From its rich industrial heritage and iconic music scene to world-class shopping and amazing places to eat, Manchester has so much to offer. But don’t worry, you don’t have to splash the cash to enjoy a trip to this northern gem! As a Manchester local, I’ve been lucky enough to explore this wonderful city many times. That means I know all the best things you can get up to without spending a penny or even tapping your card! So from museums and art galleries to architectural hotspots and beautiful outdoor spaces, here are 21 amazing free things to do in Manchester.
This article is written by Faraway Lucy writer, Lucy Stanhope.
With so many museums to explore in the city, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Whether you’re into football, history, science or art, there’s something for everyone!
1. Manchester Art Gallery
Address: Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL
Phone number: 0161 235 8888
Standing proud for almost 200 years, Manchester Art Gallery was created as a gallery for everybody and for life. It features British and European art from the 18th and 19th century, as well as contemporary art. And the best part is that it’s always free to visit! Don’t miss the new ‘Grayson’s Art Club’, an exhibition capturing the feeling of artists during the first Covid-19 lockdown.
2. Science and Industry Museum
Address: Liverpool Road, Manchester M3 4FP
Phone number: 0800 047 8124
A family favourite, the Science and Industry Museum is a celebration of the ideas and inventions originating in the city of Manchester. Set in the original terminus of the world’s first inter-city railway, you’ll discover how life has changed and improved since the Industrial Revolution. ‘The Textiles Gallery’ tells the story of ‘Cottonopolis’, how Manchester was once the international centre of the world’s cotton industry.
Stare into the mirror of infinity and watch your own skeleton ride a bike in ‘Experiment’, an interactive gallery. Next you can discover the history of travel in the ‘Air and Space Hall’ where you can see the Roe Triplane 1, the first all-British aeroplane to fly in 1909. After checking out the Roe Triplane 1, you can also see the 1912 Ford Model T built in Manchester, in Henry Ford’s first British factory, amongst many other vehicles.
3. Whitworth Art Gallery
Address: The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M15 6ER
Phone number: 0161 275 7450
Part of the University of Manchester, this collection of over 60,000 pieces ranges from historic fine art to contemporary art, prints and sculptures. It basically houses something for everyone. After opening as the first English gallery in a park, Whitworth Art Gallery has recently been transformed by a £15 million development. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11 am-4 pm, this gallery is one of the best free things to do in Manchester for art lovers!
4. Manchester Museum
Address: The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL
Phone number: 0161 275 2648
Manchester’s equivalent to the Natural History Museum will transport you back in time as you discover the anthropology, plants, animals and ancient worlds we used to inhabit. Say hi to Stan, the fossilised T-Rex as well as the other million preserved animals in the collection as you take in the wonders of Manchester Museum.
5. Chinese Centre for Contemporary Art (CFCCA)
Address: Market Buildings, Thomas Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1EU
Phone number: 0161 832 7271
Located in the heart of the Northern Quarter, CFCCA hosts a collection of contemporary Chinese art in its two galleries. The centre is always free to enter and features a regularly changing programme of unique and thought-provoking exhibitions.
6. Greater Manchester Police Museum
Address: 57a Newton Street, Manchester M1 1ET
Phone number: 0161 856 4500
Every Tuesday this former police station turned museum, complete with original cells and a charge office, is open to the public. First, visit the 1895 Magistrates Court upstairs, before heading to the displays of equipment, vehicles and evidence on the ground floor. And if you want to learn more, there are plenty of ex-police officers and volunteers on-hand. They are more than happy to talk to visitors and retell epic stories of their time in the force!
7. People’s History Museum
Address: Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3ER
Phone number: 0161 838 9190
Dubbed the national museum of democracy, People’s History Museum holds the largest collection of political material in Britain. The museum tells the stories of workers, voters, citizens and revolutionaries who rallied for rights and equality and made society what it is today.
