Manchester is a vibrant, energetic city with world class museums, a fantastic music scene, famous football clubs and galleries. Here’s how to explore Manchester in 24 hours.
Manchester was founded as a result of a cotton mill built along the River Irwell (which now forms one side of the city centre), today this once-booming industrial hub has transformed itself into a cultural hotbed with a great foodie scene, craft beer and independent shops.
I’ve got all the must-dos and the best places to eat and drink for a great day in Manchester.
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There’s no question that time will be tight and schedules hectic, but there really is a wealth of things you can see in just 24 hours.
Start the day off with breakfast! Federal Cafe is a popular hotspot for those who love a good breakfast and coffee! Do expect queues to eat at Fed but if you get there early enough you should be able to squeeze in before peak time.
There are two locations you can choose from, Deansgate or Northern Quarter.
The cafe was opened by Claudio and Emily for those who are passionate about great coffee and amazing brunch.
It honestly is a little slice of Antipodean happiness (as they describe and I 100% agree with). They serve coffee from Ozone who are a Kiwi business that has chains in New Zealand and the UK. You can also expect the ripest avocados (avos), if they aren’t they send them back to their vendors!
If you are unhappy with any bit of the food or coffee, send it back and they will re-make everything until you’re happy.
As the flat white and avo on toast are an Australian classic breakfast that’s what I ordered! With a touch of halloumi on the toast. What better way to fuel up for a day of exploring.
John Rylands Library
John Rylands Library is one of the most beautiful libraries I’ve ever been to! All the reviews I read before visiting is that it is a real-life Harry Potter library and I have to agree.
Imagine a beautiful neo-Gothic building filled with books, reading rooms with beautiful stained glass windows and intricate ceilings, that’s John Rylands Library.
Enriqueta Rylands built the library in memory of her late husband John Rylands. The vision was to enrich the city’s architecture.
She also helped with the curations of the library with two foundational collections: the incomparable collection of printed books assembled by the 2nd Earl Spencer (which she bought for £210,000 in 1892) and the earl of Crawford’s collection of manuscripts (costing £155,000 in 1901).
Along with these great collections, the library holds some of the rarest and most beautiful books in Britain like
- the first editions of Dickens’ novels still in their original wrappers,
- and a first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
Best of all, it’s free! And it’s a working library so you can actually read some of the books on the shelves or bring your own book and chill in one of the reading rooms.
The Rylands is open Wednesday to Saturday, 10am to 12pm and 1.30 to 5pm.
Central Library dominates St Peter’s Square and has been at the heart of the city for over 150 years. Inside is the Wolfson Reading Room which is the space you really want to see here. With a huge dome roof, wooden panelling and wonderful architecture.
It also houses one of Europe’s most significant collections of archive materials about the history of socialism in Britain as well as being home to 8 million books!
Open everyday but Sunday’s.
In the entrance hallway, is one of the bee statues, created a part of “bee in the city”. Bees have become the symbol of Manchester and in the 1840s even added into the Manchester coat of arms. You will see little signs of the bees around Manchester keep an eye out, whether it’s street art or a symbol on the bins.
Manchester Town Hall
Manchester Town Hall is a beautiful building that’s been around since 1822. It’s currently undergoing refurbishments. This should re-open in 2024 but at the moment it’s covered in scaffolding.
The Town Hall is designed by Alfred Waterhouse who also designed London’s Natural History Museum so you know it’s a beautiful building. Once it’s restored, you can see the majestic staircases, and the beautiful Mayor’s parlour and a stunning clock tower.
Manchester Art Gallery
The Manchester Art Gallery has been open since 1823 as an educational institution to help people grow their creativity, imagination and health. See displays that show how the collection was created with connections back to Manchesters people and its arts history!
They also have a range of great temporary art exhibitions like how hot drinks shape our lives or Derek Jarman: Protest!.
The gallery is open from 10am to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday and free!
The Barton Arcade is a grade II-listed Victorian arcade set between Deansgate and St Ann’s Square. Built in 1871 it has been restored to its original grandeur with ornate black and gold balconies curving around windows.
Inside is Pot Kettle Black is a popular cafe in Manchester. Owned by rugby league players Jon Wilkin and Mark Flanagan with an extensive menu that covers healthy breakfasts like coconut porridge or spelt grain pancakes to indulgent dishes like Manchester tart French toast or chorizo & scrambled egg tacos, this place has something for everyone!
The Manchester Cathedral has been the centre of its city’s history for nearly 600 years. In 1421, King Henry V signed a royal charter granting permission to build a collegiate church and in 1847 when a new diocese was created this historic site became known as the cathedral.
