Lifestyle, Travel

Don’t Spend More, Explore: Free things to do in Manchester

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By Clayton McLoughlin-Lopez & Lucy Vincent
Featured image: Bradley Sansom


At this time of the year, it seems everyone is competing for student cash. There is a lot to get excited about, but one thing that won’t be advertised so much are good days out that don’t cost a penny. We round up five days out which won’t break the bank.


1. Visit a historic library

If you find yourself overwhelmed by the noise and action of the city, there are a number of stunning libraries which offer the perfect refuge. Founded in 1806, the Portico Library is one of Manchester’s longest running institutions, and one of the oldest buildings in the city. Located on Mosley Street, it hosts free exhibitions which are open to the public. The John Rylands Library’s neo-gothic architecture is also magnificent and impressive. There is a popular myth that the library, on Deansgate, was used as a filming location for Hogwarts in the early Harry Potter films. Chetham’s Library, founded in 1653, is one of the oldest public libraries in the English-speaking world. Located within Chetham’s School of Music, it’s renowned for its historic charm and rich collection of rare books, manuscripts, and archives. Manchester Central Library is also an epic example of a modern and bustling public library situated in the heart of Manchester. Don’t forget to register online for your free library card.

2. Explore the city’s museums and galleries

Manchester has no shortage of quality museums and galleries to explore, including but not limited to the People’s History Museum, the Science and Industry Museum, and Manchester Art Gallery. Manchester Met even has its own little museum, Special Collections. Easily accessible, it is located on the third floor of All Saints Library. It’s a great place to take a break from your studies, request to view archived materials, and explore the different exhibitions. Check the MMU website for details on how to request a viewing or for help in relation to your own research.

3. See the garden in the sky

Castlefield Viaduct is a beacon of the city’s greener future, and a ground-breaking way to experience Manchester’s industrial heritage. Located in the heart of the city, the grade-II listed viaduct is dubbed as Manchester’s first ‘sky park’, embracing nature’s reclamation of its industrial structure and planting beautiful gardens to bring life to the city. Part of the National Trust, pre-bookable guided tours are available every morning except Wednesday, or you can turn up and explore yourself every day from 11am to 4pm.

4. Wander round the city’s Northern Quarter

Take in the Northern Quarter’s iconic streets and visit the alternative shopping complex, Afflecks. This place is more than a shopping experience; it is a cultural hub for Manchester’s alternative scene. The three-storey complex on Tib Street is filled with eclectic stores to window shop at your leisure. As you continue your journey through this vibrant neighbourhood, be sure to explore the evolving street art scene. The Northern Quarter is known for the ever-changing murals and graffiti that adorn its buildings. These colourful artworks add a dynamic and creative flair to the area, and they often serve as a canvas for social and political commentary.

5. Discover the charity rescuing donkeys

Located beside Gorton’s Debdale Park and set across seven acres of land, animal lovers can enjoy the company of rescued donkeys. The Donkey Sanctuary is a charity dedicated to the welfare of donkeys. Here the animals have the liberty to roam freely and decide whether to engage with visitors. During your visit, you may find the donkeys grazing in their enclosures, enjoying a peaceful moment in the barn, or participating in one of their enrichment activities designed to keep them mentally and physically active. Open every Saturday and selected Sundays, free tickets are available to book online. There’s also an option to make a donation which goes towards supporting the expert care of the donkeys and global education to improve donkey welfare.

About the author / 

Lucy Vincent

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