How to spend 48 hours in Manchester
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Manchester has that northern heart and soul that will win you over from the moment you arrive.
Despite its often hard, grey and cold exterior, at the core are a friendly, hardy bunch of people who know how to have a good time.
The city itself is one of the most cosmopolitan in the U.K. Some 50,000 students call the city their home each year while studying at one of the four universities. According to the University of Manchester, the diverse mix of nationalities living in the city means that around 200 languages are spoken, making it the language capital of the U.K.
I spent an unforgettable three years living in Manchester as a student, so I feel it’s my duty to fill you in on everything you need to know to make sure you have the best 48 hours possible.
Manchester is very well connected to the rest of the U.K. and even internationally, thanks to its airport. Whether it’s by air, rail or road, getting to Manchester shouldn’t break the bank or take more than a few hours.
Manchester Airport (MAN) is well connected to the rest of the U.K. There are direct flights to Heathrow (LHR) with British Airways, Aberdeen (ABZ), the Isle of Man (IOM), Inverness (INV) with Loganair, Belfast (BFS) and Jersey (JER) with EasyJet, Belfast City (BHD) with Aer Lingus, Guernsey (GCI) with Aurigny, Exeter (EXT) with Blue Islands and Southampton (SOU) with Blue Islands and Eastern Airways.
The Avanti West Coast rail service from London to Manchester is as frequent as it is rapid, taking just two hours five minutes at its quickest. There are also direct services to many other towns and cities across the country including Liverpool, Norwich, Birmingham and even as far as Plymouth in the West Country, Scotland to the north and several destinations across Wales.
When booked far enough in advance, you can bag a return from London to Manchester for just £60.
Manchester is very accessible from all areas of the country via several major motorways including the M6 and M62. On a good day, a road trip from London will take around four hours.
Where to stay
Like many cities, you’re spoiled for choice.
Manchester has a good selection of various brands within the main points hotel groups. One of our favourites is IHG’s Kimpton Clock Tower thanks to the combination of its central location and beautiful aesthetic. The luxury design perfectly encapsulates the city’s industrial roots while the eclectic mix of bold splashes of colour and style give this classic 1890s terracotta building a modern 2020 twist. The hotel reopens for business as of 1 October.
Nightly rates for October start at around £69 or 22,500 points for IHG Rewards members.
Being in the hustle and bustle of a city is crucial to making the most of any quick 48-hour weekend getaway. Enter Roomzzz in Manchester’s Corn Exchange. It’s the ideal location for your home away from home surrounded by bars and restaurants. One of our favourite things about Roomzzz, is that you get all the benefits and freedom of living in an apartment like a fully equipped kitchen and space to work, but with added hotel perks like daily housekeeping, complimentary grab-and-go breakfast and a 24-hour reception desk.
The building itself is in the typical Mancunian industrial architecture style and one to visit even if you’re not staying there.
Rooms start at around £69 per night for the Neo Suite, stretching up to £154 for the plush split level Sovereign Suite complete with spiral staircase.
Nothing says chic boutique getaway quite like a roll-top bath in the bedroom. With this view, the King Street Townhouse is a firm favourite of TPG U.K. Featuring in recent articles on top city-centre spa hotels and hotels with heated outdoor pools, it was a no-brainer that it would be one of our top recommendations for places to stay in the city.
Rooms start at around £149 per night.
Things to do
You can pretty much walk everywhere in Manchester. From Castlefield at one side of the city to the Northern Quarter at the other, you’d be looking at a maximum walk time of around half an hour. For longer journeys (including to and from the airport), and even getting around in the city centre if you prefer, there’s the city’s famous tram system locally known as “the Met”.
Meandering through the city on foot and seeing where you end up is highly recommended. There’s something around every corner, and the distinctly different districts offer their own unique character — from the bustling centre of Piccadilly Gardens and Market Street to the cosmopolitan city-slicker hangouts of Castlefield and Spinningfields to the quirky soul of the Northern Quarter.
If the northern weather isn’t in your favour, then there is still lots to do under cover. The industrial revolution of the 19th century was the foundation of everything Manchester has become today, and you can learn more for yourself with the city’s Transport and Science Museum. Football is also a huge part of the Mancunian culture. In pre-COVID times, tours of both the Etihad and Old Trafford stadiums were possible. As a great alternative, England’s only National Football Museum is located right in the heart of the city.
Manchester is a shopping mecca. The Arndale Centre — a huge city centre indoor shopping destination — and Market Street is where you’ll find all your high street favourites. Close by is King Street, formerly the city’s main banking street, now lined with upscale shopping brands. If that’s not enough, there are also designer department stores like Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. Make sure to remember your credit cards.
Music is an integral part of the Mancunian culture. The city has born an eclectic mix of legends including the Bee Gees, Simply Red and of course, Oasis. It’s also the birthplace of clubbing in the U.K., with the infamous Haçienda leading the way in the 1980s. More recently, Sankeys and Warehouse Project have been go-to favourites for ravers and clubbers from across the nation.
Coffee, brunch and evenings out
You are spoiled for choice with places to eat, drink and hang out in Manchester. I’ll make this easier by breaking it down into my favourite places for coffee, brunch, a fancy dinner out and of course, the all-important Sunday roast.
Pot Kettle Black, or PKB if you’re down with the kids, brings Antipodean coffee culture right to the heart of the north. Think a quirky side-street coffee bar in Melbourne, but in Manchester, that’s PKB. Naturally, there’s more than just coffee on offer — its sweet treats are to die for.
Probably the most famous brunch spot in the whole of the city is Federal. With locations in the Northern Quarter and on Deansgate, you’re never too far away from a mouthwatering late morning treat — or hangover cure. Just look at that.
For a slap-up, shirts and heels on dinner, favourites with locals include Australasia, Albert’s Shed and 20 Stories. Definitely make a stop at Menagerie in Spinningfields area if you can — it’s super glamorous but not just smoke and mirrors, the food is excellent, too. We recommend the duck croquettes washed down with a smoked caramel Tom Collins.
For a more relaxed affair, head to the Northern Quarter or Ancoats for every type of food and drink venue you could think of. If you’re passing through the Northern Quarter and need a refuel, the pizza at Common is one of the best in town.
Until a few years ago, Ancoats was a fairly underdeveloped residential area. It has now transformed into a destination of its own, with bars and restaurants in all directions from around a central square. My favourites are Elnecot and Erst, along with the Counter House whose Sunday roasts are my favourite in the entire city. Look at the size of that Yorkshire pudding!
Food, music, sport, shopping, culture, history, architecture — you name it, Manchester’s got it. To be honest, 48 hours just isn’t enough to do this city justice. You’ll have to keep coming back for more.
One last thing: Remember to pack an umbrella…
Featured photo by Allan Baxter/Getty Images
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