City Centre, Manchester

Creative Tourist

Visit Manchester Town Hall and you’ll spot bees picked out in the mosaics across the lobby floor – once seen, you’ll notice them everywhere. Appearing on benches, council flower pots and even bins across the city, the bee is a a symbol of Manchester’s industriousness.

This industriousness is evidenced all over the city centre, where proud heritage meets contemporary ambition, with a future-leaning cultural offer that increasingly pushes the city towards the global stage.

From stunning neo-Gothic buildings like The Town Hall and the John Rylands Library to new beacons of culture such as Factory International, one of Europe’s most anticipated cultural venues, Manchester’s city centre really has it all. Sometimes, though, it’s knowing where to look.

It’s important to note that the city centre is probably Manchester’s most diverse area culturally, taking in Chinatown, the Gay Village as well as areas like Deansgate, Castlefield, Spinningfields, the Northern Quarter and Ancoats, all of which you can explore in more detail within in our dedicated guides to those areas.

Here, though, you’ll find a cherry-picked selection of  the arts and cultural venues that the city treasures most, from musical institutions to galleries, theatrical gems to one-of-a-kind museums, with a few stand-out restaurants thrown in for good measure.

Our top picks

Manchester Museum

Manchester Museum, The University Of Manchester, Oxford Rd, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M13 9PL - Visit now

Manchester Museum has re-opened with new exhibition spaces and a modern two-storey extension to the back of the building. This physical transformation is symbolic of the more ethical changes happening within the building.

Manchester Museum Tours at Manchester Museum

Manchester Town Hall

Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square , Manchester, Greater Manchester, M60 2LA - Visit now

Re-opening in 2024, Manchester Town Hall, the Grade I-listed £325m restoration project is nearing completion. The Town Hall’s instantly recognisable clock tower stands 280ft tall over Manchester, and its four dials have kept time for our city since New Year’s Day 1879.

Image courtesy of Visit Britain

Manchester Art Gallery

Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M2 3JL - Visit now

Grade I-listed Manchester Art Gallery is one of the city’s premier-league spaces for art, boasting an outstanding Victorian collection alongside regularly changing contemporary shows.

Manchester Art Gallery. Photo by Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks

Aviva Studios

Aviva Studios, Water Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M3 3JQ - Visit now

global destination for arts, music and culture in Manchester, operated by the team behind Manchester International Festival, Factory International venue is set to reshape the city’s cultural output and standing while bringing a cool billion to the economy over a decade.

Factory International
Factory International. Image courtesy of OMA.

Science and Industry Museum

Science and Industry Museum, Liverpool Road, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M3 4FP - Visit now

Dedicated to inspiring visitors through revolutionary, world-changing ideas, the Science and Industry Museum pairs historic sites with a dynamic, contemporary science programme.

Image courtesy of Science and Industry Museum.

HOME Manchester

HOME Manchester, 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M15 4FN - Visit now

HOME, Manchester’s £25m cross-arts venue, is one of the city’s crown jewels when it comes to culture, packed with two theatres, five cinema screens, a large gallery, bar, café and bookshop.

HOME Manchester
Paul Karalius

The Whitworth

The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M15 6ER - Visit now

Originally founded in 1889 as the first English gallery in a park in memory of the industrialist Sir Joseph Whitworth, “for the perpetual gratification of the people of Manchester”, in recent years its contemporary exhibitions programme and international collections have catapulted The Whitworth into the international art world orbit.

The Whitworth
The Whitworth, Photo: Alan Williams

Royal Exchange Theatre

Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann’s Square, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M2 7DH - Visit now

The Royal Exchange is surely up there with the most unique theatres in the country, and is highly regarded for both new writing and its take on the classics.

Royal Exchange Theatre
Image courtesy of Lee Baxter.

The Portico Library

The Portico Library, 57 Mosley Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M2 3HY - Visit now

With its discreet side entrance, tucked away down Mosely Street, leading onto an initially unpromising set of winding stairs, the well-hidden Portico Library is one of Manchester’s finest gems. This is a perfect place to while away an afternoon, exploring what’s on, taking in the beautiful Regency-period architecture, learning about the building’s history, and enjoying a spot of tea and cake in the great domed gallery.

The Portico Library, Manchester
Creative Tourist

People’s History Museum (PHM)

People’s History Museum (PHM), Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3ER - Visit now

People’s History Museum, home of ‘ideas worth fighting for’, is the only museum in the UK dedicated to the history of British democracy. It houses approximately 1,500 objects, including the largest collection of trade union and other political banners in the world.

People's History Museum Manchester
Image © People’s History Museum

Manchester Central Library

Manchester Central Library, St Peter's Square, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M2 5PD - Visit now

This iconic, neo-Classically curved library, dating back nearly a century, has 110,000 items, a media centre, a unique Black history collection, a Secret Garden-themed children’s section and hosts the largest public music library in the country.

Manchester Central Library
Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Adam Reid at The French

Adam Reid at The French, The Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M20 2DS - Visit now

The French was recently announced as one of the UK’s top 100 restaurants according to Squaremeal. It’s one of just two entries from Manchester (the other is the equally excellent Erst in Ancoats — see below!) and while we’d argue that our fair city has many, many more besides these, it’s worth celebrating all the same.

The French - One of Manchester's finest restaurants - Creative Tourist
Photos by author

Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM)

Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), 124 Oxford Road, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M13 9RD - Visit now

Now into its fifth decade, the RNCM is an enduringly vital player on the Manchester music scene, filling the city’s cultural calendar with diverse, explorative and bold public events each season, including free weekly lunchtime concerts which make classical music incredibly accessible.

RNCM

Castlefield Gallery

Castlefield Gallery, 2 Hewitt Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M15 4GB - Visit now

With its forward-thinking schedule of exhibitions, this small but influential contemporary art gallery opened in 1984 and has become a key part of the North of England’s cultural fabric.

Castlefield Gallery, Manchester
Castlefield Gallery

The Bridgewater Hall

The Bridgewater Hall, Lower Mosley Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M2 3WS - Visit now

One of Manchester’s most important cultural buildings, when The Bridgewater Hall opened in 1996 it marked the beginning of a period when the city sloughed off its post-industrial skin in favour of new builds and new ambition.

The seats and stage in The Bridgewater Hall

Contact Theatre

Contact Theatre, Oxford Road, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M15 6JA - Visit now

Contact has long been a go-to place for emerging theatre in the city, with commissioned work here going on to high acclaim. Set back from the road but recognisable by its eccentric H-shaped turrets, there’s no other theatre like it in the country.

exterior of Contact Theatre building

John Rylands Research Institute and Library

John Rylands Research Institute and Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M3 3EH - Visit now

As impressive as its neo-Gothic architecture are its collections: the rare printed texts that include preserved papyrus fragments, the letters of local author Elizabeth Gaskell and an original Gutenberg Bible.

Magic bowls event. Image shows The historic Reading Room in John Rylands Library
Image courtesy of John Rylands Library.

Erst

Erst, 9 Murray St, Manchester, M4 5BN - Visit now

Set in Ancoats, Time Out’s ‘11th coolest neighbourhood in the world’, Erst is quietly becoming one of Manchester’s, possibly the North’s defining restaurants. The entire menu is a treat, full of post-Nordic creations that are both simple and endlessly fascinating.

erst.

Albert Hall

Albert Hall, 27 Peter Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M2 5QR - Visit now

Albert Hall is an objectively stunning venue, the kind that could never be built again. Originally a Wesleyan Chapel, its huge stained glass windows, ceiling arches and ornate vestibules create a very atmospheric backdrop to live gigs. Downstairs you’ll find cook haus, bakery, bier palace and wunderbar, Albert’s Schloss.

Albert Hall on Peter street Manchester
Image courtesy the Albert Hall.

