46 Cheap and Free Things to do in Manchester

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  • Post last modified:January 29, 2021
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For the past 3 years I’ve made Manchester my home and really got to know the city well.

Football, food, and music are some of the things Manchester is well known for, but it has plenty to offer, no matter what your budget is.

Here is a list of 46 cheap and free things to do in Manchester that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

1. Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry (also known as MOSI) is a big museum in Manchester where exhibits include cars, planes, trains, steam and gas engines, communications and computing. It is easily the best free thing to do in Manchester with something for all the family.

The museum is open every day 10am-5pm however it often features different exhibits and festivals so it’s worth checking the schedule in advance.

Cost: Free of charge

2. Heaton Park

Heaton park is not only the biggest municipal park in Manchester, but in the whole of Europe (apparently!). With such size comes many activities for a full day out, including a boating lake, golf course, playground and plenty of space to relax. The park also hosts many events including fairs and festivals.

Cost: Free to visit but car parking charges apply.

3. Matt & Phreds Jazz Club

If you’re looking for a budget night filled with Pizza, Beer and Jazz, then Matt & Phreds in the Northern Quarter is just what you’re looking for. Always a cosy atmosphere, this renowned music venue has hosted many talented musicians over the years including Sneaky, Kit Downes, Jamie Cullum and Adele.

Cost: Gigs are free Mon-Thurs with a £5 entry fee on Fridays + Saturdays.

4. Cat Café

The Cat Café in the Northern Quarter is one of my favourite budget activities in Manchester. De-stress with coffee, cake and cats – what more could you want? The café is very popular so you’ll need to book in advance, and even then you may end up waiting in a queue.

Cost: You pay for the time you spend there, it is £1 per person per 5 minutes.

5. The Whitworth Art Gallery

Credit: @joe_maly

The Whitworth art gallery in Whitworth park is part of Mancheter University and plays home to over 55,000 pieces of fine art, print and textiles that have been collected over the past 125+ years. The gallery has recently benefited from a huge redevelopment and features a sculpture garden outside.

Cost: Free of charge

6. National Football Museum

England’s national football museum is based in Manchester city centre, featuring football memorabilia such as the 1966 World Cup Final ball, Geoff Hurst’s shirt and the Jules Rimet Trophy.

During your visit you’ll learn how the game began, how it grew to have such impact on our culture and society, and you’ll have the chance to test your skills in interactive challenges. The museum is open 7 days a week.

Cost: Free of charge

7. Levenshulme Street Food Market

Now in it’s 6th year, Levenshulme street food market is a social enterprise run by volunteers to help improve the high steet. It runs every Friday or Saturday between March and December in Levenshulme and every Tuesday between March and June at Manchester University.

You’ll find a selection of hot and cold street food, live music and activities for the family. Visit the website for dates and times of upcoming markets.

Cost: Free to visit

8. Manchester Art Gallery

Credit: @joe_maly

Manchester Art Gallery comprises over 25,000 pieces of fine art, ceramics, decorative art and costumes from the last 6 centuries.

Cost: Free of charge

9. People’s History Museum

Discover the history of working people in the UK at the Peoples History Museum in Spinningfields, Manchester. The museum documents the country’s fight for democracy and equality including revolutions, trade union movements and the Suffragettes.

Cost: Free of charge

10. Chetham’s School of Music Lunchtime Concerts

Add a music concert to your list of free things to do in Manchester this week at Chethams school of Music, a world class independent music school based in Manchester. Well known alumni include Rochard Egarr and Max Beesley.

Every lunchtime the school offers free concerts which can range from full length solo recitals to a number of pieces by instrumentalists, vocalists or chamber ensembles.

Cost: Free of charge, no booking required, full schedule can be found here.

11. Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art

The museum is the best place in the UK to experience work by Chinese artists in the UK and China. The museum has over 30 years of history and is currently located in the Northern Quarter. The exhibits are constantly evolving and many of the artists go on to receive international acclaim.

Cost: The museum is free of charge

Tip: The Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art is quite small and won’t take long to visit, it is located near the Chetham School or Music so combining these together make a good afternoon.

12. Explore the Northern Quarter

Credit: @joe_maly

Easily my favourite part of central Manchester, the Norther Quarter is a trendy area full of independent shops, cafes and bars.

