You may know Manchester from its world-renowned football teams, the famous cobbles of Coronation Street, or the music history that pulses through the heart of the city – but there’s a lot more to Manchester than you might think.

Whether you’re a complete stranger to the city, or you’ve visited before, this guide aims to get you up to speed on all the best things to see and do, places to eat, and how best to explore your new home.

It’s important to remember that the suggestions in this guide are subject to Covid-19 restrictions, and it’s always best to check the latest opening hours and advice online before heading out. See visitmanchester.com for the latest information and recommendations.

1) Join a walking tour

One of the best ways to get to know a city is to go out and explore it with one of many experienced Manchester tour guides. Discover Manchester offer a weekend guided tour, setting off from outside the Central Library at 11am, and will show you all the top sights across the city (£12). For something more in-depth New Manchester Walks offer tours on everything from architecture and music to political history and ghost walks (from £11). Or for something completely different, Skyliner Tours offer street art tours of the Northern Quarter (£10) and can give you a good introduction to the best of the edgy neighbourhood, including perfect Insta-friendly photo spots!

2) Discover free museums

Manchester has a proud industrial history – home to the world’s first passenger railway; the suffragette movement; and the first computer, locals will be pleased to tell you how many world-firsts Manchester has achieved. A great place to uncover more of the city’s past is at the Science and Industry Museum, where you can expect full-size trains and planes, alongside working steam engines, items from space travel and a replica of Baby – the world’s first electronic stored-programme computer!

For ancient history, visit Manchester Museum within the University of Manchester, where you will find life-size dinosaurs, a live vivarium, ancient worlds collection and a great area to study whilst being surrounded by objects from the past.

Manchester has always been shaking the political system, and it’s radical past – communism, suffragettes and the Peterloo Massacre – is all documented at the People’s History Museum, the UK’s national museum of democracy, which is home to a number of fascinating political artefacts, including the largest collection of Labour Party material from its history.

There are many more hidden gems worth exploring, not forgetting Greater Manchester Police Museum, The Pankhurst Centre (former home of Emmeline Pankhurst), Elizabeth Gaskell House, Rochdale Pioneers Museum, and The Working Class Movement Library. Of course, there’s also the National Football Museum and stadium tours of the city’s two respective behemoths of the football world – fees apply but you can get a student discount.

3) Discover hidden libraries

Manchester is a UNESCO City of Literature and home to Chetham’s Library, the oldest library in the English-speaking world, first opened in 1653. Next year will mark the 600th anniversary of the oldest parts of the building, which were once used as monks’ accommodation. Chetham’s was also the place where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels first met, and it was this historic meeting that led to them writing The Communist Manifesto together.

Manchester’s wealth came from the cotton industry, and in 1900 The John Rylands Library was built in honour of the city’s first millionaire by his wife, Enriquetta. Described as like ‘something out of Harry Potter’, the library is a magnificent neo-gothic space where students are welcome to come and study or view its changing exhibitions. Anyone visiting would find it hard to believe they were in a library, and not a church!

Completing the trio of essential libraries, Manchester Central Library and the connecting City Library, offers floors of books and journals, alongside a music library where you can borrow instruments. A grand domed Reading Room is the centrepiece of the building, and is perfect for studying – when you visit, be sure to listen to the soothing echoes of closing books in the impressive central dome.

4) Fill up on cheap street food

Manchester is spoilt for choice when it comes to street-style food. Recently relocated Grub (in the Green Quarter), has different food traders every week, and on weekends hosts ‘Plant Powered Sundays’, with entirely vegan-friendly food. Closer to Oxford Road, you will find converted shipping containers at Hatch featuring restaurants, cafes and pop-ups selling vintage clothing, sneakers and crafts.

If you’re willing to stretch your budget a little for something different, head to Escape to Freight Island, a Coney Island themed space where you can expect pizza, burgers and doughnuts from independent traders alongside live music, all set against the moody backdrop of a disused railway depot. For equally photo-ready architecture check out the former Victorian market Mackie Mayor, which offers ten independent food traders, featuring local beer and relaxed atmosphere in the Northern Quarter.

