“Manchester’s got everything but a beach.” Ian Brown announced, and he is not wrong.
Manchester is a powerhouse in Britain’s North and was one of the first cities to succumb to the Industrial Revolution. Nowadays, it is renowned for its universities, nightlife, sporting achievements, and the new generation of emerging music artists – including Manchester-born Bugzy Malone and Aitch. Of course, sports fans will also recognise the names of Mancunians Tyson Fury and Marcus Rashford.
Beaches and famous people excluded, there are plenty of things to do in Manchester. You’ll find British architecture, major football stadiums, water activities, museums, and even indoor skydiving.
But, to narrow down your choices, here are my ten favourite things to do.
Pay a visit to the Manchester Cathedral
Manchester Cathedral is one of the most important buildings; after all, the cathedral gives Manchester its city status. However, Manchester Cathedral is also a great architectural and historical attraction to visit.
At nearly 600 years old, Manchester Cathedral is a classic build from the Middle Ages – with stained glass windows, thick stone walls, and intricate, meaningful carvings throughout. The cathedral sits inside the Medieval Quarter, which sustains the old English atmosphere.
Admission is free if you need any more persuading, making visiting the cathedral one of the best budget things to do in Manchester. Manchester Cathedral welcomes guests seven days a week but opens for limited hours on Sundays.
Watch a game at the Etihad Stadium or Old Trafford
Watching a football game is one of the best things to do in Manchester – no matter what team you support.
The Etihad Stadium is Manchester City’s home ground, while Old Trafford is the hallowed grounds of Manchester United. The city’s rival teams are fierce competitors in the English Premier League and are supported internationally. So, if you can, book tickets in advance and tick off a massive sporting bucket list by seeing them play at their home stadium.
Kick-off times are typically midday or at around 7 pm, so plan to spend an afternoon or evening watching the football.
Travelling as a family? Or just an adult Lego fan? Either way, Legoland is conveniently located just outside of Manchester City Centre.
Kids will love the Ninjago three-storey play area. But the whole family can enjoy Miniland, which showcases North-Western landmarks and attractions like Alton Towers entirely made from Lego. There is also a 4D cinema and VR experience for something a bit different.
Legoland costs £17.50 for adult entry and £13.50 per child when booked in advance online.
Note that if the weather is looking drizzly, Legoland is one of the best things to do in Manchester, as it is entirely undercover.
Challenge yourself to escape the Breakout Room
Wanting to challenge yourself in Manchester? The Breakout Room is the way to go.
In teams of two to five, you have exactly 60 minutes to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and find the clues to help you escape. Even better, you can choose between seventeen themed rooms, including ‘The Emporium of Magic’, ‘Cursed Carnival’, ‘Vacancy B’, ‘Captured B’, and ‘Zombie Lab’. Online, you can read the introductory story to each experience before choosing – a bit like picking a film at the cinema! The rooms also come with helpful difficulty ratings, so you can go as easy or hard on yourself as you want.
Breakout Room starts its prices at £20 per person, but you get a discount with the more players that attend.
Learn about democracy in the People’s History Museum
On a more serious note, the People’s History Museum is one of the best things to do in Manchester to discover social history.
The museum specialises in displaying stories and exhibitions of democratic ideologies. However, you’ll also find pop-up exhibitions and displays like the Passport Trail. Anyone with humanitarian or political interests will particularly appreciate this display, and it may be an interesting display for families with older children.
The Passport Trail tells the story of refugees, asylum seekers, and economic migrants and the processes they have to go through to enter the UK. Especially considering the current Ukrainian tragedy, it is a fantastic, digestible way to break down an often-complicated process to understand.
The People’s History Museum is free to enter, although it welcomes suggested donations of £5 to support ongoing maintenance costs. It opens its doors from Wednesday to Sunday, so should easily slot into a Manchester itinerary.
