The Perfect Weekend in Manchester Itinerary

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by Adrian Fisk

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Though it’s not typically the first destination in England to spring to mind for a city break, planning a weekend in Manchester itinerary is never a bad idea if you’d like to explore this northern metropolis.

Manchester typifies the changes that many of the larger northern English cities have undergone in recent decades. Economies heavily reliant on forms of industrial practice have seen those practices necessarily replaced, revitalising and breathing new life into what was once abandoned.

Modern Manchester leaves behind clues to its strong industrial heritage but has blended these together with culture, sport and a vibrant food and drink scene. Whether you only have a day to devote to the city or are planning to spend two or more, there is no denying that the city has a lot to offer visitors.

How Many Days in Manchester?

Before jumping in to planning your trip to this Northern English city, you may be wondering how many days to spend in Manchester.

As a thriving metropolis, it can be tough to put a definitive number on this when considering just multi-faceted this city is, but plan to spend at least 2 days in Manchester if you’re keen to see all of the top sites and really get a feel for the city.

If you have a bit more time to play around with, then spending 3 days in Manchester is not a bad idea. There are lots of great things to do in the city that can easily occupy 3 full days. Alternatively, you could use an extra day to go on a day trip to visit somewhere in the surrounding area.

When to Visit Manchester

“It always rains in Manchester,” so they say, and although there may be some substance to the phrase, in reality, the weather should not put huge limitations on your visit. The city and Northwest, in general, is warmest in mid- to late- summer with the average high temperature in degrees Celsius of around the low 20s (low 70s Fahrenheit).

These months coincide with the school summer holidays so expect museums and attractions to be at their busiest. Yes, it is wet often, with just over 40% of days seeing some kind of rainfall and average temperatures in winter falling to about 4-5°C (39-41°F).

The English football season runs from August through to May, which could well mean accommodation becoming more scarce on match days when either of the two Manchester teams, United and City, are playing a home fixture.

Festivals are staged throughout the year, with summer hosting the most and biggest events such as the Parklife Festival, Manchester’s biggest music festival and Sounds of the City, which draws some big-name bands and artists.

Christmas Markets, an idea taken from continental Europe, are becoming an increasingly popular feature in English towns and cities. Manchester’s version starts in early November with over 300 stalls selling food, drink and gifts.

Manchester’s Chinatown is the third-largest in Europe, so it’ll come as no surprise that Lunar New Year is a big deal, with celebrations taking place over a period of days throughout.

Panoramic view of Manchester
Panoramic view of Manchester

Getting To & Around Manchester

Manchester is a major transport hub in the North West, therefore getting to the city from both within the UK and further afield should not be a significant issue.

The airport is the largest outside of London and caters for a lengthy list of international destinations. It has its own stop on the Metrolink tram service and a train station with services that run to the city centre every 10 minutes, 7 days a week.

In addition, there is the option to travel on the 24-hour bus. With most of these methods, it should take around the 30-minute mark to get between the airport and the city centre. Additionally, Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport is about an hour’s drive from Manchester.

The city has three main train stations- Manchester Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Victoria. These provide regional and national train links. Click here to see train timetables for your journey.

The three are connected by a free bus service.  Yes, you can travel between the three for free, which is a slogan Network Rail or the Manchester Tourist Board can have if they happen to be reading this.

Several motorways connect to the M60 which acts as the Manchester ring road. National Express and Megabus operate from Chorlton Street coach station and provide national coverage. Click here to see bus timetables for your journey.

The Metrolink tram system should make getting around Manchester relatively easy, especially in conjunction with public buses that cover the Greater Manchester Area. The free bus mentioned earlier that connects the main train stations can also be ‘hopped on’ and ‘hopped off’ at the main shopping and business areas.

A pass is available in the form of a System One Travelcard for durations lasting 1, 7 and 28 days or a year. This allows unlimited travel on the tram, train or bus, or a combination of the 3, depending on which is purchased.      

Manchester — and the city centre, in particular — is pedestrian-friendly, with local ‘City Hosts’ on hand to assist visitors with queries regarding most things tourist and it also considers itself cycle friendly, with routes and lanes that criss-cross the central areas and lead out to its environs.

