14 Unique Things to do in Manchester

by Paul Stafford  |  Updated October 19, 2021

With history dating back to the era of Roman settlement, an internationally-renowned football and music culture, and heaps of style, it’s guaranteed you’ll find plenty of unique activities and experiences in Manchester.

A mosaic in Manchester’s Northern Quarter (Photo: Paul Stafford for TravelMag)

Rather than be ground down by the rapidly changing needs of a post-war society, or browbeaten by the emergence of cheaper foreign competition for heavy industry, Manchester keeps on evolving into something stronger than ever before. The Commonwealth Games showcased a rejuvenated city that was both vibrant and friendly. In the decades since, the whole centre of Manchester has transformed into one of Britain’s finest cities. Modern and historic buildings coexist; history etched onto the streets.

The Manchester of today is one that can look proudly back at the accomplishments of generations of Mancunians, and forward to more of the same. So it is no surprise that this northern powerhouse offers many unique things to do that cannot be replicated anywhere else. Here are 14 activities spanning history, architecture, culture and sport, each with its own, uniquely Mancunian twist.

Relive the Glories at the National Football Museum

The National Football Museum (Photo: David in Lisburn via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Manchester is a city divided. At least, it is when it comes to football. To the east you have the blue half of the city, to the west lies the red half. Both have known incredible success on the national and international footballing stage. Both have gilded histories that are exemplified by full trophy cabinets. The heat of the Manchester City vs. Manchester United matches is still keenly felt and the city is a fascinating place to be during derby day. Whether or not you like your football polarised, the National Football Museum is an excellent bi-partisan exploration of all things football, in Manchester and beyond. Thousands of football artefacts, memorabilia and history are on display. A must for any fan of the beautiful game.

Urbis Building Cathedral Gardens, Todd St

Take a Tour Through Manchester’s Music History

Salford Lads’ Club (Photo: Paul Stafford for TravelMag)

Madchester was the name eventually given to the city during its heyday as Britain’s unofficial capital of music culture during the 1980s and ’90s. It’s impossible to disassociate that era from Factory Records and the Hacienda Nightclub, both long since defunct. But the music of the stalwart bands that rode to prominence during this time, including The Stone Roses, The Smiths, The Charlatans and New Order, still fills the streets of Manchester and the rest of the world. And if that wasn’t an impressive list, these bands merely paved the way for the Britpop era, with the likes of The Verve, Oasis and The Chemical Brothers taking up the mantle through the ’90s. Many of the key locations associated with this era, such as the Salford Lads’ Club (The Smiths) are best accessed on an excellent guided music tour via Viator.com.

Pay Your Respects to the Women Who Dared to Rebel and Win

The Pankhurst Centre is considered the birthplace of the Suffragette movement. Back in 1867 it was known as the Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage, with the current centre named in honour of Emmeline Pankhurst who rose to the forefront of the movement and of British political history. Women have the right to vote today because of this movement and the Pankhurst Centre is dedicated to telling the story of the brave individuals who had the courage to speak up. At the time of writing, Covid has been a major disruption, so please check ahead to ensure that the museum will be open before your visit.

60-62 Nelson St

Get Alternative at Affleck’s Palace

Affleck’s Palace (Photo: Affleck’s Palace)

One of the world’s most authentic marketplaces is Affleck’s Palace. This incredible warren of offbeat indie stores selling all manner of art, smoking paraphernalia, body art, vintage things, collectables, and anything else unusual that you can imagine, rambles through a fantastic old building in the cool Northern Quarter. Affleck’s is the kind of place where the outsider is at home and where alternative fashion, in all its glorious manifestations, is actually the norm. Even if you are not interested in shopping, this is still a really important part of Manchester’s social fabric, with great bars and restaurants nearby.

52 Church St

Meet Dinosaurs and Mummies at Manchester Museum

There are very few museums that combine archaeology, anthropology, natural history and much more, so exquisitely under one roof. Manchester Museum is a jewel in the crown of Manchester University; a place where dinosaur fossils and Ancient Egyptian mummies can be seen within minutes of one another; or where a preserved bog body can be seen in one room, while close by, some 950,000 specimens of plants are stored. Check before you visit to see if advance booking is required, as this museum often has to limit entry due to its popularity. What’s more, entry is free.

University of Manchester, Oxford Rd

Read into it at Chetham’s Library

Everything seems like an antique at Chetham’s (Photo: Chetham’s Library)

Quirky and venerable, Chetham’s Library was founded in 1653. While there may be older libraries out there, this is the oldest remaining public library in the English speaking world, providing knowledge to the public then as it continues to do now. Chetham’s is home to a highly regarded collection of historic printed books (60,000 books published before 1851), including the intriguing ‘Tractatus de Nigromancia’, which is essentially a necromancer’s handbook. Visitation times are restricted and it is best to contact the library in advance of a visit. A poet’s corner, talks and even weddings take place at the library.