Amongst the many offerings are vintage clothing shops, record shops, live music venues and lots of great street art. In my opinion, this is the best area of Manchester to visit in the evenings with some great speak easy bars such as Dusk till Pawn and Convenience Store.

Cost: Free to explore

13. Mackie Mayors

A new addition to Manchesters gastro scene, Mackie Mayors is a food and drink hall situated . Hosted in a grade 2 listed building that has previously been used as a meat market and a skate park, you ‘ll be able to feast on a huge array of high end food and drink from pizza and rotisserie chicken to cakes and sandwiches, all at reasonable prices.

Cost: Free to enter, snacks start from about £5, meals from about £8.

14. Greater Manchester Police Museum

The Greater Manchester Police Museum contains Victorian cells, a courtroom and exhibits documenting the history of policing in Manchester.

The museum is located in an old Police Station near to Picadilly station and is only made possible by the team of volunteers who help run it, many of whom are retired police officers themselves.

Cost: Free of charge

15. Junkyard Golf

I love mini golf and I love beer, that probably explains why I’m such a fan of Junkyard Golf. Situated near Piccadilly train station, choose from 3 extraordinary courses that will make you think differently about golf, there is dance music, UV lights and bars throughout the course.

Cost: Prices start from £4 per person for students or £8 for adults.

16. Chetham’s Library

If you like history and architecture then visiting Chethams library must be on your list of things to do in Manchester. It is the oldest English language public library in the world and is situated in one of the oldest medieval buildings in Manchester.

There is an ancient printing press and books so old that they have been chained up, not to mention you’ll be walking in the footsteps of Karl Marx.

Cost: Entry is free but visitors are required to arrive at certain times, check website for details.

17. The Lowry Theatre

The Lowry is typically known for it’s large theatres, bringing in a wealth of talent including musicals, plays and comedy, and I’ve noticed the prices are usually very reasonable. But it also boasts a gallery with paintings and sculptures from artists big and small as well as cafes, restaurants and gift shops so you can make a full day of it.

Cost: Entry to building and galleries is free, show tickets from £10

Tip: If you’re under 26, you can sign up to get cheaper tickets and never pay more than £10 per show, more info here.

18. BBC Studio Tours

Take a tour of the BBC studios at media city which is currently home to programmes including Match of the Day, Blue Peter, A Question of Sport and Mastermind. You’ll get a 1.5hr guided tour of the studios and you’ll even get a chance to try your hand at presenting the news and weather.

Cost: Free for valid blue peter badge holders, if you’re not lucky enough to possess one, full admission prices are £12 for adults, £10 for students and £8 for children.

19. The Trafford Centre

With the worlds largest food court, the UKs busiest cinema, over 200 shops and regular events, there is something for everyone at the Trafford Centre. My favourite thing to do is visit rooftop golf where you’ll find 2 amazing themed indoor mini golf courses which are great fun.

Cost: Free to visit, golf from £8.50 for adults, £6.50 for children

20. Manchester Town Hall (Under renovation)

Credit: @joe_maly

The town hall is situated in Albert Square, near to St Peters Square tram stop. The magnificent Victorian building was designed by Architect Alfred Waterhouse after he won a competition in the 1860’s.

On a tour of the building you can visit the court yard, see the spectacular state rooms and climb the 85m clock tower.

Unfortunately the building is currently closed for renovation until 2024 so for now you’re restricted to viewing from the outside.

21. Albert Square

Albert square plays host to numerous events throughout the year including Oktoberfest, Diwali, Christmas markets, New Year celebrations and Manchester food and drink festival.

Cost: Free to visit the square, entry fees will apply for some festivals

22. Bridgewater Canal

Enjoy a leisurely afternoon by going for a walk, run or cycle along the Bridgewater canal path that connects Runcorn to Leigh (39 miles in total). See the beautiful bridges, wave at the passing canal boats and feed the ducks – a great day for the whole family. If you enjoy it enough, maybe next time you could hire a canal boat and complete the whole stretch!

Cost: Free of charge

23. Prestwich Forest Park

Prestwich Forest Park is another stunning green area in Manchester although not as well known as some of the others I’ve mentioned so generally a bit quieter. There are grass lands, forests and a playground, fun to enjoy all year round although it can get a little muddy after heavy rainfall.

