Travelling along an elevated section of the A57(M) on a Friday afternoon, the high rise buildings of Manchester appear into view. I love that sight – the first glimpse of the big city that you are about to visit. It builds a sense of anticipation about the trip and an excitement about what’s in store. I’ve only recently become familiar with Manchester. After visiting many years ago it took me a long time to return, but Manchester has changed. The city centre is a thriving and exciting hub of art and culture, history, stunning architecture and cool places to hang out. The options are endless, but here’s a snapshot of how to spend 48 hours in Manchester, exploring the capital of the North.
Despite it’s size, the city centre of Manchester is easy to get around on foot. There are are a number of historic sights and attractions in the heart of the city, but travelling further afield is simple by use of the tram network. Manchester city centre is broken down into several neighbourhoods including Ancoats, Spinningfields, Deansgate and the Northern Quarter, to name a few. All of these areas are within walking distance of the central retail district and all good locations to base yourself for 48 hours in Manchester. There are hotels of all budgets dotted around the city, so something to suit everyone.
The main focus of our walks was to admire the beautiful architecture and buildings of the city. It seems that every corner you turn, even amongst modern glass and metal structures, you’ll find a little piece of history. A recent stay saw us based at the Motel One Royal Exchange, directly across from the Royal Exchange Theatre on Cross Street. In the heart of the city, the hotel provided easy access to the main shopping district as well as many other attractions. Not far from the Deansgate area, this was our first port of call to visit a stunning building (or library) that I had wanted to visit for a long time.
Read my detailed review of the Motel One Royal Exchange Manchester
The John Ryland Library, now also the University of Manchester Library, first opened in 1900. A Victorian Gothic structure, the building was commissioned by Enriqueta Ryland in memory of her late husband John Ryland. Dominating the landscape of Deansgate, the imposing facade has a church like appearance. Today’s entrance is to the rear of the building through a newer modern atrium extension. This however, it quite the entrance, with the stark concrete and glass staircases which perfectly contrast with the red brick of the old building.
From the modern entrance, heading through into the main building, the original entrance hall and main staircase provide a glimpse of the stunning and ornate stonework and the Lantern Gallery above.
The main staircase leads through into the Historic Reading Room. A cathedral like room with large stained glass windows to both ends, the central aisle features glass cabinets displaying books and some reading tables. To either side, the alcoves were designed for private study, along with the galleries above. It is such a magnificent space, and despite the imposing facade outside, it was so unexpected to see the intricate details inside.
Leaving the John Ryland Library provides the perfect opportunity to take a quick stroll around the Spinningfields quarter of Manchester. Created in the 2000’s, this was a huge regeneration project to develop a central business district in Manchester. As well as being a business hub, Spinningfields has open air event spaces and a host of fantastic bars, restaurants and boutique stores to suit everyone. A summer afternoon is a great time to take a wander through and stop off for a drink at The Oast House, a lovely little rustic pub with a large outdoor seating area.
If you only have 48 hours in Manchester, then you’ll want to get a feel for a couple of the city’s neighbourhoods. Staying nearby, we chose to explore the Deansgate area for food and drinks one evening. The intention was for a nice meal followed by a couple of quiet drinks. For meat lovers, Deansgate has numerous steak and meat based restaurants including Gaucho and Hawksmoor (which was our first choice of restaurant, but we couldn’t get a table). We opted for Gusto, an Italian restaurant located on the corner of Deansgate and Lloyd Street. A large and stylish room full of leather banquettes and booths, there was a really nice vibe and a comprehensive menu of Italian dishes as well as grilled meat and fish.
Further down Deansgate there are a number of European style tapas restaurants worth visiting. Evuna Deansgate is a typical Spanish style tapas restaurant, while Dimitri’s across the road is a great little Greek tapas and meze restaurant.
Following dinner, we decided to pop for a quick drink before heading back to the hotel. Strolling down Deansgate, we noticed a lot of activity on Peter Street. A street jam packed with bars and late night venues, there were many options of where to head for a drink. Passing by the Peaky Blinders themed bar, we opted for Albert’s Schloss, a large Bavarian style beer house (or Bier Palace) where we could sample a continental pilsner (or two).
Despite being busy on a Friday night, the large bar and efficient bar staff could cope easily with the crowds and we were served quickly. Great atmosphere, great bier and a nice end to the evening. Considering heading off after our second pint, the fun started. Every evening Albert’s Schloss host performances combining live music, cabaret, circus and some burlesque thrown in for good measure. From a blues band, to mime artists roaming around the venue, to dancing clowns, it was quite the eye opener and hugely entertaining. We left a couple of hours later, full of pilsner and amusement. A great venue!
If you are looking for cocktails with a view, head to Cloud 23 bar in the Hilton Manchester Deansgate hotel where you can have a drink with great city views from the 23rd floor.
When staying in a city centre, we rarely book a hotel room with breakfast. There are so many options for breakfasts locally, it seems a shame not to explore. Waking with a slightly thick head after the previous nights shenanigans, it was time to search out a great breakfast venue nearby. Thankfully, some research had offered up Moose Coffee, an American style diner on York Street, only a few minutes walk away. A small chain with one other branch in Manchester and others in Liverpool and Leeds, Moose Coffee offered a typical (and huge) American style diner menu including eggs, pancakes, waffles and plenty of coffee options. Throw in the company branding of a moose in an astronauts costume, and you have an awesome breakfast venue. With queues of people queuing out the door at one point, it was clear that this was a popular breakfast joint.
