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Free Things to do in Manchester

Sunday 12 February 2023

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Just because you’re on a tight budget doesn’t mean you can’t discover new places. Travel in the UK can be a bargain experience if you do it right. With historic cityscapes, free museums and galleries, parks, and cheap eats, there’s no reason not to explore. As part of our Britain on a Budget series, we're showing you how to travel to amazing places in the UK without breaking the bank.

As part of this series, we're spotlighting Manchester! Connected by trams but easily covered on foot, this modern metropolis has plenty of free things to do to keep visitors occupied for a whole weekend (if not more). Read on to discover free attractions, as well as cheap eats and places to stay in Manchester.

Best of all, you can take a whole variety of CrossCountry trains directly to Manchester Piccadilly train station from all over the UK. Explore routes here. In order to save more money, why not book your tickets in advance and check out our cheap tickets page?

Manchester Art Gallery

Free to visit and home to a huge collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and fine art, craft and design works from 17th century to modern day, art fans will be delighted with a visit to Manchester Art Gallery.

Museum of Science & Industry

Manchester's Museum of Science & Industry is a genuinely interesting place to find out about the city's industrial history. Visit the world’s oldest surviving passenger railway station, enjoy live demonstrations of historic working machinery, take part in science shows and explore one off exhibitions.  

Afflecks Palace

A quirky indoor market in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Afflecks Palace is packed full of alternative stores selling everything from second hand clothing to retro sweets and beads to Star Wars figures.

Walking Tour

Several companies offer free walking tours which visit the city’s best-known attractions as well as the lesser-known quirks that only a local would know. Join one to learn about the city’s history, culture and hopefully make some friends along the way.

The John Rylands Library

Looking more like a castle or a cathedral than a library, Deansgate’s John Rylands Library is a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic architecture, housing some of the world’s oldest and most important books. Even if you’re not a bookworm, the beautiful interior definitely makes it worth a visit.

National Football Museum

With two of the most famous football teams in the world calling Manchester their home, it’s no surprise there’s a whole museum dedicated to the sport. The city is football mad, and if you are too, the National Football Museum is worth a visit. Learn about the history of the sport, lift a virtual trophy and play penalty shootout!

Heaton Park

Manchester might be a busy, bustling city but it also has its fair share of unspoiled greenery and woodlands, including the colossal 600-acre Heaton Park. You’ll find picturesque lawns, a lake, a golf course, an animal farm, an adventure playground and the grounds of a Grade I listed house from the 18th century, to name a few!

Fletcher Moss Park & Botanical Gardens

The 21-acre Fletcher Moss Park & Botanical Gardens offers plenty to explore – it’s an all in one botanical beauty, wildlife habitat and recreational facility. Pack a picnic and enjoy the surroundings.

Donkey Sanctuary

Children and animal lovers will adore a trip to the Manchester Donkey Sanctuary, where you can get up close and personal with the doe eyed animals. You can even adopt a donkey, if visiting for the day just wasn’t enough.

The Whitworth

The Whitworth Art Gallery, also known as ‘the gallery in the park’, has some impressive indoor exhibitions, as well as an art garden, landscape gallery and sculpture terrace for you to enjoy.

The Northern Quarter

The place to browse, the Northern Quarter is one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in Manchester. It’s a hub of craft and design packed full of independent shops, boutiques and bars. Enjoy walking through the red brick city alleys discovering quirky street art, record shops, galleries and vintage finds.

Manchester Canals

Manchester is cut through by miles of canals and waterways, built during England’s Industrial Revolution to allow coal to be transported into the heart of this great Northern city. Take a stroll along the waterways and admire the narrow-boats docked up on their edge.

Piccadilly Records

As the birthplace of several chart-topping bands including Oasis, The Stone Roses, Elbow, and Take That, Manchester is a musical mecca. Browse the iconic Piccadilly Records for vinyl records or CDs from every musical genre. If you love music, read our Manchester Music blog post for more info on famous artists, the best music venues in town and our very own Spotify playlist.

Affordable Places to Eat in Manchester

Eating and drinking out can ramp up  the price you pay for a weekend away, but it doesn’t have to. Manchester has loads of great eateries that won’t break the bank. Here are just a few of our favourites for keeping costs low:

Arndale Food Market – Visit the food market inside the Manchester Arndale shopping centre for a wide choice of cuisines at decent prices. With everything from Vietnamese to Spanish, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Northern Soul – Kings of the grilled cheese sandwich, Northern Soul have two spots in town, one being on the station approach. Sandwiches range from £4.50-£6.50 and boast fillings such as mac ‘n’ cheese, pulled pork, chorizo, jalapeno peppers, and even Frazzle.

Revolution – With three locations in the city centre, you’re sure to come across a Revs during your time in Manchester. Known for its tasty meals at friendly prices and happy hour deals, this is where to go for a cheerfully cheap meal out.

Vnam – Most tourists would ignore rundown Oldham Road, but foodies should root out Vnam, a colourful little Vietnamese cafe-restaurant for authentic fresh food at good prices and BYO alcohol.

Rudy's Pizza – Pizzas from £6.50? And with 24-hour proved dough cooked in an imported clay oven and a menu of delicious toppings – what more could you want?

This & That – Tucked down a narrow street in the Northern Quarter, this authentic, no-frills café serves rice teamed with no fewer than three curries on the side, starting at a jaw-dropping £6.

Affordable Places to Stay in Manchester

To explore Manchester properly, you’ll want to visit for longer than a day and paying for a hotel or guesthouse doesn’t need to cost too much. Check out these fantastic budget options:

Abel Heywood Boutique Hotel – A gastropub and hotel in the northern quarter with cosy rooms at affordable prices, this is a great choice for couples. Paying extra for breakfast might be worth it, with a full fry- up being served until noon each day.

Hatters Hostel – Nestled in the Northern Quarter, Hatters is a former bowler hat factory priding itself on being a friendly, clean and safe place to stay without high room rates. Guests can enjoy free wi-fi, breakfast and walking tours of the city, as well as guided pub crawls.

Ibis Budget – You can’t get much more budget than a hotel with budget in its name and the ibis Budget will provide you with everything you need whilst keeping it cheap. This large hotel offers modern rooms with free Wi-Fi, a snack bar, and a 24-hour front desk.

There’re loads of free things to do in Manchester, showing you can really explore Britain on a budget. Whenever you decide to visit, remember to buy an Advance ticket to Manchester via our CrossCountry app.

Written by Julia

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