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An Expat's Guide to Living in Manchester

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My name is Maddalena and I live as an expat in England.

After finishing my studies in Tourism in Venice in 2016, I left Italy to tick the bucket list box of living abroad (at least for some time). Among many destinations in Europe, I was interested in, I chose Manchester in the UK.

I am 29 and come from a town called Castelfranco Veneto, only 45 minutes drive or train ride from Venice. While living in Northern Italy is certainly beautiful, I was eager to try something new. When I moved to Manchester I was 24 and it's more than 5 years and a half I've been living in the UK. 

I have met so many people here from different nationalities and backgrounds that have opened my mind from day one in this country.

There are a few things to know before moving to the UK but I must say it was quite easy and straightforward for me to settle down.

Why Did I Choose to Live in Manchester?

a mural dedicated to Manchester's icons
Some of Manchester's icons

At that time when I was taking into consideration different destinations and opportunities abroad, I ended up choosing England as I had a feeling that it could be a place where to live long-term with good job opportunities. 

I remember many Italian expats going to London, a popular city to start off from, but I wasn't particularly attracted by it, mainly for the cost of living that was (and still is) quite high. While I also considered moving to Leeds, Manchester won out in the end.

That's why I decided on Manchester: a perfect mix between the big city, job opportunities, and a lower cost of living. A mid-range city was exactly what I was looking for at that stage of my life.
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The Best Neighbourhoods in Manchester

A mural painted on a brick wall that says "Welcome to Manchester's Gay Village"
Manchester's Gay Village, one of the best places to live

Coming from a town on the outskirts of Venice in Italy, I noticed that in Manchester all the main areas are located within walking distance. You don't need to get a tram, bus, or drive your own car to get from one side of the city to the other as its size is still quite small. 

That was something I really appreciated considering that I like walking to get from one place to the other instead of needing to rely on public transport.

The most popular neighbourhoods to hang out and live in Manchester are:

  • Northern Quarter
  • Castlefield
  • Gay Village
  • Ancoats
  • Green Quarter
  • Greengate

Another good area where to look for bars and restaurants, as well as flats or studios, as an expat, is Salford (M3). Just bear in mind that these districts are all based in the city centre, which means that the rent cost is higher than living +20 minutes away from it. 

Over the years, I found it very practical to be close to the city centre and it also means not getting on a bus every time I want to meet friends or do something within Manchester itself.

The Social Scene in Manchester

 a view of an indoor/outdoor pub with a group of men sitting around their table with a pint
Don't miss out on all the great places to grab a bite to eat and a pint!

It was quite easy for me to make new friends in Manchester. There are thousands of Italian expats I had the chance to connect with and also people coming from all around Europe and the rest of the world! 

For me, as an Italian, one of the best ways to find new friends was following the Facebook page 'Italiani a Manchester,' a quite active group where people ask questions about living in Manchester and also arrange meet-ups. For example, it's normal to see posts about meeting up to play football or invitations to take part in a certain sports event. 

Don't worry if you don't speak Italian, there are a handful of other expat FB groups for all nationalities to join!

There are also many ways to meet people that share your same interests and hobbies, for example through the website and app MeetUp. Whether you like hiking or painting, there's always some social event going on you can join and where to connect with new people. 

I also recommend joining Language Exchange groups if you're not a native English speaker so you can practise English. These exchanges can work well even if interested in learning a new language and want to have conversations with mother tongue expats.

Manchester As an Italian Expat

the outside of a coffee shop with a few tables and chairs on the sidewalk
You'll be happy to know there are a lot of great coffee shops

If you're asking yourself, will I ever feel alone in a city like Manchester as an Italian expat? The answer is absolutely not! The opportunities to connect with other expats are many. 

For me, it's been quite important, in particular during the first years, to find other people that lived the experience of moving abroad. In particular to share the challenges and wins and re-create that sense of 'family' that characterizes us as Italians. 

If I can share a tip with new expats is to not spend too much time with other Italians but mix up with English people and from other nationalities too. There are two reasons why:

  1. To have the chance to improve your English
  2. To not feel trapped in a 'bubble'

By 'bubble,' I mean living in a place, in this case, England, but surrounded by everything 'Italian', in particular the friends you hang out with.

