Top things to see in Manchester in a day
Updated: Mar 20
A city of contrasting architecture, history, nightlife, and so much more than the football teams it's known for.
The sound of classical opera singing by a busker filled the air, drowning the background noise of clicking trams passing by. Between main streets, there were laneways filled with street art an abundance of hidden bars and restaurants just waiting to be found. Then there was the mix of industrial and modern architecture along the cities skyline. As we walked through the city streets of red brick industrial buildings, I couldn’t help draw comparisons to my much loved years of living in Melbourne, Australia. For us, Manchester was a story of the old meets the new. For Andrew, this was coming back to a beloved place he once called home. For me, this was seeing a new city with fresh eyes. Our travel guide to Manchester is based on our personal favourite experiences in this city, all of which are achievable to see in a single day of walking around the city.
This post contains some affiliate hotel links, if you click through and book via these links we will get a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Where to stay Manchester: Mercure Hotel Manchester Piccadilly
Since we only had one day to spend in Manchester we opted to stay somewhere centre where we could walk from the main station to the hotel and around the city. The location and price for the Mercure Hotel Manchester Piccadilly was perfect for us.
Other best hotel deals in Manchester:
Top things to see in Manchester, England in a day:
The John Rylands Library:
We found it strange in reading all the travel guides that a library could be one of the top recommended places in Manchester. It made us feel that there must not be too much else to see in Manchester. We immediately realised how wrong we were from the first few steps inside this neo-gothic building. We were greeted with a long Harry Potteresque looking hallway. Proceeding the dimly lit hall were rooms abounding with a plethora of rare book collections. Seeing these felt almost like finding a hidden treasure in an attic, filled with the smells of old trinkets. This library has far more to offer than just the books it holds. The building is a masterpiece in itself. The real highlight is the third-floor reading room, with high ceilings carved full of intricate details and rows of ceiling-high books. This room is a true work of art to see. So you don't hurt your neck trying to take all this in, the library is kind enough to provide mirrors for an easier experience when looking up. A visit to the John Rylands Library is free entry and open daily. It took us roughly 30 minutes - 1 hour to take it all in.
The Manchester Cathedral:
For more exceptional gothic architecture we made our way to the Manchester Cathedral in the city centre, another free site to visit open daily. This stunning cathedral was built in the 14th century, has since undergone many renovations. If there’s one tip we can share for a visit here it’s to look up and take in the ceilings. Carved angels playing a golden orchestra decorate the rooftop leading toward the massive organ worthy of being in the Phantom of the Opera. The intricacy of this detail is remarkable.
The Old Wellington Pub:
Right next to the Manchester Cathedral is the Old Wellington Pub, the oldest building of its kind in Manchester, built in the 15th century. This timbre building is surrounded by cobbled stones, and on a sunny day, its courtyard is packed with visitors having a pint. We could resist a local lunch here of delicious and hearty meat pies and gravy for a truly British experience.
Saint Anne’s Square & the city centre architecture:
Proceeding our lunch stop we continued walking through the centre of Manchester toward Saint Anne’s square where we were treated to a brilliant opera show by a local busker. Sounds of classical music filled the air, as the crowd gathered in awe. Manchester is famous for its music scene and the talent on the streets seems to prove that true. We'd highly recommend stopping to listen to the local music talent you pass by. While you're walking around take in the city itself. Manchester is a contrastingly impressive mix of modern metropolis skyscrapers surrounded by red brick industrial buildings transporting you to a former era of the city.
Castlefields & the Canal walk:
As the sun warmed our backs we continued our city stroll along the peaceful canals of Castlefield. It was the middle of the day and there was hardly anyone else in sight. It was hard to believe we were still in the heart of the city. Swans made their way past the houseboats creating picture-perfect moments. Before entering the canals we visited an old Roman fort, history was everywhere to be seen in this city. We next wandered past some red brick industrial buildings and back toward the city past a few bars with the most amazing waterfront views. For an afternoon walk or waterside drink, we would certainly recommend a visit here.
Dinner in Ancoats: Rudy’s Pizza
After a full day of sightseeing, we were ready for a night on the town with friends. We'd heard Rudy’s had some of the best pizzas in Europe, making it an easy and unanimous choice for a group dinner. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to make a reservation so we arrived to a 2-hour waiting list (worth the wait!). Ancoats is packed with upscale bars to pass the time with a decent cocktail making it an easy wait. Hungry by the time our table was available, we arrived to the smell of warm baking dough and sweet basil as we entered past the large wood fire oven. As we tasted our first bite the world just seemed to fade away. It was truly incredible. The dough was warm, soft and better than any other Pizza dough we had tasted. Their secret (which we Googled as we were so intrigued to how they made it taste so good) was a 24-hour fermentation process, followed by only 60 seconds of cooking. I’m usually one to leave my pizza crust behind when I start getting full but here I finished every inch of my pizza and scavenged what was left of anyone else, it was too good to leave anything behind. The Pizza's were also very affordable at around GPB 8-10 each.
Cocktails in Northern Quarter:
Making the most of only 24 hours we had to enjoy Manchester we continued into the night in the Northern Quarter. An area brimming with street art, and an abundance of varied bars to choose from. Our choice of the night was the top floor of the Fitzgerland Lounge bar. This dimly lit bar had the perfect ambiance for catching up with friends over jazz music and a cocktail. Our favourite (and British) cocktail of choice - The Porn Star Martini. We've repeatedly had trouble finding the cocktail on bar menus outside of England so it's a treat when we do see it. This cocktail is a delicious, sweet and fruity number made with vanilla vodka, passion fruit liqueur and lime juice, topped with fresh passion fruit and a shot of Prosecco. The cocktail was created in 2002 in a bar in Knightsbridge. Be warned, they are very easy to drink!
Getting to and around Manchester:
Via train from London: I travelled to Manchester via Train from London Euston Station on Virgin Trains. I pre-booked my ticket online to save money and reserve an assigned seat. Trains run frequently and it takes around 2 hours to reach Manchester. The cost was approximately GBP 40 for a one-way ticket.
Via Direct flights from Singapore: Andrew met me in Manchester as he was flying over from Singapore, Singapore airlines offers Direct flights to Manchester.
Where we stayed: For ease to get around we stayed right in the city centre. We simply walked everywhere, however, if you catch Manchester on a rainy day there are several public buses, trams and free shuttle buses in the city centre.
We hope you enjoyed our weekend travel guide to Manchester, England. For more blog posts on weekend getaways and travel itineraries check out the destinations section of our blog.
Follow us @littlesherpatravels