Cost: Free of charge

24. Portico Library

The Portico Library was originally opened in 1806 and remains operational today. It is an independent subscription library containing 25,000 books where original members could gather to read about history, travel and literature as well as one of the only places in Manchester to stock the London newspapers in the early 19th century. Former members include Elizabeth Gaskell, John Dalton and Peter Roget.

Cost: Free of charge

25. John Rylands Library

Credit: @joe_maly

John Rylands was one of Manchester’s most successful industrialists with an enormous fortune to his name. The extravagant library was commissioned in his memory.

Cost: Free of charge

26. The Runway Visitor Park

Located at the end of the run way at Manchester airport, at the runway visitor park you’ll get a clear 180 degree view of planes taking off, the chance to board and explore 5 air craft including a concord supersonic jet and there is a children’s play area.

Cost: The park is free to explore although if you’re arriving by car you’ll need to pay for parking.

27. Manchester Cathedral

One of 15 listed buildings in Manchester, the cathederal was first built in 1421 and stands at  135ft tall.ne of the little known facts about the church is that it’s roof is home to 4 bee hives  supported by the Manchester and District Beekeepers’ Association.

Cost: Free of charge

28. Castlefield

Castlefield is a neighbourhood near Manchester city entre with bars, canals and green spaces. It used to be the heart of Roman Manchester and later was a key industrial area so you’ll find the ruins of a Roman fort and old mills. It was named as Britains first urban heritage park which helped transform it from ancient ruins to a thriving area of tourism.

It is also home to Castlefield bowl where you’ll be able to watch an array of open air concerts. If you get chance visit HOME, a venue dedicated to arts and cinema.

Cost: Free of charge

29. Invisible Cities Walking Tour

A unique new social enterprise, invisible cities, is now offering friendly walking tours in Manchester by tour guides who have previously been affected by homelessness. As well as seeing the sights of the city, you’ll get to explore Manchester from a new perspective as you hear the personal story which will open your eyes to life on the streets of Manchester.

Cost: Tours start from about £11 on Saturdays and Sundays, find out more here.

30. Frog and Bucket Comedy Club

This is my favourite stand up venue in Manchetser. With a cosy and welcoming atmosphere, the Frog and Bucket hosts established and upcoming comics with previous line ups including Jason Manford and Sarah Millican.

Cost: Tickets can be as low as £6.

Tip: If you fancy a shot at the big time, look out for their amateur mic night.

31. Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens

In the Manchester suburb of Didsbury lies Fletcher Moss botanical gardens. A beautiful 21 acre park featuring rock gardens with a pond and many unusual plants flowers, walking trails along the river Mersey, picnic areas, tennis courts, football pitches and a café.

I lived near the gardens for 3 years and it’s still one of my favourite things to do in Manchester.

Cost: Free of charge

32. Escape Rooms

I love escape rooms! Luckily, Manchester has lots of options to choose from. Some are relatively cheap whereas others are a little more expensive.

Options including nuclear strikes, virus disasters, crystal maze and even a Harry Potter theme (I’ve not tried this yet but absolutely need too!).

Cost: From £15 per person

33. Jodrell Bank Observatory

This observatory is home to 4 telescopes including the world famous Lovell telescope, standing at almost 90m tall this telescope is the third largest of it’s kind in the world.

It’s not just the telescopes that you’ll see, you’ll learn all about space, play with a working model of our solar system, find out all about the big bang, black holes and many other parts of the universe.

Cost: Adult entry £7.65, child (4-18) entry £5.85, under 4’s are free.

Tip: Visit during holidays and you may catch a science show or meet the expert event – check their website for info.

34. Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum

If you’re interested in learning about the history of the fire brigade, this museum in Rochdale is the place for you. See old fire engines, memorabilia and vintage fire equipment. The museum is situated in an old fire station and run by volunteers who offer guided tours to bring the exhibits to life.

Cost: Thanks to donations and the work of volunteers, the museum is free to enter.

Tip: It is due for refurbishment soon so check for information before visiting.

35. Street Art Tour

Credit: @joe_maly

Manchester is one of the top UK cities for street art amongst London and Bristol. Most of the work is situated in the Northern Quarter although I’m forever noticing new pieces as I go about my daily life. Most of the greatest pieces were created as part of an initiative called Cities of Hope in 2016 which aimed to raise awareness of public and social issues facing the people of Manchester.

