Free family things to do in Manchester

Shekina Rose, Families Editor

The summer holidays are HERE, and now’s the time for families to get out and about and explore what Manchester’s got to offer. Whether you’ve got a full day or half an hour, 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.

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

Our top picks

The Great Northern Giant Sandpit

Great Northern Sandpit, Until 31 August 2024, free entry - Visit now

The Great Northern Giant Sandpit is open throughout the summer months. Bring spades, buckets, a picnic, and you’re basically at the seaside!

Great Northern Sandpit
The Great Northern

Outdoor Art Club at The Whitworth

Outdoor Art Club at The Whitworth, Manchester, Until 20 July 2024, free entry - Visit now

Enjoy fun and creative activities at the Outdoor Art Club at The Whitworth, an outdoor space designed to encourager little ones to play freely while exploring nature and the outdoors with family and friends.

OUTDOOR ART CLUB AT THE WHITWORTH
Image courtesy of The Whitworth.

Manchester Day 2024

Manchester Day, 27 July 2024, free entry - Find Out More

Celebrate the amazing city of Manchester as the whole city centre is transformed into the ultimate playground.

Image courtesy of Manchester Day.

PHM’s Playful Protest Space

PHM's Playful Protest Space at People’s History Museum (PHM), Manchester, Until 30 December 2024, free entry - Visit now

Explore activism through fun crafts and activities, including games and films, all inspired by the museum’s collection.

Children sat at a table and colouring
People's History Museum

Summer of Stories at Z-arts

Summer of Stories at Z-arts, Manchester, 30 July–24 August 2024, free entry - Find Out More

Head to Z-arts this August for the Summer of Stories with interactive storytelling and drop in Arts and Crafts, and each week celebrating the work of a different children’s author.

 

Summer of Stories at Z-arts
Z-arts

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.

RHS GARDEN BRIDGEWATER
Image: Harris Bugg Studio

The Great Northern Giant Sandpit

Great Northern Sandpit, Until 31 August 2024, free entry - Visit now

Sun cream on, picnic ready, this is a great day out for younger children, or just a pleasant stop off on your way to something else! Lots of digging, building and playing included. And it’s free…

Great Northern Sandpit
The Great Northern

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 20 July 2024, 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.

OUTDOOR ART CLUB AT THE WHITWORTH
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

Where to go in Manchester

The National Football Museum Manchester
Manchester
Museum
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
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
Manchester
Museum
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.

Manchester
Museum
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
Manchester
Museum
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
Manchester
Museum
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.

Manchester
Museum
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.

Manchester
Museum
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

Tasting Menus in The North

Looking for the finest luxury multi-course restaurants in Manchester? Look no further. We've picked out the very best tasting menus in the city - just make sure you have deep pockets.

Photo of the Halle orchestra at Bridgewater
Music Venues in Manchester

Manchester is still a great place to watch new and innovative music – so here’s a guide to where to watch the best live music in the city.

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.

Federal Cafe Bar
Breakfast in Manchester

Manchester is strong with the breakfast force, and has some impressive form where brunch is concerned. Here’s our pick of the city’s morning glories.

Blossom on trees in Manchester
Parks and Gardens in Manchester

There are more green spaces in Manchester than you might think. We've picked out some of the best parks and gardens in and around the city.

Bars in Manchester

The best new bars in Manchester, plus some old favourites for good measure.

Stately Homes in the North

The North of England is blessed with countless stunning stately homes, many dating back decades and even centuries. Here are some of the very best.

Pillock at Contact
Spotlight on

Fringe Theatre in Manchester and the North

Check out our top picks of shows previewing in the North West before heading to Edinburgh Fringe Festival later in the summer.

Take me there

Culture Guides

Rebecca Watson author photo
Literature Events in Manchester and the North

In between working out, then working through, your holiday reading pile this summer, find inspiration for your next bookish acquisitions from our selection of live events and exhibitions.