Family things to do in Manchester and the North

Debbie Cowley, Families Editor

We love celebrating family time all year round but in no other month are there so many special events on offer! Our top picks this December bring you the most exciting, festive family things to do across Manchester and the north.

Where to start? If you’re looking for the perfect Santa’s Grotto then head to Chill Factore for a guaranteed white Christmas, with real snow. Once you’ve visited Santa grab a sledge or rubber tube and hit the slopes! Santa is also making a visit to the beautiful Lyme Park, which makes for a more traditional and utterly magical Christmas day out.

In the few days before Christmas the Hallé are screening The Snowman live on their big screen at the Bridgewater Hall. The film will be accompanied by the orchestra performing Howard Blake’s magical score live. Hairs on the back of your neck at the ready.

If you’re looking for a family treat at the theatre there’s loads out there. We can recommend the smash-hit show, Mr Popper’s Penguins at Waterside Arts. With pyjamas encouraged for the 6pm showings, and milk and cookies available, it’s the perfect winter treat. We won’t spoil it for you, but don’t rush off too quickly at the end…

We’ve also included guides to Lancaster and Southport, who have lots on offer for a great family day out this festive season.

Toys and clothes will inevitably be forgotten but the time you spend with children and the way you made them feel will stay with them forever. Check out our top picks below and enjoy some quality family time together in this most magical of seasons.

Check out our free things to do in Manchester guides for more ideas.

Here are our picks

More in Families

Activity Until 31 December 2019, FREE

Documentary Challenge at IWM North

Make and feature in your own mini-documentary at IWM North.

the night sky as explored in the planetarium shows
Education Until 30 December 2019, from £2

Planetarium Shows at World Museum Liverpool

Take your family on a trip through space and time in this fully immersive cinema experience.

Experience The Magic of Trees at Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens
Families Until 1 March 2020, Normal admission charges apply/free to National Trust members

Autumn at Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens

If ever there’s a time to explore Beningbrough Hall, this is certainly it. Check out the packed programme of seasonal events and activities at the National Trust property this autumn.

Exhibitions Until 23 February 2020, FREE

A-Z of Salford’s Collections at Salford Museum and Art Gallery

Discover how Victorian gentlemen protected their moustaches from tea, which monarch’s pair of stockings reside in Salford, get up close to incredible art and more.

Exhibitions Until 1 March 2020, FREE

In A League Of Their Own at Castleford Museum

Rugby League is born and bred in West Yorkshire. From its beginnings in Huddersfield in 1895 to the Super League superstars of today, celebrate over 120 years of blood, sweat and tears.

Families Until 24 December 2019, FREE

Explore & Draw stations at The Hepworth Wakefield

The Explore and Draw stations are open daily and are free to use.

Families Until 25 January 2020, FREE

Family Fun at Pontefract Museum

Lively activity sessions that everyone can take part in.

Families Until 5 February 2020, FREE

Castle Crafts at Pontefract Castle

Get creative together and explore and learn about the history of Pontefract Castle through play or crafts. A different activity each month.

Maddi Nicholson: a place lived at Hardman Square in Spinningfields
Exhibitions Until 20 July 2020, FREE

Maddi Nicholson: a place lived at Hardman Square in Spinningfields

‘a place lived’ by Maddi Nicholson is a new public artwork that delves into the near-forgotten history of Manchester’s thriving financial district.

Culture Guides


We round up the best Christmas movies and new releases this December.

Exhibitions in Manchester and the North


Top of our list of highlights this month, we’re looking forward to the opening of ‘Vivian Suter’ and ‘Theaster Gates: Amalgam’ at Tate Liverpool.

Poet Jennifer Lee Tsai.


There’s still some festive fun to be had in bookland and lots of live literature happenings to look forward to after the tree’s been chipped and mulched down to be turned into your new favourite tome.


From Irish hip hop to Afrobeat, absurdist punk to post-metal, this month’s music guide is a real melting pot.

Theatre in Manchester


Soaring aerial theatre, unique filmic performance and our pick of the pantos. Our theatre guide spans the festive season and beyond.

Classical Music in Manchester and the North

We preview the standout classical music events and venues in Manchester.

Food and Drink in Manchester and the North

Our expert guide to food and drink in Manchester and the North. Taking in bars, restaurants and everywhere to go to eat, drink and get merry.

tours and activities

Tours and Activities

Get outdoors this winter or retreat into the warmth of a workshop with our December guide of Tours and Activities.

Things to do right now

Powered by culturehosts
Christmas at Quarry Bank
Activity Until 5 January 2020, Free event (normal admission charges apply)

Christmas Festivities at Quarry Bank

Family things to do. An art installation at Lightopia.
Families Until 31 December 2019, from £11

Lightopia at Heaton Park

Peter Pan at Storyhouse
Families Until 12 January 2020, from £15.00

Peter Pan at Storyhouse

Discover Halifax at Christmas
Families Until 24 December 2019, FREE

Discover Halifax at Christmas

Manchester Christmas Markets 2020
Families Until 21 December 2019, FREE

Manchester Christmas Markets

Activity Until 31 December 2019, FREE

Documentary Challenge at IWM North

Cinema Until 23 December 2019, from £5.00

It’s A Wonderful Life at HOME

Santa sat on a chair at Christmas at Chill Factore
Families Until 24 December 2019, from £9.50

Christmas at Chill Factore

Christmas tree - part of Christmas in Southport
Families Until 2 January 2020, FREE

Christmas in Southport

Sparkly letters reading Cinderella A fairytale and some Doc Marten boots
Families Until 11 January 2020, from £19.00

Cinderella: A Fairytale at The Dukes