Discover how to enjoy 48 hours in Manchester with our inside guide to this mighty city of the north.
See also our guide to the best places to visit in England here.
How to spend 48 hours in Manchester
When making plans to visit the UK, many people make the mistake of concentrating on London.
However, Manchester is one of England’s most interesting cities, with a wealth of things to see and do, all under the watchful eye of the city’s emblem: the bumble bee.
It’s home to one of the most famous football clubs in the world, some gorgeous libraries, and a healthy food and music scene.
Plus, it’s easy to include Manchester in a UK wide itinerary. It’s only two hours by train from London with frequent connections to Wales and Scotland too. Here is a detailed 48-hour in Manchester itinerary that highlights the top museums, bars, and restaurants for you to visit so that you can have a cracking time.
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Your 48 Hour Manchester Itinerary
Morning of Day 1
Upon arrival at Manchester Airport or after taking the train from London, check-in at the Moxy Manchester City. I stayed there for review purposes and absolutely loved the cheeky design, comfy beds, quiet room and perfect location.
You are located right in the centre of Manchester at this hotel, which combines modern furnishings with a pulsing sense of design. Popular stores, eateries, and bars are all close by. And you check in at the bar and receive a free drink to boot. Though, sensibly, you can wait for that until later…
Begin your neighbourhood exploration by visiting Piccadilly Gardens and the Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Park. Visit Dishoom Manchester for breakfast: this Indian eatery is renowned for its bacon naan roll, which will give you energy for exploring the city on foot.
Add a steaming hot cup of house chai to your order or else visit Takk, a Tariff Street coffee shop with Nordic influences, for an extra caffeine boost.
You can commemorate the first gathering of the women’s suffrage movement by going to the Pankhurst Center in Manchester. The museum, which is housed in Emmeline Pankhurst’s former residence, tells the tale of women’s historic struggle for the right to vote.
Afternoon on Day 1 in Manchester
Stop by Mackie Mayor in Manchester’s Northern Quarter for a quick lunch. The food hall is crowded with vendors and has communal tables. The hall, a bustling location with plenty of options for even the pickiest diner, was built in Smithfield’s Grade II Listed 1858 Market.
There are stalls selling everything from pizza to bao buns to freshly cooked fish during lunch, though they are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well. A drip coffee from Atkinsons should definitely be purchased before leaving.
Purchase a ticket to the National Football Museum, which is open every Thursday through Sunday. There is a wealth of information on England’s national sport in the galleries, which are spread across four floors.
Check online in advance to see what’s coming up and to take advantage of any special events as there are both temporary exhibits and regular exhibitions featuring items from the collection.
It’s worth getting a ticket to see a game at Old Trafford, if you can. As the largest soccer club stadium in the United Kingdom, it’s something of a legendary experience. If there isn’t a game, buy a ticket for the Manchester United Museum & Stadium Tour to see the stadium up close instead.
If the football didn’t work for you, then spend your afternoon at the Manchester Art Gallery. Creations date back to the sixth century and are kept in sizeable collections, so don’t feel the pressure to visit every gallery. Check the museum’s website for special exhibits and events.
The evening of Day 1
Head to Where The Light Gets In, a quaint eatery housed in a former coffee warehouse. You’ll discover everything about the origins of each dish’s ingredients in this tiny space that serves as both the kitchen and dining room. Make a reservation in advance if possible; it’s one of those places.
Second day in Manchester: Morning
At Cottonopolis in the Northern Quarter, brunch is a great way to start the day. A buttermilk waffle with grilled pineapple and a Pork Katsu Sando served on milk loaf bread are among the popular breakfast items at the Japanese-inspired restaurant.
It is wise to make reservations in advance, especially on the weekends. Try the nearby coffee shop Ezra and Gil, which offers an all-day brunch menu, for something lower key.
10:30 a.m – Hit the Shops
After brunch, spend some time perusing the shops in and around Manchester, particularly in the Northern Quarter. The city is home to everything from large department stores like Selfridges and John Lewis to boutiques and vintage shops.
