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One Day in Manchester - Local Travel Tips

So you've only got one day in Manchester? Well, as Guy Garvey sings: "Throw those curtains wide," because there's a lot you will want to squeeze in.

Arictle by: Josh, the founder and guide at Free Manchester Walking Tours

Manchester Central Station
Manchester Central Station, by Free Manchester Walking Tours

Manchester is known globally for football and music… but Manchester’s the home to so much more! It’s a city of firsts: the first train station, the first modern computer, and the first public library in the English speaking world. 

Today, Manchester continues to be the ‘capital of the north’. Officially the youngest city in the UK, we easily have the UK’s most buzzing club and cultural scene. We are also home to the largest number of students, who continue Manchester’s tradition of scientific and political innovation. 

If you’re only in Manchester for one weekend, it’s easy to dismiss it as wet and a little rough around the edges. So don't judge a book by its cover, and follow our tips to see the 'real' Manchester, in just one day.

Here are the absolute Manchester must-dos, for those of you in a hurry: 


1. John Rylands Library


Manchester’s home to a number of beautiful buildings, such as on King Street, the Midland Hotel, and of course our Town Hall. On our free walking tour, we show guests everything from the city’s old palatial warehouses, right down to slum weavers cottages.

There is one beautiful building you can not afford to miss: John Rylands Library. Whilst our Chetham’s Library is the world’s oldest public library in the English language, John Rylands is easily the most opulent in its design. 

Acclaimed as the finest example of neo-gothic architecture in all of Europe, it opened 1st January 1900, at a cost of £60,000,000 (in today’s money)! 

You really can’t go to Manchester, without giving John Rylands a visit… best of all, it’s free!

John Rylands Library, by Stephen Richards, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

2. Northern Quarter


Easily the city’s most exciting neighbourhood. You’ll find dance and art studios, yoga and bikram spaces, and independent businesses ranging from fashion brands, pubs and clubs, and a shop dedicated to the Modernist movement.

If you like street art, then this is the neighbourhood to explore! A number of murals from 2016’s ‘Cities of Hope’ street art festival, which commissioned a number of works along social justice themes. There are also kooky public art pieces that were commissioned by the council (take a look at the street signs, and the pavement on Tib Street for example). You can also find a number of homegrown projects, often funded by local businesses (see Outhouse Manchester, in Stevenson Square for example). 

If you don’t have time to explore the Northern Quarter for yourself - why not join us on our alternative walking tour of the area? On this paid tour, we’ll show you the spots that you might struggle to find on your own, and tell you the story of how the area came to be known for its bohemian flare. 

Above all else, my biggest tip for the Northern Quarter is to visit Affeck’s Palace. Since 1982, this multi-story indoor market has been dedicated to giving independent businesses and fashion designers a space to experiment.  It’s a Manchester institution, and will give you a proper feel for the Real Manchester.

Street Art in the Northern Quarter, photo by Free Manchester Walking Tours

3. A museum


As I mentioned in the introduction, Manchester’s historical contributions are hugely significant. 

A quick way of learning about Manchester’s story would be to join us on our guided adventure! We include everything from the suffragette movement, to rave culture, architecture and our eccentric heroes. 

If you don’t have time to join Free Manchester Walking Tours, there are a number of museums you can visit. These include the Museum of Science and Industry (an enormous museum dedicated to technological developments in Manchester), and the National Football Museum (interesting and engaging even if you’re not interested in football). 

Above all else, I’d recommend the People’s History Museum. The ‘national museum of democracy’ tells the story of modern political movements, and how Manchester was key in their development. They also have regularly changing art exhibitions on the ground floor.

People's History Museum, by Patyo1994 via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0,

4. The Royal Exchange Theatre


In many ways, to understand the past and present of Manchester, you just need to visit the Royal Exchange Theatre. 

Manchester was the world’s first industrialised city. This industrialisation was built on making textiles from cotton. This cotton of course, was picked by slaves primarily in North America. It makes visiting the Royal Exchange Theatre complicated. The Royal Exchange building had been used as the world’s trading hall, for merchants trading cotton (including a young Fredrich Engels). It’s a very impressive building - it was said to be the world’s largest commercial room, and the prices from the final day of trading can still be found on a large board. 

After it closed as a cotton trading exchange in 1968, a big steel structure - that resembles a space-ship, or perhaps a beehive - was put inside. That structure is the Royal Exchange Theatre. 

The Royal Exchange Theatre is the first purpose-built theatre in-the-round in the UK, and the largest by capacity. I do not believe there is a stage and setting quite like it anywhere else in the world. If you are lucky to visit Manchester when there is a performance on, you can queue for £10 tickets at 9.30am on the day of a performance. Even if you miss these tickets, prices are usually quite cheap, and the productions are invariably intriguing and searching, and very Manchester.

Royal Exchange (hall), by University of Salford Press Office, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

5. A proper drink


Leave your judgements on the flight: English people like a drink. Better still, English people know how to drink… there are so many great places in Manchester to go for a pint, it’s hard to choose just once. 

There are many pubs that older English folks might call ‘A Proper Boozer’. This is where you’re going to get a proper chat, alongside your proper pint. These include The Briton’s Protection, The Castle Inn, Peveril of the Peak, Temple Bar, and Corbierres.

My tip would be to head to Manchester’s Gay Village, situated around Canal Street. Made famous by the brilliant TV series ‘Queer As Folk', the Gay Village is home to a number of fantastic pubs and clubs. My personal favourite being Via, which is opposite Sackville Gardens (where our tour starts, and well worth a visit for its important memorials and statues). The Gay Village is particularly vibrant in summer, when there’s a great atmosphere as people drink and chat on the street, not knowing where the night is going to take them.

Canal Street - Manchester's Gay Village, by David Newton, CC BY-SA 2.0

Thank you for reading the article. For more travel tips from our local guides around the world check the blog section of our website! We release unique travel recommendations every week. If you like this article or have any question, feel free to leave us a comment below!

One comment on “One Day in Manchester - Local Travel Tips”

  1. I went to Manchester last year before lockdown happened, and didn't expect to enjoy it so much. So much history, culture, music and good beer. The free tour of Manchester was the highlight of our trip - so many great stories and little hidden gems we saw on our walk.

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