Manchester, England is full of interesting history. The city boomed in the 19th century when it became the first industrialized city, but then faced a steep decline as manufacturing left England.
Today, Manchester is revitalizing. Visiting here lets you see lots of historic streets, eat at some of the trendiest restaurants outside London, and enjoy a thriving business district. The city is most famous for its football (soccer) teams. It has two — Manchester United and Man City — and there’s a big rivalry between the two sides. Catch a game if you can!
This travel guide to Manchester can give you an idea of what to see and do on a budget!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Manchester
1. Visit Manchester Art Gallery
2. See the Godlee Observatory
3. Hang out in Albert Square
4. See Manchester Cathedral
5. Become a football fanatic
Other Things to See and Do in Manchester
1. Explore the University of Manchester
More than just a beautiful campus to walk through, the university is also the place where the first computer was built and where radio astronomy (the study of space using radio waves) was created. Visit the Manchester Museum which is located on campus (free entry) and includes exhibitions covering the span of history. The permanent collection of over four million objects features dinosaur skeletons, mummies from Ancient Egypt, and scientific equipment from Charles Darwin to Alan Turning. The museum also hosts regular events and special exhibitions (just check the website for details).
2. Walk along Curry Mile
Take a walk down Curry Mile in South Manchester. The stretch of Wilmslow Road is lined with restaurants, sari shops, and jewelry stores. Manchester has a lot of South Asian immigrants, and you’ll find great Indian & Pakistani food and curries here (hence the name). One of the most popular restaurants along Curry Mile is Mughl.
3. Stroll down Market Street
At the northwest corner of Piccadilly Gardens, Market Street is a short stretch of bustling activity day and night. Between the Gardens and the nightlife-heavy Deansgate, you’ll find many retail shops, cheap eateries, and street performers. It’s popular with Manchester’s younger population.
4. Visit Castlefield
This site of an original Roman settlement is a good place for history buffs. The Castlefield area is at the center of Manchester’s canal network and was once a transport nexus for the city, but is now a favorite hangout for Manchester’s alternative scene. The famous Haçienda warehouse nightclub was located along the Rochdale Canal when it was open in the 1980s and 1990s. Its former location is part of the current Lesbian & Gay Heritage Trail, but visit the area today to get a glimpse of Manchester’s current alternative music scene at the many pubs or the large Rebellion music venue.
5. Tour the Manchester Town Hall
This beautiful neo-Gothic masterpiece is a symbol of the wealth and power of Manchester during the Industrial Revolution. Free tours can be arranged and the staterooms are open to visitors when not in use. This place was built during the height of Manchester’s industrial influence. The main entrance features a Roman sculpture to mark the city’s historical past as a Roman colony.
6. Learn about the Lesbian & Gay Heritage Trail
The gay scene in Manchester is considered to be one of the best in England. At the tourist office, you can pick up the Gay & Lesbian Village Guide, which lists tons of bars, galleries, clubs, and groups that cater to the community. The trail itself is a 90-minute walking tour of the city’s pink links. Keep an eye out for rainbow tiles placed in the sidewalk in front of historical LGBTQ sites throughout Manchester. For a taste of the city’s gay nightlife, visit Canal Street which is a pedestrian-heavy spot of LGBTQ bars, clubs, restaurants, and cafes every day and night. You can expect to find drag queens every evening promoting their shows at various venues along Canal Street.
8. Experience the nightlife
Manchester’s club scene is one of the biggest in England. Many big names, such as Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk, started out playing at places like Sankey’s and FAC 251. Visit the Deansgate Locks for a rowdy row of swanky clubs and sports bars set inside the railway arches. Nearby, Oxford Road is home to several cool nightlife spots, including the Gorilla Club which regularly hosts live music. Visit the Gay Village, mostly along Canal Street, where you’ll find all the gay and lesbian clubs like G.A.Y. (great for a cheap night out) or the lively gay pub The Thompson’s Arms. For more alternative and edgier bars and clubs, head out to the bohemian Northern Quarter. The former industrial area has been transformed into a cultural hub with bars, clubs, and secret underground parties.
9. Visit Sackville Gardens
Bordered on one side by the Gay Village’s Canal Street, the Sackville Gardens is a small park with a few important historical monuments. It’s also the meeting point for Free Manchester Walking Tours. If you visit on your own, though, don’t miss the important Alan Turing memorial. Turing, known as the “father of modern computing” and a gay icon, lived and worked in Manchester and had an instrumental role cracking the famous Enigma code. Also in the garden, there’s a Transgender Remembrance Memorial honoring transgender victims of violence. A third LGBTQ memorial, the Beacon of Home, is the UK’s only permanent memorial for people living with HIV or AIDS and lives lost to it.
10. Explore the People’s History Museum
Set in a former Edwardian pumping station, the People’s History Museum showcases Britain’s battle for democracy over two centuries through historical displays of working class life. This includes a fascinating interactive display that follows five generations of the same family as each generation is impacted by these events. Rotating exhibitions feature socially relevant themes such as climate protests, immigration, and worker rights. Admission is free.
