48 Hours In Manchester: The Ultimate Itinerary For First Timers

The spiritual heart of the Industrial Revolution, the historic city of Manchester has made an outsized contribution to global culture. Our two day Manchester itinerary will see you enjoy this lively city’s best sights, sounds and tastes.
Manchester, UK. Photo: William McCue | Unsplash

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If you’re visiting Manchester for 2 days, it’s hard to know what to cut out more than fit in! Manny, as locals often call it, is famous for so many things. Music. Industry. Football. Food. Science. Student nightlife. Shopping. There really is so much to do an explore, in what is one of England’s liveliest cities.

So it might surprise you the city proper has only 500,000 or so inhabitants. Which means a lovely compact city-centre, including all the main sights in a very walkable fashion. Or if not, there’s the excellent tram and train network too.

So let us guide you around this incredible city. See Manchester’s top sights, and some unique options too, packed into just two days.

If, even after all that, Manchester doesn’t sound like the place for you? Try our comprehensive list of unique European city break ideas, where you’re bound to find an alternative that floats your boat.

Day 1

The Northern Quarter, Manchester, UK. Photo by Jose Francisco Del Valle Mojica | Flickr

We fully recommend staying in Manchester’s Northern Quarter district if you can. This is a popular area full of boutique and trendy shops and great food spots. Its picture-perfect Victorian architecture has seen the area filmed for many productions over the years, including Hollywood blockbusters.

If money is no object our pick of Northern Quarter hotels would be Hotel Gotham. This award-winning space in an old 1920s bank adds a whole new dimension to your trip. However, at over £200 a night it might not be in everyone’s budget for a 2 day visit.

On the other end of the scale, we have Hatters – a cheap-as-chips hostel experience bang in the middle of the district. For less than a quarter of the cost of the Gotham you get somewhere to stay, with a clean bed and free WiFi, right in the heart of the action. And of course, there are plenty of options in between those price points too!


The Koffee Pot, Manchester, with street art in the foreground. Photo by Rachel D | Flickr

Not only can you get a beautiful gut-busting full English at Koffee Pot – but you can also get a Scottish, Irish, or Welsh breakfast too. And excellent coffee obviously. This place is a local institution, and they’ve serving hungover Mancunians for the best part of 20 years. Why not you next? You’ll find them at the top of the Northern Quarter on Oldham Street, open from 9am every day.

After a big breakfast, take a stroll around this lovely shopping area. Head generally south west toward Piccadilly Park, stopping in any one of the many independent and branded retail shops. For our picks, try the legendary Piccadilly Records, further down Oldham Street, and then take a left onto Church Street where you’ll find the iconic Afflecks.

A Mancunian stalwart since the 1980s, this clothing market is home to not only super fashionable garms, but also the alternative and risqué side of Manchester culture. If that sounds a bit intimidating to you, try Blue Rinse instead. Here they sell not only vintage 90s clothes, but upcycled unique items made from vintage clobber. Think patched check shirts and hand-cut hot pants, amid the more usual thrifted finds.


John Rylands Research Library, Manchester, UK. |Photo by Gerald Murphy | Flickr

After a morning of shopping and good eating in Manchester, let’s go for something a bit more relaxed and spiritual. Looking straight out of the set of a Harry Potter movie, we have the amazing John Rylands Library.

This Research Centre and library opened to the public in 1900! It hosts many rare books, including one of only 50 copies of an original Gutenberg Bible – the first book ever to be printed. Way back in the 1450s! As well as rare books, it just looks absolutely amazing so it’s well worth a wander round.

Immersing yourself in the solemn tomes and awe-inspiring architecture of the library will probably have worked up your appetite. Fortunately, right around the corner is what might be the best fish and chip shop in Manchester city centre.

Mancunians love their chippy teas, so don’t be surprised if someone else recommends you a different spot. Wright’s Traditional Fish and Chips is the best for our money though, and a lot of people agree. Whatever you opt for, try your meal with a pot of English curry sauce. It’s a moreishly warm and spicy gravy-curry mix, and it goes so well with flaky fish and hearty chips.

Wright’s is a traditional and pokey little shop too. While that certainly looks nice, be prepared to queue at peak times. But it’s so worth it!