Travellers spending a weekend in Manchester should find plenty of choice when it comes to hiring a car with aggregating choices from the major providers.

The city centre advertises itself as having thousands of parking spaces with some parking firms offering a pre-booking service allowing reservations in advance. If coming from London, there are also a number of great stops to consider along the way.

Trams are a great way to get around Manchester

2-Day Manchester Itinerary

If you seek to discover more about the place’s history and heritage, sporting significance- in essence, what Manchester has given to the world, then use the following as ideas and aides to populate your trip.

Day 1 – Museums & the Northern Quarter

History meets the newer, trendier side on day 1 of your 2 days in Manchester. If football’s not your thing or time is tight, then ditch the National Football Museum, perhaps for one of the suggestions in the ‘Have More Time?’ section, or spend longer exploring the Northern Quarter.

If the weather’s good in summer, a late afternoon and evening in Castlefield would round off the day well.

Science and Industry Museum

For those wanting to discover more about the city’s strong ties to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution during their weekend in Manchester, the Science and Industry Museum is a good place to start. Located in the heart of the city, the museum tells the story of the growth of industry and the development of technology with a Manchester-based narrative.

It’s always more rewarding to see and experience ‘the real thing’ as opposed to photos, drawings or models, and here that is provided in the form of the world’s oldest surviving passenger railway station with its accompanying collection of steam engines.

This is particularly poignant considering the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) was the first inter-city railway in the world. The museum has age wide appeal with interactive stands and demonstrations. It is free to enter and enjoy.

Those who aren’t particularly interested in this museum may find John Rylands Library worthwhile instead. Otherwise, there is also the nearby Manchester Art Gallery.

Turing Statue

Now for a quick stop in Sackville Park to admire the statue dedicated to famed codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing. Turing’s work at Bletchley Park enabled the cracking of the German Naval Enigma code, which many believe helped shorten World War II by years, saving countless lives.

He later took his own life by (allegedly) eating a poisoned apple — the bitten fruit becoming the logo of Apple Inc. and a tribute to the man recognised as the father of the computer age. Turing’s link to Manchester is due to the fact that during the early post-war years, he taught at the city’s university.

The Northern Quarter

The decline of much of the heavy industry and manufacturing that was the mainstay of Manchester’s economy left parts of the city derelict and thousands unemployed, a story repeated across the cities of the North during the late 20th Century.

Many of these areas have been subject to urban regeneration projects that have attracted new businesses and crowds.

The Northern Quarter of Manchester is one such example. Among the red brick buildings and street art one will find an eclectic, alternative mix of trendy independent retail outlets and a diverse range of cafés, bars and restaurants.

Piccadilly Gardens on the edge of the Northern Quarter
Piccadilly Gardens on the edge of the Northern Quarter

National Football Museum

The North West is proud of its footballing heritage as well as its industrial one, which makes it an ideal location for the National Football Museum. It’s not just for football supporters and lovers of the game (although I expect falling into one those categories probably helps), as the social and cultural impacts of the sport are also considered and explored.

There’s plenty of memorabilia to cast your eye over, notably the Jules Rimet World Cup Trophy won by England in 1966.

The Manchester Cathedral is located only a short distance from the museum, as well, for those with no interest in football or if this is something you’d also like to visit.

Day 2 – Stockport & Salford Quays

The second part of your 48 hours in Manchester concerns a look at the city during World War II in the form of the Stockport Air Raid Shelters, plus time at the renowned Salford Quays for more war, alongside art, shopping and eating. There’s about an hour’s travel time between them, hence the second day only comprising of the two suggestions.

If you don’t fancy travelling to Stockport or the shelters aren’t your thing, then consider the Gin Experience at The City of Manchester Distillery in the north of the city, to sample something a little different.

Stockport Air Raid Shelters

Ever wondered what it must have been like in a World War II air raid shelter? No? Oh, alright then, but if you change your mind and happen to be in the Stockport side of Manchester, then the Stockport Air Raid shelters could well be up your street – both literally and metaphorically.

