I couldn’t wait to write this first timer’s guide to Manchester, England after my return. Spending five days in this city was one of those trips that put a smile on my face — mostly because the city took me by surprise, showing me just how many incredible things there are to do in Manchester. My knowledge is limited when it comes to England. In fact, the last time I spent a proper amount of time was in 2014 in London, so when the opportunity to visit a city that is widely known for its diversity and history, as well as its immersive opportunities for travelers, I was smitten.
I took the direct flight from SFO with Virgin Atlantic, and it was one of the smoothest flights I have taken in a while. The service on board was wonderful and set the tone as to what to expect of British hospitality. Upon arrival, I hit the ground running. Manchester’s towering buildings offer homes to incredible spaces like cafes, historic libraries dating back to medieval times, and plenty of street art blended into the brick walls. The energy of the city was buzzing — it was the semifinal of the World Cup and England was playing Croatia. Watching the city come alive, come together, and cheer on their team was one of those moments I’ll never forget.
The days in Manchester were spent wandering through the Northern Quarter, with walks along the river whilst discovering the deep roots in history that have forever shaped the city. Did you know that this is where the first atom was split? Or that the modern computer was invented here? Neither did I. That is how surprising Manchester was. Combine this with an art scene unlike anywhere else I’ve been, world-class food, and incredible design, it is no wonder that it all starts in Manchester.
The First-Timer’s Guide to Manchester, England
Getting to Manchester, England
As a hub for direct flights from across the world, getting to Manchester has never been easier. Virgin Atlantic offers nonstop flights from major hubs like San Francisco and Boston. I’d recommend upgrading yourself and getting access to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at SFO as it’s an incredible lounge to kick start your journey. Craft cocktails with a full restaurant menu mean you’ll be set for your journey across the pond. For arrival, I’d recommend pre-purchasing FastTrack to pass the lines at Passport Control and purchasing it for departure to be in an expedited security line — the £5 (a little over $6) is worth it.
*It is good to note that you will need extra time upon departure for security to get through.
Getting to and from Manchester Airport, there are direct trains to Manchester Piccadilly Station in the heart of the city, which take around 20 minutes. Alternatively you could pre-book a transfer.
On ground, the city is easy to explore by foot. There are trams available to get around, and, for a quick ride, an Uber is available as well. For any day trips to nearby cities, the extensive train system is a great option.
Where to Stay in Manchester, England
The Lowry Hotel: I spent my nights here at this hotel while in Manchester. Well located along River Irwell, the hotel is clean and modern, offering a contemporary, luxurious space for guests. The rooms are well appointed and the beds are ever so comfortable. In the morning, I would go down for breakfast, enjoying the scenic views and good food to start the day.
Where to Eat in Manchester, England
- Albert’s Schloss: This was one of my favorite meals in Manchester as the food was incredible and the space was stunning. It has traditional German-style food and serves beer on tap. This place is great for brunch, midweek lunch or dinner!
- The Refuge: If you’re looking to work your way through one spot in Manchester, this is definitely it. With multiple spaces — from a bar to a winter garden to a restaurant — you could easily spend an entire evening here. I’d recommend dinner and sharing multiple plates, like the cured salmon, burrata, and chorizo, with friends.
- Foundation Coffee House: I would head here for a great coffee and a light breakfast. They also serve a wonderful espresso soft serve, which is so refreshing on a summer afternoon.
- The Washhouse: One of the nights we stopped into this hidden bar behind a laundromat. You’ll need to reserve in advance to get a password to get in, but, once inside, expect incredible cocktails served in the most wonderful way. Think a drink served in its own terrarium.
- Mackie Mayor: For the food hall lovers, this beautiful space hosts a multitude of restaurants to choose from. It’s a good spot to go with friends as everyone can grab something here.
- Cottonopolis Food & Liquor: I didn’t make it to this spot, but it came highly recommended by a local for good Asian-inspired dishes in a modern space.
- Hawksmoor Manchester: We stopped in to see the space and, unfortunately, didn’t have the chance to eat here but another one of those highly recommended restaurants for dinner or lunch.
- Evelyn’s Cafe Bar: Though the line can be long, this famous brunch spot is a classic for Manchester.
- Fig & Sparrow: Another spot to check out for breakfast and coffee.
What to Do in Manchester, England
- Explore the Northern Quarter: One of my favorite neighborhoods was certainly the Northern Quarter for the amount of eateries and fun shops. I loved the Oklahoma MCR store, Fred Aldous store for art/photography, and a stop into the Deadstock General Store.
- Visit a Harry Potter-like library: If you’re a history lover or want to be amazed by stunning architecture, I couldn’t recommend the John Rylands Library more. It’s like a scene out of a movie and this library from 1900, is worth a visit!
- Enjoy afternoon tea: Always a classic, afternoon tea at the Midland is a great way to spend the afternoon. I’d recommend booking in advance for this.
- Go on a street art tour: You’ll start to notice as you walk around the city that there is an extensive street art collection. One of the most enlightening experiences during the trip was a morning street art tour with Hayley Flynn of Skyliner to understand more of the history of each piece and how they each came about.
- Take an overnight trip to York: One of my favorite excursions was an overnight trip to York. A short 1.5-hour train ride to this cobblestone town was beautiful. Stay tuned for a blog post on this!
- Tour through the many museums: There are plenty of museums to work your way through in Manchester. The most recommended are The Whitworth, HOME, and the Manchester Museum.Nearly all of the museums in Manchester have free entry, including these three.
- Visit the Manchester Cathedral: I spent an early morning here and loved walking through this stunning cathedral. If you want to take in the view of the cathedral as well, I’d recommend getting tea at Proper Tea, which faces the cathedral.