Looking for the best free museums in Manchester? This article has got you covered.
Manchester offers a great selection of museums that cater to different interests. Many of them, like those in the rest of the UK, offer free entry to make them as accessible as possible.
A free museum visit on your next trip to Manchester is perfect for those looking to stretch their travel budget further while learning something new. Topics range from natural history and rare manuscripts to contemporary art and democracy, providing a wide array of subjects waiting to be discovered.
I have lived in Manchester for four years and have been fortunate enough to explore the city’s many museums and galleries. For a relatively small city, Manchester boasts a great selection of exhibitions and events across its museums at any given time.
Although the focus of this guide is on free museums, such as stalwarts like Manchester Museum and Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester is also home to a few excellent ones that do charge entry fees. These admission prices are usually quite affordable and are needed to keep these museums open. I’ve included a few options for those who are interested in checking them out.
The 8 Best Free Museums in Manchester
Housed in a striking neo-Gothic building on Oxford Road, the Manchester Museum is one of the largest university museums in the UK. Part of the University of Manchester, the museum boasts an impressive collection of over 4 million items spanning natural history, archaeology, and anthropology.
The museum first opened its doors in 1890, showcasing its original collections of natural history and geology for the benefit of both students and the general public. Over the years, the museum has continually evolved, expanding its list of items and adding new extensions.
More recently, from 2021 to 2023, the museum underwent a major renovation that saw the addition of new extensions and galleries. The latest exhibits include the Lee Kai Chinese Culture Gallery and the South Asia Gallery, which explores the stories of the South Asian diaspora in the UK.
My favourite sections of the museum are the Egyptology exhibit and the dinosaur display, both of which delight my inner archaeologist. On a more somber note, the Manchester Gallery also delves into the relationship between the museum’s collection and the UK’s colonial past.
Overall, the Manchester Museum offers something for everyone, with a wide range of exhibits and events catering to diverse tastes. If you plan to visit over the weekend, I recommend arriving early. The museum is extremely popular with families, and certain exhibitions, such as the Egyptology one, can get incredibly busy.
Address: University of Manchester, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PL
John Rylands Research Institute and Library
The John Rylands Library is housed in a stunning neo-Gothic building that resembles a medieval castle or cathedral, though it is much more modern in origin.
Construction of the building began in the late 19th century, and the library opened to the public in 1900. It was founded by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her husband, John Rylands, who passed away in 1888. John was a successful Manchester industrialist who left behind a substantial fortune.
In 1972, the John Rylands Library became part of the University of Manchester. Today, it boasts an extensive collection of rare books and manuscripts, including one of the earliest known fragments of the New Testament.
A visit to the John Rylands Library is worth it for its interiors alone. The most stunning space within the building is the cathedral-like reading room, adorned with stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings. You’ll feel as if you’re standing in one of the halls of Hogwarts.
The library hosts a variety of free exhibitions and events open to the public. It also functions as a research library. You will need to make an appointment to access the special collection.
Address: 150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH
Manchester Art Gallery
Located right in the heart of the city centre, Manchester Art Gallery is a must-visit for art lovers. It is famous for its historic art collection, including the 19th century Pre-Raphaelite paintings. While it is renowned for its historical art collections, including 19th-century Pre-Raphaelite paintings, the gallery also features contemporary works alongside its established collections.
A personal highlight for me was a collection of works by L.S. Lowry, one of Manchester’s most celebrated artists. His paintings possess a unique style that vividly captures the spirit of industrial Manchester. The gallery also houses several pieces by the French impressionist Pierre Adolphe Valette, who once served as L.S. Lowry’s art tutor.
In addition to art, Manchester Art Gallery offers exhibitions on historic costumes as well as crafts and design. The latter encompasses a wide array of lifestyle objects, ranging from ceramics and silverware to furniture and lighting.
Beyond the art and design displays, the gallery maintains a busy events calendar that includes guided tours, art talks, and music performances, among other activities. All of these contribute to the gallery’s overarching mission to enrich people’s lives through art.
Address: Mosley St, Manchester M2 3JL
Science and Industry Museum
Manchester was once the cradle of the Industrial Revolution and the world’s first industrial city. The Science and Industry Museum, one of the top free museums in Manchester, showcases the innovative stories that have emerged from the city since then.
The museum is situated in the former Liverpool Road Station, which was once the terminus for the world’s first inter-city railway. This location is perfectly suited for a museum dedicated to exploring many world-firsts.
