33 Free Things to Do in Manchester for All Ages
If you are thinking of visiting Manchester but are on a tight budget then fear not – we have put together a list of the best free things to do in this northern metropolis that won’t cost you a penny!
With a rich industrial heritage, iconic music scene and world class shopping, it is easy to see why Manchester is one of our most popular UK Cities to visit, but a city break here doesn’t have to break the bank. From informative museums to the green spaces of outdoor parks we have something for all ages. Whether you are visiting Manchester today, tomorrow, next Sunday or in six months time, our guide of free things to do in Manchester will help you plan the perfect trip.
Manchester: things to do for free
- 1. Museum of Science and Industry
- 2. Castlefield
- 3. Fletcher Moss and Botanicals
- 4. Afflecks Palace
- 5. Heaton Park
- 6. The Whitworth
- 7. National Football Museum
- 8. Levy Market
- 9. Manchester Art Gallery
- 10. People’s History Museum
- 11. Chetham’s School of Music
- 12. Walking Tours App
- 13. The Northern Quarter
- 14. Greater Manchester Police Museum
- 15. Prestwich Forest Park
- 16. Queens Park Heywood
- 17. Chetham’s Library
- 18. The Lowry
- 19. The Trafford Centre
- 20. Manchester Town Hall
- 21. Albert Square
- 22. Barton Swing Aqueduct
- 23. Bridgewater Canal
- 24. Piccadilly Records
- 25. Portico Library
- 26. Metroshuttle
- 27. Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art
- 28. Media City
- 29. John Rylands Library
- 30. The Runway Visitor Park
- 31. Stamford Park
- 32. Congleton Paddling Pool
- 33. Manchester Cathedral
1. Museum of Science and Industry
The museum of science and industry is a great day out for all the family. Set across 5 listed buildings, including one that was once home to the oldest surviving passenger railway station, the location alone is impressive. Find out the key role Manchester played in the industrial revolution as well as the science and industry involved in Manchester’s past, present & future. Packed with impressive galleries, inspiring collections and hands on exhibitions, there is plenty to keep all ages entertained.
Website: Museum of Science and Industry
Address: Liverpool Rd, Manchester M3 4FP
Linking on from the MOSI, Castlefield, the area the MOSI is part of, makes the list too. Castlefield is one of the largest conservation sites in Manchester and dates back to Roman times, making it one of the first human settlements in the area. Bordered by the River Irwell and Medlock, the area has played a significant role in Manchester’s history and the growth of the city. Whether you fancy a stroll by one of the world’s oldest canals, exploring the historic Roman fort Mancunium or just want to enjoy a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants, it’s worth a visit.
Address: Castlefield, Manchester M3 4FP
3. Fletcher Moss and Botanicals
This lovingly looked after park and gardens is a wonderful place to visit when in Manchester. Located in Didsbury, the park was given over to the city by its then owner Alderman Fletcher Moss in 1919. Open every day, there is plenty to see and do. The nature reserve is filled with a variety of different birds and there are some amazingly rare trees dotted around the park. Along with the botanical gardens, the park is home to tennis courts and football pitches. Locals are invited to pitch in with volunteer sessions which are held each week and the park also hosts various events throughout the year.
Address: Fletcher Moss, Wilmslow Road, Manchester, M20 2SW
This quirky indoor market in Manchester’s Northern Quarter is packed with an eclectic variety of items. Great for vintage clothes, vinyl records and unique homewares it is definitely the go to place for more individual and quirky items. With everything from retro sweets, tattoo parlours, haberdasheries to record shops and even a cereal café! Soak up the creative vibe while browsing the stalls and be inspired by your finds.
Address: 52 Church St, Manchester M4 1PW
5. Heaton Park
The largest municipal (urban) park in Europe, Heaton Park covers over 600 acres. Across the park you’ll find a golf course, tennis courts, boating lake, animal farm, pitch and putt, ornamental gardens, observatory, adventure playground, trams, flat green Bowling Green and the impressive Heaton Hall. You may have to pay to visit some of these but there are plenty free activities too. Whether you decide to have a picnic by the lake, explore the woodlands and gardens or let the kids burn away some energy on the playground, it’s a great place to visit.
Website: Heaton Park
Address: Middleton Rd, Higher Blackley M25 2SW
6. The Whitworth
Winner of the 2015 Art Fund, the Whitworth Art Gallery is also known as ‘the gallery in the park’. Making the most of its unique setting not only does the Whitworth have some impressive indoor exhibitions, it also has an art garden, landscape gallery and sculpture terrace. Inside you’ll find an eclectic collection of fine art, textiles, prints and one of the best collections of wallpaper in the country. There is also a calendar of events and actives – both taking place inside and out.
