10:00am: Get your caffeine fix
There’s a lot to pack into your big day in Manchester, so like the emblematic Manchester Bee, it’s time to get your buzz on. Make the Northern Quarter – the city’s creative, hipster neighbourhood – the first stop on your whirlwind tour and you’ll find achingly cool coffee spots to kick back in and catch your breath, before the sightseeing begins.
Icelandic coffee shop Takk (meaning “thanks”) is a solid choice. The vibe here is fun and casual, with exposed brickwork and graffiti-adorned school desks for tables, but the coffee is serious. The house espresso is from El Salvador, but the ‘brew bar’ features an ever-changing range of beans from around the world. If you’re more of a tea person, head to North Tea Power for a grand selection of loose-leaf brews.
10.30am: Peruse Manchester’s independent shops
The side streets and back alleys of Manchester’s labyrinthine Northern Quarter are heaven for the indie shopper. Piccadilly Records is an institution, serving the city’s music lovers since the late 1970s. Well-curated treasure trove Oklahoma is your best bet for gifts and funky homewares, while Blue Rinse make an artform out of turning old clothes into wearable, contemporary outfits.
If you consider yourself in any way ‘alternative’ a visit to Afflecks (formerly Afflecks Palace) is a must. This Manchester icon, adorned with street art and strange installations, is a five-floor indoor marketplace of unique shops selling everything from vintage fashion, jewellery and fancy dress to piercings, bondage gear and comics. A tad more sedate, the Manchester Craft and Design Centre is housed in a beautifully restored former Victorian fish market and holds two floors of workshop studios where artists, potters and crafters create and sell their work.
12:00pm: Walking tour of the city
Work up an appetite with a little walking tour of Manchester’s finest architecture on your way to lunch. Start at the 600-year-old Manchester Cathedral then head to Shambles Square to soak up the atmosphere and see the centre’s last remaining Tudor building, now The Old Wellington Inn. Head on past some of the city’s fanciest shops (including Selfridges) towards St Anne’s Square, then make a beeline for Albert Square, home to Manchester’s imposing town hall. When you pass the beautiful Central Library, you know it’s almost time to eat!
1:00pm: Lunch at Society
Self-described as the city’s new social culinary adventure, Society is a food hall specialising in high-end street food and craft beer. What are you in the mood for? For burgers and loaded fries, choose Slap & Pickle. For south Indian home cooking there’s Chaat Cart. For delectable Asian dishes, it’s Manzoku. For pizza made from locally-sourced ingredients there’s Dokes. And for finger-licking Korean fried chicken there’s the Yoki Social Table. Meanwhile, the beer is provided by Vocation, an award-winning craft brewery that started out in Hebden Bridge. Delicious.
2:00pm: Visit the Museum of Science and Industry
Learn about how Manchester became the world’s first industrial city at the fascinating and interactive Museum of Science and Industry. Discover how the city’s innovations helped shape the world we live in today in the Revolution Manchester Gallery. Find out more about the city’s cotton industry heritage in the Textiles Gallery. And get to grips with the science behind it all in the hands-on Experiment gallery, where you can test your strength by trying to lift a Mini and measure your reactions against the speed of light.
3:30pm: Explore Manchester’s art galleries
Take the tram out to the Whitworth Art Gallery to see England’s first ever gallery in a park. A historic location, transformed by an ultramodern redevelopment, the Whitworth houses an eclectic collection that ranges from fine art (Blake and Turner) to vibrant prints (Manet, Renoir and Cézanne), modern art (Van Gogh, Picasso, Bacon and Freud) and exciting contemporary pieces from artists you may never have heard of. The Whitworth also features a huge textile collection from around the world and even a wallpaper collection. Perhaps most exciting is the gallery’s collection of Outsider Art, from artists who are self-taught or marginalised from the mainstream art world.
6:30pm: Dine out
After a quick pit stop at the hotel to drop off your stuff and get dolled up for the evening, it’s time for dinner. Refuge by Volta is a popular choice, with stunningly designed spaces and delicious tapas-style small plates and sharing dishes, inspired by travels around the world. It’s worth getting there early to grab a table and try one of their elegant cocktails.
You’ll have to book ahead, but if you can get a table, The Sparrows is another outstanding option. They specialise in spätzle, a yummy egg pasta popular in Bavaria and Switzerland, and European dumplings. Which might not sound like much, but it’s done very, very well. And there’s vegetarian and vegan options available.
If you’re looking for a little more spice, Dishoom brings a taste of the old Irani cafés of Bombay to the atmospheric wood-panelled dining room of the Grade II-listed Manchester Hall. The grills and curries are hearty and perfectly spiced, and the street food-inspired small plates are divine. Plus, when you dine at Dishoom, you’re supporting their charitable work, and their ethos of breaking down barriers with delicious food!
8:00pm: Take in a show
Whenever you visit Manchester, you can pretty much guarantee there’ll be something on. If you’re interested in cutting-edge theatre, check out what’s on at The Royal Exchange or head to Home, Manchester’s centre for contemporary theatre, film and music.
If live music’s your thing, you’re spoilt for choice. As well as iconic venues like The Ritz and Bridgewater Hall, there’s lots of amazing small venues around the city like the legendary Night & Day café, a venue that often punches well above its weight in terms of bookings, Band on the Wall, and The Deaf Institute (which, by the way, also serves up tasty cocktails).
10:00pm: Last call at the bar!
Time for one last tipple before bed. Or maybe, two… the night is still young. For the city’s hippest bars, head back to the Northern Quarter or explore the up-and-coming contender for throne of coolest part of the city, Ancoats.
If you’re in the mood for something hoppy, head to the Northern Quarter’s Port Street Beerhouse for a great selection of local and not-so-local craft beers. Or go to the snazzy Seven Brothers Beerhouse in Ancoats to try out the Salford brewery’s best beers, or sample some Manchester gin.
If it’s a cocktail you’re after find the Northern Quarter’s speakeasy-style Dusk til Pawn bar – so named because it’s hidden behind the frontage of an old pawn shop. Or head to Ancoats’ neighbourhood bar Jane Eyre, for classic cocktails and unusual wines.
12:00am: Time for bed?
When you’re ready to call it a night, head to the stylish and sophisticated Ainscow Hotel Manchester, BW Premier Collection. A former red-brick mill, this boutique hotel is conveniently located in Salford's historic Chapel Street area next to Salford Central Station, and just a short walk from all of the action, so you won’t have far to go before you can enjoy a well-deserved night’s rest after a day of exploring.
9:00am: Rise and shine!
What better way to end a whistle-stop tour of one of the UK’s most vibrant and bustling cities, than with a ‘proper brekkie’ (as the Northerners would say) at this contemporary stopover. Head down to the recently refurbished Breakfast Room and take your pick from a Full English, continental, and eggs cooked too many ways to mention! Whatever your morning cravings – they’ve got you covered.
More things to do in Manchester
If you're looking for more inspiration for a short city break, check out our guide to Manchester. Explore more things to see and do, great shopping, eating and drinking, culture and nightlife and details of all our Manchester hotels.