5) Explore the Northern Quarter

Known for its hipster vibe, the Northern Quarter is Manchester’s answer to everything independent – and there’s no better place to start than Afflecks emporium, an Aladdin’s cave across four floors where you will find the best vintage clothing, jewellery, retro gaming, fancy dress and collectables. Also inside, great food is served by Manchester Vegan Café, and amazing ice cream at Ginger’s Comfort Emporium.

For arts and crafts, visit the Manchester Craft and Design Centre which offers handmade products made by local artists; or stop into Fred Aldous – you’ll be surprised at its large basement full of art supplies. For music lovers, pick up some iconic Manchester sounds at Vinyl Revival; and something to read from Magma Books. After all that shopping, you’ll want some coffee/brunch – we recommend one of the many independent coffee shops, there’s design-led Foundation Coffee House, artisan Takk, excellent steak and eggs at Evelyn’s or antipodean Federal Café.

6) A waterside afternoon at Salford Quays

You may have seen Salford Quays whilst watching morning TV – it’s home to BBC Breakfast, and also ITV’s Coronation Street and a host of other popular shows. But beyond the glamour of the camera’s, Salford Quays makes for a lovely waterside afternoon.

Start off by visiting The Lowry, home to world theatre and a permanent collection of paintings by Salford’s-own L.S. Lowry. From here, you can uncover histories of world conflicts at the Imperial War Museum North, which is housed inside a striking building, with floors designed to make you feel disorientated. For those looking to immerse themselves into the Quays, the Helly Hansen Watersports Centre offers activities for both novices and experienced athletes.

A short walk from here is Ordsall Hall, a 15th century manor house with free entry and beautiful grounds; and of course, the famous Old Trafford football ground known around the world as the “theatre of dreams”.

Keep an eye out for a new opening in 2021, when ITV’s I’m a Celebrity… Jungle Challenge opens to challenge visitors to attempt tasks from the hit show, including zip lining, climbing and parachute drops!

7) Wander neighbourhoods

It’s never too early to start deciding where you might want to live in second or third year – so getting out and exploring the neighbourhoods of Greater Manchester is a great way to get a feel of life outside the city.

Historically, Withington, Fallowfield, Burnage, Hulme and the areas around Chapel Street in Salford have been some of the obvious go-to areas, but as the city’s various university campuses have expanded, so too has the radius of student living.

Areas further west of Withington like Chorlton and Didsbury are now packed with students attracted to a more grown up, suburban feel and the plethora of excellent cafes, shops and bars on the doorstep. Heading east, Levenshulme has become an increasingly attractive option beyond Burnage because of its quick access into the city centre and its great community feel, spear-headed by the excellent Levenshulme Market. Meanwhile places like Stockport, Stretford and even Salford Quays are building small student pockets of their own.

8) Shopping and student discounts

One of the best things about being a student? Student discounts! Manchester is great for shopping, with Manchester Arndale shopping centre offering discounts on most of its major stores and eateries. In the same area on Market Street, expect bargains from brands including Uniqlo, Primark, H&M and New Look. Wander down Deansgate for stores like Waterstones and House of Fraser, which leads onto King Street, for Jack Wills, and Patagonia. Out of town, you can hop on the Trafford line tram to intu Trafford Centre – where from 28 September to 4 October – Student Shopping Week will be running, with discounts on more than 50 stores, and up to 50% off top brands. You’ll also be impressed by architecture of this shopping palace, which features great domed ceilings, and a food court designed to look like a cruise ship!

9) Take a trip to the countryside

Manchester is lucky to be surrounded by easy to reach countryside. The rolling hills of the Peak District can be reached within an hour by train, for access to unspoilt open space great for hiking, popular spots include Mam Tor, Dovedale nature reserve and The Limestone Way. This area is also home to the impressive Chatsworth House, a stately home worthy of a day out.

Travel a bit further and you will find the charming towns of Windermere, Oxenholme and Kendal (home to Kendal Calling festival) in the Lake District, reached within 90 minutes to 2 hours – here you can take a boat tour across Lake Windermere, or try some water sports in one of the many lakes and meres.

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