8. The Pankhurst Centre
Address: 60-62 Nelson Street, Manchester, M13 9WP
Phone number: 0161 273 5673
The Pankhurst Centre is easily one of the best indoor activities in Manchester. Discover the story of Emmeline Pankhurst, a British political activist whose family lived in the house from 1898 to 1907. The centre was where the first meeting of the suffragette campaign for votes for women took place! However, the house still remains an iconic site of women’s activism, working in collaboration with Manchester Women’s Aid which supports women in Manchester and the surrounding communities.
Culture and shopping
9. Affleck’s Palace
Address: 52 Church St, Manchester M4 1PW
Phone number: 0161 839 0718
Dubbed ‘an emporium of eclecticism’, Affleck’s is an indie paradise set in the Northern Quarter. The perfect place for a rainy day, the four-storey building is full of small businesses. From a K-Pop store to vintage clothing and vegan beauty, it’s a great place to explore and get lost in for a couple of hours. After a bit of shopping, be sure to visit Ginger’s Comfort Emporium on the first floor, serving insane locally made ice cream and milkshakes.
10. Go shopping in the Northern Quarter
Address: Northern Quarter, Manchester M1 M4
After visiting Affleck’s, head to Oldham Street where you’ll find Blue Rinse, Oxfam Originals, Retro Rehab, Pop Boutique, and Cow Vintage. An afternoon spent charity shopping in the Northern Quarter is easily one of the most fun indoor activities in Manchester. Nearby you’ll also find Piccadilly Records, a Manchester institution that has a reputation of being one of the world’s best independent record shops. Similarly, over on Oak Street you’ll find the RSPCA charity shop, which is notorious for finding amazing pieces at low prices.
Landmarks and architecture
11. John Rylands Library
Address: 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH
Part of the University of Manchester, this Grade One listed building is home to one of the world’s richest collections of literature. The unique reading room resembles the layout of a church with many alcoves designed for private study. You’re welcome to wander around and marvel at the grandiosity and beauty of the space. It’s safe to say that if you love architecture, the John Rylands Library is one of the best free things to do in Manchester for you!
12. Portico Library
Address: 57 Mosley Street, Manchester, M2 3HY
Phone number: 0161 236 6785
One of the city’s greatest treasures, Portico Library is one of the few remaining Georgian period buildings in Manchester. Located just a few steps away from Chinatown, Central Library and Piccadilly Gardens, the library always free to enter. Visitors are welcome inside to explore its exhibitions and history so it’d be rude not to, right? Follow in the footsteps of famous Mancunians such as Emmeline Pankhurst, John Dalton and Elizabeth Gaskell. These regular visitors to the library would spend time in the very same reading room you are in!
13. Manchester Town Hall
Address: Manchester City Council, Town Hall Extension, Albert Square, Manchester, M60 2LA
A real gem, Manchester Town Hall is regarded as one of the most important Grade One listed buildings in England, as well as being a fine example of Neo-Gothic architecture. The clock tower on top of the building has a 10ft long minute hand and there are 24 bells inside the tower with the biggest weighing over eight tonnes. You may even recognise the courtyard and interior rooms as they are often used in TV and film. If you’ve seen the likes of Sherlock Holmes (Jude Law) or The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep), make sure you keep an eye out!
14. Manchester Cathedral
Address: Victoria Street, Manchester, M3 1SX
Phone number: 0161 833 2220
Standing proud since 1421 when Henry V signed a royal charter granting permission for a collegiate church to be built, the iconic Manchester Cathedral has survived world wars, bombings and the industrial revolution first hand. Admire the beautiful stained glass windows and carved ceilings as you wander around the building and listen to the sound of choristers and jazz that is often playing. If you want to learn more about the building there are guided tours every day at 11 am and 2 pm Monday to Saturday.