Website: The Whitworth
Address: Oxford Rd, Manchester M15 6ER
7. National Football Museum
A must for any football fan, the National Football museum covers everything about the nation’s favourite sport. Set in the impressive Urbis building in the city centre, you’ll find a range of displays and attractions covering everything from the history of Football right through to the effect the media has on the great game. There are a lot of hands on activities and you even get the chance to try your own penalty shoot-out!
Update: From Monday 14 January 2019, the National Football Museum will be charging an admission fee to all visitors from outside the city of Manchester. City of Manchester residents and schools will still be able to visit free of charge.
Website: The National Football Musuem
Address: Urbis Building, Cathedral Gardens, Todd St, City Centre, Manchester M4 3BG
8. Levy Market
Held in Levenshulme in South Manchester every Saturday (& occasional Friday evenings) from March to December, you’ll find a great range of artisan traders selling all sorts from delicious street food through to unique gifts and homeware. This community run social enterprise began in 2013 and has grown considerably over the years. It is a great place to find new products from local suppliers whilst enjoying the buzzing atmosphere, you’ll often find some great street entertainment too.
Website: Levenshulme Market
Address: Stockport Rd, Manchester, M19 3AB
9. Manchester Art Gallery
Set in an impressive Victorian building in the city centre, the Manchester art gallery holds over 25,000 pieces of fine art, crafts and costume. The world class collection has been developed over 200 years and highlights include the pre-Raphaelite paintings and early twentieth century British art. The gallery runs a range of events throughout the year for both adults and children.
Website: Manchester Art Gallery
Address: Mosley St, Manchester M2 3JL
10. People’s History Museum
This unique museum focuses on democracy and the history of the struggle for equality. It covers the history of the British working classes and aims to show that ‘there have always been ideas worth fighting for’. The museum is housed in an impressive £12.3m development by the River Irwell and contains collections covering everything from ‘workers’ to ‘revolution’. It also has a great range of hands on exhibitions which prove popular with the younger visitors.
Website: People’s History Museum
Address: Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester, Lancashire M3 3ER
11. Chetham’s School of Music – Lunchtime Concert
Chetham’s School of Music is set in the heart of Manchester and is the largest specialist music school in the UK. Home to some of the country’s best budding musicians they offer a year round programme of free lunchtime concerts and events. The concerts take place in the Carole Nash Hall on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during term time. They last around 45 minutes and can include everything from solo performances to full orchestral ensembles. There is no need to book but it can be worth checking the website or calling to confirm the concert is taking place.
Address: Long Millgate, Manchester, M3 1SB
12. Walking Tours App
The best way to really see a city is on foot and with the Manchester walking tours app you can be sure you won’t miss anything. Allowing you to explore the city at your own pace, the app highlights landmarks, hidden gems and tells untold stories. Using GPS technology you can plan bespoke routes and even enjoy a tour guide commentary as you go.
Website: Manchester Walking Tours App
13. The Northern Quarter
The northern Quarter is one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in Manchester and a hub for craft and design. Packed with independent shops, boutiques and bars it is pretty much chain store free. Enjoy walking through the red brick city streets and alleys discovering quirky street art, record shops, galleries and vintage finds. The area is also home to the Manchester craft and design centre which is well worth a visit. Set in a former Victorian fish market building you’ll find some local talents creating in their studios as well as workshops and a range of free contemporary craft exhibitions.
Website: Northern Quarter Manchester
Address: Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1HQ
14. Greater Manchester Police Museum & Archives
Based on Newton Street, this museum is a fascinating record of policing in Manchester. Opened in 1981 and funded by Greater Manchester Police, the museum allows people of all ages to view the extensive archives and learn about this history of the Greater Manchester Police. The museum is open every Tuesday and also offers private tours on other days for larger groups of people (again free of charge) which last between 1-2.5 hours. The knowledgeable staff at the museum are on hand to answer any questions you may have.
Address: 57A Newton St, Manchester M1 1ET
15. Prestwich Forest Park
Prestwich Forest Park in Greater Manchester is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre. With 200 hectares of open space and woodland there’s lots to explore and it’s a great place to burn some energy. One of Manchester’s hidden gems, it makes the perfect place for a walk, cycle ride or even a picnic. There is also a great children’s play area and nature trail.