11. Take a free walking tour
Free Manchester Walking Tours start in the historic Sackivlle Gardens and offer a great overview of the city’s past as well as its present. You’ll cover all the major neighborhoods on a tour and discover some great hidden gems along the way. The tours also highlight some of Manchester’s iconic street art and graffiti in the Northern Quarter. Be sure to tip your guide.
Manchester Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During peak season, you can find dorm rooms with 10 or more beds for about £15 ($18 USD) per night no matter where you are in the city. Rooms with 4-8 beds cost from about £30 ($36 USD) per night. Off-season, prices tend to be about £14 ($18 USD) per night for the larger dorms and about £21 ($27 USD) per night for dorms with 4-8 beds.
A basic twin private room with a shared bathroom for two people costs about £45 ($55 USD) per night in peak season. In the off-season, prices are about the same.
Campgrounds are plentiful outside the city, though you may need a vehicle to reach them. If you have a tent, they will cost you between £10-20 ($12-24 USD) per night.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about £40 ($50 USD) in peak season. In the off-season, budget rooms start from about £34 ($42 USD).
There are lots of Airbnb options in Manchester. A shared room (like a bed in a dorm) averages about £16 ($20 USD) per night, while a private room is about £25 ($30 USD) per night. A full apartment averages about £50 ($61 USD) per night.
Food – To eat out as cheaply as possible stick to the cafes and pubs where you can eat lunch for £8 ($10 USD), including classic fish and chips. Fast food (think McDonald’s) will cost you from around £5 ($6 USD) for a meal. There are a lot of food stalls in and around Picadilly Circus, and if you walk north through the Northern Quarter, you’ll be able to find lots of different cheap eateries. Try Northern Soul Grilled Cheese for artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches for around £5 ($6 USD). Chinatown is another great spot to find good deals of food. Wong Wong Bakery sells Chinese buns, cakes, and pastries in a very informal setting and is a local favorite.
If you want to splurge and get a decent meal in a sit-down restaurant, expect to pay from £22 ($27 USD) for a main like seafood or pasta, including a drink. A sirloin will cost from about £30 ($37 USD). A glass of wine is from £6 ($7 USD).
Manchester is filled with markets selling local and fresh meats, cheeses, wine, fruits, and vegetables. If you choose to cook and take advantage of these markets, groceries will cost you between £30-50 ($37-61 USD) per week.
Backpacking Manchester Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Manchester, expect to spend about £45 ($60 USD) per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, public transit, street food and cooking your own meals, and mostly free attractions. If you’re traveling during the shoulder season, you can reduce this budget by a few dollars each day for accommodations.
This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodations or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!
A mid-range budget of about £100 ($130 USD) will cover staying in a private Airbnb room, eating out for most of your meals, public transit, and about one paid attraction each day.
On a luxury budget of about £361 ($470 USD) or more per day, you can get an excellent four-star hotel, eat at nice restaurants, have some drinks, and take a few taxis. You’ll also enjoy a tour or a few attractions. The sky is the limit!
If you come in the low season, you’ll save about 25% on hotels.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Manchester Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Manchester is a great destination for budget travelers. The free museums, many cheap eats, and budget accommodation make it easy to have a lot of fun with a small budget. You can fill your day with a lot of activities like sightseeing, and people-watching without having to spend much at all. Here are my top ways to save money when you visit Manchester:
- Eat lunch out, dinner in – If there’s one consistency in food prices in England, it’s that the best deals can be found by eating pub lunches. While dinners can cost upwards of 20 GBP, you can normally find lunch in a pub for 6-10 GBP. Because of the big university population in Manchester, you’ll also find a lot of small restaurants offering set lunch prices at a great deal. Eat your lunches out, and cook your own dinners.
- The public buses are free – Manchester offers free transport around the city via their “free bus” service (formerly called Metroshuttle) which links to the main rail stations, shopping areas and other businesses in the city center.
- Couchsurf – If you want to save money and get some local insight into the city, be sure to try couch surfing. Staying with a local is the best way to get a feel for the city, and they will no doubt have some tips and tricks to make the most out of your visit.
- Take a free walking tour – If you want to get a sense of the city, try a free walking tour. You’ll learn the history of Manchester while getting to explore on foot. Tours usually last a couple hours, and they often don’t need to be booked in advance. Free Manchester Walking Tours offers a three hour tour several times per week covering all the main sights and you don’t need to book in advance — just show up! The tour meets each morning in Sackville Gardens.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
Where To Stay in Manchester
While the city may be expensive, its popularity means there are lots of hostels in the city. I can’t tell you how many hostels I’ve stayed in over the years. After all those stays, here are some of my favorite hostels in Manchester:
- Hatters on Newton Street
- Hatters on Hilton Street
- Selina NQ1 Manchester
How to Get Around Manchester
Public Transportation – Manchester’s city center is easily walkable, though there’s also a “free bus” (that’s the name, in lowercase) that runs through the city center. Pick up a map of the free bus routes from your hostel or hotel. The free buses run Monday through Saturday up until 10pm. Ask for a map of the bus routes from your accommodation or one of the Manchester Visitor Information offices.