Exploring the outdoors
Escape the city and see a fresh perspective of Manchester as you visit these local beauty spots…
15. Heaton Park
Address: The Farm Centre, Prestwich, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M25 2SW
Covering over 600 acres, Heaton Park is more than just a park. From the historic 18th century Heaton Hall and Orangery to the boating lake, animal centre, bowling greens and golf course, there really is something for everyone here. The park is a hive of activity and you can get involved with regular events such as the weekly Park runs, astronomy classes and beekeeping courses.
The Dower House is open every Sunday where you can watch the bees in the observation hive and even buy the homemade Heaton Park honey. The Heaton Park astronomy group also hosts free astronomy sessions at the bowls pavilion every Thursday 7-9 pm. Convinced yet? I think it’s safe to say that a trip to Heaton Park is one of the best free things to do in Manchester.
16. Fletcher Moss Park
Address: 18 Stenner Lane, Didsbury, Manchester M20 2RQ
Open every day from dawn to dusk, the 90-acre Fletcher Moss Park was gifted by Alderman Fletcher Moss to the City of Manchester in 1914. It’s a botanical garden containing unique plants and flowers, heather gardens, and an alpine house. Many species of bird such as parakeets, blue tits, chiffchaffs and swallows have also found a home here.
17. Manchester Airport Runway Visitor Park
Address: Sunbank Lane, Altrincham, WA15 8XQ
Craving a trip abroad? Then Manchester Airport Runway Visitor Park is one of the best free things to do in Manchester for you. Marvel at the planes taking off and landing at the busy Manchester Airport while you sit down and enjoy the view. Plus, the park would make for a great picnic location! You can also see iconic aircraft close up in the visitor centre which is home to the Concorde plane that served Princess Diana and the Queen.
18. Dunham Massey
Address: Dunham Massey, Woodhouse Lane, Altrincham WA14 4SJ
Phone number: 01619 411025
If you’re a nature lover, Dunham Massey is one of the best free things to do in Manchester for you! Take a stroll around the stunning grounds of Dunham Estate with its resident herd of deer. As you walk, take in the sounds of birds chirping and autumn leaves crunching underfoot – it’s pretty idyllic! This is the perfect spot for a picnic, den building and tree climbing so there’s plenty to do without spending a penny.
19. Quarry Bank Mill
Address: Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 4LA
Phone number: 01625 527468
Discover how the industrial revolution really changed the world as you learn both sides of the story at Quarry Bank Mill. You’ll learn about how the young cotton apprentices lived, as well as seeing the wealthy landowners’ extravagant private houses and gardens. And if that wasn’t enough, you can even visit the apprentice house. Here lived children as young as eight years old who were forced to work ten-hour days in the mill.
One particular highlight is finding out about Samuel Greg, a young boy from Belfast and the founder of Quarry Bank who went on to start a cotton empire. You can wander around his family home and garden which offer stunning views of the River Bollin. If you’re a nature lover there are tons of paths and woodland trails to explore too. It’s time to get your walking boots on!
20. Bee in the City
Representing the hard-working nature and industrial past of Mancunians, you’ll find bees dotted around the city. Spend some time bee spotting while you’re strolling around the city: look up, down and you’ll end up seeing the symbol of Manchester everywhere. Fun fact: there are even beehives on top of the Cathedral, Printworks and Manchester Art Gallery!
21. Donkey Sanctuary
Address: The Donkey Sanctuary, Green Fold, Abbey Hey, Manchester M18 8RJ
Phone number: 0161 301 4051
Step away from the city buzz and into the calm of the Manchester Donkey Sanctuary, one of the most unique free things to do in Manchester. This UK based charity provides sanctuary to over 7,000 donkeys across the country and aims to create a world in which donkeys are free of suffering. Here, you can visit the donkeys and see them thriving at the sanctuary.
So there you have it: 21 amazing free things to do in Manchester! It’s safe to say that the city is home to so many fun things to do – and the best part is that most of them are free. Which of these free things to do in Manchester are you most desperate to try out? Please let me know in the comments below!
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