Renowned for both its musical and sporting influence, Manchester is a popular destination all year round. And thanks to its large student population and cosmopolitan vibe, it’s also quite affordable if you’re on a limited budget. From cheap yet delicious dishes from around the world to free museums and galleries, here’s our guide on what to do in Manchester for free.
A trip to the ‘Capital of the North’ doesn’t have to break the bank – in fact, there are plenty of things to do in Manchester for free.
The John Rylands Library
There are several famous libraries in Manchester but the John Rylands Library is a particular gem. From the outside, this historic library looks like a medieval church with its turrets and stained glass windows, but inside it’s like something straight out of Hogwarts. This Victorian neo-Gothic building is home to over 200,000 books, including a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a fine paper copy of the Gutenberg Bible and an original fragment of the Old Testament. Walk up the spiral staircase to the magnificent reading room, or take part in any of the regular events and exhibitions. Bookworms should also visit the nearby Chetham’s Library, the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom.
Right in the heart of Manchester is the area of Castlefield, where you’ll find Britain’s first Urban Heritage Park. If you’re blessed with a sunny day, you can walk around the canals and railway viaducts, the Roman-era fort of Mamucium and admire the old warehouses-cum-fancy loft apartments. Two of the best free things to do in Manchester are also here: the Museum of Science and Industry and the People’s History Museum. Both have free admission, although they’re open for donations if you have a few coins to spare.
Manchester Art Gallery
Another Manchester must-see is the Manchester Art Gallery, the city’s main cultural hub with nearly 25,000 different paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and other art forms. Its pre-Raphaelite collection and L.S. Lowry retrospective are by far the highlights, as well as individual works by Waterhouse and Millais. The gallery itself is free to enter, although there can be small admission fees for temporary exhibitions.
For a true locals-only experience, make sure you visit some of Manchester’s weekly markets. The Levenshulme Market is held every Saturday from March to December in the car park between Levenshulme train station and Stockport Road. It’s a community-run social enterprise market with over 50 artisan traders selling produce such as street food, plants, gifts, vintage clothing and homewares. The stallholders change over regularly so no two visits will be the same. There’s also the Castlefield Market, and food, art and craft market held once a month in Manchester city centre.
Whitworth Art Hampers
One of the city’s best-kept secrets is the Whitworth Art Gallery’s completely free art hampers. If you’re a budding artist, or simply have a few hours to kill, head to the Whitworth in the University of Manchester and ask for one of their special hampers, filled with all the materials you need to make, draw and build your own masterpiece. The gallery itself is free to enter so you’re more than welcome to look around to find your own creative inspiration! If you find yourself with a Thursday night free, spend an evening at the Thursday Lates event, where the museum stays open until 9pm and puts on social events, after-work drinks and special performances, live music and artist talks.