Northern Quarter
NQ street art

Once you’ve made it around the main attractions, squeeze a few hidden gems into your 2 day Manchester itinerary. 

With many of the city’s old warehouses repurposed, there’s endless scope for creativity. Manchester really isn’t a city where you’ll tick off the ‘must dos’; for me, the appeal is the quirky corners and local businesses. 

Alternative things to do during 2 days in Manchester:

  • The Washhouse – this plain shopfront posing as a laundrette conceals Manchester’s coolest cocktail bar.
  • Visit Victoria Baths – escape the city centre by visiting this Edwardian swimming pool and Turkish bath complex. Take an architecture tour, admire the modern art exhibitions or attend an antique market or foodie festival held in an empty pool.
  • Follow a treasure hunt – crack codes and find clues during this off-the-beaten-path self-guided excursion.
  • Visit Manchester Jewish Museum located in a Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, the oldest in the city.
  • The Pankhurst Centre – once home to Emmeline Pankhurst, this museum tells the story of womens’ fight to vote.

Suggested tours: Alternative Northern Quarter walking tour (£10) – learn about musicians, check out movie locations and stop for photo opps.

‘Rock & Goal’ walking tour (£11) – discover Manchester’s secret spots and quirky history.

Explore the Gay Village

Manchester gay village

The gay quarter of Manchester isn’t just for nights out. This vibrant area beside the canal attracts LGBT+ tourists from around the world. In the daytime, it’s great for wanders with views of the boats.

Make sure to visit the Alan Turing Memorial dedicated to the pioneer of modern computing who took his life after being accused of ‘gross indecency’ (homosexual acts when they were still illegal). A plaque beside him reads Father of Computer Science, Mathematician, Logician, Wartime Code Breaker, Victim of Prejudice.

Foodies shouldn’t miss the Alice-in-Wonderland-themed Richmond Tea Rooms. Indulge in afternoon tea washed down with Champagne.

But of course, the area really comes to life at night. Visit Canal Street for booming bars and drink deals.

Evening entertainment in Manchester

There’s plenty to do at night in Manchester whatever day you visit. If you’re more about theatre and performance than clubbing, consider catching:

  • A concert at Albert Hallthis Grade II listed chapel is now a music venue hosting international musicians, comedy, cabaret and more.  
  • Performance at the Royal Exchange Theater – inside one of Manchester most beautiful buildings is the city’s premier performance venue. Check what’s on.
  • Art and shows at the Lowry – as well as an art gallery, this once-derelict dock now hosts musicals, dance shows, concerts and comedy. Check what’s on.
  • Live music at the Deaf Institute – enjoy gigs at this well-loved venue and basement bar.

Manchester weekend nightlife

If there’s one thing Manchester’s not short of, it’s free-flowing drinks on the weekends. Whether you’re looking for fancy cocktails or an all-night rave, you’ll find it.

  • For beer – don’t miss Alberts Schloss, a German-style ‘beer palace’ with homemade Schnapps and a ‘push for Prosecco’ button on each table (yes please!)
  • Quirky – Cane & Grain has three floors including a tiki bar and skatepark!
  • Speakeasy – hidden, prohibition-themed bars include Behind Closed Doors and Dusk til Pawn, both unsurprisingly in the Northern Quarter.
  • Glamorous – Cloud 23 is worth a visit for fancy cocktails and panoramic views from the penthouse bar.
  • For late night dancingRevolution de Cuba is a Cuban-themed club and Liars Club is a tiki bar open ’til 4am. Both have fun music and lengthy cocktail lists.
  • LGBT+ – Canal Street is where it’s at. Best bars include Velvet, the Molly House, Via and Kiki.
  • Rave – Warehouse Project is the ultimate weekend night out.

Suggested Manchester itinerary for 2 days

Here’s my suggested Manchester itinerary for a first trip.

Saturday:

  • Morning: arrive and check in to your accommodation
  • Take a Free Manchester walking tour or independently explore the main sights like Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester Town Hall, the Gay Village, John Rylands Library and Manchester Central Library
  • Stop for lunch in Chinatown
  • Afternoon: Visit the Modern Art Gallery (or another museum of your choice)
  • Spot street art in the Northern Quarter
  • Evening: Drinks in the Northern Quarter (quirky), Spinningfields (fancy) or Canal Street (LGBT+).

