7 Best Free Manchester Museums

6 December 2015

It's known to rain in Manchester from time to time. Fortunately, there are plenty of places in which to shelter from the elements (including tonnes of boutiques, malls and department stores and a raft of characterful watering holes).

But if you'd prefer a dose of culture, you're spoilt for choice. Here are the city's best galleries and museums. Although all are admission-free, donations are always welcome.

National Football Museum

Occupying a striking ski-sloped structure at the heart of Manchester, the National Football Museum charts the global love affair with the 'beautiful game'.

As well as nostalgia-inducing permanent displays, there are superb temporary exhibitions such as 'Pitch to Pixel', which traces the evolution of football video gaming.

 Manchester's National Football Museum (Image: Steve McKenna)

Running until June 2016, it features clips of big-name players, commentators and fans confessing their games addictions; retro exhibits (like ZX Spectrums and Atari consoles) and hits, old and new, that you can play (FIFA, Championship Manager and Sensible World of Soccer).

The People's History Museum

Manchester's cotton and textile products once generated about half of Britain's exports, yet while the mill owners and merchants enjoyed a life of affluence, most workers endured slum life.

The democratic strides made by the masses are recounted, amid a slew of trade union banners and fiery political propaganda, in the thought-provoking People's History Museum, in an old pumping station by the River Irwell.

Museum Of Science And Industry

MOSI, as it's affectionately called, is spread across giant Victorian warehouses and the world's first passenger railway station (which launched trains to Liverpool in 1830).

 MOSI remembers the steam age (Image: Steve McKenna)

You'll find hands-on diversions (like textile weaving and kaleidoscope workshops), and awe-inspiring exhibits such as vintage locomotives and steam-powered mill wheels.

MOSI also proudly showcases Manchester's towering engineering and technological achievements (the city's universities have produced more than 20 Nobel prize winners).

Manchester Art Gallery

Charles Barry - the man behind London's Houses of Parliament - partially designed this handsome Palazzo-style landmark on Mosley Street, which hides a superb collection of British and European art.

Many visitors are drawn to the paintings of French impressionist, Adolphe Valette, who brilliantly captured the foggy gloom of Victorian Manchester's streets and canals.


Want more on Manchester's historical sites? Top Manchester Historical Sites

An arts centre transformed. Cultural Manchester: From Home To Wonderland


John Rylands Library

Manchester isn't short of libraries (Marx and Engels used to study in the medieval Chetham's Library and School of Music, while the Pantheon-like Central Library sports an impressive 21st century makeover).

 The John Rylands Library (Image: Steve McKenna)

But don't miss John Rylands Library. Nestled by the glossy Armani store on Deansgate, it was commissioned by the widow of Manchester's first multi-millionaire - a philanthropic textile manufacturer.

The library's cloister-filled public reading rooms ooze antique charm and exhibitions enchant literary lovers (one covered Anthony Burgess, the Manchester-born author of A Clockwork Orange).

Imperial War Museum North

Formerly Manchester Docks, the spruced-up Salford Quays - a 20-minute tram ride from the city centre - boasts an assortment of attractions, including the Imperial War Museum North.

An offshoot of the London museum, which explores the impact of conflicts on people and society, it was designed in shard-like style by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind.

IWMN faces The Lowry, a mall, arts and entertainment centre dedicated to (and displaying the work of) LS Lowry, Greater Manchester's most famous painter.

Whitworth Art Gallery

Located in Manchester's buzzing university district, the Whitworth - which first opened in 1889 - won the Art Fund 2015 Museum of the Year award following a sleek A$32 million revamp.

 The Whitworth Art Gallery (Image: Steve McKenna)

Modernist art, Edwardian artifacts and cutting-edge revolving exhibitions - from the likes of Chinese-born New Yorker Cai Guo-Qiang - grace its dazzling new spaces, while sculptures and installations dot the neighbouring leafy Whitworth Park.


Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Manchester.


Steve McKenna

A regular contributor to some of Australia's leading newspapers and travel magazines, Steve McKenna has visited, written about and photographed more than 80 countries on six different continents. He fears he has an incurable case of wanderlust and is particularly fond of Europe, Asia and South America.