From the history of the textile industry that fuelled Manchester’s growth in the 19th century, to the machines that became the precursors of modern computing, to the first Rolls-Royce motorcars, there is an array of ideas and inventions to discover.
The Science and Industry Museum also offers interactive experiences for the whole family to enjoy. It is home to the “Experiment” exhibition where you can build bridges and towers, create music, and even shake hands with yourself.
Address: Liverpool Rd, Manchester M3 4JP
People’s History Museum
People’s History Museum (PHM) is the perfect destination for those interested in politics and social sciences. The museum delves into the history of democracy in the UK, spotlighting the individuals and social movements that have shaped the country’s political and social landscape.
The PHM’s collection features political posters, trade union banners, photographs and personal items belonging to politicians and other significant historical figures. The permanent exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the UK’s democratic timeline, from the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 to the founding of the National Health Service, to more recent social rights movements.
A trip to this museum is a great reminder that we should not take the freedoms and rights that we enjoy today for granted. Our welfare provisions and widely accepted things like paid time off is something that has only been in place for a short time in historic terms. Previous generations had to fight incredibly hard to obtain these things.
Along with the permanent displays, the PHM also hosts temporary exhibitions and educational experiences for the whole family.
Address: corner of Left Bank and Bridge Street, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3ER
The Whitworth boasts a collection of 60,000 art pieces, textiles, and wallpapers, spanning 2,000 years of history. From heritage prints and drawings to modern and contemporary art, the museum has something for every taste.
Founded in 1889 through the bequest of Joseph Whitworth, a wealthy industrialist from Manchester, the gallery eventually became part of the University of Manchester in 1958. After undergoing various renovations and extensions, it earned the nickname “Tate of the North.”
It’s worth mentioning that you may not be able to view all the valuable historic works in a single visit. The Whitworth’s mission centres on using art to address social issues and enhance the well-being of local communities.
Rather than adopting a traditional approach, where artworks are grouped by historical period or specific art movements, the gallery’s curators often combine works from their historical collections with contemporary pieces to explore various themes and topics.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about this approach. Imposing 21st-century interpretations on historic works created in entirely different contexts doesn’t always seem appropriate. However, this approach to art display is undeniably thought-provoking and is likely to leave a lasting impression.
My favourite spot within the gallery is the stunning glass-clad café that overlooks Whitworth Park and the art garden. Here, you can enjoy your coffee and cake amid serene greenery. Even if art isn’t your cup of tea, the café alone makes a trip to the Whitworth worthwhile.
Address: The University of Manchester, Oxford Rd, Manchester M15 6ER
Imperial War Museum North
Just a quick tram ride away from Manchester city centre, the Imperial War Museum North (IWM North) explores how military conflicts in the 20th and 21st centuries have affected the lives of people in the UK and beyond.
IWM North is one of five branches of the Imperial War Museums. The other branches include IWM London, HMS Belfast, and the Churchill War Rooms in London, as well as IWM Duxford in Cambridgeshire.
The Manchester branch occupies a striking, purpose-built building that has won multiple architectural awards. The main exhibition space takes visitors on a journey from the First World War to modern times.
The focus of these displays is on the human stories that unfolded during the wars. From the influence of conflict on women’s roles in society to the experiences of Commonwealth soldiers who were called to protect a distant “motherland,” there is much to discover and unpack.
Alongside the permanent exhibition, IWM North also hosts temporary exhibitions and free volunteer talks that bring various aspects of the collection to life. The museum offers family events where you can meet veterans and eyewitnesses of war to learn more about their real-life experiences.
Address: Trafford Wharf Rd, Trafford Park, Stretford M17 1TZ
Greater Manchester Police Museum & Archives
One of the lesser-known free museums in Manchester is the Greater Manchester Police Museum & Archives. Located in the historic Northern Quarter, the museum is housed in a former police station and delves into the history of policing in Greater Manchester.
The former station has been restored to reflect the policing experience of the Victorian era. The museum also explores how policing practices have evolved to meet the needs of modern times. During your visit, you can see the cells where criminals were once held, as well as the impressive Magistrates’ Courtroom where inmates were judged.
Please note that the museum is open on Tuesdays and, during school holidays, on Thursdays. The museum is available for pre-booked group visits on other weekdays. To find out more about bookings, visit the Police Museum’s website.
Address: 57A Newton St, Manchester M1 1ET
Manchester Museums with Entry Fees
If your budget allows, Manchester has several fantastic museums that charge a modest admission fee and are well worth a visit. These fees help support the museum’s operations and ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy them.
