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As part of my trip to the North West of England to visit my friend Jess in Liverpool, I also hopped over to Manchester for a day to visit my friend Lucy (the one who joined us out in New Zealand when Jess and I were travelling). Manchester is just 40 minutes by train from Liverpool Lime street or 2 hours from the bright lights of London, making it perfect for a day trip to explore some more of the UK.
Manchester has a strong connection with Liverpool from its history of the cotton mills and textiles industry, and also like Liverpool, it has grown into a bustling, modern and vibrant city. The combination of old and new buildings are something that I love, and with only one day to explore, this is good news!
There is a tram system that goes around the city but it’s perfectly walkable, so you really can see a lot in a day. What’s even better is that all the things I have listed below are completely free (apart from food, but c’mon, something’s gotta give). So you can get around for free to see things for free. Win! So if you’re looking to take a flying visit to Manchester, I have a great tried and tested itinerary to help you see loads!
How to get to Manchester
Manchester is just 40 minutes from Liverpool (another city in the north that you’ve gotta check out) or 2 hours by train from London. It’s such an accessible city making it the perfect destination for a day trip whilst you’re visiting the UK. Here are the ways you can get to Manchester and where you’ll potentially find some bargain tickets!
Cheap trains to Manchester
If there’s one website you need to know about for cheap train tickets, it’s thetrainline.com. I don’t quite know how it works but the more in advance you book your tickets, the cheaper they will probably be. They have an awesome app that shows live train times and you can also use it for an e-ticket so you don’t need to worry about printing anything once you’ve purchased your ticket. Additionally, they have a really handy ‘fare predictor’ tool on the app to help you gauge when is best to buy your tickets.
Cheap bus to Manchester
This is the longer way to reach Manchester but if you’re really on a budget then catching a coach could be a great option for you. Megabus is an awesome coach company that runs all over the UK and also into Europe and, get this, they sell tickets for as little as £1! They run regular coaches from London to Manchester making it super easy to visit if you’re basing yourself in London for your trip.
Arriving by air
Manchester Airport is a major airport in the North East of England with a number of flights landing from Europe and London each day. Skyscanner is my go to website (or app) for tracking flights and finding cheap ones. Always try and book flights in advance and if you can be flexible with dates, searching for flights to Manchester using the ‘whole month’ option will show you the cost of flights for everyday that month.
What to wear for a day trip to Manchester
The north of the UK is one of my favorite places, but the weather can be pretty unpredictable. Here’s what I would recommend to wear when you’re visiting, depending on what time of year you will be there.
- Cosy and comfy boots: Manchester is a really walkable city, so be sure to wear a comfy pair of boots. I personally love a classic pair of black boots that go with everything.
- Warm Socks: I swear I have the same circulation of most 90 year ols, so for me, decent thick socks are a must. I usually go for thermal socks like these to keep my feet nice and toasty.
- Thick tights: If you’re a dress lover you have to get a pair of fleece lined tights. I actually think these babies are the best thing since sliced bread! They’re prefect to pair with a nice dress or skirt if you don’t fancy wearing jeans.
- Touch screen gloves: Let’s be real here, you’re probably going to be taking a lot of photos and boasting to your friends back home about how awesome Manchester is, so gloves that are touch screen friendly are a must. I love the ones on ASOS as they not only come in a range of colours, styles and some that are made from recycled polyester which I think is fantastic.
- Hat and scarf: I personally like the ones with pom-poms on top like this one or this one as they do a good job at keeping me warm but also look good too. I also like a nice thick scarf to keep warm like this infinity scarf or a nice big shawl in a bright colour like this.
- Warm coat: A nice cosy coat like these ones is a must for the UK in winter. I would recommend getting one that you can fit jumpers under to really be able to wrap up warm if you need to.
- Warm dresses: I always go for a nice jumper dress like this and this as they’re nice and warm and a decent thickness. I’f I’m really feeling the chill, I would wear a singlet underneath just for an extra layer.
