Free things to do in Manchester: Museums and Galleries

Manchester is a vibrant city fuelled by a rich cultural, historical and artistic identity, and this is reflected in the numerous museums and galleries that the city boasts. If you're planning to visit the city soon, or live locally but feel that you've never taken advantage of the free things Manchester has to offer... keep reading!

Museum of Science and Industry

This is a fab museum which celebrates Manchester's industrial heritage and does so in a very hands on way. You can watch exactly how raw cotton became calico fabric in the mills of Manchester in the Textiles Gallery and see the engines that fuelled these mills at work in the Power Hall. The sheer sound of the mill machinery is shocking, and seeing how things would have run in an old mill really helps you to visualise what life would have been like for the workers. The city is full of converted and sadly abandoned old mills. Many are now luxury apartments and art studios... I find it fascinating to learn about how Manchester got to where is it today and on a wider level, how Britain was such an influential component of the Industrial Revolution. The museum is great for adults and children alike, and it is often buzzing with primary school children mesmerised by the spinning cotton. There is also a lovely gift shop and cafe... which we all know is important. 

Manchester Art Gallery 

Manchester Art Gallery is handily located in the city centre and is a peaceful retreat amongst the hustle and bustle. For a start, the building itself is gorgeous - a mixture of impressive 19th century Greek style structures. At the moment there is an exhibition running called The Edwardians which I found particularly interesting, especially as it featured some Edwardian depictions of Manchester... it's fun to compare them to the modern day! There is also a great deal of artwork by the legendary Lowry on display - his style is so memorable and evocative of industrial working class life. Additionally, the gallery has a focus on mental health and runs several free sessions directed at wellbeing, for example, "Take notice: de-stress with art and The art of wellbeing tours". The gallery boasts a fab gift shop... next to which is a magical (temporary) exhibition by Mehreen Murtaza full of living plants and spooky sounds. If you're having a stressful day at work and needs to take half an hour out, the gallery is ideally located to do so, but it is also worthy of being a weekend activity too.

(Spider-Man costume by Hetain Patel)

(Mehreen Murtaza)

Manchester Central Library

Just a stone's throw from Manchester Art Gallery sits the Central Library, again an impressive Greek style building. On the ground floor there is a local history area with lots of fascinating and shocking photos from the industrial Manchester of times gone by. Upstairs there is an exhibition space which at the moment features photographs of Manchester Airport in the 1980s taken by the city's own Shirley Baker (famous for capturing working class Manchester/Greater Manchester). If you fancy going somewhere peaceful and very aesthetically pleasing to undertake a study session, then you can get comfy in the amazing Great Hall, complete with domed celling and original furniture. Lots of helpful workshops take place at the library too... it's definitely worth a visit - and of course, it has a cafe.

Gallery of Costume

If you venture a couple of miles out of the city centre and head towards the vibrant Curry Mile, you will soon find the Gallery of Costume. Located in the student hotspot of Platt Fields Park, in the grand old Platt Hall, the gallery is a hidden gem. Fashions from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries are always on display, and there are often temporary exhibitions too. They say that trends come back around, and you can really see that when viewing the outfits. Although it's a small gallery that won't take up your entire day, its definitely worth a visit (and of course there is a cafe and a gift shop!). Platt Hall itself is an interesting building to explore - it was built in the 1760s and was home to rich textile merchants, the Worselys. Visiting the gallery is definitely an hour well spent. 

Whitworth Art Gallery 

The Whitworth Art Gallery is located in the city's university area and sits proudly to the side of 
Whitworth Park (which is looking rather lovely and autumnal at the mo). Once again the gallery is housed in a beautiful building - Manchester has some wonderful architecture. The gallery was opened in 1889 and the original building has been restored and extended since then... now there are huge windows that make it feel like you are in a tree house. Along with featuring a huge range of artwork and exhibitions, from the more classic to the very contemporary, the gallery also puts on many free workshops and classes for babies and families. There is a rather swanky cafe, gift shop, study space and garden too... it's got it all.

(Raqs Media Collective: Twilight Language)
(Barbara Brown)

People's History Museum 

This is a super interesting museum with a focus on democracy and the rights of working people (and the struggle to get them). Many visitors to the museum will be able relate to the struggles workers faced but may be shocked at how much our ancestors toiled to get heard. You can learn all about the forming of unions, chartism, socialism and politics, as well as the hobbies and interests of people of the past. There's even a mini replica of an old Co-operative shop where you can don an apron and get behind the till. The museum is another great one to visit to find out more about how we got to where we are today... and of course, there is both a cafe and a gift shop.

National Football Museum

Now we haven't actually visited this one ourselves but it should definitely be top of your list of places to visit if you have any football mad members of your family. You can discover the history of football and view lots of art, media and culture around the iconic sport. The museum is suitable for all ages and has something for everyone... even if you're not a footy lover yourself. Plus there is both a cafe and a restaurant, so if football really isn't your thing, you can just go for a bite to eat.

The Manchester Museum 

The Manchester Museum is part of The University of Manchester and is located on the bustling Oxford Road. Visitors can learn about natural history, animals and plants, technology, and much more. And of course, there is a lovely cafe (run by Norther Quarter hotspot, Teacup Kitchen). The Manchester Museum, The Whitworth Art Gallery and the Gallery of Costume are actually all in walking distance of each other and visiting all three would make a fab day out.

So there you have it... there's plenty to see and do for free in Manchester - get some on your list of places to visit and let us know how you get on!