One of the best parts about living in Manchester is the plethora of free things to do in Manchester. Whether you’re looking for a cheap day out in Greater Manchester or visiting the city for the first time, you are bound to find a free activity to suit you in Manchester. I’ve compiled a list of 29 free things you can do in Manchester to get you started and hopefully I’ve covered at least a few things that spark your interest (and if not…..I guess I’ll see myself out). Cheers to free things!
1. Manchester Museum
Address: University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL
Manchester Museum is one of my favourite museums in Manchester. Their focus is natural history and they also have sections on culture and Ancient Egypt/Sudan. A lot of museums in Manchester seem to either be refurbishing or have just gone through a refurbishment. Unfortunately, Manchester Museum is no exception and the Egyptian, Sudan and Living Cultures sections are currently closed. You can still visit the natural history section though, which I think is pretty brilliant too.
2. Talks at The University of Manchester
Manchester is home to The University of Manchester and few people seem to know that they offer free lectures and seminars to the public. If you ever want more in-depth knowledge on a subject or just miss going to university, have a look at their events calendar and see if anything takes your fancy. Some lectures are only available to University staff and students, but a lot are also open to the public. This is perfect if you’re looking for free things to do in Manchester for adults.
3. Manchester Art Gallery
Address: Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL
Manchester Art Gallery always have brilliant temporary exhibitions. Thanks to these guys I discovered Raqib Shaw, who is now one of my favourite artists. Manchester Art Gallery also have great permanent exhibitions with an emphasis on the Pre-Raphaelites.
4. The National Football Museum
Address: Urbis Building Cathedral Gardens, Todd Street, Manchester M4 3BG
I’m probably as good at football as a pregnant sloth, but Manchester is obviously famous for its two football teams; Manchester United and Manchester City. Guided tours of their stadiums come with a charge, but you can visit the National Football Museum in Manchester city centre for free. Despite my non-existent interest in football, I’ve visited The National Football Museum and it’s alright. If you enjoy football, I imagine it would be pretty good.
5. Watch the Manchester Pride Parade
In August every year Manchester celebrates Pride Week and as part of the Big Weekend, a massive parade walks through the city centre. I’ve always enjoyed watching the celebratory nature of the parade and think it’s a great thing to do in Manchester. The parade is massive and you can expect to easily spend more than 1 hour for the whole procession to pass.
6. Royal Exchange Theatre
Address: St Anns Square, Manchester M2 7DH
Admittedly, you have to pay for a theatre ticket if you want to watch a performance at the Royal Exchange Theatre. However, I really love the building itself, especially the pink Grand Hall, and think it’s worth a visit for the Victorian architecture alone.
7. Manchester Christmas Market
Address: spread across the city centre, with the main hub at Albert Square
Who doesn’t love a good Christmas Market? Manchester might not be an obvious choice, especially when competing with the famous markets in Germany and France. However, the Manchester Christmas Market is massive and really, really good. I wrote a more detailed post for the blogger Wandering Redhead, check it out here.
8. Manchester Cathedral
Address: Victoria Street, Manchester M3 1SX
Manchester Cathedral has been around since 1215, but has gone through multiple refurbishments. It’s not a massive cathedral but is a nice way to spend an hour or so. Entrance is free (although donations are encouraged). One of my favourite features is the beautiful stain glass window towards the back.
9. John Rylands Library
Address: 150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH
Out of all the sights in Manchester, John Rylands Library is my favourite. This is the one place I bring all new visitors to Manchester and I just can’t get enough of this beautiful building. It was built in memory of John Rylands by his widow (very Taj Mahal) and looks like it has been plucked straight out of a Harry Potter novel. Before I leave the Historic Reading Room I always like to make sure that the book about Sweden is still next to the exit.
10. People’s History Museum
Address: Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3ER
People’s History Museum is a pretty good rainy day activity in Manchester. I will admit that it’s not my favourite museum in Manchester but it’s still decent. However, if you have an interest in British history and politics, I imagine you would enjoy this museum a fair amount. Due to the focus on democracy you would be forgiven for thinking that the exhibitions are primarily text-based, but there is actually a nice balance of visual elements too.
11. Castlefield Roman Ruins
Address: 106 Duke Street, Manchester M3 4RU
Whilst Manchester can’t compete with Chester when it comes to Roman ruins, you can still appreciate Manchester’s Roman history in Castlefield. Manchester was basically a Roman fort called Mamucium and in Castlefield you can find a reconstruction of the fort built upon the excavated foundations.
