Free family things to do in Manchester

Shekina Rose, Families Editor

Times are tight, and as the winter draws in we’ve been on the look out for some of the best free family things to do in Manchester, whatever the weather. Whether you’ve just half an hour available, or an expanse of school holidays to fill, Manchester’s world-renowned attractions have enough history, art and science to enable families to have fun, get creative, and explore the globe, without breaking the bank!

With year-round family activities and facilities, as well as regular programmes of special events for people of all ages, these venues and events are all geared up for families, and feature both indoor and outdoor experiences, so there’s something for everyone.

Don’t forget to bring some pocket money for food and drink, as there are all sorts of family-friendly places to eat in Manchester. You also might want to browse the unique shops available too.

For more free ideas, also check out our handy guide to Parks and Gardens in Manchester.

Our top picks

Festive Sundays in Manchester City Centre

Festive Sundays at St Ann’s Square, Manchester, Until 17 December 2023, free entry - Visit now

Get in the Christmas spirit with dazzling toy procession street performances, live music and incredible puppetry for families in the weeks running up to Christmas.

Festive Sundays
Matt Eachus

Golden Mummies of Egypt at Manchester Museum

Golden Mummies of Egypt at Manchester Museum, Manchester, Until 31 December 2023, free entry - Visit now

Go back in time to a world of opulence and mystery at the Golden Mummies of Egypt exhibition at Manchester Museum, all indoors so perfect for a rainy day!

The Golden Mummies of Egypt
Golden Mummies of Egypt

Julia & Axel: Thirty Years of Favourite Stories at The Lowry

Julia & Axel: Thirty years of Favourite Stories at The Lowry, Manchester, Until 1 January 2024, free entry - Visit now

This summer and into autumn families are invited to step inside a world of imagination, rhyme, rhythm and delight at the Julia & Axel: Thirty years of Favourite Stories exhibition at The Lowry

Julia & Axel: Thirty years of Favourite Stories
Image courtesy of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler 2023.

Manchester Museum

Manchester Museum, The University Of Manchester, Oxford Rd, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M13 9PL - Visit now

Following almost 18 months of closure, Manchester Museum re-opened in February, with lots of brand-new exhibition spaces to explore. There’s a stunning new Exhibition Hall and the UK’s first permanent South Asia Gallery to check out – and don’t worry, all your favourites are back too – including Stan the T-Rex.

Manchester Museum Tours at Manchester Museum

RHS Garden Bridgewater

RHS Garden Bridgewater, Occupation Road (Off Leigh Road), Worsley, Salford, Greater Manchester, M28 2GU - Visit now

Are you looking for a family day out in Manchester where you can be at one with nature? Head to the spectacular 154-acre RHS Bridgewater Garden in Salford, beckoning outdoor enthusiasts of all ages.

Image: Harris Bugg Studio

Science and Industry Museum

Science and Industry Museum, Liverpool Road, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M3 4FP - Visit now

Open all year round, the Science and Industry Museum is free entry and inspires visitors of all ages through exploring revolutionary, world-changing ideas and fun, interactive exhibitions.

Image courtesy of Science and Industry Museum.

Greater Manchester Police Museum

Greater Manchester Police Museum, 57a Newton Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M1 1ET - Visit now

Open every Tuesday and for special days in school holidays, this gem of a museum will have you all on your best behaviour as you stand in the dock, explore life behind bars and try the feel of a wooden pillow.

Creative Tourist

Outdoor Art Club at The Whitworth

Outdoor Art Club at The Whitworth, Manchester, Until 16 December 2023, free entry - Visit now

Visit the Outdoor Art Club at the Whitworth Art Gallery, packed with creative activities designed to encourage your little ones to play freely while exploring nature and the outdoors with family and friends.

Image courtesy of The Whitworth.

Hat Works Museum

Hat Works Museum, Wellington Road South, Stockport, Greater Manchester, SK3 0EU - Visit now

Top Hats, bowlers, trilbies …. who doesn’t love some fine headgear? Visit the UK’s only collection devoted to hats which celebrates Stockport’s role in the hatting industry and showcases hats from across the world.

Hat Works Museum All rights reserved by Visit Manchester

Imperial War Museum North (IWM North)

Imperial War Museum North (IWM North), Imperial War Museum North, The Quays, Trafford Wharf Road, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M17 1TZ - Visit now

Discover how war shapes lives in this award-winning Daniel Libeskind building representing a globe changed by conflict. See objects which have changed the course of history such as the Field Gun which fired the first shell of the First World War and a large section of twisted and rusted steelwork from the collapsed World Trade Center. Don’t miss regular object handling sessions and the 360 degree Big Picture Show experience.

Imperial War Museum North exterior shot - host of story seekers
Image courtesy of Visit Britain

Manchester Art Gallery

Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M2 3JL - Visit now

Grab a free toolbelt activity kit and adventure around this Grade I-listed gallery which makes art headlines around the world for all the right reasons.  Don’t miss the Clore Arts Studio and pay-as-you-feel menu for children from award-winning chef Mary-Ellen McTague and Real Junk Food Manchester.

Manchester Art Gallery. Photo by Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks

The Whitworth

The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M15 6ER - Visit now

Manchester’s multi award-winning gallery-in-a-park with regular free creative events for babies and toddlers as well as ongoing welly walks, art picnics and crafty activities galore.

The Whitworth
The Whitworth, Photo: Alan Williams

National Football Museum

National Football Museum, Urbis Building, Cathedral Gardens, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M4 3BG - Visit now

Learn all about the history of the beautiful game in the world’s largest football museum with optional Football Plus experiences to put your penalty shootout skills to the test. The clever folk at the museum even help pocket money budgets go further with free weekly Match Attax swopsies sessions.

The National Football Museum Manchester
Image courtesy of National Football Museum

Ordsall Hall

Ordsall Hall, 322 Ordsall Lane, Salford, Greater Manchester, M5 3AN - Visit now

A beautifully preserved Tudor mansion and museum with resident ghost and expansive lawns.

Ordsall Hall

People’s History Museum (PHM)

People’s History Museum (PHM), Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3ER - Visit now

Recent winner of the national “Kids In Museums” award, visit this national museum of democracy for interactive family galleries and regularly changing creative events. It’s never to early to learn about past struggles and ‘there have always been ideas worth fighting for’.

People's History Museum Manchester
Image © People’s History Museum

Rochdale Pioneers Museum

Rochdale Pioneers Museum, 31 Toad Lane, Rochdale, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, OL12 0NU - Visit now

The Rochdale Pioneers Museum – once a shop – is widely considered to be the birthplace of the co-operative movement. See the historic first food counter, cashier point and become Mini Pioneers on an interactive trail.

rochdale pioneers museum

Where to go in Manchester

The National Football Museum Manchester
National Football Museum

The National Football Museum is now open to the public, ready to show off its impressive array of football-related exhibits and activities.

Manchester Museum Tours at Manchester Museum
Manchester Museum

The Manchester Museum isn’t one of the UK’s leading university museums for nothing – it has six million objects in its stores, including a full size T-Rex skeleton, and that’s just for starters.

Pankhurst Centre
The Pankhurst Centre

The Pankhurst Centre houses a small museum and heritage centre that remains as a legacy to the Pankhurst family and the Suffragette movement born in this city.

Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre

This beautiful building holds temporary exhibitions of acclaimed international art, contemporary and historical collections, handcrafted art in the Art Shop and Tina’s tea rooms. Alongside this runs a varied events, workshop and education programme.

Salford museum and art gallery exterior
Salford Museum and Art Gallery

Salford Museum and Art Gallery is a friendly city museum close to Peel Park with special appeal to families; the highlight is Lark Hill Place, a charming Victorian Street installation.

Gallery Oldham, in Oldham Cultural Quarter
Gallery Oldham

Gallery Oldham provides a wide range of exhibitions and activities targeted at different audiences of all ages within Oldham and the surrounding area.

Air Raid Shelters

Carved into the natural sandstone cliffs, the intriguing network of underground tunnels offers visitors an unparalleled insight into life in wartime Britain in the 1940’s.

Hat Works Museum

Top hats, bowlers, trilbies …. who doesn’t love a hat? Visit the UK’s only collection devoted to hats which celebrates Stockport’s role in the hatting industry.

Manchester Visitor Guides

UNITOM bookshop
Bookshops in Manchester

Manchester is a UNESCO City of Literature, so of course there are a few go-tos for books. Read our guide to discover the best places to pick them up.

Photo of the Halle orchestra at Bridgewater
Music Venues in Manchester

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Private Dining Rooms in Manchester

The best private dining spaces in Manchester's leading restaurants. This is where you and your guests can be fed by professional chefs in a private room.

Sunday Roasts in Manchester

Looking for the finest roast dinners in Manchester? Look no further. We've picked out the very best Sunday dinners in the city.

Blossom on trees in Manchester
Parks and Gardens in Manchester

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Aubergine dish at Bistro 1847
Vegetarian Food in Manchester

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