Many travelers focus on London when planning a visit to the U.K., but Manchester is one of England's most interesting cities, with lots to see and do. The city is the home of Manchester United, as well as numerous iconic museums and innovative restaurants. It's a two-hour train ride from London, so it's easy to include Manchester on a U.K. trip. To make the most of a few days in the city, here is a complete 48-hour itinerary featuring Manchester's best museums, bars, and restaurants.
Day 1: Morning
9 a.m.: After landing at Manchester Airport or taking the train up from London, check in to the Stock Exchange Hotel, a centrally located hotel set in the former Manchester Stock Exchange. The hotel, which combines contemporary furnishings with a historic feel, puts you right in the heart of Manchester, with popular shops, restaurants, and bars all within walking distance.
10 a.m.: Start off by exploring the neighborhood, including Piccadilly Gardens and the Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Park. Stop by Dishoom Manchester for breakfast; the Indian restaurant, which also has outposts in London, is famed for its bacon naan roll, which will sustain you for a day of walking around the city. Be sure to add a steaming hot cup of house chai to your order. If you need any extra caffeine boost, head to Takk, a Nordic-inspired coffee house on Tariff Street.
11 a.m.: Manchester was the home of the first meeting of the women's suffrage movement, which you can celebrate by visiting the Pankhurst Centre. The museum is set in the former home of Emmeline Pankhurst and details the story of women’s historic fight for the right to vote. Entry is free, but donations are encouraged.
Day 1: Afternoon
1 p.m.: Pop by for a casual lunch at Mackie Mayor, a food hall filled with vendors and communal tables in Manchester's Northern Quarter. Built in Smithfield's Grade II Listed 1858 Market, the hall is a lively spot with lots of options for even the pickiest diner. It's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but lunch is a good time to explore the stalls, which sell everything from pizza to bao buns to fresh-cooked fish. On your way out, be sure to pick up a drip coffee from Atkinsons.
2 p.m.: Grab a ticket to the National Football Museum, which is open Thursday through Sunday throughout the year. The galleries are spread out over four floors and include lots of family-friendly info on England's favorite sport. There are regular exhibitions featuring items from the collection as well as temporary exhibits, so check online in advance to see what's coming up and to take advantage of any special events.
If you're in town on a day when Manchester United has a home game, it's worth scoring a ticket to see a match at Old Trafford, the largest soccer club stadium in the U.K. If there's no game on, grab a ticket to the Manchester United Museum & Stadium Tour to explore the stadium from behind the scenes.
4 p.m.: If you haven't gotten caught up in a soccer match, finish off your afternoon at the Manchester Art Gallery, located not far from the hotel. Its works span six centuries and are housed in expansive collections, so there's a lot to see. Luckily, it's free, which means there's no pressure to make it to every gallery. Check the museum's website for special exhibitions and events before visiting.
Day 1: Evening
7 p.m.: For dinner, venture into Stockport Old Town to find Where The Light Gets In, an intimate restaurant located in an old coffee warehouse. It's small, with the open space functioning as both the kitchen and the dining room, and you'll learn all about where the ingredients come from with every dish. It's one of those places you want to reserve in advance, so plan ahead.
9 p.m.: After dinner, seek out small bar The Good Rebel, which opened in early 2020 and can be found on Mealhouse Brow in Stockport’s Market Place. It's a laidback spot with good music and good cocktails, and it's a great spot to mingle with the locals. From there, stop by Remedy Bar & Brewhouse, another casual bar with strong brews. If you need a night cap, head back into Manchester central for a margarita at Revolucion De Cuba Manchester, which stays open until 3 a.m. on the weekends.
Day 2: Morning
9 a.m.: Start the day off right with brunch at Cottonopolis, located in the Northern Quarter. The Japanese-inspired spot is known for their morning offerings, which include a buttermilk waffle with grilled pineapple and a pork katsu sando served on milk loaf bread. It's worth booking in advance, especially on the weekends. For something more low key, try the nearby Ezra and Gil, a coffee shop with an all-day brunch menu.
10:30 a.m.: Take some time post-brunch to explore the shops around Manchester, especially in the Northern Quarter. The city has everything from big department stores like John Lewis and Selfridges, to vintage shops and boutiques. The designer goods can be found on King Street, Spinningfields and New Cathedral Street, while the Northern Quarter is best for vintage clothes and record shops. If you've rented a car, consider venturing out of the city to search for deals at the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet, which has more than 140 stores.
Day 2: Afternoon
1 p.m.: There are a lot of great restaurants to choose from in Manchester, but since you're in England you should experience a classic pub lunch. Head to The Old Wellington, which dates back to 1552 and has a long history in the city. The menu is traditional and rustic, with options like fish and chips and burgers, and you'll want to pair your food with a pint of whatever is on tap. Those in town on a Sunday should order up a Sunday roast, an English tradition that involves roast meat, vegetables and a Yorkshire pudding under a pile of gravy. The Old Wellington serves theirs with beef, chicken, or a vegetarian-friendly nut roast.
3 p.m.: Select from a long list of cool museums, many of which are ideal for families. The Whitworth is great for art lovers, while the Imperial War Museum North centers on the impact of modern day conflict around the world. If you've had enough of museums, strap on a pair of skis or a snowboard at Chill Factore, the U.K. longest indoor ski slope. There's a snow park, climbing wall, and even ski lessons for those who want some practice.
If you prefer to spend the afternoon relaxing, book into the spa at historic hotel The Midland, which has been part of the city's landscape for 115 years. The hotel's high-end Rena Spa boasts everything from relaxing treatments to sleep chambers to steam rooms, and you can't go wrong with a dip in the heated relaxation pool. It's a good place to unwind solo, or go as a couple or in a group. Try to book your treatments in advance when possible.
Day 2: Evening
6 p.m.: Book in for a pre-theater meal at Hawksmoor, a chic steakhouse that's a favorite around the U.K. It's close to most of the theaters, which makes it easy to have a quick dinner before a show. Opt for two or three courses, and go all out with the rump steak with chips as your main course (though they do also cater to vegetarians). It's best to reserve a table in advance, though you can gamble at the last minute by trying to score some seats at the bar.
7:30 p.m.: Celebrate Manchester's artistic side with a show at the Manchester Opera House, which first opened in 1912. It features everything from popular musicals like "Mamma Mia!" to comedy shows and music events. It's recommended to book tickets in advance, but you might have some luck on the day if you visit the box office or look online for discounted offers. The Palace Theatre Manchester is another good bet for those looking to see a play or musical.
10:30 p.m.: For a post-theater cocktail, cozy up to the bar at boutique property Cow Hollow Hotel. The hotel's Plantation Bar serves up wine and cocktails in a cool, intimate room with only four stools. For something rowdier, snag a pint at the Castle Hotel, a lively pub with its own live music hall. It's a great spot to cap off your Manchester experience, particularly if there's an event on that night.