12. Museum of Science and Industry
Address: Liverpool Road, Manchester M3 4FP
Museum of Science and Industry, MOSI for short, is an excellent museum and you can easily spend a few hours exploring the interactive exhibitions. You can see airplanes, look at a steam train or witness the transformation of a cotton ball to yarn. My favourite section is the upper floor of the main hall, where you can try interactive exhibitions and attempt to solve brain teasers.
13. HOME Manchester
Address: 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester M15 4FN
HOME moved buildings and went through a huge transformation a few years ago. It’s now a multi-purpose venue where you can visit the galleries for free, watch a film in the cinemas, attend a performance at the theatre or have a drink in the bar. If you have even the slightest interest in art and performance, this is the perfect Manchester activity for you.
14. Matt & Phreds
Address: 64 Tib Street, Manchester M4 1LW
Matt & Phreds is a brilliant bar in Northern Quarter with live music performances most days of the week. From Monday to Thursday these performances are free! Great if you’re looking for cool things to do in Manchester. So in theory, you could spend a free night here if you ordered tap water. Personally I think that’s a bit tight, so at least order a drink. The cocktails are nice. They specialise in and are famous for jazz, but you can also listen to electro, folk, salsa, swing and so on.
15. Northern Quarter Street Art
It’s no secret that Northern Quarter is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Manchester. The area has amazing restaurants and bars, but my favourite aspect is the street art. You can revisit Northern Quarter on a very regular basis and always see new and fresh street art. Some of the hot spots are Stevenson Square and Spear Street (location of the beautiful Dale Grimshaw piece in the picture), but you can find street art everywhere in Northern Quarter; all you have to do is wander aimlessly!
16. Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art
Address: Market Buildings, 13 Thomas Street, Manchester M4 1EU
Manchester isn’t short of galleries and museums, however the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art stands out. Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art isn’t a huge space by any measures, but it’s an interesting venue to see art from Chinese contemporary artists that you might not get to see elsewhere.
17. Greater Manchester Police Museum
Address: 57A Newton Street, Manchester M1 1ET
I never know whether Greater Manchester Police Museum is a hidden gem or the most known thing to do in Manchester. No one ever seems to talk about it in conversation but it’s also all over the internet as a must-do thing in Manchester. It’s great if you have kids, but I enjoyed it as an adult too. The museum isn’t massive but the exhibitions are interesting and you can dress in police hats (hats are always a bonus!). I found it quite interesting to read the plaques detailing different crimes that had happened in Manchester.
18. Manchester Craft and Design Centre
Address: 17 Oak Street, Manchester M4 5JD
Manchester Craft and Design Centre is sometimes overshadowed by more popular sights, however, I think it’s a Manchester spot that shouldn’t be missed. Housed in a former fish market building, the Craft and Design Centre is now a hub for…you guessed it, craft and design. Independent entrepreneurs hire studio space where they can also sell their goods. The building is beautiful, the craft is gorgeous and you can have a snack in the café if you don’t mind spending money. What’s not to like?
19. Manchester Central Library
Address: St Peter’s Square, Manchester M2 5PD
Manchester Central Library reopened to the public in 2014 after a massive redesign which made a larger part of the library available to the public. It’s the second largest public library in the UK and, in my opinion, the crowning jewel is the Wolfson Reading Room. You can also book an appointment to see the library’s rare collections, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Elizabeth Gaskell.
20. Chetham’s Library
Address: Long Millgate, Manchester M3 1SB
Unlike the majority of things on this list, I am yet to visit Chetham’s Library myself. I’ve only had over 7 years to do so, no time at all really. However, I couldn’t possibly exclude the oldest public library in the United Kingdom from this list. Especially when entrance is free (although a donation is encouraged!). Tours leave at designated times, so make sure you check their website before your visit.
21. The Lowry
Address: Pier 8, The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ
L.S. Lowry is famous for painting the industrial North West during the 20th century. Many of his paintings are set in Lancashire or Salford and in 2000 the namesake museum and performance theatre opened in Salford. Admittedly, the title of this post is free things to do in Manchester, but I think Salford (Greater Manchester) is close enough to be included. Anyway, L.S. Lowry is known for his characteristic ‘matchstick men’ style and I really like his style of painting. The Lowry has a substantial collection of L.S. Lowry and is definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in the artist.
22. Be in a TV audience
Address: The Greenhouse, Broadway, Salford M50 2EQ
Greater Manchester is home to Media City, where the likes of BBC and ITV have their offices and studios. If you’ve ever fancied seeing a glimpse of yourself on telly (and find out if the telly really does pile on the pounds), you should apply to be in a TV audience at The Studios. To find out what shows you can currently apply for, have a look at The Studios website.