The city also has an above-ground tram system called Metrolink that connects to the outer neighborhoods. Single rides cost £1.40 ($1.70 USD) or a day pass is just £2.70 ($3.30 USD).
To get from the airport to the city center, the quickest and easiest way is via the National Rail train service. Trains run every 10 minutes between Manchester Piccadilly and the airport. Train prices are £4.20 ($5.10 USD) during off-peak travel times, or otherwise £5.60 ($6.80 USD).
Bicycle – Manchester does not currently have a public bike-sharing program, but there are some rental shops in the city. The city is very bike-friendly and there are cycle lanes and dedicated routes along most major routes in the city. Dockless bikes-for-hire were available in the city previously, and current government initiatives to institute a public bike-sharing program are still being developed.
Taxis – Taxis are readily available, or can easily be called by a hotel from desk if needed. You can also use an app such as “mytaxi” to order your ride. Given how expensive they are, I wouldn’t take one unless absolutely necessary.
When to Go to Manchester
As a northern England city, Manchester has more cool temperatures than London further south, but it’s still England and still regularly grey with occasional bouts of sunshine.
Summer is the peak tourism season, with temperatures warmer, but rarely above 70°F (21°C). The summer season is also festival season, so look out for big events taking place on particular weekends when prices might go up and hostels are full. Big festivals like Picnic in the Park, Parklife, and Manchester Pride attract the biggest crowds, so check their festival dates to make sure they don’t coincide with your travel plans (or else be expected to pay premium rates).
Spring (late March to June) and autumn (September to November) are also fantastic times to visit, as temperatures are mild, and it’s drier than other times throughout the year. Winter (late November to February) sees temperatures just above freezing, sometimes up to 40°F or 50°F (6°C to 10°C). While the sun sets early in Manchester during this time, it’s not unbearable, and the city is still bustling with life and plenty of activities.
How to Stay Safe in Manchester
Manchester is pretty safe and the risk of violent crime is low. Scams and pick-pocketing can occur around high traffic areas, especially in a lot of the nightlife scene, which is a big part of Manchester’s culture. Pick-pocketers tend to work in teams, so stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. The Canal Street nightlife area has seen a recent rise in petty crimes, and the dark roads and alleys in the Northern Quarter may be uncomfortable to walk alone. Stay vigilant and aware, though, and you should be fine.
You can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Although there are no particularly seedy neighborhoods in Manchester, avoid wandering around late at night alone just to be extra safe.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, go elsewhere. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
As a general rule, if you don’t do something at home, don’t do it in Manchester!
Thanks to a few high-profile terrorist attacks and riots across Europe, I frequently get emails inquiring whether or not Europe is safe to visit. The short answer: yes! I wrote a whole post about why Europe is safe to visit.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Manchester Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Manchester. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and, overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around England, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Manchester Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to Manchester, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack.
The Best Backpack for Manchester
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Manchester
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier. The tap water is safe to drink here. This is just to cut down plastic bottle usage!)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Manchester Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson
It’s pretty impossible to not love anything Bill Bryson writes. After spending nearly 20 years living in Great Britain, Bryson decides to return to the United States. (To quote him: “I had recently read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me.”) But first he sets out on a tour of his adoptive country, delivering hilarious social commentary on the nation that brought us Shakespeare and zebra crossings.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s most popular novel is one of those classics you read and can’t ever forget about it. It’s famous for a reason. When Elizabeth Bennet meets an arrogant bachelor named Fitzwilliam Darcy, she immediately brushes him off as too conceited – and he immediately ignores her good looks and charm. Elizabeth discovers that Darcy has become involved in the disastrous relationship of his friend Bingley and her sister Jane, which further deepens her disdain. What follows is an excellent commentary on England’s snobbish middle-class life, and the dangers of judging someone by first impressions.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
This is Emily Brontë’s only novel, but itsa impact has withstood the test of time. The story focuses on Lockwood, the newest tenant of Thrushcross Grange on the Yorkshire moores who is forced to seek shelter one evening at Wuthering Heights (the home of his landlord). He soon uncovers a love story between a gypsy orphan named Heathcliff and high society’s Catherine Earnshaw. She eventually succumbs to societal pressure and marries the well-bred Edgar Linton, and Heathcliff’s bitterness is cast upon the next generation. Somehow, the couple’s heirs must escape this painful legacy.
Sorry!: The English and Their Manners, by Henry Hitchings
The Brits are notorious for their polite behavior and the importance of having proper manners, and this book from Henry Hitchings is an investigation into this phenomenon. It isn’t just holding doors open and keeping your elbows off the table, either – there’s a whole system for things like sexual conduct, hospitality, chivalry, online etiquette, and so much more. This is a funny, upbeat read about British manners and what it all says about the English character.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
An English reading list without Charles Dickens isn’t a reading list of all! The book is about the course of orphan Pip Pirrip’s life as he is transformed from a poor boy begging for soup to the heir of a mysterious inheritance from an unknown person. Dickens takes us through Pirrip’s life as he abandons his apprenticeship to a blacksmith named Joe Gargery and then takes up a new station as a proper English gentleman. Dickens is a masterful storyteller.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Manchester
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Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
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Manchester Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling England and continue planning your trip: