Manchester is one of the best places for students or budget travellers to visit in the UK. Home to three (very competitive) universities – University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and Salford University – there’s a massive student vibe mixed in with the vibrant local culture. It’s one of the most diverse cities in the country, on top of being the best for a night out. Think London, but waaay cheaper! We’re here to show you all the best ways to explore Manchester on a budget.
But first, let us introduce ourselves. We’re Henry and Chlöe, Hostelworld Student Explorers from Manchester. Henry is currently in his second year studying business management and German and was also born and bred here, so it’s safe to say he knows it like the back of his hand. Chlöe is a second-year neuroscience student born in Leeds, raised in Hampshire but made in Manchester – and she never wants to leave! As students, we know all the best hacks to save money in this city. Who wants in on our secrets?
Free things to do in Manchester
So, you’re probably wondering what you can do or see that won’t break the bank? Well you’re in luck – there’s plenty of things to do in Manchester for everyone who wants to explore on a budget.
- If you’re really into sport, we’d highly recommend visiting the National Football Museum which is totally free. Here you can explore the history of football all the way back to the 17th Perfect for all you lovers of the beautiful game who aren’t quite on a footballer’s wage.
- In case you didn’t know, Manchester is home to two of the biggest football teams in the world: Manchester United and Manchester City. If you’re lucky then you can snap a photo with the Premier League trophy which Henry’s team, Manchester United, has won 20 times. Although it’s currently held by rivals Manchester City…
- You can visit both team’s stadiums – Old Trafford and Etihad Stadium – which are accessible via public transport on buses or the Metrolink. If you have budget to spare and are eager to see a game, tickets for a match can be purchased as cheaply as £19. For true fans, Old Trafford offers stadium tours for £28, with group and student discounts available.
- If you’re a history enthusiast, Manchester won’t disappoint. The city has deep connections to its working-class history. It survived both world wars and stood up to the Manchester Blitz during World War II. The Imperial War Museum North, located in Salford Quays, is free to enter, so it’s perfect for backpackers and students in Manchester on a budget. The museum offers amazing views and has exhibits exploring what life was like during World War II.
- Chlöe loves Twenty Twenty Twos (TTTs), an underground table tennis hall just off Piccadilly Gardens. For £5 per table you get at least 30 minutes of fun. Big groups are welcome, so if you meet some new hostel BFFs bring them along too! The bar is cheap too, with happy hour between 4-7pm. It’s an especially fun thing to do on a rainy day (which happens a lot in Manchester)!
- For one of the coolest crazy golf courses you’ll ever see, head to Junkyard Golf. It has three uniquely themed courses that’ll have you putting through weird and wonderful obstacles (including a boat and a car)! With bars selling booze throughout the course you can enjoy a drink as you progress through, as we did… They also offer student discount, woohoo!
Best cheap restaurants in Manchester
The UK is famous for its buzzing nightlife culture and you’re sure to see a bar or pub everywhere you turn in Manchester. It’s also home to a diverse selection of food, so whatever you’re craving, Manchester is sure to have it. The average pint here would set you back around £3.50, but we’d suggest visiting the Old Wellington Pub right outside the Arndale shopping centre for an even better bargain.
- If you’re a pizza lover you have to hit up Rudy’s Pizza, by far the best pizza you’ll find in Manchester. The dough is fresh and the pizza is cooked in a proper pizza oven. You’ll have to book in advance though because it’s very popular!
- Solita has a massive menu of excellent burgers if that’s what you’re in the mood for, plus wings, hot dogs and epic sharers – basically everything that’s bad for you but tastes so, so good! Set in the trendy Northern Quarter, it also has a very chill atmosphere and delicious cocktails. Their burgers are a little more expensive but are worth treating yourself to!
- Manchester is also home to the famous Curry Mile, a stretch of top-notch Indian restaurants where you can have an absolute feast without breaking the bank. If you’re looking for great shawarma or just want to enjoy the atmosphere, this is a must-visit. However, one of Henry’s favourite places for a curry is Mowgli – tapas-style Indian dishes full of authentic home cooked flavour. Yes please!
If you ask Henry, Manchester is the capital of music in the UK – which is hard to deny with bands like the Stone Roses and Oasis forming here. Student clubs here are exciting and varied, with something for everyone. Don’t miss the iconic warehouse raves like the legendary WHP, or if you’re visiting in summer, festivals like Parklife are a must. Here are some of our favourite bars in Manchester:
- Mackie Mayor hosts a range of street food vendors and bars inside the historic Old Mill that’s been a Manchester landmark for hundreds of years. You can buy wine here by the litre – we highly recommend the house rosé! There are plenty of local craft beers available too, with a pint costing around £3.90. It has communal seating, so is a very sociable venue, perfect for solo travellers! The atmosphere is always buzzing, particularly in the evenings.
- Styled on the 80s skate scene, Cane and Grain in the edgy Northern Quarter serves a broad selection of craft beer, bourbon and infamous ribs. The vibe is very chilled, but it does get quite busy. It opens until late, with good music playing all night. Rumour has it there’s also a secret bar located within…
- Soup Kitchen and South both host some of the best DJs in techno and house. Check out who’s playing on the apps Skiddle or Resident Advisor. The drinks are cheap, but pre-drink before going as these clubs don’t open until at least 11pm.
- 42’s is great for indie lovers. You can get discounted entrance with a student card.
- Fac251 caters to all genres, with three different floors of music including house, garage and even indie and pop some nights. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays have great deals on drinks and entry, so as you can imagine it’s a popular night with students!
- For a cheap and cheesy night, the Deansgate Locks area is a great shout with many clubs including Ark, Lola Lo and Revolution. The best time to go is at the weekend if you want a busy and lively crowd.
Where to stay in Manchester
If you want the easiest access to the city’s main attractions and the busiest clubs, pubs and restaurants, you should opt to stay in the city centre. When you’re here, everything else is just a short walk away. If you’d rather hang with the hipsters, the Northern Quarter is a trendy neighbourhood full of quirky bars, coffee shops and independent boutiques. For something a bit more bohemian, check out Chorlton, a laid-back area in the south of the city that’s full of vegan eateries and has an amazing whole foods market.
If you’re on a budget, then you should stay in a hostel in Manchester. One fantastic option is Selina NQ1 Manchester. Its friendly, helpful staff and clean rooms will make your stay that much more enjoyable. It’s also got many great amenities including free Wi-Fi, luggage storage, quirky design and a cute garden. Located in the Northern Quarter, this Insta-ready hostel is right next to independent bars, traditional pubs and unique restaurants. It’s also located amongst the area’s eclectic shopping scene, with all the independents and thrift stores that are perfect for finding those one-of-a-kind items!
These are our best tips for exploring Manchester on a budget – we hope we’ve inspired you to visit our city! If you want to know anything else, or have any of your own Manchester tips to share, let us know in the comments below.