23. Imperial War Museum North
Address: Trafford Wharf Road, Stretford, Manchester M17 1TZ
The Imperial War Museum North is another Salford attraction that’s most definitely worth a visit. It’s within walking distance of The Lowry so you could easily combine the two for a day out in Greater Manchester. The focus of the museum is modern conflicts and the building itself was designed to purposefully confuse and unsettle visitors through illogical angles and leaning floors. It’s an excellent museum for greater understanding of modern warfare and should definitely be on your list of free Manchester activities.
24. The Whitworth
Address: Oxford Road, Manchester M15 6ER
The Whitworth relaunched in 2015 after a massive refurbishment and only went on to win an award for Museum of the Year by the Art Fund in its first year. They have a constantly changing display of collections and a wide spectrum of art in their temporary exhibitions. The Whitworth is located in South Manchester, I would recommend taking public transport as it’s quite a walk otherwise. Buses 142, 143, 43, 111 and 42 from Piccadilly Gardens are all good choices.
25. Heaton Park
Address: Middleton Road, Manchester M25 2SW
Heaton Park is undoubtedly the most well-known green area in Manchester. The park is massive and has an almost endless list of things to do; visit the animal centre, check out the ruins of Manchester’s first town hall or join free stargazing sessions. For a full list of things to do in Heaton Park, check out the council’s Heaton Park section here.
26. Fletcher Moss Park & Parsonage Gardens
Address: 18 Stenner Lane, Manchester M20 2RQ
Heaton Park might be big, but my favourite park in Greater Manchester is Fletcher Moss Park and Parsonage Gardens. The Fletcher Moss section is part woodland and part gardens. I love going for walks here because the forest reminds me of home. Parsonage Gardens is a really sweet garden with accompanying house next to Fletcher Moss Park that’s maintained by volunteers. I really enjoyed reading the signs about Fletcher Moss himself in the garden. For example, he buried all his dogs under the yew tree in front of the house and I can’t possibly dislike a dog person.
27. Gallery of Costume
Address: Platt Lane, Manchester M14 6LA
Unfortunately, Gallery of Costume often seems to get overlooked on must-do lists, presumably due to its location in the suburb of Rusholme / Fallowfield. That is such a shame though, as this little museum has got a great selection of vintage fashion. It was closed to the public in 2018 whilst they carry out restoration work but here’s to hoping it opens again in 2019.
28. South Manchester Parkrun
Address: Mabfield Road, M14 6BLT, then continue to the children’s playground in the park itself.
Parkrun organises a 5 km run through Platt Fields Park, Fallowfield every Saturday. Whilst I’m not much of a runner myself, it’s a pretty healthy way to start your weekend (just try to avoid a hangover from Friday). To get your time, you have to make sure you register with parkrun before your first run and bring your printed barcode. For more info, check out their website.
29. Levenshulme Market
Address: Stockport Road, Manchester M19 3AB by the Levenshulme Train Station
Levenshulme Market is a bit out of the way but a lovely way to spend a Saturday. What I like about Levenshulme Market is that it’s not your normal market, but instead set up as a social enterprise that invests back into the Levenshulme community. There are some great little stalls here and you can find some pretty fab food.
Whether you’re looking for quirky, cultural or cool free things to do in Manchester I hope this post has pointed you in the right direction! Just think about it; if you did one thing from this list per week it would keep you busy for over half a year (always remember to explore your backyard folks). If you’re visiting Manchester for the first time, I also hope that this list has convinced you that even Manchester can be a budget destination.
Have I missed anything from my Manchester list? Please let me know in the comments!
To read more about Manchester, check out my ultimate guide to Manchester or weekend itinerary.
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NinaMarch 23, 2019
The only time I’ve ever been to Manchester was on my way home from Liverpool. The flight out of Manchester was cheaper, so I figured why not spend a day in Manchester. It was so rainy! I did go to the cathedral and it was quite beautiful. However I did not know about many of the things on your list!
Fountain of TravelMarch 23, 2019
Oh no, one day and you got caught out by the rain, that’s unlucky! Glad you at least got to see the cathedral 🙂
LindseyMarch 24, 2019
Manchester was never really on my list but these places look cool! Thanks for sharing.
Fountain of TravelMarch 24, 2019
Glad you feel inspired, thanks for commenting 🙂
Elena GilbertDecember 13, 2021
Really interesting blog, I loved reading it, very well written please keep on writing blogs like this in future as well.