Manchester is a very welcoming city and the people are friendly. You'll notice that when going from grocery shopping to the bar or when asking for directions. 

Sooner rather than later someone will call you 'love' and that's something I've always smiled at.

By the way, if you're wondering, are there good Italian restaurants in Manchester? The answer is yes! There are a few authentic places for Italian food to eat out that will lift your day up and reminds you of 'home'!

Fun Places To See in Manchester

Having fun in Manchester has never been a problem, in my experience! The range of activities you can do and places to see to have a fun day (or night) out is pretty big. 

If you're looking for fun activities to do during the day I'd recommend the Treetop Adventure Golf, an indoor jungle-themed mini golf with a bar where you can spend a good 2 hours playing with friends or family. 

For a crazier and incredibly fun experience, visit the Crystal Maze, an interactive game set in 4 adventure zones, where you'll face different challenges as a team.

Not far from it, there's the Science and Industry Museum, a museum about the discoveries of the Industrial Revolution. There are some interactive parts of it, so it's particularly fun for children and families.

Finally, the University of Manchester Museum is a lesser-known museum to visit but totally worth it. There are areas dedicated to Ancient Egypt, the Earth, and animals, like the vivarium with Costa Rican frogs.

It's also good fun walking around neighbourhoods like Northern Quarter for its colourful street art and lively bars and the Gay Village. These are great areas for a lively nightlife scene.

My Favourite Things to Do in Manchester

a view of a city center with an entire wall painted in black with street art designs
A glimpse of the street art in Manchester

There are many things to do in Manchester, but if I have to choose, some of my favourite ones would be:

  • Walk around the Castlefield neighbourhood and along the canals. This is my perfect activity to relax after a day at work and gives me the opportunity to look at what's going on in the area.
  • Visit temporary exhibitions at Home. This is a multipurpose space in Manchester's city centre with five cinema screens, two theatres, and an art gallery. There are frequently interesting events going on and free art exhibitions.
  • Go for a walk around Salford Quays. It's only 15 minutes away by tram from the city centre. Here you can also find the IWM Museum that you can access for free and where to find out about real-world war stories.
  • Go out for a meal. Whether it's for breakfast, brunch, or dinner I'm always on the lookout for new places that recently opened in town. I love trying new cuisines and Manchester will never let you down with its huge selection of restaurants.

Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Manchester

While I've settled into living in Manchester quite well, there are a few things I wish I knew before moving to Manchester. These things would have helped me to settle in a bit more smoothly. Now that you're armed with this information, Manchester will feel like home in no time!

These are the 8 things I wish I knew before moving to Manchester:

  • Unlike many of the cities in northern Italy that I know of, there are (almost) no butchers or bakery shops in Manchester. But, you can find them tucked inside the supermarkets. 
  • If looking for good quality meat, go to the Arndale's Market and for bread, visit Pollen Bakery.
  • Pharmacies are located inside Boots and Superdrug shops.
  • No one speaks the English you learnt at school! Expect to not understand a word in Mancunian (the local accent) at the beginning, but don't worry you'll get used to it eventually!
  • Healthcare is mostly free.
  • If you're thinking about moving around the Manchester area by bus, I recommend purchasing a day rider ticket instead of getting a single or return ticket. This is something to remember if you live or stay outside the city centre as well and need to get on a bus more than once. You can also get weekly or seasonal tickets to save some money.
  • Be extra careful when walking on busy streets like Market Street and holding your phone. Unfortunately, some people got their phones stolen by pickpockets there.
  • Bar waiters don't serve at the table most of the time, but you should order your drinks at the counter. After Covid in some places, things have changed though.

Living in Manchester, In Gist

Moving to Manchester has been a great step after finishing my studies when I was 24 and, although it has not always been easy, it has been totally worth it! 

Living in a different country where you can only rely on yourself is invaluable. This experience, whether it's for a short or long time, will teach you to go out of your comfort zone every single day and in different situations. Whether you decide to try living in Manchester like I have or are thinking of moving abroad elsewhere in the world, go for it! You'll thank yourself later.

In Manchester though, you'll find many things to do and see and people from all over the world to meet and share life experiences with around a good pint of beer! What more could you ask for?

Hero Photo by Szymon Shields.

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