Long Millgate

Walk Through a Sewer at the Science + Industry Museum

Manchester’s Science + Industry Museum is more than just a day out; it’s an appraisal of the industrial revolution in conjunction with the region of Greater Manchester. Impressive displays of old cars and huge locomotives are the main draws, but delving into Manchester’s prototypical Victorian-era sewer will leave you with knowledge you never expected you would learn in this lifetime. Luckily there’s a sense of sterility down there. The museum also has many interactive displays and holds small performances during the day.

MOSI, Liverpool Rd

Buy all the Vinyl You’ll Ever Need in the Northern Quarter

Piccadilly Records (Photo: Paul Stafford for TravelMag)

Remember when listening to music was like a warm hug and not a sterile string of ones and zeroes? Well Manchester still does vinyl like it was 1968. Naturally there are a couple of vinyl shops in Affleck’s Palace, but the best ones are nearby in the Northern Quarter. Vinyl Exchange and Piccadilly Records are particularly well established. Vinyl Exchange mainly covers the house, trance and techno scenes so beloved by DJs, while Piccadilly Records has a bit of everything including new releases. Elsewhere, King Bee Records is another standout, specializing in rare records, including 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, Northern Soul and more.

Vinyl Exchange & Piccadilly Records – Oldham St

Kingbee – 519 Wilbraham Rd, Chorlton-cum-Hardy

Support a Non-league Football Team at F.C. United

You may have heard of Manchester City. You may have heard of Manchester United. Well recently a third Manchester team has been grabbing major headline space. Founded in 2005 by a band of Man U. fans disgruntled by the takeover of their team by an America billionaire, F.C. United of Manchester quickly rose through the lower non-league divisions to settle a few tiers lower than league football status. The standard is high in English football, even at this level. Tickets are good value and it’s a great way to support a unique team that was created as a protest to the big money that is ruining the game for many fans.

Broadhurst Park, 310 Lightbowne Rd, Moston

See Depictions of the Past in The Lowry 

View of the Lowry (Photo: Salford City Council via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

It’s hard to imagine how the homegrown artist L.S. Lowry would have depicted buildings of the Salford Quays if he were painting today. Gone are the chimney stacks and red brick, which deteriorated into a run-down post-industrial landscape. Although Salford Quays is a triumph of urban rejuvenation, you can still get a glimpse of the industrial cityscape inside The Lowry Museum. A few hundred of L.S. Lowry’s paintings, depicting industrial scenes of nearby Pendlebury, with their inimitable matchstick figures and grime, are on show here.

The Quays, Salford

Explore the City Centre with a Local Guide

There’s no better way to get a unique insight into a city than with a local tour guide. You can uncover the little-known gems that only a local is likely to know, plus find out where the best pubs and restaurants are. Better yet, with this being a private tour, you can tailor it to your preferences. Want to learn more about Manchester’s alternative art scene? You can discover all the best street art and quirky style that Manchester has to offer with you guide. Tours are available from morning to night, seven days a week. You can learn more at Getyouguide.com.

Wander along Bridgewater Canal

Bridgewater Canal (Photo: Andy Hay via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

One of the most important early constructions that helped facilitate Manchester’s place in the industrial revolution was Bridgewater Canal. It connected the city to commissioner Francis Egerton’s coal mines. Today the canal, which weaves out from the city centre towards Salford and Worsley, offers a pleasant, vehicle-free footpath, passing remaining remnants of that industrial-era along the way. Many of the barges are now homes: part of a thriving canal life community up and down the UK.

Grab a Bite to Eat Along the Curry Mile

For roughly a mile along Wilmslow Road the entire cuisine of the Indian subcontinent and much of the Middle East is represented at roughly 100 restaurants. Or at least, it’s the British take on those cuisines that is on offer. Pakistani restaurants are the dominant force, but for a variation on a theme, Afghani, Bangladeshi, Lebanese and Iraqi are all worth a try. Some of the best reviewed include Mughli Charcoal Pit (no. 30), Ziya (no. 65) and Al Taiba Bukhari (no. 21). The area can get particularly busy during term time as Manchester University has a campus nearby.

Call on the Old Bill at Greater Manchester Police Museum

Greater Manchester Police Museum (Photo: Corporate Communications, Greater Manchester Police)

Usually open once a week on a Tuesday until 3pm, with free admission, is the museum of Greater Manchester Police (GMP). The unique bridge between the law and the public gives a rare insight into policing during the Victorian era as well as the evolution of policing over time to improve methods, and to tackle new threats and forms of crime as they emerge. There is also an old magistrate’s courtroom and some fascinating photo archives that depict the different underworlds of years gone by. And Manchester has certainly had its fair share.

57A Newton St