Victoria Baths

Victoria Baths, Hathersage Road, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M13 0FE - Visit now

Oh, Victoria Baths, how we love thee: this Grade-II listed former (and occasionally current!) swimming baths is a Victorian stunner, all deep green glazed tiles, terracotta twiddly bits and Turkish baths.

Much Ado About Nothing at Victoria Baths

Manchester Craft & Design Centre

Manchester Craft & Design Centre, 17 Oak St, Northern Quarter, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M4 5JD - Visit now

One of our favourite places in Manchester, Manchester Craft & Design Centre is hands down the most reliable one-stop-shop for unique, but not over-priced, gifts in the city. Welcome to the mecca of all things beautiful, handmade and one-of-a-kind.

Manchester Craft and Design Centre by Joel C Fildes.
Manchester Craft and Design Centre by Joel C Fildes.

New Century

New Century, Mayes Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M60 4ES - Visit now

Originally built in 1963, this huge dance-hall, complete with a sprung-floor, was for that decade, and during the acid house era, an iconic part of Manchester’s music scene. Following a multi-million-pound transformation project, it’s picking up right where it left off, and some.

More City Centre events

Yellow poster with Weird as Folk written on it
Until
LiteratureManchester
Weird As Folk exhibition at The Portico

The Portico Library’s latest exhibition, Weird As Folk, runs through to November and invites you to explore and reimagine folklore via texts selected from the collection, which includes 100 books of English folklore.

free entry
FestivalsCity Centre
Manchester Day 2024

Enjoy a dusk-til-dawn celebration of the community and exuberance of Manchester.

free entry

Where to go in Manchester

Manchester Factory international Festival - People enjoying Festival Square in the city centre
Manchester
Café or Coffee Shop
Factory Square

Factory Square is a huge beer garden, on the banks of the River Irwell, with top-quality drinks and street food selections.

Manchester
Restaurant
Fenix

Modern Greek Mediterranean cuisine from the team behind Tattu.

Universally Manchester Festival 6-9 June 2024
Manchester
The University of Manchester

Celebrating its 200th year in 2024, The University of Manchester is the largest single-site university in the UK, and boasts come incredible cultural institutions, found on campus, across Manchester and…

Alborz
Levenshulme
Restaurant
Alborz

Much-loved Persian restaurant on Stockport in Levenshulme, reopened after a lengthy lockdown-related hiatus.

Manchester
Restaurant
Jaan

New food concept from the team behind Another Hand, based at Exhibition and serving up exceptional Persian cuisine.

The Rose & Monkey Hotel
Manchester
Restaurant
The Rose & Monkey Hotel

The Rose & Monkey Hotel is one of the Northern Quarter’s best music-led bars, with a truly impressive beer garden. Our new favourite Manchester pub.

Manchester Visitor Guides

Tasting Menus in The North

Looking for the finest luxury multi-course restaurants in Manchester? Look no further. We've picked out the very best tasting menus in the city - just make sure you have deep pockets.

Photo of the Halle orchestra at Bridgewater
Music Venues in Manchester

Manchester is still a great place to watch new and innovative music – so here’s a guide to where to watch the best live music in the city.

Sunday Roasts in Manchester

Looking for the finest roast dinners in Manchester? Look no further. We've picked out the very best Sunday dinners in the city.

Federal Cafe Bar
Breakfast in Manchester

Manchester is strong with the breakfast force, and has some impressive form where brunch is concerned. Here’s our pick of the city’s morning glories.

Blossom on trees in Manchester
Parks and Gardens in Manchester

There are more green spaces in Manchester than you might think. We've picked out some of the best parks and gardens in and around the city.

Bars in Manchester

The best new bars in Manchester, plus some old favourites for good measure.

Pillock at Contact
Spotlight on

Fringe Theatre in Manchester and the North

Check out our top picks of shows previewing in the North West before heading to Edinburgh Fringe Festival later in the summer.

Take me there

Culture Guides

Rebecca Watson author photo
Literature Events in Manchester and the North

In between working out, then working through, your holiday reading pile this summer, find inspiration for your next bookish acquisitions from our selection of live events and exhibitions.