When to go to Manchester

The Manchester Wheel in summer © Cathy Baldwin

The best time to visit Manchester

The weather in Manchester may not be the most reliable but you can trust the city’s events and attractions to keep you entertained at any time of year. Take a look at some of the highlights below. However, if you are not visiting for a specific event, read my tips on avoiding the crowds too.

Manchester is famous for its sporting achievements and the city’s venues attract visitors in their droves. But, if you are not a cricket or football fan, it may be worth avoiding some of the larger matches as the roads, hotels and bars will be extremely busy. Check the fixtures on www.manutd.com, www.mcfc.co.uk and www.lccc.co.uk before you plan your trip. The Manchester Derby - the annual match between Manchester United and Manchester City – is a particularly busy day as the city’s fans take sides and their seats at the pub.

Spring – green spaces and running

It only takes a glimmer of sunshine to persuade Mancunians that eating and drinking outside is a good idea so, as the weather brightens up in April and May, Manchester’s restaurants and bars start to put their tables and chairs out. The weather can be extremely changeable at this time of year though so don’t be deceived by the northerners’ stubbornness, and don’t forget to pack a coat and an umbrella.

May sees thousands of runners take to the streets to participate in the Bupa Great Manchester Run. In 2010, 36,000 people – including me - kitted out in sportswear took part in the event which goes from the city centre to Old Trafford and back again. The run has a great atmosphere as Manchester’s residents line the streets to cheer their friends and family on, but it is probably an event to avoid if your trip to Manchester is based around shopping, sightseeing and partying – some of the city centre’s streets are closed for most of the weekend and the bars, hotels and restaurants are full of elite and amateur runners. The 2011 Bupa Great Manchester Run is on 15 May 2011.

Manchester’s green spaces are lovely places to be in the spring – my favourite places for a walk and a picnic are Chorlton Meadows (see more in Independent Manchester: Chorlton and Didsbury) and Fletcher Moss Gardens.

Summer – picnics, partying and bargain hotel rates

With the weather becoming hotter in June, July and August, outdoor activities are increasingly popular. Late July and August are the best times to find reduced rates in some of Manchester’s hotels too – see my recommendations on my Manchester hotels page.

Summer 2010 saw the Spinningfields development set up the city’s first outdoor cinema – Screenfields - showing old classics and family favourites, as well as sporting events. The screenings are free to enter and deckchairs and picnic rugs can be hired. See www.spinningfieldsonline.net for listings.

A new event was also added to Manchester’s summer calendar in 2010, The Manchester Picnic. Take a look at http://tinyurl.com/32dtk2t to find out where the family-friendly picnic sites are and don’t forget your teddy bear.

One of the city’s most famous and vibrant events, Manchester Pride, is held every August to raise money for LGBT communities. The main attraction is the Big Weekend: 70 hours of wild partying on Canal Street. 2010’s headline acts included Beverley Knight, Kelis and Belinda Carlisle. Get in the mood for a night out in the Gay Village by watching the OTT parade on the Saturday then join the partying crowds until the small hours. The hotels in the city centre fill up quickly so book in advance for the best spots – see my picks on my Manchester hotels page. See www.manchesterpride.com for more information and to book tickets.

As the football matches tail off, the cricket tournaments begin with games throughout the summer months. Take a look at the Lancashire County Cricket Club site for fixtures (www.lccc.co.uk).

Autumn – comedy and cuisine

I love Manchester in autumn as the nights start to draw in and some of the city’s most exciting events take place.

The Manchester Food and Drink Festival (www.foodanddrinkfestival.com) celebrates Manchester’s culinary scene and is one of the biggest food and drink festivals in Europe. Events are held throughout the city during the festival – it is worth taking a look at the markets on St Anne’s Square and keeping an eye out for celebrations in Albert Square.

The Manchester Comedy Festival celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2010 and is an event to put in your diary. Big name and local comedy acts perform at venues all over the city. Look out for next year's line up being announced at www.manchestercomedyfestival.co.uk.

Winter – cold but a great time to visit

Christmas is my favourite time in Manchester as Santa is placed on the town hall, the city is covered in Christmas lights and the Christmas market stalls appear selling food, drink and gifts. The temperatures may drop but wrap up warm and enjoy the cheerful party atmosphere.

Manchester’s streets are extremely crowded in the run up to Christmas as panic-stricken shoppers hunt for last-minute gifts so if you want to see Manchester’s shops at a leisurely pace, visit earlier in the year. As a city girl, I quite enjoy the hustle and bustle and appreciate the shops’ late-night opening times throughout December.

Manchester’s Christmas markets open on 18 November and sell gifts and stocking fillers, as well as an ever increasing selection of food and drink. The beer and gluhwein tents are popular with office workers after 5pm and locals at the weekend, so the best time to visit is in the daytime during the week.

Manchester’s Chinatown is the largest in the UK outside of London and is a great place to go to celebrate Chinese New Year. Thousands of people line the streets from Albert Square to Chinatown to watch a colourful parade, then eat in one of the restaurants before taking to the streets again for a fireworks display.

For more expert advice on Manchester, follow these links: