We’ve all heard the saying; “You don’t get something for nothing” and it seems that this is becoming increasingly true as more and more businesses and people struggle during these difficult times.
Fear not, however, as there’s still an awful lot of things to do in Manchester that won’t cost you a penny, from live comedy nights, to world-class museums, being in the audience of your favourite TV shows and loads more…
Castlefield Viaduct ‘High Line’
The brand-new ‘High Line’ gardens on the historic Castlefield Viaduct is completely free – all you need to do is book yourself a slot to visit on the National Trust website (below). The £1.8m urban sky park is the culmination of months and months of work to transform the dilapidated and derelict Grace-II listed structure with an impressive array of trees, flowers and shrubs that have brought a new lease of life to the 125-year-old space.
Science & Industry Museum
Manchester has some of the best histories in terms of science and industry, what with the Industrial Revolution starting on our doorstep, John Dalton paving the way for Rutherford and the smashing of them pesky atoms, and of course – Alan Turing. All this and more is celebrated within the mutliple buildings that make up the Science & Industry Museum; including the world’s first inter-city railway.
Open Daily 10 am – 5 pm
Liverpool Rd, Manchester M3 4FP
Greater Manchester Police Museum
This is probably my favourite place to visit for free in Manchester – it’s absolutely brilliant. Open on Tuesdays, this small museum on Newton Street allows visitors a swift glimpse into some of the history and stories behind many local crimes and criminals. Once a working police station, the brilliant ex-copper volunteers take pleasure in showing you the genuine Victorian prison cells (and pictures of a fella escaping out of the serving hatch), as well as the magnificent courtroom upstairs. My favourite was being allowed to try on some riot gear and then read about some of the gruesome murders that have happened in the past in their evidence room.
Open Tuesdays 10.30am – 3.30pm
57A Newton St, Manchester M1 1ET
Here in Manchester, we are lucky enough to be a stone’s throw away from some wonderful spots for walking. Every few weeks here on Finest we do a little write up on a particular walk and in our arsenal, we’ve got Heaton Park, the historic (and definitely haunted) Dunham Massy, and Arley Hall and gardens just to name a few. In fact, there’s enough walks here to keep you going for every weekend in the year – and we’re always doing more…
Dress up as a Tudor, try on some chainmail, pretend you’re having a feast in the Great Hall, and find out all about this ancient house on the outskirts of Salford – all for free! There are always events going on throughout the year for all ages, and if the weather is nice – the gardens offer up a stunning backdrop to explore their allotment, herb garden and sculptures. Oh, and this place is supposedly really, really haunted – so if you’re a Ghostbuster – it’s the perfect place to try and find a pesky poltergeist.
Street Art Tour of the Northern Quarter
Although this isn’t some form of official organised tour I’m fairly certain you won’t ever need one. Take just a 5-minute stroll around the Northern Quarter and you’re sure to find a wealth of wonderful street art that’s a significant step up from the usual ‘Barry shagged my wife’ that you’d find daubed on the walls round your end. A whole host of world-class artists come to the NQ to show off their skills – get them found, get them snapped for the ‘Gram and get those followers up-up-up.
The Portico Library
One of the city’s most impressive (and hidden) gems, the Portico Library is located upstairs of the Portico building, above The Bank pub on Mosley Street. I’m only telling you this because you’re more likely to know The Bank than the Portico because it’s on eye level. Go round the corner and pop through the little door at the side however and you’re transported into a stunning old-timey library, one which also runs a packed calendar of regular events and exhibitions. Well worth a visit.
Open Mon-Fri 9.30am – 5.30pm, Saturdays 11am – 3pm, Sundays Closed
57 Mosley St, Manchester M2 3HY
The Donkey Sanctuary
Of all the famous donkeys throughout the ages, probably the most famous is the one out of Shrek, who ended up getting married to, and having children with a huge fire-breathing dragon. Which must have been traumatising. Anyway, donkeys are very, very lovely creatures, and the one place that you can go to see them is the Donkey Sanctuary in Abbey Hey, who do some truly fantastic work in helping the often abandoned or mistreated animals. Be sure to adopt one of the donkeys too – helping to fund the centre and all of the hard graft that they do.
Open Saturdays: 10am – 12noon and 1pm – 3pm, and the first Sunday of the month: 10am – 12noon and 1pm – 3pm
The Donkey Sanctuary, Green Fold, Abbey Hey, Manchester M18 8RJ.
Imperial War Museum North
There’s not much I can say about the Imperial War Museum to do it justice really. As part of the wide network of museums around the country, IMWN has access to vast collections of war artefacts and stories, all of which will aid in the study and understanding of the history of modern war and the ‘wartime experience’.
Open Daily 10am – 4.30pm
The Quays, Trafford Wharf Road, Manchester M17 1TZ
Free Manchester Walking Tours
Starting from the Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Gardens, every day at 11am – the Free Manchester Walking Tours are exactly what they sound like – original, fun and informative walks that explore the city’s sights and secrets. Hosted by proper Mancs, the tour is an “informative and entertaining adventure” with something for everyone, whether you’re new to the city or not. Hidden gems, top attractions and everything else in between is covered. Don’t bother trying to book – they don’t do them – just turn up at 11am in Sackville Gardens and they’ll sort you out.
The British Culture Archives
The British Culture Archive is a non-profit organisation highlighting the changing face of British society through documentary photography, and they regularly host exhibitions at The Refuge which are completely free to attend. Exploring community, working-class history and popular culture, the current exhibition is entitled ‘Together As One’ a collection of images celebrating the diversity and wholeness of Manchester’s LGBTQIA+ community across the years.
Currently closed for an extensive refurbishment, when it reopens you should expect a shiny new space that’s set them back a cool £15m. Funded by Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The University of Manchester, and other private supporters, the refurb has seen the building gain a brand new two-storey extension, which will reportedly increase the footfall of the museum by 25%. It’ll be back open again in February 2023.
Open Daily 10am – 5pm
Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PL
Runway Visitor Park
The Runway Visitor Park, adjacent to the busy runways of the airport, is one of the North West’s most popular outdoor attractions. It’s great for kids, nerdy plane spotters and just anyone who fancies a pint in the sun, as the raised viewing area means that you can stand literally just a few metres away from the planes as they go past. The park is also home to a variety of retired planes, including the spectacular supersonic airliner, Concorde G-BOAC; and the former RAF military spy plane, Nimrod. There’s also a DC-10, Avro RJX and a retro Trident airliner, offering a glimpse of what flying was like in the 1960s and 1970s.
Open Daily 8am – 6pm
Sunbank Ln, Altrincham WA15 8XQ
The Irwell Sculpture Trail
The Irwell Sculpture Trail is the largest public art scheme in England, commissioning regional, national and international artists and including 28 art pieces across a well-established 30-mile footpath stretching from Salford Quays through Bury into Rossendale and up the Pennines above Bacup. You can find out about all of the sculptures, as well as plan your route on the Sculpture Trail website below…
The Den at M8
This summer the Royal Exchange Theatre has brought its eco-friendly mobile theatre, the Den to the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Cheetham Hill and Crumpsall. For two weeks this unique pop-up theatre will host a range of exciting events from family fun-days to community shows, theatre, dance and art. Most events are either FREE or just £1!
National Football Museum
The National Football Museum in Urbis on Cathedral Gardens receives financial support from Manchester City Council, so if you pay your Council Tax to them – it’s FREE for you to visit. Unfortunately, living in Stretford – I’m a Trafford Council fella – so I have to pay £12 to go in, and if I had kids it’d be £7 each. Once in though, you can expect some pretty impressive exhibitions all about ‘the beautiful game’ and its impact on society, communities and people. There are 4 levels dedicated to the game, including a huge array of kits, trophies and even plenty of interactive games and experiences to keep you interested.
Open Daily 10am – 5pm
Cathedral Gardens, M4 3BG
Heaton Park Animal Centre
Not only is the entrance to Heaton Park free, but there’s also their Animal Centre, located in the old stables, which is free also – and a great place to take the kids. There you can meet many common farmyard animals, such as chickens, goats, geese, pigs, turkeys, ducks, and rabbits as well as more exotic species such as alpacas and Sulcate tortoise. There are also a few peacocks that strut around the area, and out in the park, there are a few Highland cattle to admire from afar, as well as horses and donkeys.
The Pankhurst Centre
Exploring the story of the Pankhurst family and the suffragette campaign for votes for women you can sit in the parlour where their first meeting took place, have a stroll in the garden or just chill in the brilliant little cafe. The tickets for entry are free, but they also work on a pay-what-you-can donation when you book, to help them keep the Pankhurst Centre open to the public.
Open Thursdays from 10am-4pm, and on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month from 1-4pm.
The Pankhurst Centre, 60-62 Nelson Street, Manchester, M13 9WP
British Film Institute Archive
Housed inside the Central Library on St Peter’s Square, the British Film Institute Archive is home to over 2,000 complete films and TV programmes, including more than 100 depicting life in Manchester and the North West. It’s the place to make new discoveries and get reacquainted with old favourites. From home movies to feature films, via documentaries and kids’ TV, many titles have rarely been seen since their original release or broadcast – if at all.
People’s History Museum
From the outside, you’d be forgiven for wondering just what the People’s History Museum actually contains. It describes itself as “the national museum of democracy” and aims to “engage, inspire and inform diverse audiences by showing ‘there have always been ideas worth fighting for’”. After a massive £12.5m refurbishment, the museum re-opened its doors a couple of years ago and has had some brilliant exhibitions exploring these ideals. It’s also home to a great cafe run by the people behind the Open Kitchen MCR project.
Open Daily 10am – 5pm
Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3ER
Free Live Music & Pool at Bunny Jacksons
Okay so it’s seriously bad form if you go into Bunny Jacksons, take advantage of their free stuff and don’t buy a drink – so grab yourself a few cheap pints at happy hour and enjoy yourself without feeling guilty. First of all, there’s the FREE American pool table upstairs which you can play to your heart’s content and then there’s the regular live music by the House Band – typically on a Sunday, Monday and Thursday. The wings are only 20p each too – which is an absolute steal.
Open every day from 4.30pm – 3am.
1 Jack Rosenthal Street, Manchester, M15 4RA
Manchester Art Gallery
With an impressive permanent collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Manchester Art Gallery is great if you like traditional paintings. While institutions such as this can sometimes be deemed soulless, Manchester Art Gallery keeps on top of its game with constantly changing contemporary, temporary exhibitions, alongside a wide range of events, from exhibitions, tours and talks to creative activities for children and grown-ups.
Open Daily 10am – 5pm (Open til 9pm on Thursdays)
Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL
The Laughięnda Comedy Club
Taking place every Thursday at Lions Den Bar on Deansgate Mews, The Laughięnda Comedy Club is a completely free comedy night showcasing the freshest comedy talent from all over the North West, alongside pro-headliners trying out new jokes. The night won ‘Best Open Mic Winner’ at the North West Comedy Awards 2022.
Salford Museum and Art Gallery
Open Tuesday to Sunday and completely free to visit, Salford Museum and Art Gallery also host a fantastic programme for kids and families throughout the summer holidays – so if you’re struggling to keep the little sods entertained – this might just be what you’re looking for. Opened to the public all the way back in 1850, the museum and art gallery is devoted to the history of the city, Victorian art and architecture and has plenty of hands-on activities, with everything from workshops to modern art.
The Romans quickly recognised Castlefield as a pretty sound place and decided to erect the fort Mamucium here in 79AD, beginning the slow progress of what is now this great city. The Roman fort is still there today and the surrounding area of Castlefield is a great place to visit and have a look around too. Later becoming the centre of canal and rail networks for vast quantities of goods during the Industrial Revolution and more recently the UK’s first Urban Heritage Park, there are plenty of waterways, warehouses and bridges to explore and learn about Manchester’s history.
Whitworth Art Gallery
The Whitworth Art Gallery won ‘Museum of the Year’ in 2015, probably due to their immense collection of up to 55,000 watercolours, sculptures, textiles and paintings. They’ve got 7 William Blake’s here, and even a few Van Gogh’s and Picasso’s. The artwork is often innovative, revolutionary and infamous, and the café is framed with glass walls that overlook the lovely sculpture park.
Open Daily 10am – 5pm (Open til 9pm on Thursdays)
Oxford Rd, Manchester M15 6ER
With the BBC setting up (half) shop at MediaCity a few years ago, this means that there are a ton of TV shows that get filmed here where you can get into the audience for FREE. A Question of Sport is available at the moment, but over the course of the year you can expect a whole host of different shows to choose from. In addition, BBC Philharmonic perform live concerts here too – which you can watch for free also. Get yourself booked into any shows below…
The Lowry opened up in 2000, as part of a massive project to renovate Salford Quays for the new century. Since then the BBC and ITV have set up shop near here and added even more glass and chrome to the waterways. It holds a large gallery of LS Lowry (obviously), as well as other temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Also expect plenty of films, talks and workshops.
Open Sunday – Friday 11am – 5pm, Saturday 10am – 5pm
Pier 8, The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ
John Rylands Research Institute and Library
Quite possibly the most beautiful building in Manchester, the John Rylands is probably enough to give even a Ghostbuster the shivers. Once inside you will find a library containing a dazzling array of rare books and manuscripts dating from the beginning of human history it seems – most famous of which is the papyrus fragments containing some of the earliest depictions of bible stories.
Open 10am – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday, Sunday and Monday 12pm – 5pm
150 Deansgate, M3 3EH
Salford Lads’ Club
Perfect for fans of The Smiths, or just music in Manchester in general, Salford Lads Club is completely free to visit and you’ll be able to get your picture taken outside of its iconic entrance. Inside they’ve got a ‘Club Archive’ which brings together membership records, photographs, annual reports and newsletters dating back to 1903, as well as a ‘Smiths Room’ which is dedicated to the band and Madchester.
Matt & Phreds
The Northern Quarter’s Matt and Phreds offer a massive range of free Jazz gigs between Monday and Thursday to get involved in. They also have a cracking Happy Hour including 2 House Cocktails for £12 and a FREE PIZZA when you buy two drinks.
Open Monday to Thursday 6pm til late (Friday and Saturday £5 entry)
64 Tib St, Manchester M4 1LW
The Central Library stands proudly in all of its Gladiator-esque splendour right in the heart of St Peter’s Square, easily one of the most iconic buildings in Manchester. Libraries are not just for books nowadays, and the Central Library takes this further by offering a load of things for you to see and do for free. Additionally ,there is a jam-packed diary of author readings, talks, writer workshops, gigs, film nights, live performances, open-mic evenings and creative courses as part of the Library Live programme – pretty much all for free.
Open Monday – Thursday 9am – 8pm, Friday & Saturday 9am – 5pm, Closed Sunday
Manchester Central Library, St Peter’s Square, M2 5PD
2021 marked the 600th anniversary of the Royal Charter that established Manchester Cathedral, and there’s been a place of worship on this spot ever since the 1400s. Any visit to the Cathedral uncovers plenty to gawk at and marvel at, including some dtunning stained glass windows. There are free guided tours generally available for individuals and families from Monday to Saturday between 10am and 4pm, and entrance is free too. There is though a suggested donation of £3 to help support the running costs of the Cathedral.
Victoria St, Manchester M3 1SX
Rochdale Pioneers Museum
Located on Toad Lane in the centre of Rochdale, this Museum is housed in what is regarded as the home of the worldwide Co-operative movement. Back in 1844, the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society opened their first little store selling food at fair prices and started a revolution in retailing which has played a significant part in our lives ever since. The ground floor faithfully recreates the original shop and in the display and exhibition area you can learn of the inspiration the Pioneers received from visionaries such as the great social reformer Robert Owen.
Rochdale Pioneers Museum, 31 Toad Ln, Rochdale OL12 0NU