Go indoor skydiving at IFLY
If skydiving has been on your bucket list, unticked, for what seems like an eternity, IFLY is the place to go.
Instead of jumping or attaching yourself to a parachute, IFLY uses air to blow you up and mimic the effect of freefall. This method is less intimidating for those struggling to bite the skydiving bullet but with all the same rewards of exhilaration and flying.
The experience is also a lot more budget-friendly and only costs £44.99 for first-time fliers to have a taster flight. Of course, if you get hooked, you can increase your flight time with longer sessions, like the £74.99 Air-Born experience. In this deal, you get double the time and free photography and a movie of your flight – so definitely weigh up the choices beforehand.
Try to take a dip in the Victoria Baths
For history and architecture with a fun edge, try to take a dip in the Victoria Baths.
The Victoria Baths is an Edwardian bathing complex with Turkish Baths and multiple swimming pools. After being closed in 1993, the Baths were left to become derelict and only saved by public campaigning. And, in 2018, the Baths reopened for its first swimming sessions in over 25 years.
Public swimming dates aren’t regular, and you’ll have to keep an eye on the Victoria Baths website to see if an opening coincides with your trip. If an opportunity does arise, make sure to take it! The Baths’ heritage makes it one of the most well-preserved and beautiful places to swim.
Even if swimming sessions aren’t running, there may be opportunities to tour the historic complex.
Go kayaking at the Sale Water Park
Not made it for a swim at the Victoria Baths? Do not worry. Sale Water Park has plenty of water activities to try out – including kayaking.
Salt Water Park is a protected area of woodland and meadows with a lake in the centre. Set along the shores of this lake, you’ll find Trafford Watersports Centre, which rents equipment and sells activity experiences. You can go paddleboarding, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, jet-skiing, or rent a boat.
If you want to enjoy the lakeside scenery, we’d recommend choosing kayaking. A kayak is built to be quicker and more sensitive to steering, which will be great fun to explore the shallows.
Treat yourself to some shopping
Of course, a visit to Manchester is not complete without a little bit of retail therapy.
The city has multiple shopping centres, including The Trafford Centre, The Triangle Shopping Centre, and the giant Manchester Arndale.
On a rainy day, these centres are a perfect way to stay entertained and dry – shopping is easily one of the best things to do in Manchester!
For bargain designer shopping, though, skip these centres and head to one of Manchester’s outlet centres. At these outlets, designer clothes and luxury brands sell overstocked and out-of-season clothing at ridiculous discounts of up to 70%.
If you’re a Nike lover, the Nike Factory Store in Cheetham Hill is for you. While, if you’ve got time to travel a little bit, Cheshire Oaks is an outlet centre with lots of different brands. Just an hour’s drive from Manchester, Cheshire Oaks has discounted Calvin Klein, Adidas, Armani, Burberry, Swarovski, Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors – amongst many, many more.
Spend an evening in the city centre
Fancy staying closer to your hotel? Manchester City Centre has lots to keep you entertained for an evening.
Aside from bars and nightclubs, Manchester has a lot of upscale restaurants like Rosso. Rosso serves (delicious) Italian cuisine in a grade II listed building. If that wasn’t alluring enough, the restaurant is also owned by football legend Rio Ferdinand.
I can also personally recommend the Jasmine Grill, which is centrally located in Piccadilly. The restaurant serves Lebanese cuisine in a stylish setting, with marble features and hanging ivy decor. The hummus entree is delicious – as is their vegan burger option.
Amazingly, there are over 650 restaurants in Manchester, so don’t be afraid to try a few during your stay.
There are so many things to do in Manchester!
Those who like outdoor activities like hiking and climbing can use the city as a base to explore the Peak District National Park or the nearby Yorkshire Dales. Of course, you aren’t far from Liverpool, Leeds, Blackpool, and even Wales – so make sure to allow time to make a day trip or two. Got any more suggestions on things to do in Manchester? Drop them in the comments below.