Manchester is the second most visited city in England, and it’s easy to see why. Vibrant, cosmopolitan and brimming with history, there’s no shortage of landmarks, museums, restaurants and shops to explore. And the best part? Even if you’re not on a budget, you’d be surprised how much you can still do. Here’s our pick of the top 16 free things to do in Manchester:
1) Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)
The MOSI is a Manchester Institution. Located on the site of the oldest surviving passenger railway station, the museum pays homage to Manchester’s rich industrial and scientific heritage. Permanent fixtures include the Air and Space Hall and ‘Revolution Manchester’, a celebration of the most pioneering individuals and inventions to come out of the city.
2) Whitworth Art Gallery
Whitworth Art Gallery Whitworth Art Gallery is a calm oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Road. Part of the University of Manchester, the art gallery has recently received £15 million in investment and has doubled in size – meaning there’s more to explore than ever. As well as free entry to most of its exhibitions, the gallery hosts plenty of complimentary events such as late night openings, talks, concerts and even guided walks.
3) National Football Museum
If there’s one thing Manchester is famous for, it’s football. For lovers of ‘the beautiful game’, there’s no better place to head to than the National Football Museum. Its quirky glass structure boasts over five floors of football memorabilia, exhibitions and interactive games.
4) Manchester Art Gallery
Featuring a vast collection of both historical pieces and contemporary art, Manchester Art Gallery is ideal for culture vultures. Renowned for its selection of 19th Century British paintings and pre-Raphaelite works, the gallery also has an interesting line up of temporary exhibitions and one-off events. Free entry, seven days a week.
5) People's History Museum
The People’s History Museum documents working-class life and major political events from the 19th Century onwards – it houses the largest collection of trade union banners in the world! It is a great spot not only for history buffs, but for anyone interested in understanding Manchester’s local culture and political heritage.
6) The Lowry
The Lowry Named after L.S. Lowry, a local 20th Century artist famous for his depictions of the gritty, industrial-era North, the Lowry is a major centre for art, theatre, opera and dance. Out of everything on our '16 free things to do in Manchester' bucket list, this is a favourite at Manchester Apartments - the wacky architecture alone is worth a visit.
7) Manchester Museum
As well as offering a great insight into research projects at the University of Manchester, the Manchester Museum has a fascinating permanent collection of artefacts covering natural history, science, technology and culture. The museum also hosts regular talks and events, most of which are free.
8) Chetham's Library
Chetham’s Library is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world and is housed in a building dating from 1421. It is also famous as the place where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels met and researched ‘The Communist Manifesto’.
9) John Ryland's Library
John Ryland’s Library was opened in 1900, and eventually became part of the University of Manchester in the 1970s. The building alone is worth checking out – its striking Gothic architecture makes it one of Manchester’s most iconic historical landmarks.
10) Manchester Cathedral
Manchester Cathedral Manchester Cathedral is a Grade I listed building; despite being partially destroyed by bombing in the 1940 Manchester Blitz, it retains stunning original features, some of which date as far back as 700 AD. Admission is free seven days a week, although donations are appreciated to help with running costs.
Castlefield is a unique place ideal for exploring on foot. As a designated conservation area since 1980, it combines canal-side paths with historical landmarks and plenty of bars and outdoor terrace areas. If you end up visiting the area, make sure you visit the Castlefield Bowl – an outdoor space that hosts music events throughout the summer months.
12) Heaton Park
Spread across 600 acres, Heaton Park is the biggest park in the North West. It boasts a golf course, boating lake, cafes and Heaton Hall, which dates from the 18th Century. It’s also the location of the annual, ever-popular Parklife Festival. It is a tram ride away, but at only £4.00 for a return ticket on the tram (£1.90 for students!) it's still a cheap day out.
13) Sackville Gardens
Sackville Gardens Located in the heart of the city centre, Sackville Gardens is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. A peaceful enclave popular with students, it’s a great spot for an impromptu picnic on a sunny day. The place is also home to a memorial of Alan Turing, the ‘father of modern computing’, who regularly frequented the area.
14) Lunchtime concert at Chetham's School of Music
Chetham’s School of Music, one of the most reputable music school’s in England, hosts regular lunchtime concerts for members of the public. The concerts are completely free to attend and take place every weekday at 1.30pm. Ring or visit the website beforehand to check the programme.
15) Watch a film at Central Library
Of all the free things to do in Manchester, this is probably one of the best kept secrets. If you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day, head down to the Media Lounge at Central Library. Here, you’ll find the British Film Institute’s Archive – over 2,000 films and TV programmes for you to browse and watch for free.
16) Google Digital Garage
For a more productive pastime, the Google Digital Garage is the place to go. The centre offers a range of courses in digital skills for everyone from entrepreneurs to tech novices. Whether you’re looking to grow a business or simply want to learn more about the internet, take a look at their list of resources online or head to 39–43 King Street and get talking to one of their friendly team members.
If you know of any other free things to do in Manchester, let us know so we can include it on our list!