- Jumpers: If jeans then you’re going to need a cosy jumper to wear with them. They’re great for layering with t-shirts or shirts underneath if you need that bit of extra warmth or just by themselves if not. H&M, ASOS and Boohoo.com are my go to shops for picking up really cute and versatile knitwear.
- Dresses: Believe it or not, the UK can be lovely and warm so be sure to pack a couple of dresses. I like cotton dresses as their light weight for the bag and breathable. They’re also easy to pair with trainers or sandals, which ever you prefer.
- Skirts: If you look at any of my photos on my Instagram, you’ll know I love a skirt. I personally find them so versatile as they look great with a t-shirt, pretty strappy top or even a warmer top, just in case the British summer isn’t quite as warm as I hoped. I love the selection on ASOS and Boohoo.com.
- Cardigan: Hopefully your summer trip will see you catch a bit of sunshine, but I’d still recommend packing something to layer up as well. I like a simple slouchy cardigan like this one or a shorter one like this one that go great with dresses and jeans
- Comfy shoes: If the weather is being kind then make sure you’ve got your favorite comfy sandals or pair of trainers packed as you’re going to be doing a decent amount of walking.
- Sunscreen: Yes, believe it or not, it can get sunny enough to need some sunscreen. Personally, I never use anything below factor 50 and I’ll be honest, I have burnt through that in the UK! Sun safety is important no matter where you are so make sure you have sunscreen on you.
All year round essentials
- Umbrella: As I’ve mentioned, the UK weather can be a bit hit and miss, so be sure to pack a small umbrella in your day bag, just in case.
- Day bag: You don’t need anything too practical for a trip to Manchester, but I would recommend a bag that is waterproof to protect your things, just in case you get caught in a downpour. I love a faux leather backpack or crossbody bag as they tend to be pretty durable, comfy and my hands are free to take tonnes of photos.
- Jeans: The perfect all rounder. No matter what, make sure you have a pair of your favorite jeans with you to cover all weather and occasions.
Top things to do in Manchester on a budget
John Rylands Library
This library is honestly one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen – it’s literally like stepping into Hogwarts. The shelves are full of beautiful old bound books and the stained glass on the windows make everywhere feel so special. There’s also a hilarious photoshoot spot which Lucy and I had way too much fun at.
This building is considered one of the finest examples of neo-gothic architecture in England, and I have to say, it is stunning. It’s used for a multitude of events and it’s also free to go into. It’s pretty close to the John Ryland library so it’s easy to visit them together.
This huge shopping centre is nothing unusual so you will find all the high street shops inside, so if you fancy a quick shop, then this is a good spot to go to.
This quirky part of this city is full of independent cafes, restaurants and shops. It’s the perfect place to pick up something unusual or to spend time having a good rummage for something different. Alfecks is perfect for this – it’s huge and is almost like an undercover market full of individual shops and stalls. It’s a good place to stop for some lunch as well. We stopped at the Fig and Sparrow and the food was deliciously fresh.
So I know 2 libraries in one day might sound a bit excessive, but trust me on this, you have to swing by. The entrance is grand but the main room is amazing. The huge round room resembles something you might expect to see in Rome rather than Manchester, honestly my jaw dropped. And what’s better is that it was busy with people actually using it, not just full of people like me having a walk through.
Museum of science and industry
Manchester grew from its part in the cotton and textiles trade, so this free museum is great to find out more. As well as covering the history of the city, it also has a great hands-on (and dress up for
adults kids) science floor that looks at the impact graphene has had after its discovery in Manchester.
Cheap places to eat in Manchester
Brunch or Lunch
The Northern Quarter is a great area to head to for bargain bites. There are loads of cute cafes to choose from, but I had a delicious lunch of avocado salad on homemade rye bread at Fig & Sparrow. If you’re looking for somewhere healthy and fresh, this is where you need to be heading to!
Manchester is such a diverse city so you’ll be sure to find restaurants for any cuisine that takes your fancy. We stumbled across a great Greek restaurant called Kozmoz and had a fantastic meal there. They also had an awesome deal on for 2 courses so we gorged on that. The food and service was amazing, and a dare say there will be other restaurants with deals on, so keep your eyes peeled!