Address: Prestwich, Bury, BL9 9SW
16. Queens Park Heywood
This historic Victorian park is a great place to visit – especially with children. It has great facilities including a café, toilets and a great playground that will keep the kids entertained for hours. It even has a dedicated toddler play area. Adults shouldn’t feel left out either as there is also an outdoor gym overlooking the picturesque lake which makes a great location for a workout! If all this wasn’t enough, the park also has an outdoor theatre, tennis courts and BMX track.
Website: Queens Park Heywood
Address: Queen’s Park Road, Heywood, OL10 1AH
17. Chetham’s Library
Chetham’s library was established in 1653 and is the oldest free public reference library in the UK. The library has more than 100,000 volumes of printed books including collections of 16th and 17th century periodicals. The entire collection has been designated as one of national and international importance. Highlights of the library include the Belle Vue collection and the medieval buildings, especially the reading room which was used by social scientists and philosophers Karl Marx and Frederic Engels. Although it is free to visit the library, it is a charity so a donation would be greatly appreciated.
Website: Chetham’s Library
Address: Long Millgate, Manchester M3 1SB
18. The Lowry
An impressive building in the Salford Quays, the Lowry is a great art and entertainment venue. Named after the famous northern painter L. S. Lowry, you’ll find the largest public collection of his work in the art gallery as well as collections from other great artists. You can find out more about the life and works of L. S. Lowry at one of the free daily talks. There is also a theatre which holds a wide range of events and a number of cafés, bars and shops.
Website: The Lowry
Address: Pier 8, The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ
19. The Trafford Centre
OK, so a shopping centre might not be the best idea for a free thing to do but, if you can resist the temptation to shop, the Trafford Centre is a great place to visit. The building is well thought out with an impressive design and quirky features. The Orient food court is the largest in Europe so there’s something for every taste and is designed to look like a steam ship. A fantastic venue for shopping and entertainment, the Trafford Centre also hosts a calendar of free events and activities.
Website: Intu Trafford Centre
Address: intu Trafford Centre, Stretford, Manchester M17 8AA
20. Manchester Town Hall
Situated in Albert Square, Manchester Town Hall is one of the most revered Grade I listed building in the UK. Built in 1987, the Town Hall is famous for its Neo-Gothic architecture. Open every day except Sunday, visitors can walk round the various rooms and enjoy some of the stunning murals which adorn the walls.
Website: Manchester Town Hall
Address: Albert Square, Manchester M60 2LA
21. Albert Square
Right at the heart of Manchester is Albert Square. Home to the stunning neo-gothic Town Hall, the square also provides a space for many seasonal events including the famous Manchester Christmas Market.
Address: Albert Square, Manchester M60 2LA
22. Barton Swing Aqueduct
The Barton Swing Aqueduct carries the Bridgewater canal across the Manchester ship canal. The unique swing aqueduct swings round from a pivot island in the middle of the ship canal. This impressive engineering feat attracts enthusiasts from across the world. Now classed as a ‘grade II listed building’ it is quite a sight to see the aqueduct move and allow the large vessels to pass through the ship canal.
Website: Pennine Waterways – Barton Aqueduct
Address: Stretford, Eccles, Manchester M41 7LG
23. Bridgewater Canal
The canal that crosses the Barton Swing Aqueduct can provide a great day out itself. Built over 250 years ago by the Duke of Bridgewater, it was the worlds first industrial canal and it played a key part in the industrial revolution. Stretching 65 km from Runcorn to Leigh, its passes many great sights and attractions including the Museum of Science and Industry, Walton Park, EventCity and the Trafford Centre. The towpath along the canal provides a great level walking route and you can even stop for refreshments at one of the pubs and restaurants nearby.
Website: Bridgewater Canal
Address: Stretford, Eccles, Manchester M41 7LG
24. Piccadilly Records
Manchester has always had a strong music scene and has been the birthplace of several chart topping bands including Oasis, The Stone Roses and Take That so to pay homage to this why not visit Piccadilly Records. This iconic record shop originally opened in 1978 selling a mixture of rock, pop, indie and alternative music. It is classed as one of the world’s best independent record shops and has won many awards over the years. Whether you are into vinyl records or CDs, the store has everything from mainstream music to more unique alternative genres, plus the clued-up staff really know their stuff. Now located in Manchester’s vibrant northern quarter, it is a great place to visit whatever your musical tastes.
