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The First-Timer's Guide to Manchester, England

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.

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 during the trip. Watching the city come alive, come together, and cheer on their team was one of those moments I’ll never forget.

The First-Timer's Guide to Manchester, England

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.

Combining this with an art scene unlike anywhere else I’ve been, world-class food, and incredible design, it is no wonder that Manchester is a top destination in the UK.

Short on Time? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels in Manchester:

  1. The Lowry Hotel, for the best overall hotel
  2. The Principal Manchester, for the best luxury hotel stay in the city center
  3. The King Street Townhouse, for the best boutique design hotel

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 flights with one stop 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 takes around 20 minutes. Alternatively, you could pre-book a transfer but public transport is really handy and quite efficient.

On the 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 in Manchester at The Lowry Hotel. 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. Book the best rates here.

Other Hotels to Consider Booking in Manchester:

Best Restaurants in Manchester, England

Manchester has a bustling food scene. I’ve outlined some of my favorites below. For a deeper dive into where to eat in Manchester, check out my guide to the best restaurants in Manchester!

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 of a drink served in its own terrarium.

Mackie Mayor

For 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.

Things to Do in Manchester, England

Explore the Northern Quarter

One of my favorite neighborhoods was certainly the Northern Quarter because of the amount of eateries and fun shops. I loved the 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. Here is how to spend 24 hours in York.

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 at the Manchester Cathedral and loved walking through this stunning space.

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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:


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