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Britain on a Budget: Free Things to do in Manchester

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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 cities, free museums and galleries, parks and cheap eats, there’s no reason not to explore. We’re putting together our Britain on a Budget series to show you how you can travel to amazing places in the UK without breaking the bank.

First stop…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.

Travelling by train? Take advantage of great prices when you book an Advance Ticket with CrossCountry.

Free things to do in Manchester

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.

Visiting the columned Manchester Art Gallery is one of the best free things to do in Manchester.

Museum of Science & Industry – 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.

Free 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 fountains in central Manchester can be seen on a walking tour of the city, one of the best free things to do in Manchester.

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, it’s 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!

Heaton Park is very green with a big lake, a great free places to visit in Manchester.

Fletcher Moss Park & Botanical Gardens – This 21-acre park 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 donkey sanctuary is one of the best free activities in Manchester.

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.

Canal boats tied up at the side of a canal in Manchester, walking the canals is a great free activity in Manchester.

Piccadilly Records – As the birthplace of several chart-topping bands including Oasis, The Stone Roses 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.

Cheap Eats 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:

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.

A juicy grilled cheese sandwich from Northern Soul is one of the tastiest cheap eats in Manchester.

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 £4.50? 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 £4.50.

Cheap 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 break the bank. 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 Train Tickets app.

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