Manchester is famous around the world for football, music and industry, and its entertainment certainly draws on those historic and exciting subjects. But there's much more than that to keep Greater Manchester's 3 million Mancunians happy, and when you visit, you'll be warmly welcomed, wherever you're from. So whether you're into culture, high energy entertainment, having brunch in a cafe or sampling the delights of a cocktail bar or two, here's a Manchester itinerary that you might want to pick and mix from.
Couples and groups in Manchester and beyond
What kind of weekend do you have in mind? If you're bringing the kids, you might want to take a look at the section after this one, although we appreciate there are things in this part that will appeal to all ages. So first, let's have a look at some of the things you might want to do if you're coming with friends, or perhaps on a romantic weekend city break. From the exciting Northern Quarter to a trip to a few villages outside the city centre, here's some inspiration.
Old Trafford or Etihad tours
Mention Manchester anywhere in the world and a flash of recognition will appear on faces. Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in football history, with names like Busby, Ferguson, Best, Beckham, Rooney, Cantona, Ronaldo and Rashford proud of their association. And City, historically Manchester's second club in terms of trophies, have undergone a remarkable renaissance, finishing in the top four every season since 2010, with about half those being at the number 1 spot. If football's your game, a stadium tour has to be a non-negotiable whatever your team, so check out the Manchester City and United tours. Of course, if your weekend coincides with a home match and you're a fan, you might even be lucky enough to bag a ticket or two. And don't forget the other Old Trafford, home to Lancashire Cricket Club, which might be perfect for a day's entertainment.
Visit the Northern Quarter
When a part of a city centre is fashionable, it normally lasts just a few years before a new challenger springs up. But the Northern Quarter has been the city's 24-hour entertainment and cultural section for about 20 years now. From the classic subcultural delights of Afflecks (hitherto Afflecks Palace) indie shopping experience to some very trendy cocktail bars, clubs, shops and cafes, you can easily spend the whole day milling among the mills. And it's a quick walk from Piccadilly Station.
Head to the Trafford Centre
The city centre got some competition in 1998 when the Trafford Centre opened its doors. It's a huge shopping and entertainment complex in itself, with 200 tenants including Selfridges and John Lewis. Although there are mainly shops, there's a wealth of restaurants, bars and cafes, plus bowling, dodgems, and an arcade in the building. The whole area is now spreading into a huge retail, entertainment and dining experience way beyond the Centre itself, and can easily take up the whole weekend.
Explore the outer regions
It's not all about the city centre, of course. Manchester's commuter belt is miles deep in every direction, and there are some proper gems dotted around it. Didsbury, Chorlton, Sale, Urmston and Worsley come with nightlife and interesting shopping areas away from the bright lights. Go slightly further and you can visit Altrincham (home to a superb foodie market), Knutsford and Alderley Edge, where you can do a bit of footballer and supercar spotting. Wherever you go, expect award-winning pubs and restaurants, independent shops and plenty of lively conversation.
Art and culture run through Mancunian veins, so you're spoilt for choice when it comes to galleries, museums and music venues. The John Rylands Library on Deansgate is an architectural treasure in itself but contains some priceless literary collections like 17th century Shakespeare folios and countless other artefacts. There are also several major museums: Science and Industry; Imperial War Museum North; People's History; National Football Museum; and Manchester Museum on Oxford Road. If art is more your thing, try the Whitworth Gallery, the Lowry, Manchester Art Gallery and Home, and you'll still only have scratched the surface. Don't forget to look for street art, too – you're never far from a masterpiece mural.
Music, you say? There are dozens of bars and clubs hosting local and travelling bands, as well as the major venues for international acts. There's the Hallé Orchestra performing classical music from Bridgewater Hall for those of a symphonic bent. And if it's just laughter you crave, there are plenty of comedy clubs, from Frog and Bucket to the Comedy Store.
You can easily have a gastronomic weekend or ten in Manchester. As well as having restaurants representing almost every nation under the sun, there's the latest in experimental cuisine to tempt your taste buds. Have a wander around Castlefield, Spinningfields (just off Deansgate), the aforementioned Northern Quarter, Salford Quays or Rusholme (a.k.a. The Curry Mile), and you'll be captivated by the array of flavours on offer. For something truly memorable, try Cloud 23, halfway up the Beetham Tower, with superb views of the city and the Peak District beyond.
