Top things to do in Manchester for soccer fans
As the official travel partner of the UEFA Champions League, we’ve journeyed to the homes of the teams that have got through to the final 16 to give you the lowdown on the hotspots for your next away trip. In this article we head to Manchester, U.K., home of Manchester City FC and Manchester United FC.
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Manchester is always a top choice for shopping, live music, and legendary nightlife. On game days, though, the city positively buzzes with excitement. And, while there’s a long-running rivalry between Manchester United FC and Manchester City FC, it’s all pretty friendly, even on so-called “derby days”, a match between local rivals.
Be as “mad for it” as a Mancunian on game day and discover the best things to see, eat, and do on a soccer-themed break in this lively northern English city.
Meet the teams: Manchester United FC and Manchester City FC
Manchester United FC
You’d have to travel to quite remote corners to find anyone who hasn’t heard of this team or its roster of legendary players, past and present. Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Bryan Robson, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Roy Keane, and Wayne Rooney are among the stellar players to have blazed trails wearing the famous red kit. The silverware is pretty dazzling, too, with three UEFA Champions League titles, a dozen FA Cup wins, and 20 league titles jostling for space in the cabinet.
Manchester United FC was founded in 1878 as Newton Heath L&YR Football Club, switching to its catchier current moniker in 1902.
Manchester City FC
No one can write off Manchester City FC, historically seen as the underdog team. Fans will know all about its highs and lows, including spells spent outside the top U.K. leagues. But it’s proven itself a real match for its home rivals. The team has significantly topped up its trophy cabinet in the past decade or so, with a 2011 FA Cup win and three league titles, although a UEFA Champions League title still eludes them. Some big names have worn the cornflower-blue shirt, too: David Silva, Sergio Agüero, and former players Carlos Tevez, Yaya Touré, and Colin Bell (or “The King,” as fans know him).
Eric Brook, who played for the club from 1928 to 1939, is Manchester City FC’s all-time top scorer, with 178 goals in 494 appearances.
Visiting Manchester’s football stadiums: Old Trafford and the City of Manchester Stadium
Old Trafford: Old Trafford district
The so-called “Theatre of Dreams” has seen plenty of glory since becoming home to Manchester United FC in 1910. This charismatic giant is the second biggest stadium in the U.K. after Wembley Stadium in London. It has 75,000 seats and two hospitality suites, including the Red Café, which is open to the public on non-game days.
Only official members can buy tickets for home games, while tickets to the biggest games are allocated via member ballot. It’s worth joining to get generous discounts on the excellent stadium tours, too.
There are a few different options (including the Legends Tour, where a former player is your guide) but you can always expect access to the dressing room, tunnel, players dugout, and press room. There’s also an on-site museum, which you can visit separately or with a combined ticket, and there are discounts for club members.
Getting there: If you want to rent a car in Manchester, it’s a 15-minute drive from the city center or Manchester Airport. Various Metrolink tram stations have park and ride facilities, so you can jump on the tram to the Old Trafford stop. From there, it’s a 15-minute walk to the stadium. Just follow the sea of red shirts, scarves, and hats.
Where to eat and what to do in Old Trafford
The stadium really is the main draw here, though you’ll find a few food trucks outside on game days, and there are a few hotels nearby. Café Football, opposite the stadium, sells the usual savory pies and burgers. You might have to eat standing up, but that won’t matter if you’re rubbing shoulders with Manchester United FC legends like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
You can walk to Salford Quays, which has a cluster of restaurants and lively bars along the canal, in around 15 minutes. MediaCityUK is then a five-minute stroll, and plant-filled The Botanist is a favorite spot for pre- or post-game cocktails and seasonal food.
Café Football, 99 Sir Matt Busby Way, Manchester M16 0SZ
The Botanist Media City, Orange Building MediaCityUK, Salford M50 2HE
City of Manchester Stadium—Etihad Campus district
City of Manchester Stadium seats around 55,000, and sits in the heart of Sportcity, the largest concentration of sporting venues in Europe, and around 1.5 miles east of the city center. Two hospitality areas include the unique Tunnel Club, with seats behind the dugout and a view of the players in the glass tunnel.
Go behind the scenes with a stadium tour of the players’ dressing room, warm-up area, tunnel, and press room. You can even take the manager’s seat in the dugout. Diehard fans should consider the VIP Legends Tour, guided by a former player and finishing with a sumptuous meal in a hospitality box. Or, to really dial up the thrill factor, take a game-day tour and stand in the tunnel just hours before the players. You can almost hear the cheers.
Getting there: You can walk from the city center within a half hour, or catch a 10-minute Metrolink tram to Etihad Campus, right next door. Driving, it’s five minutes from the cent or 25 minutes from the airport.
Where to eat and what to do in Etihad Campus
Sportcity has boosted neighborhood regeneration. Currently, though, there aren’t many places to eat besides the usual food trucks on game days. There are a few hotels within walking distance, in addition to city-center accommodation.
A 10-minute walk away, Vermilion Restaurant is a plush choice for a post-game dinner, or cocktails in its lounge, Cinnabar. Or head back towards the city center, which has endless food and drink options.
Make time for the impressive National Football Museum, whose four floors are packed with photographs, signed shirts, and incredible artifacts, including one of the footballs kicked about by Captain Wilfred Percy Nevill and his men at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
Vermilion, Lord North Street, Hulme Hall Lane, Manchester M40 8AD
Partying in Manchester after the game
Celebrating after the game
Fans tend to gather in the pubs closest to the grounds, or flood into town for post-game drink and debrief. Really, the party can be anywhere—just hold your team scarf high (and make sure you follow the right crowd).
For a chance of spotting your favorite players, follow the City gang to Hale. This posh suburb, around a half hour from the center, is filled with wine and cocktail bars. But, when Manchester City FC won the Premier League in 2012 thanks to Sergio Agüero’s iconic goal, “old man’s pub” The Railway was packed out with players and fans. While you’re more likely to see red in the bars around Salford Quays, which is walkable from Old Trafford.
The Railway, 128-130 Ashley Rd, Hale, Altrincham WA14 2UN
Going out in Manchester
The centrally located Northern Quarter is a locals’ favorite for old-school pubs and live music bars, cozy by day and buzzing by night. It’s an easy tram ride from either ground. Looking for somewhere to watch the game? The Northern Quarter has a few good options with big screens. Or don your shirt and make a beeline for the bars around Oxford Road and Deansgate, many of which have several screens and craft beer on tap.
You can fly direct to Manchester from some airports in the U.S., or via a number of European cities such as London or Amsterdam. It’s around seven hours from New York or Philadelphia, or eight from Orlando. Treat yourself to a stay in one of Manchester city center’s hotels—perfect for exploring the city’s diverse neighborhoods.
Ready to visit the soccer-mad city? With luxury city center hotels, cozy pubs, and endless options for nightlife, Manchester has all you need for a city break—whatever colors you wear.
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