Day trip ... hiking over Winnats Pass, Derbyshire.

Day trip ... hiking over Winnats Pass, Derbyshire. Photo: Getty Images

1 Sporting prowess

London, Barcelona and Madrid may disagree, but Manchester is arguably the world's footballing powerhouse - home to both Manchester United (the planet's most popular club) and Manchester City (the current English Premier League champion, which is bankrolled by Arab oil billionaires). Match tickets are hard to come by - especially at United's "Theatre of Dreams", Old Trafford - but you can take tours around the stadiums. In the city centre's Millennium Quarter, the National Football Museum is a superb new multimedia attraction that highlights "the Beautiful Game's" impact on Manchester - and the rest of the world. Germaine Greer is an unlikely contributor to a museum housed inside the glossy, ski-slope shaped Urbis building. nationalfootballmuseum.com.

2 Shopaholic treats

Manchester's canals have been revamped.

Manchester's canals have been revamped. Photo: Getty Images

Reconstructed after an IRA bomb attack in 1996, the Millennium Quarter is home to Manchester's mainstream shopping temples, including Selfridges and Harvey Nichols (which both have upmarket bistros and brasseries in-house). Chains such as Topshop, Next and Hollister bring crowds to the Arndale Centre, while the Corn Exchange is a haven of fashion and style boutiques. For bargains, a gigantic Primark is close by. It's even easier to shop till you drop at the Trafford Centre, a mega edge-of-city mall with more than 250 stores and faux-baroque flourishes. traffordcentre.co.uk.

3 Mediaeval vibes

In Harvey Nicks' shiny shadow, the timber-framed Old Wellington Inn and Sinclair's Oyster Bar are perfect for alfresco sessions when it's warm (and nice for snuggling inside when it's cold). Next door, Manchester's Gothic cathedral has a beguiling interior, laced with intricate wood carvings and mediaeval furnishings. Neighbouring Chets - Chetham's Library and School of Music - claims to be the oldest public library in the world as well as Manchester's oldest building. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels studied here in the 1840s, when Manchester was a booming industrial metropolis known as Cottonopolis. chethams.org.uk.

Armani's flagship store in Manchester.

Armani's flagship store in Manchester. Photo: Getty Images

4 Spinningfields

The city's cotton and textile products once generated about half of Britain's exports, yet while the mill owners and merchants bathed in affluence, the majority of workers endured slum life. The democratic strides made by the masses are recounted, amid a flurry of trade union banners and political propaganda, in the excellent People's History Museum, set in an old pumping station by the River Irwell. There's a section on Emmeline Pankhurst, the Mancunian leader of the suffragette movement. The museum is part of Spinningfields, a modern district, home to a new courthouse designed by Australian architects Denton Corker Marshall, and The Avenue, a high-end shopping mall with Armani and Kurt Geiger stores.

5 Victorian marvels

Cottonopolis's riches helped fund Manchester's grandiose Victorian and Edwardian architecture. The enormous neo-Gothic Town Hall on Albert Square is a spectacle inside and out, with Ford Madox Brown's murals of Manchester's history decorating the building's grand ceremonial hall. On Deansgate, John Rylands Library was commissioned by the widow of the city's first multimillionaire, a philanthropic textile manufacturer. The library's cloister-filled public reading rooms ooze antique charm and host revolving cultural exhibitions. On Mosley Street, Manchester Art Gallery was partially designed by Charles Barry (the man behind London's Houses of Parliament) and has a superb collection of British and European art.

6 Stage delights

Once humming with commodities traders from Manchester and the Lancashire mill towns, the sublime marble-strewn Royal Exchange is a hive for theatregoers. Its intimate in-the-round venue hosts live music and acclaimed drama (from Shakespeare to contemporary plays). For touring shows, check the listings at the Opera House and Palace Theatre. Home of the renowned Halle Symphony Orchestra, Bridgewater Hall delights classical-music lovers. The Cornerhouse is a perennially popular gallery-bookshop-cinema-cafe-theatre that counts Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle as a patron.

7 Musical genius

From the Hollies and Northern soul to the acid-house Madchester scene and the Gallagher brothers, music has long been part of Manchester's DNA. Tribute acts such as the Smyths, Clone Roses, Noasis and Re:Order appear in pubs and clubs across the city, including HMV Ritz, which also draws famous bands of yesteryear alongside up-and-coming Mancunian talents. Sankeys is a legendary dance music joint (the Chemical Brothers launched their career here), while FAC251: The Factory hosts indie gigs at the former HQ of Factory Records - a Manchester relic. There's jazz, folk and blues at Band on the Wall, where Joy Division got their break. The big British and international names play at the MEN Arena, Manchester Central and o2 Apollo.

8 Northern Quarter

Dry Bar and the Ruby Lounge are the rockiest live-music haunts of the Northern Quarter, a vibrant, artsy - and ever so slightly pretentious - district named 2011 British Urban Neighbourhood of the Year. Weather-beaten old textile mills have been converted into an array of eccentric shops, cafes, bars and restaurants that you could easily spend all day and night in. Nexus Art Cafe and Koffee Pot are brunch hot spots, while trendy twilight establishments include Black Dog Ballroom, Trof, Walrus and Bluu, plus restored pubs Tib Street Tavern and the Castle Hotel. northernquartermanchester.com.

9 Designer draws

The Northern Quarter's quirkiness seeps through Afflecks, a bazaar-like emporium packed with kitsch, retro and cutting-edge new fashions, as well as tattoo parlours and nostalgia-inducing poster stalls. Vinyl record stores and second-hand clothes shops also dot the NQ, including Oxfam Originals, which is usually stocked with high-quality used gear. On Oak Street, Manchester Craft and Design Centre is brilliant for one-off jewellery, ceramics, interior accessories and furniture. A couple of doors down, A Few Fine Things sells stylish bespoke bags. afewfinethings.co.uk.

10 Castlefield Urban Heritage Park

A cluster of Roman ruins and cast-iron Victorian viaducts pepper Castlefield, an area that recalls Manchester's role in the Industrial Revolution. Spread across huge warehouses and the world's first passenger railway station - which launched trains to Liverpool in 1830 - the Museum of Science and Industry has hands-on exhibits, and a spread of vintage locomotives, steam-powered mill wheels and colourful textile displays. MOSI also showcases Manchester's recent engineering and technological achievements (the city's university has produced 25 Nobel prize winners). Like most of Manchester's cultural treasures, MOSI entry is free. mosi.org.uk.

11 Revamped canals

Castlefield is connected to a canal network that ferried goods across Manchester - and beyond - in bygone days. After falling into disuse, these waterways have been regenerated and are now lined with bars, apartments and eateries. On a sunny day, it's a joy to stroll by the canals. The liveliest stretch is Canal Street, part of the Gay Village, a place of fluttering rainbow flags and liberal-minded revelry. The Molly House and Richmond Tea Rooms are pleasant spots for food and drink.

12 Themed walks

Manchester has no subway, but overland rail, a Metrolink street tram system and free city-centre Metroshuttle buses serve travellers well. However, the flat, compact core is easy enough to cover on foot. To really appreciate Manchester's history and heritage (from its architecture to gangs and bands), join a guided walk run by Manchester Tours or Jonathan Schofield, editor-in-chief of online entertainment magazine Manchester Confidential. manchesterguidedtours.com, jonathanschofieldtours.com.

13 Eastern flavours

Mancunians are spoilt for choice food-wise. Of the tasty cosmopolitan fare on offer, Asian is the city's forte. There are superb Japanese and Thai restaurants, while Chinatown's Yang Sing serves up some of Britain's most delectable Cantonese dishes. On Wilmslow Road, past the Whitworth Art Gallery, the Curry Mile is studded with Indian curry houses. Further south, choice restaurants sprinkle the affluent, yet faintly bohemian suburb of Didsbury.

14 Memorable dining venues

With tables nestled beside the Irwell, the Mark Addy does a great Sunday roast and modern twists on local pub classics such as Lancashire hotpot. Bangers and mash, steak and kidney pudding and British cheeses are among the specialities of Sam's Chop House, a beautifully ornate pub established in 1872. A Jamie Oliver restaurant has opened inside the former Midland Bank - and you can hire out the basement vaults for a private meal. Swanky San Carlo is celeb-spotting central. Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney are among the stars to have been snapped in this renowned Italian eatery. In the landmark Palace Hotel, the sumptuous Tempus Bar and restaurant is not to be missed - even if it's just for a quick peek.

15 Five-star sleeps

There are tons of top-notch spa hotels. For many, the best of the bunch is the Lowry, which is technically not in Manchester but in the neighbouring city of Salford (near the Mark Addy). Across the Irwell, on a picturesque Georgian street, the Great John Street Hotel is a boutique gem with lavish touches such as Egyptian cotton sheets and a rooftop garden with hot tub. The Radisson Edwardian is housed in the old Free Trade Hall, where Mrs Pankhurst's suffragette campaign began. The gleaming Beetham Tower, Britain's tallest building outside London, has a Hilton hotel and the lofty Cloud 23 bar - ideal for cocktails and panoramic city views.

16 Fancy flats

Alternatively, to enjoy stunning vistas of Manchester's evolving skyline, morning and night, book into one of the city's many high-rise serviced apartments. You'll find great online deals - especially midweek. Two-bedroom flats at Stay Manchester, close to Piccadilly railway station, are available for less than £100 ($153) - though rates can rocket at weekends, especially if there's a big event on. staymanchester.com, citybaseapartments.com.

17 Heaton Park

Built-up central Manchester isn't exactly flush with green spaces. But Heaton Park, on the northern outskirts, is worth the 15-minute Metrolink ride. Spanning 250 hectares, this gently undulating grassy getaway is home to a grand 18th-century hall, a farm, golf course and boating lake. Pope John Paul II held mass here in 1982 and Oasis and the Stone Roses have performed before giant crowds. heatonpark.org.uk.

18 Salford Quays

The tram also trundles to Salford Quays, a revamped waterfront zone home to spiffing new BBC studios, the captivating Imperial War Museum North (designed in shard-like style by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind) and a mall, arts and entertainment centre dedicated to L.S. Lowry. Born in Salford in 1887, Lowry is famed for his haunting seascapes and millscapes of gritty northern England. Some are displayed in the Lowry galleries, next to a theatre that showcases budding and award-winning playwrights. thequays.org.uk.

19 Ferry to ride

The Quays once buzzed with giant vessels plying the Manchester Ship Canal - an incredible feat of engineering, which opened in 1894 and linked Manchester and Liverpool (and the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean). You can take a scenic and informative six-hour cruise down the 58-kilometre-long canal, through historic locks and bridges, past pastoral countryside, and dock at Liverpool's UNESCO World Heritage-listed Pier Head on the River Mersey. merseyferries.co.uk.

20 Day tripping

There are countless enticing side trips to choose from, all of which are within an hour's drive or rail journey of Manchester. Go hiking in the bucolic Peak District National Park, or get pampered in the Derbyshire Dales spa town of Buxton. Venture across the Pennines mountain range and visit artistic former mill town Hebden Bridge, Bradford, home of the super National Media Museum, and Leeds, dubbed the Knightsbridge of the North for its terrific shopping options. Many of the city's top footballers live in leafy Cheshire, whose mediaeval county town Chester is a photogenic jewel. You could even dash down to London - only two hours away on a high-speed Virgin Pendolino train.

The writer was a guest of Visit Manchester (visitmanchester.com).