Manchester is the perfect base for exploring the best of what Northern England has to offer. From the thousand-year-old castles to the charming watermill towns on the rivers, this region is considered to be one of the most beautiful and historical places in the country.
If you’re planning a day trip from Manchester, then you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to places to visit. In this article, I’ll share a few must-see destinations that you can easily reach in just an hour or two from the city.
What is the Best Day Trip from Manchester?
The outskirts of Manchester have something for everybody. If you want to explore another city, Liverpool, Altrincham, and Chester are great options that are all under an hour away. But if you want to experience a small-town life, then you can’t go wrong with a day trip to Ashton-under-Lyne or Hebden Bridge.
And let’s not forget the spectacular English countryside – from the woods of Delamere Forest to the sparkling waters of Hollingworth Lake.
But that’s just a hint of what you can see during your trip to Northern England. This region is also known for its grand palaces, sprawling national parks, and stunning rugged coastline – all of which I’ll discuss in more detail later.
As the birthplace of the Beatles, Liverpool is a bucket-list destination for music lovers.
And although they’re the most famous music group to hail from here, they’re not the only ones, as musicians from Liverpool have more #1 hits than any other city in the world.
If you’re a fan, visiting one of the numerous Beatles attractions (the Beatles Story museum, the Cavern Club, Penny Lane, etc.) is a must.
In addition, Liverpool is also known for its visual and performing arts (it’s only second to London in terms of the number of museums).
The Tate Liverpool and the Merseyside Maritime Museum can be found at the Royal Albert Docks – another popular tourist attraction.
There are some great cafes and restaurants here, but if you’re still eager to explore the Liverpool food scene, you can also visit Bold Street or Mathew Street for other delicious eats.
Liverpool can easily be reached by car (1 hour) or train (40 minutes) from Manchester.
If you close your eyes and picture the English countryside, it probably looks a little something like the Delamere Forest.
This sprawling 2,400-acre woodland is the largest forest in the country and a beloved destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Stretch your legs on the Sandstone Trail, or take your mountain bike for a spin on the jumps of Manley Hill.
The Old Pale Trail is another option if you aren’t afraid of the steep incline.
The highlight of this hike is the view from Old Pale Heights, which looks out over 12 counties and boasts a dramatic view of the Liverpool skyline.
And if you’re looking for heart-racing adventure, I highly recommend Go Ape! an outdoor playground with ziplines, Tarzan swings, and rope courses.
Because of Delamere’s remote location and size, it’s best to take a car (1 hour from Manchester) to give yourself the flexibility to reach the different trails and sights.
Walking through the streets of Chester is like walking through an outdoor museum.
With a history that dates back nearly 2,000 years, Chester is home to a fascinating array of architectural gems. Some of its most notable sights include the medieval Chester Castle, the Gothic Chester Cathedral, and the 14th-century half-timbered Chester Rows.
The city also has quite a few remaining structures from Roman times, like the Roman amphitheater, the Roman Gardens, and the sandstone wall that encircles the city.
After sightseeing, head down to the River Dee for a walk along the Groves.
This paved promenade between the Old Dee Bridge and Queens Park Extension Bridge has beautiful river views and several traditional English cafes and pubs.
Grab a drink or snack and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere before making the 1-hour journey (by car or train) back to Manchester.
Peak District National Park
For a breath of fresh air, you can’t beat a day trip to the Peak District National Park.
The dramatic landscapes here are mesmerizing – from the craggy limestone gorges to the dark, underground caves.
Your options for outdoor adventure in the park are endless. With over 1,800 miles of trails, the Peak District is a popular spot for hikers, cyclers, and horseback riders.
The gritstone outcrops (most notably around Stanage Edge and The Roaches) are also ideal for rock climbing, while the sky-high plateaus are great for paragliding and hang gliding.
Covering over 555 square miles of land, the Peak District is quite large. However, some trains and buses go from Manchester straight into the heart of the Hope Valley
But if you have a specific trail, lake, or landmark in mind, taking a car to your preferred destination is recommended.
Ashton-under-Lyne is an architecturally rich town guaranteed to delight any history lovers in your group.
The highlight attraction is St Michael and All Angels’ Church, a Grade I building that was constructed in the mid-13th century.
Since then, an additional 200 churches and six Mosques have been built in the area, giving you many fascinating sites to explore during your visit.
If you’d rather be outdoors, you can also spend time in one of the five city parks. Or you can walk along the 230-year-old canals, which were originally used for transporting coal from the Lancashire coalfield.
One of the historic canal warehouses was recently converted into the Portland Basin Museum, where you can learn more about the town’s vibrant history.
From Manchester, you can hop on the train at Manchester Piccadilly station for a direct 30-minute ride into downtown Ashton-under-Lyne.
There are 18 different lakes in England’s Lake District, but Windemere is the largest and by far the most beautiful.
It also happens to be the southernmost lake, meaning that you can get there by car in just around 2 hours.
Windemere is a playground for water sports fans, who flock to the lake for the ample water-skiing, powerboating, and kayaking opportunities. If you prefer more scenic adventures, then you can take the passenger ferry in the summer to admire the mountain and island views.
The biggest town, Bowness-on-Windermere, sits on the eastern bank and has a few notable sites of its own. There are several Victorian villas (many of which have been converted into hotels) and lakefront restaurants and cafes you can visit after a day of being out on the water.
If you’re looking for someplace close by, Altrincham is one of the best day trips for foodies and shoppers.
It’s only 30 minutes by train or 45 minutes by car. Here, you’ll find the award-winning Altrincham Market, a covered market house with restaurants, food vendors, artisan booths, and more.
And although a lot has changed since the market first opened in 1290, the lively, communal atmosphere has remained the same.
After grabbing lunch and picking up some souvenirs, talk a walk through the Dunham Massey Estate, a 17th-century home with sprawling outdoor gardens.
As you mosey through the park, keep an eye out for the herd of fallow deer that can be seen frolicking around the property.
As a popular resort town for many Mancunians, Blackpool is one of the best destinations for a bit of sun and surf.
It’s located on the Irish Sea coast, so don’t expect warm weather or soothing seas (it only reaches a high of 63°F in the middle of summer).
But that doesn’t stop people from laying out their towels or jumping in the waves.
If those temperatures are simply too cold, you can always spend a fun-filled day at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, an old-school amusement park with thrilling roller coasters and classic carnival entertainment.
Other fun attractions include the Blackpool Zoo, Sandcastle Waterpark, the Coral Island Family Arcade, and the Sea Life Blackpool Aquarium.
You can get to Blackpool in just 1.5 hours by car or by train.
If you want to see the beautiful, rugged landscape of the English countryside, then Marsden Moor is a great place to spend the day.
Because of its quiet location in the South Pennines (just an hour from Manchester), this small region in West Yorkshire attracts nature enthusiasts, hikers, and wildlife watchers.
There are multiple trails for all skill levels and age groups. For a quick exploration through the Moorland, take the leisurely 2.8-mile Easter Gate Return, which takes you past babbling brooks and flowing canals.
More adventurous hikers may choose the Marsden Moor Heritage Trail or the Standedge Circuit Walk.
Both 10-mile hikes are challenging but great excursions if you want to see the valley, peaks, and reservoirs of the moorland landscape.
It’s hard not to feel at peace when you visit Formby Beach. This coastal reserve is located just an hour from Manchester, although the salty sea breeze and crashing ocean waves will make you feel like you are on a different planet.
With rolling sand dunes and miles of golden sand beach, Formby can be busy in the summer season, although you’ll likely have it all to yourself if you visit any other time of the year.
The beach and nearby grasslands are also home to some of England’s most elusive creatures.
If you’re lucky, you just might spot a Natterjack toad, sand lizard, Northern dune tiger beetle, or the adorable red squirrel.
You don’t have to head all the way to the coast to enjoy a day out on the water.
The manmade Hollingworth Lake was initially built as a water reservoir for the Rochdale Canal, although locals quickly realized that it was the perfect escape for a warm summer afternoon.
So, since the mid-1800s, it’s been primarily used as a tourist resort thanks to its pastoral countryside setting and proximity to Manchester (45 minutes).
At Hollingworth Lake, you can go kayaking, windsurfing, canoeing, fishing, and swimming. If you prefer to stay on land, you can still admire the landscape by walking the 2.5-mile-long nature trail that encircles the lake.
There are several lakefront pubs and restaurants, although finding a quiet spot to have a picnic seems to be the more popular choice.
If you want to feel like royalty for the day, then spend a few hours strolling around the Lyme Park Estate (just like Colin Firth did in the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice).
This Grade I building dates back to the 14th century, and the ornately decorated rooms with their grand chandeliers and Victorian-era furnishings haven’t changed much since then.
The surrounding 14,000-acre property is also breathtakingly beautiful, with rose bushes, orange trees, and tranquil lakes.
There’s also a herd of about 500 deer that live here, which you can see by walking either the Gritstone Trail or the Peak District Boundary Walk.
As it’s located on such a big estate away from any large towns, getting to Lyme Park can be challenging using public transportation. But if you are traveling by car, it should only take you an hour from downtown Manchester.
This peaceful market town has been a prominent destination for artists, musicians, and craftsmen over the years.
Not only will you find plenty of boutiques and retail shops (especially along Market Street and Crown Street), but you’ll also have your pick of the litter when it comes to local eateries.
For a village this size, Hebden Bridge has a high density of pubs, restaurants, coffeehouses, and tea rooms where you can spend a lazy afternoon indulging in classic English cuisine.
Much of the town rests on the banks of the River Calder, although the intersecting Rochdale Canal gives Hebden Bridge its fairytale-like setting.
If you have extra time, treat yourself to a scenic canal cruise through town and the neighboring Calder Valley. From Manchester, it’s only an hour’s car ride or a 40-minute journey by bus.
Built in 1176 by Henry II, Peveril Castle is the earliest example of a Norman fortress in England.
Although the castle is now mostly in ruins (it fell into disrepair in the 1600s), its hilltop location is one of the main reasons to visit.
From here, you’ll be struck by the panoramic views of the Peak District and Hope Valley.
You’ll also have a birds-eye view over Castleton, a small village that was built at the base of the foothills approximately 100 years after Peveril.
But that’s not to say that the ruins aren’t interesting. There is still a standing tower, gates, and part of the curtain wall.
If you want a more holistic picture, stop by the Castleton Visitor Center to learn more about the history of the castle and surrounding area.
From Manchester, Peveril Castle is only an hour away by car. Getting there using public transportation is possible, although you’ll need to transfer from the train to a bus in the nearby town of Hope.
Manchester is one of those exhilarating cities that will keep you entertained for days, weeks, and even months.
But what I love most about the city is that it’s centrally located next to many other alluring destinations in Northern England. So, if you need a break from the hustle and bustle, you can rest easy knowing that so many beautiful sites are waiting for you to visit.