This award-winning museum consists of a mile-long series of underground tunnels that have been recreated to give the look and feel of life in them during the 1940s.

Displays recount the personal stories of some of the several thousand locals who at one time or another, would have spent periods sheltering from German attacks beneath the city. There is a small entry fee for adults, with children under 16 free when accompanied by a paying adult.

Salford Quays

Around a 15-minute tram journey from the city centre is one of Manchester’s, and indeed the North West’s, major entertainment centres, Salford Quays.

The Quays are found towards the end of the famed Manchester Ship Canal, and in the summer it’s even possible to take the ferry all the way to Liverpool, though the journey does take some 5 hours.

Within Salford Quays itself, it’s possible to visit the Imperial War Museum North, which has thousands of objects on display including a historically significant First World War field gun and even some remnant of what was once the World Trade Center.

If art is more your thing, then perhaps spend your time in the award-winning building that is the Lowry Art Complex. These attractions are within walking distance and supplemented with a range of dining and shopping facilities.

Salford Quays
Salford Quays

Have More Time?

If the weekend in Manchester just simply isn’t long enough and you’re thinking of extending your stay to 3 days in Manchester or more, then the following may appeal:

The People’s History Museum could be well worth considering for those with an interest in the history of democracy, particularly from a British angle.  Families need not necessarily be put off by the subject matter as the museum has won an award for being child and family-friendly.

If the weather’s good, or at least abates, then 20 minutes from Salford Quays by public transport and about 5 from the Science and Industry Museum on foot, lies Castlefield. It’s not a castle as such, nor a field, but a real mix of old and new- old in the form of a Roman fort and some mills, alongside new outdoor, canal side bars and restaurants.

A relatively recent addition to the Manchester ‘to-do’ list is the multi-award-winning Gin Experience at The City of Manchester Distillery. Take a tour, learn about the gin-making process, sample the goods and dabble in creating your own unique beverage over the course of 3 hours.

Both of Manchester’s Premier League clubs, Manchester City and Manchester United, offer tours of their grounds (The Etihad and Old Trafford) with the usual stops included such as the dressing rooms, pitch and dugouts.

The port city of Liverpool is a mere hour away by car and makes for a great option for a day trip from Manchester. Famed for its iconic waterfront, being the birthplace of The Beatles and Anfield stadium, the home of the 6 times European Champions, Liverpool FC.

Manchester is well situated for a visit to two of England’s national parks. Both the Peak District and Lake District are about an hour-and-a-half’s drive away with the natural splendour of hills, lakes and mountains to enjoy. You can view day trip options here.

Inside Old Trafford - the home of Man U!
Inside Old Trafford – the home of Man U!

Where to Stay in Manchester

Motel One Manchester-Piccadilly – A great mid-range choice, this hotel is centrally located close to all of Manchester’s top attractions. There are lots of clean and comfortable rooms available and a good breakfast is included in the room rate.

Princess St. Hotel – If you’re after a bit of luxury during your stay, then this swanky hotel is a great option. There are numerous luxe rooms available, fantastic amenities, and even a couple of restaurants and bars onsite.

Private Rental – If you would rather get a local perspective during your stay in Manchester, then a private apartment rental can be a great option for you. If you would like to have your own private flat in the city (like this centrally-located flat), there are countless properties to choose from.

YHA Manchester – A great choice for those travelling on a budget or solo, this centrally-located hostel has a number of dorm and private rooms available. There are also great common areas, an on-site bar, and clean facilities.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Manchester

Town hall of Manchester
Town hall of Manchester

Figuring out the perfect route in this Northern English city doesn’t have to be a difficult task, with it having lots to offer visitors. Whether you have one day in Manchester or two or more days to spend, there is certainly enough to keep you entertained and occupied as you explore this lovely and historic city.

Are you planning to visit Manchester? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Adrian is a writer for The World Was Here First. He is a passionate world traveller and spends most of his free time travelling around his native England, jetting off to Europe and planning excursions further afield.

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