Pubbing and clubbing
When day turns to dusk, no weekend in Manchester is complete without sampling its world-famous nightlife. Castlefield, Spinningfields, Ancoats, Deansgate and the Northern Quarter are where most of the clubs and bars are concentrated (bear that in mind if you're booking a hotel), but there are bars and local pubs all over the city and throughout its suburbs. Another high point in Manchester's nightlife is the well-known Gay Village, situated in and around Canal Street, an inclusive, relaxed and at times flamboyant place to chat, eat and dance the night away
Family activities for a Manchester weekend
If you're going to visit Manchester with the kids, there's a ton to do in and around the city. Just like the grown-ups section above, there are no doubt attractions below that appeal to all ages, so read on for weekend ideas, whatever your age and type of group.
Legoland Discovery Centre
Across the road from the Trafford Centre is a place that will be on any kid's itinerary: Legoland Discovery Centre. As well as rides, games and shows they enjoy, they can marvel at the fantastic models that can be made given millions of bricks, and they'll even get to do a bit of modelling themselves. Grown-ups can enjoy brunch in the café while the kids get on with it, as long as their twitchy Lego fingers can resist ... Check out Avanti West Coast's 2-for-1 deal at Legoland.
Sea Life Manchester
Next door to Legoland is Sea Life Manchester, an underwater adventure where you'll meet a host of sea creatures from sharks and rays to crabs, turtles and the ever-popular clownfish. It's a captivating, fascinating and highly educational trip that will have children and adults alike gazing in wonder at what is often an invisible world. Dive into 2-for-1 offers when you travel by train.
CBBC and CBeebies
All of the BBC's children's production moved to Media City on Salford Quays in 2011, and they frequently put on special events featuring the most loved real-life and animated characters from CBeebies and CBBC, like the CBeebies Rainbow Adventure. Check the website to see who you might get to meet the weekend you're going there.
Mention dinosaurs and every kid will prick up their ears. So how about a fantastic mini-golf course played among life-size models of these extinct beasts? Well, at Dino Falls Adventure Golf, that's exactly what you can do. It's open during the day and during the evenings under floodlights, so it's always ready for you to unleash your inner ROARY McIlroy.
Museums to amaze kids
We mentioned the list of museums above, and although there's something for everyone at all of them, kids might lose their train of thought in some. We think the exception is probably Manchester Museum, among the university buildings. It doesn't just span the whole of human history; there are exhibits that go way back to prehistoric times, including dinosaur bones. All collections are displayed beautifully and are designed to inspire and inform without being too stuffy. Kids just love it.
iFLY and Beyond
Finally, you can give them an experience they won't forget in a hurry by visiting iFLY and Beyond. iFLY is an indoor skydiving centre (yes, you read that right), which achieves the sensation of falling through the air thanks to a huge fan that blows you so hard you'll defy gravity. It's perfect for Instagram and superb family snaps, too. Its neighbour is Beyond Manchester (formerly Chill Factore), an impressive indoor ski slope and snow park, where many of Team GB's "fridge kids" train for the Winter Olympics. There's also a shopping and restaurant section, rock climbing and Play Factore in the same building, which features the tallest indoor slide in the UK.
Where to stay
Manchester boasts around 10,000 hotel rooms in the city centre, from budget accommodation to swanky 5-star hotels with cocktail bars and luxury rooms. There's far too much choice to list here, so we'd advise you to use a site like booking.com, LateRooms or Secret Escapes to search for accommodation for your Friday and Saturday night. All the major hotel chains have rooms in Manchester too, so perhaps use their websites if you have a preference when you're planning your Manchester itinerary.
Getting there by train
It's easy to visit Manchester by rail – there are several major train stations linking to London, Birmingham, Liverpool, the Lake District and anywhere else in the UK you might be coming from. If you're travelling from the South, North or Scotland Avanti West Coast will drop you off at Piccadilly, from where you can catch a tram or taxi to wherever you're staying with ease.
If you need more information, here's everything you need to know about getting the train to Manchester, including typical travel times and station information. See you there.