Warehouse Project, Manchester. Photo by Rachel D | Flickr

If you’re looking to go out in Manchester, there’s nowhere that gets a bigger crowd or better acts than the Warehouse Project. Manchester is a city known for its iconic music and club scene, so if you’re into that thing at all – you should definitely give it a go!

The Warehouse Project is a huge industrial space with two rooms of super quality sound and light setups. All bang under the railway arches of Manchester Piccadilly, the city’s main station.

Of course that means tickets sell out quickly. WHP isn’t on every week of the year, as they curate massive line-ups of the UK’s and the world’s hottest dance music and hip hop acts. So, check them out a few weeks (or even months) before you come to make sure you get the tickets you want.

If that all sounds like a lot of effort for a night out, we don’t blame you. So, of course Manchester is home to loads of legendary pubs and bars too. Try The Gas Lamp, a real Victorian-style boozer in Deansgate (just around the corner from the Rylands Library). Alternatively Dusk til Pawn is a prohibition themed cocktail bar dressed up as a pawn shop, with quirky decor and drinks to match.

Day 2


Lock Keeper’s Cottage, Castlefield, Manchester, UK. Photo by Jason Jeandron | Unsplash

Lets start your morning out with a brisk walk along the picturesque and historic canals of the Castlefield area. This is in the south west of the city centre. You can take a walk here from your accommodation in the Norther Quarter, which takes about 25 minutes. Alternatively, hop on a Green or Blue Line tram from Market Street at the top of the Quarter. You’ll be at Deansgate station in just 10 minutes.

Pick up a locally-roasted coffee from ManCoCo Ltd, and maybe a pastry or two, from their spot near the station and then head out for a beautiful canal walk. Cross the canals and take a walk through the remains of the old Roman fort of Mamucium, built nearly 2000 years ago in 79 A.D.

From there, you can either walk up the riverside towards the city centre and the Arndale – from where you can get back to your accommodation for some chill time. Or, head down the river straight onto our next stop-off. Walking will take about 45 minutes along the canalside, but you can always take a Green or Pink line tram too.


Old Trafford football ground, Manchester, UK. Photo by Harry Walsh | Unsplash

So we’ve had music, industrial architecture, science and shopping. Now it’s time for some football! Although their town rivals Manchester City have dominated the English Premier League for the past few years, there’s no football club in the world quite like Manchester United.

The famous Red Devils have been one of the most popular and storied sports teams in the world for some 100 years. Their stadium, Old Trafford, is often nicknamed the Theatre of Dreams – and you can tour throughout most weeks of the year! Of course, not on home match days though.

Stadium tours at Old Trafford include a guided look around the on-site museum, and a walk through the famous players tunnels to the pitch side stands. It’s the second biggest stadium in the UK, after Wembley, and is an impressive sight – whether you’re a football fan or not.

If you don’t feel like a whole tour, it’s well worth taking a visit to the general area and soaking up the vibes, as this city and football have a long relationship.


Mughli Restaurant on Manchester’s Curry Mile. Photo by Dunk | Flickr

If there’s one thing we haven’t mentioned Manchester is famous for yet – it’s got to be curry! Manchester’s Curry Mile is recognised around the world for it’s selection of top-class curry houses. The UK has long been a destination for migrants from Asia, and many of them have settled and opened up restaurants here over the years.

This area stretches from Oxford Road in the south of the city centre, and goes out to Wilmslow Road in the suburb of Rushholm. Whilst it can be argued the area has seen better days, there are still plenty of top-class authentic eateries along this 1 mile stretch of road. Try the famous Mughli Charcoal Pit for classic Islamic-Indian flavours beloved by locals and celebrity visitors, or the upscale Asian-fusion of MyLahore which is right opposite.


So there we have it. From awe-inspiring solemn libraries to packed out club nights, from chippy tea to authentic curries, from history to modernity – this has been the ultimate itinerary for 2 days in Manchester!

Manchester is also a great travel hub city to explore the North of England’s best spots. So if you want to extend your 2 day trip to Manchester, try heading out to one of the 8 Best Hikes in Lake District – for some incredible scenery only a few hours away. Or explore the equally beautiful but slightly closer Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s up to you!


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