National Football Museum
Home to two iconic football clubs, it seems apt that Manchester also has a museum dedicated to all things football. The National Football Museum is the perfect place for both football fans and those looking to learn about the game’s influence on UK society.
The National Football Museum houses the world’s largest collection of football objects and archives. This includes posters, equipment, photographs, trophies, and other football memorabilia. Some objects have been donated by footballers themselves or their families.
To learn more about the museum’s collection, you can join a guided tour that runs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day. These tours are included in the admission price. Additionally, the museum offers a selection of interactive games where you can improve your own football skills.
The National Football Museum offers free entry to Manchester residents. However, visitors to the city are required to pay an entry fee. Adult tickets cost £13 (US $16.20) per person if booked online or £14 (US $17.50) at the door. You can pre-book your tickets here.
Address: Urbis Building Cathedral Gardens, Todd St, Manchester M4 3BG
Manchester Jewish Museum
Jewish community in Manchester. The museum is housed in a former Spanish and Portuguese synagogue, originally completed in 1874.
The museum’s collection includes oral history testimonies, photographs, historic objects and archives related to Holocaust Survivors that highlights the different faces of the Jewish migration. Although the stories are Jewish, they ultimately offer a sense of universal connection as we discover our differences and similarities.
A trip to the Manchester Jewish Museum is also a must for architecture lovers. Between 2019 and 2021 the museum underwent a major transformation and added a stunning Corten Steel-clad extension. This project has won multiple architectural awards.
The general admission price us £6 (US $7.50) per person. A single ticket purchase will give you a free annual pass to the museum. It is recommended that you pre-book your visit slot on the museum website.
Address: 190 Cheetham Hill Rd, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M8 8LW
Chetham’s Library is the oldest surviving public library in Britain, with a history of continuous use spanning over 350 years. It was established in 1653 through the bequest of Humphrey Chetham, a wealthy local textile merchant.
The remarkable building that houses the library was constructed in 1421 as a college for priests. It stands as a rare example of a medieval complex in the North West of England. The library’s collection boasts 100,000 printed books, many of which were published before 1851.
Over the years, Chetham’s Library has been frequented by many notable scholars, including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of Communism. Their research at this library contributed to their iconic work, “The Communist Manifesto.”
The library shares its building with Chetham’s School of Music. Due to this arrangement, the library can only be accessed on weekdays through pre-booked guided tours. The full price for admission is £12 (US $15) per person, with concessions available. You can pre-book your spot here.
Chetham’s Library is also open to readers on weekdays by prior appointment.
Address: Long Millgate, Manchester M3 1SB
Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester
In addition to the many firsts that took place in Manchester during the Industrial Revolution, the city was also the starting point for the UK’s public transport system as we know it today. You can explore North West England’s fascinating public transport history at the Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester.
The museum’s unique transport collection spans over 100 years, from the launch of the UK’s very first horse-drawn bus service in 1824 to the modern-day Metrolink light rail system. The collection includes photographs, original signage, historic promotional materials, as well as old tickets and tokens.
However, the highlight of the museum is its lovingly restored range of historic vehicles. The museum currently cares for over 70 such vehicles, some of which are still roadworthy. You can enjoy a ride on these vehicles during heritage days.
The admission fee for the museum is £6 (US $7.50) per person. If you would like to experience a ride on a vintage bus, the upcoming heritage day schedule is available on the museum’s website.
Address: Boyle St, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M8 8UW
So, here are the best free museums in Manchester that are sure to entertain and inspire you on your next visit. Although not all museums in the city offer free admission, the ones that do charge a small entry fee are still worth adding to your itinerary.
If you are planning your next Manchester trip, check out this weekend itinerary to maximise your time in the city. Along with the museums, the city offers a raft of great things to do including a vibrant music scene, great shopping and excellent dining.
Why not extend your adventure further and explore more of Northern England including the lively cities of Liverpool and Leeds? Both are great options for those who enjoy the experiences that great cities offer.
FAQs: Free Museums in Manchester
National Museums in the UK, including the British Museum in London, World Museum in Liverpool Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, are generally free. Occasionally, they may host temporary exhibitions that require a fee. However, many regional galleries and museums do charge entry fees.
In the UK there is prevailing a belief that museums should offer free access, as they provide a public service. Accordingly, national museums that benefit from state funding must offer free entry. However, smaller museums that operate under different funding structures have the option to charge for admission.
There are over 30 museums in the Greater Manchester area. They vary in size and cover many topics of interest, from art and natural sciences to football and military history.
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