While the Northern Quarter is the best location for vintage clothing and record stores, King Street, Spinningfields, and New Cathedral Street are where you can find designer goods. If you have a rental car, think about leaving the city to look for bargains at the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet, which has more than 140 shops.
1 p.m – A Traditional Roast
Manchester offers many excellent restaurants, but since you’re in England, you should try a traditional pub lunch. Go to The Old Wellington, a popular destination with a long history in the area dating back to 1552.
You’ll want to accompany your meal with a pint of whatever is on tap because the menu is traditional and rustic and includes options like fish and chips and burgers. Sunday roasts are a Sunday tradition in England that include roast meat, vegetables, and a Yorkshire pudding smothered in gravy.
Serving options at The Old Wellington include beef, chicken, or a nut roast that is suitable for vegetarians.
Three Choices for the Afternoon
A variety of cool museums are available at this time, many of which are great for families. The Whitworth is excellent for art enthusiasts, whereas the Imperial War Museum North focuses on the effects of contemporary conflict worldwide.
Put on some skis or a snowboard at Chill Factore, the longest indoor ski slope in the United Kingdom. Snow parks, climbing walls, and even ski lessons are available for those who want to get some practice.
If you’d rather unwind in the afternoon, reserve a spa treatment at The Midland, a landmark for 115 years. The luxurious Rena Spa in the hotel offers a variety of amenities, including heated relaxation pools, sleep chambers, and individual treatments.
It’s a good place to unwind whether you go alone, in a pair, or with friends. Whenever you can, try to schedule your appointments in advance.
Reserve a table at Hawksmoor, a popular steakhouse, for dinner before a show. Most theatres are nearby, so it’s simple to grab dinner quickly before the curtain goes up. Choose two or three courses, and treat yourself to a rump steak and chips for your main course (though they do also cater for vegetarians).
Though you can gamble at the last minute by attempting to snag some seats at the bar, it’s best to make a reservation for a table in advance.
Attend a performance at the 1912-built Manchester Opera House to honour Manchester’s creative side. It includes everything, from comedy shows to well-known musicals like “Mamma Mia!”
Although buying tickets in advance is advised, if you go to the box office or search online for deals, you might be lucky enough to score some on the day of the event. For those interested in seeing a play or musical, the Palace Theatre Manchester is another excellent choice.
An Alternative 48 Hour in Manchester Itinerary for Literature Lovers
If football’s not really your thing and you could leave the shops alone, then Manchester can delight through her historic sense of literature.
Set aside an entire afternoon to visit the cloistered, Harry Potter-esque John Rylands library in Deansgate, complete with spiral stone stairs and hushed voices.
Then, take in Manchester’s multicultural side at the Central Library. Downstairs, exhibitions highlight the city’s change from industrial behemoth to diverse city of the north. Upstairs, students scribble beneath the spectacular dome of the library’s roof. The reading rooms are open until eight, so it’s a good place to visit between the museums and dinner.
And, then, a secret library escape. Just a little way along from the Central Library, you’ll find the Portico Library. Hidden behind an unassuming door, you can unearth a private collection of old manuscripts and tomes. Staff are very welcoming and friendly and may even give you a brief tour.
Alternative cafes in Manchester
While 48 hours in Manchester will never be enough to explore its food scene, if you like something a little quirky and alternative then look out for the following:
- The Feel Good Club – menu items have mantras like “I’m awesome” coffee and you’re invited to journal your thoughts if you wish. The cafe runs mental health support groups and it’s impossible to leave feeling worse than when you went in.
- The Green Lab Cafe – bursting with veggie and vegan ideas, this hipster cafe serves up quick and healthy lunches.
- Pollen – highly recommended bakery, building on the theme of Manchester
More Travel Tips for Manchester
- Load up on Oasis soundtracks on your way to the city. Both the Gallagher brothers grew up here.
- Wander through Chinatown and find a cut price, elbow deep massage.
- See the twinkling lights in the Gay Village.
- If the centre of Manchester is too noisy for you, find some calm at the Hyatt Regency Manchester further out from town. It has beautiful soft white linens and superb views of the city.