Cost: Free for a self-guided tour or guided tours from £9 each.

36. Tatton Park

Tatton park is a Tudor mansion located on a 2,000 acre estate including beautiful gardens, parkland and an authentic 1930’s working farm. I like to spend time wondering the vast parkland where you’ll discover lots of beautiful wildlife including red and fallow deer.

Cost: £7 per car to enter estate, free to explore the parkland (charges apply for the mansion, gardens and farm areas)

37. Manchester Craft and Design Centre

Manchesters craft and design centre houses two floors of boutique creators including jewellery, illustrators, ceramics and painters. I love to spend time speaking with the creators themselves and watching them at work, the prices ar every reasonable too.

Cost: Free to visit

38. Walking in the Peaks

One of the best things about living in Manchester is having the peak district on your doorstep.

Catch the train to Edale which makes a perfect starting point for your adventures including the Pennine Way and Kinder Scout. Head to the Peak District Visitor Centre at Edale to plan your day.

Cost: £5 parking if travelling by car, if travelling by train, return fare from city centre starting at £12.10 for adults.

39. Imperial War Museum (North)

There are five imperial war museum locations in England, one of which is located in Trafford Park. The museum covers the period between world war 1 and the present day with permanent and temporary exhibitions including a 360 degree audio visual experience.

Cost: The museum is free of charge.

40. Museum of Transport

Discover over 90 vintage vehicles at Manchester’s museum on transport as you take a trip back to a time when buses and trams were the predominant mode of transport. Owned by Transport for Greater Manchester, the museum has been operating for 40 years and continues to be involved in vehicle restoration. Other exhibits include the prototype Manchester tram, old signs and uniforms and archives of timetables, maps and plans.

Cost: Adults £4 and children enter for free

41. Open Water Swimming at Salford Quays

If you fancy an adrenaline rush on a budget, try an open water swim at Salford Quays. This activity can only be experienced between May and October and is dependent on the water temperature. Swims start at the Helly Hanson Leisure Centre near Media city with course lengths to suit all abilities and a professional water safety team.

Cost: £5 (wet suit hire £7 extra)

42. Manchester River Cruise

Take a 60 minute boat tour starting and finishing in Manchester city centre. You’ll cruise down Manchester ship canal where you’ll see the sights of Media City, Old Trafford and the docks from the water.

There is a fully stocked bar on board. There is onboard commentary so that you can learn the history of the Ship Canal and surrounding area. Find out more here.

Cost: £9 adults, £5 children

43. The Makers Market

The Markers Market brings together local craft producers in the area including food, drink, gifts and art. You can discover artisan breads and cheeses, hand crafted sculptures and jewellery, illustrations and paintings from local artists and many other delightful stalls.

The market runs every weekend but rotates across 15+ venues in Manchester and surrounding areas. Find the full calendar here.

Cost: Free to visit, food and gifts starting from around £2

44. Afflecks Palace

Afflecks Palace is an indoor market located in the Norther Quarter filled with over 60 independent shops and cafes selling clothing, records and retro games spread across 4 floors. It is constantly changing and very easy to get lost.

Cost: Free to visit

45. Manchester Donkey Sanctuary

The donkey sanctuary offers donkey-assisted learning services to help children with special needs develop life skills. The sanctuary also opens to the public who can feed and groom the donkeys with staff on hand to tell you about the donkeys and answer any questions.

Cost: Free entry to the visitor centre, some guests opt to sponsor a donkey

46. Christmas Markets

If you’re visiting over the festive season then the Christmas markets must be on your to-do list. Running from early November through until Christmas day, the markets comprise over 300 stalls spread across the city centre, including festive food, drinks and crafted gifts. There is also an Ice rink and rides for the family.

Cost: Free to visit, Ice skating usually £7.50 for adults and £4 for children

Where to Stay in Manchester on a Budget

The hostel scene is still relatively new in Manchester but there are a few that I can recommend, check out my guide to hostels in Manchester for solo travellers.

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Kieren is the avid traveller behind the blog. His adventures have included Interrailing through Europe, road tripping the US and backpacking SE Asia.