Sunday:

  • Morning: Nurse your head with brunch and coffee
  • Discover alternative sights solo or with an alternative MCR tour or a street art tour – or head on a football stadium tour
  • Afternoon: Shop in the Arndale Centre or at the independents
  • Head to the Science & Industry Museum (or another museum or gallery)
  • Stop for coffee at Takk, Fig + Sparrow or Pot Kettle Black in Barton Arcade
  • Enjoy an early dinner along the Curry Mile before heading home.
Street art on industrial building
Northern Quarter quirks

Where to eat during a weekend in Manchester

Home to communities and cultures from around the world, Manchester has everything from fine dining to cheap eats, quality Asian cuisine and criminally underrated (and underpriced!) restaurants. It’s a foodie wonderland.

If you have 2 days in Manchester, squeeze in a few of the following:

  • Tattu – although it’s pricey with mains starting at £18, you won’t find better modern Asian food in more ambient surroundings.
  • Winter Garden at Refuge – sample cocktails and fusion tapas in this stylish indoor garden and dining room. Asian, Mexican and Spanish small plates start from £5. 
  • FRESS – visit for delicious burgers (including inventive waffle burgers), decadent brunch dishes and dessert. I had French toast with ice cream and berry compote. For a weekend treat, upgrade to bottomless brunch.
  • The Curry Mile – although there are many Indian restaurants, you can’t do better than Ziya‘s flavoursome veggie, chicken, lamb and fish curries starting from £8. Check out My Lahore for funky British-Asian brunch.
  • Rudy’s Pizza – everyone knows these guys serve the best pizza in town!
French toast at Fress
Fress French toast – an essential Manchester itinerary stop

Read next: Cool Manchester restaurants

Suggested food tours in Manchester:

Best food markets in Manchester:

  • Grub (Green Quarter) – visit for food fairs and plant-powered Sundays. There’s pizza, Korean food and fancy kebabs to name but a few.
  • Mackie Mayor (Northern Quarter) – this food hall in a Grade II listed building is one of the best places to eat on a budget. Top picks include Honest Crust Pizza and Fin Fish Bar.
  • Escape to Freight Island (Piccadilly) – this outdoor space with food vendors, bars and live entertainment is the place to be during summer.
  • Society (city centre) – this stylish indoor market has Korean food, burgers, Indian street food and more
  • Hatch (Oxford Road) – outside but undercover, this pop-up market has vintage clothes and fantastic food. Eat Vietnamese fare from a double-decker bus or chow down on halloumi fries at MorMor Eats.

Read next: 10 cheap eats in Manchester

Where to next?

After 2 days in Manchester, you might think about the following stops in the north of England:

  • Liverpool – this city is famous for the Beatles, football and nightlife. To enjoy a day trip to Liverpool, you can catch a train from Piccadilly from £2! Read about the best things to do in Liverpool during winter here.
  • Leeds – another urban base for shopping, eating and drinking. It’ll take you an hour on the train from Manchester.
  • The Lake District – this gorgeous region an hour and a half’s drive from Manchester was one of my favourite trips of 2017. Travel there independantly using my Lake District itinerary or book a guided Lake District day tour from Manchester.
  • The Peak District – even closer to Manchester is the captivating Peak District with countless mountain hikes. Train stations like Buxton and Edale can be reached from Manchester Piccadilly in 40 minutes for £12 return. Bargain!

Read next: all the best day trips from Manchester by train

Lake Windermere Lake District
Lake District

I hope you’re feeling a bit better educated about what to do and see during your Manchester weekend!

TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING THE UK

Getting there & around by air – I use Skyscanner to find the best-value flights, using the ‘search by month’ tool to find the cheapest dates. You can also use the ‘to anywhere’ feature if you’re flexible on where you’re going.

Car hire – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals and campers in the UK (and all around the world).

For UK trains, I use Trainline. The search feature allows you to compare prices, and they show live departure times on the website.

For buses, I use busbud. It’s the only site that compares UK coaches and buses. Find London to Manchester journeys for £1! 

For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.

Browse UK tours and activities on GetYourGuide.

Pack the latest copy of Lonely Planet UK.

Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance.

Thanks for reading!

I hope you have a better idea of how to spend a weekend in Manchester. It’s one of my favourite UK cities so you’re bound to have a blast!

If you’re looking for England inspo, check out some of my other posts:

See you next time for more adventures,

Rose

Ps. Liked this weekend in Manchester weekend itinerary? Pin it for later!

manchester 2 days

2 thoughts on “The Perfect Weekend in Manchester Itinerary: Culture & Food

  1. Hannah denton says:

    Manchester is so cool, you’ve captured some amazing highlights!

  2. Shana says:

    Honestly, such a great insight to some of the best places the city has to offer. Very well done!

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