When you’re walking around lookout for the bees on the roof and kangaroos carved into thrones. They have also done a lot of work to make the archives available to the public.
Open everyday from 9.30am to 4.00pm.
The National Football Museum is just around the corner so if you’re a football fan this will be the museum to visit on your trip.
The Northern Quarter in Manchester is a popular destination for culture and creativity. Here you’ll find countless independent fashion stores (some well-known like Afflecks Palace), record shops or cafés & restaurants.
This part of town has plenty going on during the day too with shopping and sightseeing opportunities galore waiting around every corner…
See the latest street art on Stevenson Square and Spear Street where pieces are constantly being replaced with new ones. Making it a unique experience for any visitor who appreciates artwork like myself!
Hayley Flynn occasionally offers walking tours so if you’re lucky enough to be in town while she is running one then definitely book a spot. Find out more about Skyliner Street Art Tours.
Manchester Craft and Design Centre
Housed inside a lovingly preserved former Victorian fish market is the Craft and Design Centre.
The centre has two floors of art studios that are open to the public. Step inside to discover local art, ceramics, jewellery or sculpture – all made by very talented people!
Walking through the streets of Manchester, you’ll stumble upon a little place called Afflecks. This shopping centre is full of fun and interesting shops ranging from vintage clothes to hand-made jewellery. You can find all sorts in this one building so go explore!
Eat and Drink in NQ
A great way to spend your day or evening in the Northern Quarter is by dining at one of its many restaurants. You won’t have any trouble choosing from pizza, Thai food or even authentic German cuisine- there’s something for everyone!
Talking about food, it’s time for lunch. Nell’s Pizza dough is slow-fermented over 36 hours to allow for a perfect combination of strength and lightness. The best ingredients are treated simply with care and attention – this New York style pizza has it all!
I went for Cheese and Onion pie which is a Northern classic but on a pizza! It comes with burnt onions, mozzarella, Lancashire cheese, chives and parmesan.
On the edge of Manchester’s famous Northern Quarter is Mackie Mayor is a food hall in an 1858 Grade II listed market building.
There are no signs outside advertising what awaited inside then we might never have known about this hidden gem.
The perfect spot for brunch, lunch, dinner or a few drinks from vendors like:
- Honest Crust Pizza
- Fin Fish Bar
- Wolf House Coffee
- Nationale 7
- Tender Cow
- Little Window
- J.Atkinsons & Co
- Jack In The Box
- Reserve Wines
Jack in the Box is one of Blackjack Beers bars. I’ve tried a lot of beers and honestly have to say that their beers wowed me. With a huge selection, it was hard to pass up a whole evening drinking through the range. Blackjack beers have been brewing in Manchester Since 2012.
I know that cask beer isn’t everyone’s favourite but it’s a part of their DNA so expect some good quality casks. It makes up more than 50% of their brewing.
BAB is an independent restaurant with unique dishes from the Mediterranean. Watch as their chefs work with locally-sourced ingredients and homemade sauces to create your meal in their open theatre-style kitchen.
The chickpea and halloumi bab is 100% worth ordering!
Wolf At The Door (for a cheap meal)
Wolf at the Door offers tasty tacos for £1 yes! I said £1, not sure how they can even afford to provide us food at this cost. And don’t forget the bao buns.
Ordering a drink is a must! You can’t just come here for the cheap food but they have a great cocktail menu, all the draught beer and a load of delicious wine too.
Beatnikz Republic Bar
Stop at Beatnikz Republic Bar for some independent craft beer. The taproom offers 14x keg and 4x cask lines with half dedicated to their own beers and a half to guest beers.
Hotel Options for the Evening
I’ve tried quite a few hotels in Manchester, here are my fav picks:
Great John Street Hotel is a 4-star hotel. The building is a Victorian former schoolhouse so it has a lot of wonderful architecture. The rooms are beautiful! Last time I stayed here I had a second floor just for my bathroom which had a free-standing bath.
The Midland first opened it doors in 1903 and still gives a timeless elegance feel when you enter the building. With over 302 rooms, spa facilities and award-winning restaurants it’s a great place to stay.
For an affordable option, the Motel One is perfect, centrally located, has comfortable beds and low costs.
Manchester 24 Hour Map
Manchester has a lot to offer for 24 hours! This is just a brief window into my personal selection of what the city has to offer. For more ideas on where to go in England, here’s a list of day trips I recommend from London.
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.