Manchester is a city of style and swagger: City and United, Oasis and The Stone Roses, hard graft and hard partying. Its football clubs and music heritage might be the most obvious touchpoints for first-time visitors, but they’re just the start. Manchester has always been a powerhouse. The world’s first industrialised city, it’s also where the suffragette movement was born, where the atom was first split and where the first ever modern computer was built. It’s a city of 2.5 million people and has character in spades. And the best bit? It’s friendly on the wallet too.
The main attractions
With a few exceptions, Manchester’s biggest sights are all free to enter. The two main draws museum-wise are the Museum of Science & Industry, which covers everything from aeroplanes to space exploration, and the National Football Museum. It’s packed with stories, shirts, trophies and more. Pick up an advance ticket from Eventbrite for a well-priced guided tour of the highlights.
Both iconic football clubs offer guided stadium tours. Tickets for the Manchester City tour are slightly cheaper if booked in advance, while the Manchester United tour gives free entry to the club museum – arrive at least 90 minutes before your tour to make the most of it.
Other top cultural attractions include the world-class Manchester Art Gallery, the smaller Lowry – dedicated to the quintessentially English artist LS Lowry – and the awesomely photogenic John Rylands Library, which holds one of the world’s top collections of rare books. They all welcome donations, but cost nothing to visit.
A walking tour gives insight into the personality and history of the city centre. Save money by downloading the free Manchester Walking Tours app – its tours are GPS-triggered, so you can explore at your own pace while listening to the audio. The main areas of the city also offer wi-fi: Free Bee on the streets (free for first 30 minutes), and Busy Bee inside public buildings (free all day).
Manchester is inseparable from its music. Fans of The Smiths and Morrissey flock to the century-old Salford Lads Club, famed for appearing on one of the band’s album sleeves. It’s still a functioning (and fascinating) sports club, with a dedicated Smiths room no less, and freely welcomes visitors every Saturday between 11am and 2pm.
To witness new musical talent at an appealing price, buy a ticket to a gig at Gorilla or the intimate Night & Day Café (where arena-filling Elbow were first discovered), or head along to an open mic night. At the other end of the musical spectrum, Chetham’s School of Music is the UK’s largest specialist music school, with free lunchtime concerts in term time.
Shopping? The Northern Quarter is Manchester at its most colourful. Shops here tend to be independent, and you’ll find some neat fashion bargains, particularly among the stalls at Afflecks indoor market. If you’re going to be in town for some time, meanwhile, consider purchasing an NQ discount card. It’s good for a year, but you’ll quickly save money.
Getting there and around
Manchester is a world city (but you knew that). Its airport has direct flights from around 200 destinations. And if you’re arriving from elsewhere in the UK, reaching the city is straightforward: a rail transfer from London, for example, takes just over two hours. Book up to 12 weeks in advance on sites like thetrainline.com for the best deal on rail tickets – avoid rush hour and travel off-peak.
The city itself has free, regular, electric Metroshuttle buses. They operate on three routes and cover most of the city, running seven days a week, usually until around 7pm. You’ll even find free wi-fi on board.
If you’d rather move around on two wheels, the city now has a MoBike scheme. It’s pretty simple: you download the app, lay down a deposit, then pay a small fee when you use a bike. You can then request the deposit back at the end of your stay. Easy.
Where to stay
Here’s something worth knowing. When there’s a football game on, Manchester hotel rates often rise depending on how close they are to the relevant stadium, and fall elsewhere. So, for the best deals, look in The Quays area when there’s a City game on, and in the east or the north of the city when United are playing at home.
There are also good, affordable hotels with set rates, including two Motel One properties. Hatters is a good-value hostel if you’re travelling in a small group (it also offers film nights, games nights, free walking tours – and free meals on Tuesday nights) while the modern YHA is well located and has a number of two-bed rooms.
Where to eat
Some of the city’s most exclusive restaurants offer attractively priced lunch menus – The French and Manchester House are two prime examples. Elsewhere, for something filling, affordable, tasty and very Mancunian, try a “rice and three” – essentially rice with three curries – from one of the city’s many outlets. And don’t miss the chance to eat at the new Real Junk Food Manchester – it takes food that would otherwise have gone to waste and turns it into great dishes, with a pay-what-you-feel-like policy.
For more information on Manchester and the rest of Britain, head to VisitBritain.com
To purchase stadium tours and more, head to VisitBritainshop.com