Website: Piccadilly Records
Address: 53 Oldham St, Manchester M1 1JR
25. Portico Library
This independent library and newsroom was built on Mosley Street in Manchester in 1806. It was inspired by a group of businessmen after they visited the Athenaeum Liverpool as they believed Manchester lacked such a venue. The building was designed by Thomas Harrison in a striking Greek revival style with an impressive dome and columned front. The interior is just as grand and you’ll find a great range of historic books and collections. Membership subscriptions keep the Library running but non-members can visit the gallery which holds regular exhibitions and events.
Website: Portico Library
Address: 57 Mosley St, Manchester M2 3HY
The metro shuttle are free buses that run regularly across Manchester between the rail stations, car parks, shopping areas and businesses. This hop on service is funded by Manchester city council and is a great ‘free’ way of getting around the city centre.
27. Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art
Now 30 years old, the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art provides a platform for the Chinese artistic community in the UK. The Centre has a varied and innovative programme of exhibitions and has featured some great artists over the years. As well as the inspiring displays, the Centre also hosts a range of informative talks, sessions and workshops – many of which are free! This year is extra special and will see some great events planned to celebrate the Centre’s 30th birthday including exhibitions from several world renowned Chinese contemporary artists.
Website: Centre For Chinese Contemporary Arts
Address: Market Buildings, Thomas St, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1EU,
28. Media City
As the name suggests, this new destination in Manchester is buzzing with media companies and TV studios. Home to the BBC, some of your favourite TV programmes might even be filmed here! Media City is located on the waterfront of Salford Quays and is an exciting area with swish bars, shops and apartments. You can enjoy walking along the quay taking in the sights and sounds or if you fancy doing something different why not apply to be in the audience of one of the TV shows? Check out the BBC website for details.
Media City is also in walking distance of the Lowry gallery and the Imperial War Museum so you can plan a full day out.
Website: Media City
Address: Broadway, Salford M50 2EQ
29. John Rylands Library
The John Rylands Library on Deansgate is much more than a standard library. Built in 1890 as a memorial for one of the city’s most successful industrialists , John Rylands, it is a stunning Victorian gothic building that looks more like a castle. Spend time taking in the impressive architecture and the detail the building holds. It is also home to a fine collection of books and manuscripts including one of the oldest pieces of the New Testament – the St John fragment. The library also holds a range of events and activities – find out what’s on when here.
Website: John Rylands Library
Address: 150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH
30. The Runway Visitor Park
As the name suggests the runway visitor park is located just off the runway of Manchester airport making it the perfect place for a bit of plane spotting. Manchester Airport is one of the busiest airports in the UK and with around 600 aircraft’s movements each day there is a lot going on. The visitor park is a great place to watch the airfield as well as find out more about aviation. You can get up close to a range of aircraft’s and even board a couple. There is also a children’s play area, picnic area, shop and restaurant. The park is free to visit although they charge for parking and there is the option to pay for some activities such as a Concorde tour.
Website: Runway Visitor Park
Address: Sunbank Lane, Altrincham WA15 8XQ
31. Stamford Park
Located in greater Manchester, Stamford park is around 26 hectares of open green space. As well as the well-kept flower beds and woodland areas, you’ll find some great facilities for all ages to enjoy. A particular favourite is the water play area with fountains for children to play in, great for a sunny day! There is also a boating lake and petting aviary.
Website: Stamford Park
Address: Stamford Park, Darnton Road, Tameside, SK15 1NJ
32. Congleton Paddling Pool
The perfect place to paddle with the little ones on a summer’s day, Congleton paddling pool is specifically designed for under 11’s and the pool is open from 10am -6pm, May to September. The pool has been a hit with children since the 1930’s and remains a firm favourite. It can get very busy on a hot day so it’s best to get there early.
Website: Congleton Paddling Pool
Address: Congleton Paddling Pool, Park Road, Congleton, Cheshire, CW12 1DP
33. Manchester Cathedral
With a history dating back to 700AD, the Cathedral is one of only 15 grade I listed buildings in Manchester. Built in a perpendicular gothic style, the Cathedral was damaged during the Manchester Blitz and IRA bombing, but has since been painstakingly repaired. You can attend a guided tour of the Cathedral by one of the knowledgeable volunteers or simply explore at your own pace. There is also a visitor centre where you can find out more about the history of the Cathedral and view the ancient monument – The hanging bridge.
Website: Manchester Cathedral
Address: Victoria St, Manchester M3 1SX
Plan your visit with our map of free things to do in Manchester: