Free family things to do in Manchester

Shekina Rose, Families Editor

We’ve rounded up our top free family things to do in Manchester through spring and summer in Manchester and the surrounding areas. 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 for free.

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 family visits, and feature both indoor and outdoor experiences, so there’s something for everyone – whatever the weather!

Don’t forget to bring some pocket money for food and drink, as there’s 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.

Here are our picks

  • 1. Manchester Christmas Parade

    Manchester Christmas Parade
    The Manchester Christmas Parade

    Manchester Christmas Parade, 11 December 2022, free entry - Find Out More

    Head to the city centre this weekend for Manchester’s first ever Christmas Parade, featuring free, festive fun for the whole family. Expect magical sounds, spectacular sights and dazzling sparkle in this awe-inspiring parade.

  • 2. Outdoor Art Club at The Whitworth

    Image courtesy of The Whitworth.

    Outdoor Art Club at The Whitworth, Manchester, Until 31 December 2022, free entry - Visit now

    Families of Manchester! Take a visit to the Outdoor Art Club at the Whitworth Art Gallery  this summer, jam-packed with fun and creative activities designed to encourage your little ones to play freely while exploring nature and the outdoors with family and friends.

  • 3. RHS Garden Bridgewater

    Image: Harris Bugg Studio

    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.

  • 4. Chester Rows

    Courtesy of Visit Cheshire

    Chester Rows, Bridge St, Watergate St, Eastgate Street, Chester, Cheshire, CH1 1NG - Visit now

    Chester’s historic Rows are part of the Government’s High Street Heritage Action Zones initiative, revitalising 14 historic high streets across the North West, and more than 60 across England. Stroll along the unique walkways and you’re bound to stumble across a quirky cafe or bar that takes your fancy as well as boutique shops and even some live performances and art installations as part of a spring-summer programme being rolled out this year.

  • 5. Science and Industry Museum

    Science and Industry Museum
    Drew Forsyth

    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.

  • 6. Greater Manchester Police Museum

    Creative Tourist

    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.

  • 7. Hat Works Museum

    Hat Works Museum All rights reserved by Visit Manchester

    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.

  • 8. Imperial War Museum North (IWM North)

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

    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.

  • 9. Manchester Art Gallery

    Manchester Art Gallery. Photo by Andrew Brooks
    Andrew Brooks

    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.

  • 10. Science and Industry Museum

    Science and Industry Museum
    Drew Forsyth

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

    A sprawling museum dedicated to Manchester’s industrial past, outstanding scientific achievements and ideas that change the world. Situated on the site of the world’s first inter-city railway and part of the National Science Museum Group, experiments, activity packs, performances, festivals and changing exhibitions help to bring science to life, answer all the questions and spark all the new ones.

  • 11. The Whitworth

    The Whitworth
    The Whitworth, Photo: Alan Williams

    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.

  • 12. National Football Museum

    The National Football Museum Manchester
    Image courtesy of 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.

  • 13. Ordsall Hall

    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.

  • 14. People’s History Museum (PHM)

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

    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’.

  • 15. Rochdale Pioneers 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.

  • 16. Salford Museum and Art Gallery

    Salford museum and art gallery exterior
    Tom Jeffs

    Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Peel Park, The Crescent, Salford, Greater Manchester, M5 4WU - Visit now

    A family friendly city museum that stakes a claim as the UK’s first free public library. Explore the historic Lark Hill Place street installation then let loose in Peel Park.

  • 17. John Rylands Research Institute and Library

    Magic bowls event. Image shows The historic Reading Room in John Rylands Library
    Image courtesy of John Rylands Library.

    John Rylands Research Institute and Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M3 3EH - Visit now

    Regularly named one of the finest libraries in the world, make like you are in Hogwarts together and be wowed by this incredible place with regular free family trails and creative sessions.