Breakfast wasn’t the only American theme in this part of Manchester. Walking back to the hotel, the streets of this area have a decidedly New York feel. This is prominent in many parts of the city actually – so much so, that it’s often used as a filming location doubling up as the streets of New York City, and it’s easy to see why.
Breakfast done, and ready to set off for day two of our 48 hours in Manchester, it was time for some more history and architecture. Heading north on Deansgate, our next stop would be the Manchester Cathedral, located on Victoria Street. At almost 600 years old, this stunning building is located in the Medieval Quarter of the city. It’s open 7 days a week and free to visit. Located in a pretty square surrounded by quaint buildings now housing lovely cafes and bars, it was a nice spot to stop and take in the stunning building.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I am somewhat obsessed with stained glass and despite the wonderful ornate stonework and craftsmanship in any church or cathedral, I am always drawn to the colourful stained glass windows. The stained glass windows of Manchester Cathedral are absolutely beautiful. Of course there are traditional scenes set in many of the windows, but I was particularly drawn to some of the modern window designs. The one that stood out in particular was the Fire Window, created by Margaret Traherne in 1966, representing the rebuilding of the cathedral following the blitz. Sadly, the original window was destroyed by an IRA bomb that detonated locally in 1996 and was reconstructed by the artist following this. The shades of orange and red, especially on a sunny day, make the window look ablaze. It was stunning.
A visit to Manchester wouldn’t be complete without exploring the Northern Quarter, a cultural part of the city and home to some fantastic street art, galleries, alternative clothing stores, cool bars, cafes and restaurants. Exploring the streets of the Northern Quarter, every corner seems to offer a landscape of ever changing street art and stunning wall murals that define the area. There’s a heavy focus on the Manchester worker bee, bringing a real sense of identity of the city through the art.
Take a look at a more detailed insight into the streets of Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
The streets of the Northern Quarter are also reminiscent of New York City, and it’s lovely to stroll around taking it all in. There are also some notable architectural highlights to see, such as the facade of the Old Fish Market on High Street. Dating back to 1873, this is the perfect demonstration of keeping some of the city’s history while renovating and re-utilising space.
A walk around any city inevitably always ends up with a break at a coffee shop, and we are always on the lookout for cool, independent coffee shops rather than heading straight for the chains. The Northern Quarter has plenty of great cafes and coffee shops, but one of my favourites is Ezra and Gil on Hilton Street. A cool and contemporary space, it’s a great spot to hang out with great coffee and cake.
If walking tours are your thing, there’s no shortage of these in Manchester. From self guided walks and free tours, through to more unusual offerings, there is something for everyone. A friend of ours gifted us a walking tour (possibly as an excuse to visit her in the city) led by a hugely entertaining and knowledgeable local man called Jonathan Schofield. Jonathan leads some fantastic and interesting tours around Manchester, providing a unique insight and the opportunity to see parts of the city that wouldn’t normally be covered. We attended a tour called Incredible Interiors – a two hour tour covering some of the city’s lesser visited buildings, or rooms within public buildings that wouldn’t normally be accessible. It was a fantastically enjoyable couple of hours, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of his upcoming tours.
Where do you start? The Northern Quarter’s streets are packed full of cool restaurants and bars. It’s a real independent hub of the city, so for the most part you can avoid the chains that you will see in other parts of the city. If there is one place you must visit during 48 hours in Manchester, head to Mackie Mayor on Eagle Street. Located in an old listed market building dating back to 1858, Mackie Mayor is a large food hall that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Housing a variety of food vendors, there’s a wide range of menu choices along with a coffee bar, wine bar and brewery bar. Seating is in the style of communal benches in the central hall of the building, under a large glass roof, but there are other seating areas dotted around and a large seating area upstairs. It has a really cool vibe in an industrial surrounding – something you see a lot of in Manchester.
Mackie Mayor is great to visit at any time of the day, whether it’s lunch, a coffee or a few drinks to finish the evening there’s always a great atmosphere.
The start of day three and our 48 hours in Manchester is coming to an end. Time for breakfast and little more exploring, before heading on our way. From experience, Sunday morning is a great time to explore the city. The streets are quiet. Really quiet. Aside from the trams trundling along the streets and a few people out on the same search for a breakfast venue, it feels like having the city to yourself.
Our second breakfast destination was the lovely LEAF on Portland Street. With their fantastic (and very true) tagline ‘Where there’s tea, there’s hope’, LEAF have a simple breakfast and brunch menu along with a wide range of teas and coffee options. A light and airy space for a relaxed breakfast. There are three LEAF locations located in Liverpool and West Kirby.
Heading back towards the hotel from LEAF, the route passes through St. Peters Square and Albert Square – homes to the Manchester Central Library and Manchester Town Hall, both stunning buildings. Manchester’s Central Library dates back to the 1930’s – a large circular building with monolithic pillars to the front facade and a domed reading room within. Designed by E Vincent Harris who had a liking for Roman architecture, the building is reminiscent and often compared to the Pantheon building in Rome.
Alongside the Central Library and flanking both St Peters Square and Albert Square, Manchester Town Hall is another architectural highlight of the city. A Victorian Neo-Gothic triangular building with a large clock tower dominating the Albert Square facade, the Town Hall was completed in 1877 and is an impressive structure.
There’s so much more that Manchester has to offer but there’s only so much you can do in 48 hours. I personally can’t wait to get back to the city to explore all that is has to offer.
Have you visited Manchester? What stood out as your favourite landmarks and buildings?
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